The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Morocco is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Morocco is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Morocco is not a state party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 governs the right of peaceful assembly.
Morocco is a signatory to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Article 24(6) of the Charter provides for the right of freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 29 of the 1962 Constitution of Morocco (as amended) guarantees the freedoms of meeting, of assembly, and of peaceful demonstration. "The law establishes the conditions of the exercise of these freedoms."
The primary legislation governing assemblies in Morocco is the 1958 Law on Assemblies, as modified by a 2002 law.Dahir no 1-02-200 du 12 joumada I 1423 (23 juillet 2002) portant promulgation de la loi no 76-00 modifiant et complétant le dahir no 1-58-377 du 3 joumada I 1378 (15 novembre 1958) relatif aux rassemblements publics.According to the government, "only a simple notification is required to hold a meeting". At least three full days notice is needed. The assembly may, though, be prohibited if "public security" is likely to be disturbed.
An armed or unlawful gathering that refuses to disperse may be dispersed by force under the 1958 Law.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Domestic rules on the amount of force that may be used to disperse an assembly in Morocco are not known.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
According to Article 61 of the 1958 law on the gendarmerie, officers and gendarmes may only use their firearms in the following cases:
When violence or an assault is carried out against them or when they are threatened by armed individuals;
When they can not otherwise defend the ground they occupy, the posts or persons entrusted to them, or, finally, if the resistance is such that it can not be defeated other than by force of arms.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Morocco, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern that,
under Moroccan law, prior authorization must be obtained for gatherings that are to be held in public places and that the issuance of such authorizations is sometimes hindered unjustifiably.
It was also concerned about
the excessive and disproportionate use of force to disperse unauthorized peaceful gatherings despite the issuance of a circular by the Ministry of Justice and Freedoms in October 2015 which states that police intervention is justified only in the presence of an armed mob and/or when a crowd has gathered that is likely to disturb the peace....
The Committee called on Morocco to "ensure that the law governing peaceful demonstrations is applied in accordance with the Covenant and that the exercise of that right is not subject to restrictions other than those that are authorized under the Covenant". It urged the government to give consideration to proposals made in November 2015 by the National Human Rights Council concerning public gatherings.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Morocco:
Freedom of assembly is restricted. The authorities sometimes use excessive force and violence to disperse protests, and harass activists involved in organizing demonstrations that criticize the government.
The government has suppressed protests in the Rif region that erupted after the 2016 death of Al-Hoceima fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri, which was captured on video. His stock of swordfish had been confiscated by authorities because it was caught out of season; when he climbed into a garbage truck to retrieve it, the trash compactor was turned on—allegedly on orders from a police officer—and he was killed. The ensuing Hirak Rif protest movement against corruption and economic deprivation gained support from activists across Morocco.
The government reacted harshly to the movement, dispersing assemblies and arresting Hirak Rif leader Nasser Zefzafi and other protest leaders in 2017. In June 2018, Zefzafi and three other activists were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their role in the demonstrations, while an additional 50 activists were sentenced to between 1 and 15 years imprisonment on lesser charges. The convictions spurred further mass protests, including a July demonstration in Rabat that drew tens of thousands of protesters.
Authorities also cracked down on protests in the northeastern mining town of Jerada in March, which began in response to the deaths of two coal miners, who reportedly died as a result of dangerous working conditions in their mine. Police used excessive force in dispersing the protests, and arrested dozens of demonstrators.