Friday, 26 January 2007

Morocco may ban death penalty

Morocco may ban death penalty

RABAT, January 24 -- Human rights campaigners said that Morocco, which was thought to have 131 people on death row, might be close to abolishing capital punishment.

Michel Taube, a senior official from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Tuesday said: "Morocco could become the 100th abolitionist state."

Taube was in Rabat to prepare for the February 01-03 World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which was expected to focus on capital punishment in Arab countries, the United States and - especially - China.

He said he had chosen Morocco to announce the dates of the world congress "to give a voice to the growing number of abolitionists in the Arab world", adding that he welcomed the support for a ban expressed by "several Moroccan political parties".

By comparison, he said, "the Americans are much further off than Morocco, if only because, unlike in Morocco, there is no debate in the US on abolishing the death penalty".

As for China, "the world champion of capital punishment", Taube said the world congress would issue an appeal for a moratorium on executions there "in the spirit of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games".

The coalition said: "The number of executions is one of the best kept state secrets in China, but the frightening reality is that 8 000 to 10 000 people are executed every year after unfair trials.

"In 2005, 2 148 people were executed in 22 countries. Ninety four percent of these executions were recorded in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US."

It said that in addition to focussing on China and the US, next month's world congress would "promote abolition in north Africa and the Middle East ... and encourage penal and legislative reforms ... especially in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon".

The coalition's representative in Morocco, Youssef Mada, said three political parties in the north African kingdom had already confirmed that they favoured banning capital punishment, including the largest party in the government of King Mohammed VI, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces.

Mada said: "Morocco is closer than ever to abolition."

Although Morocco had not executed anyone since 1994, its courts continued to sentence convicted criminals to death. Moroccan non-governmental organisations said there were 131 people on death row.

The public body tasked with investigating serious human rights abuses during the 1960-99 rule of King Mohammed's father, Hassan II - a period marked by state violence against dissidents and democracy activists known as the "Years of Lead" - recommended in November 2005 that capital punishment should be scrapped.

The head of Morocco's public human rights council, Driss NBenzekri, said on Tuesday that his organisation was working with the government to implement this recommendation and a United Nations protocol with the same aim. - AFP

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