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Rope isolated on white background
On April 29, the United Nations Security Council renewed the UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, until April 2015. The Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressed support for human rights monitoring to be added to the resolution renewing the mission. However, Morocco has long rejected the idea of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the North African region and for this resolution, Morocco got what they wanted.

The UN has been involved in the Western Sahara since 1991 when MINURSO was instituted, and Morocco has remained in control of much of the region since Spain ended its occupation. The resolution that renewed the mission included support for contributions to fund “confidence-building measures agreed upon between the parties” including visits between separated family members. Over 20,000 Western Saharan refugees have taken part in family visits through UN coordination since MINURSO’s beginning.

The resolution calls for the Polisario and Morocco to remain vigilant and wary of human rights in coordinating with the international community and the UN. Before its passing, Ban Ki-Moon commended both parties for their willingness to participate with UN human rights bodies. The Secretary General concluded, “The end goal nevertheless remains a sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism, covering both the Territory and the camps.”

The Secretary General, earlier in April, renewed his appeals for “sustained human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and warned against unfair exploitation of the region’s natural resources.” His concern with establishing stronger human rights monitoring mechanisms is in light of previous reports of human rights abuses and poverty in the country.

However, after a phone conversation with Morocco’s king, the word “mechanism” was removed from this sentence of the final report due to Morocco’s concern with a monitoring program that implied a foreign presence. King Mohammed stressed to the Secretary General Morocco’s willingness to uphold human rights, but within Morocco’s sovereignty and without the control of outside forces and occupations.

The U.S. was one of the first to promote increasing human rights monitoring, but backed down after Morocco expressed opposition. Hence, the U.S.-initiated resolution became largely Morocco-drafted before it was passed, excluding Ban Ki-Moon’s appeal.

As a compromise, however, Morocco allowed a few UN rights investigators to visit the area, and this year, the U.S. did not renew the proposal that they had for the previous resolution.

Whereas Morocco’s UN Ambassador, Omar Hilale, expressed concern over appeals of human rights mechanisms regarding the success of MINURSO, the Polisario’s UN Representative, Ahmed Boukhari, expressed regret that MINURSO is the “only UN Peacekeeping Mission established since 1978 that has no mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation on the ground.”

This argument over human rights monitoring is significant because it marks a continuation of the conflict between Morocco, who wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco, and the Polisario, who is backed by countries such as Algeria. The conflict has affected the Western Saharan people and refugees in Algeria poorly and contributed to poverty.

Western Sahara has also expressed concern over the exploitation of natural resources. The region is rich in phosphates, which are used in fertilizer, and Polisario has complained in the past about Western firms, in conjunction with Morocco, searching for natural resources.

Hence, the lack of a strong human rights mechanism worries the Western Saharan people about Moroccan control and natural resources extraction. Time will tell if this decision regarding the UN Resolution will affect Western Saharan’s poor, but citizens are concerned that it undoubtedly will.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Morocco World News, Reuters, United Nations
Photo: Creative Time Reports

violence_against_women_Morocco
Citizens of have recently risen up to address the endemic issue of violence against women in Morocco. Women’s rights activists, particularly the Strength of Women activist group, have heavily criticized the government for excluding them from the bill drafting process.

Strength of Women, backed by the European Union, submitted a list of demands to the Moroccan government to address parts in the bill they believe are lacking. The preliminary version of the bill is promising for activists hoping to improve women’s rights in the country.

The bill would take steps to criminalize sexual harassment and impose a 25-year sentence for those found guilty of perpetrating violence against women. It also hopes to impose a possible three year sentence for sexual harassment.

Some are arguing that the bill is largely focused on married women instead of all women. Violence against women is prevalent in Morocco, particularly in marriages where violence against women occurs at a rate of approximately 50%.

According to the state planning commission, approximately 2.4 million women over 18 have been subjected to sexual violence and 3.4 million have suffered physical violence at least once.

Currently, marital rape is not a recognized crime in Morocco.

Those who are critical of the current draft of the bill feel like they have been shut out and their input is not being taken into account. Sara Soujar, a women’s rights activist, spoke at an event pointing out that the bill fails to address single women issues: “the category is totally absent…reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed.”

While the issue is still unfolding, more research is being conducted about violence against women in Morocco. Women’s rights activists have continued to draw international attention to this bill and hopefully their voices will be heard in the upcoming drafts.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Middle East
Photo: TDH

Morocco Overturns Law Protecting Child Rapists
Up until this week, Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allowed those convicted of “corruption” or “kidnapping” of a minor to marry his victim and avoid prosecution. That is, Moroccan law held that a person who rapes a child could evade punishment – by marrying his victim.

Rooted in traditional views holding that the loss of a daughter’s virginity is a stain on her family, the law has been encouraged by judges to spare families from shame.

Yet for one family, the law has cost them the ultimate price.

Article 475 came to international attention in 2012 when 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. Filali was accosted on the street and raped when she was only 15. When she told her parents two months later and they took the matter to court, the judge pushed marriage.

“It is not something that happens a great deal – it is very rare,” reported Abdelaziz Nouaydi, who runs the Adala Association for legal reform. Sometimes, he conceded however, families of victims would agree to a marriage out of the fear that their daughters would be unable to find a husband were it to get out that she had been raped. The families, then, would push the marriage onto the daughter in order to avoid a scandal.

According to Filali’s father, it had been the prosecutor who had advised his daughter to marry. The perpetrator, Moustapha Feliak, initially refused the marriage arrangement; yet given that the penalty for the rape of a minor was 10-20 years in prison, he ultimately accepted the marriage. Filali apparently complained to her mother multiple times that her new husband was physically abusive but her mother only counseled patience.

Seven months into the marriage, 16 year-old Filali swallowed enough rat poison to end her life.

Her death received extensive media coverage and sparked protests throughout a number of Moroccan cities. Furthermore, a Facebook page titled “We are all Amina Filali” was formed in the days after the suicide and proceeded to grow exponentially. A campaign was also started by the international advocacy group Avaaz that demanded the government adopt promised legislation to aid in fighting gender-based violence. By the time Avaaz turned the petition in to Morocco’s parliament, more than a million signatures had been collected.

This week’s new amendment proved that these efforts were fruitful, however, though activists hailed Morocco’s new legislation, many express that more should be done. For example, on one hand, says Fatima Maghnaoui, who heads a group supporting female victims of violence, “it’s a very important step. But it’s not enough… We are campaigning for a complete overhaul of the penal code for women.”

Amnesty International agreed with this view calling Wednesday’s amendment a move in the right direction but also “long overdue.” The global human rights group pushed for a comprehensive strategy to protect Morocco’s women and girls from violence: “It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s suicide and nearly two years for the parliament to close the loophole that allowed rapists to avoid accountability. It’s time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse,” the rights group’s deputy regional director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: BBCGlobal PostHuffington PostAl Jazeera
Photo: Alif Post

morocco_teen_suicide
A teenage girl in Morocco committed suicide last month after being forced to marry her rapist. Her death occurred amidst debate over a controversial article of Morocco’s Penal code which allows rapists to avoid a jail sentence if they marry their victim.

The article in question, Article 475, received global attention after a similar case in March 2012 in which Amina Filali, 16, drank rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. At the time, activist Abadila Maaelaynine said on Twitter, “Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law.”

In Moroccan society, a woman who loses her virginity – even by rape – is considered unfit to marry. “There’s a mentality that says that a girl that’s no longer a virgin is worthless,” said Khadija Riyadi, President of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH). She went on to say that families feel like they cannot support an “unmarriagable” daughter and to make her marry her attacker seems like the only solution.

Opponents of Article 475 pressured U.S. president Barack Obama who met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Friday to urge the king to repeal the article.

A move to protect women from violence was submitted to the Moroccan parliament earlier this month, a year after the initial idea was proposed. Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Al Jazeera, “Until now, it’s still just a law project that’s being considered by parliament but hasn’t been rectified. We have not yet formally edited the article.”

“Delays in legal reform in Morocco are leaving women and girls exposed to abuse,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. “Unless the gap is closed between the authorities’ rhetoric about improvements to the law and their delivery of these changes, more lives will be at risk.”

– David Smith

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, All Africa

microfinance-world-poor
Poor populations in developing countries worldwide are often ignored by most lending institutions. Traditional banks typically do not loan to those with little income or other forms of collateral. As a result, it is extremely difficult for those in poverty to advance economically without access to forms of credit, insurance, or savings mechanisms.

Microfinance services provide these low-income individuals with a broad range of financial tools involving small amounts of money in the hopes that services like capital, banking, and insurance will assist them in rising out of poverty. The World Bank estimates that there are around 160 million people in developing countries that are currently benefiting from microfinance. Many of the institutions that provide microfinance services are nonprofit organizations like Kiva and government agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Many case studies have demonstrated that microfinance is responsible for helping low-income households meet basic needs, improve their economic welfare, and grow their livelihoods. Microfinance also helps to empower women by providing microcredit, thereby promoting equality and economic opportunities.

Microcredit provides poor entrepreneurs the ability to start or expand their businesses. Having this reliable source of credit makes it easier for them to manage cash flow and business activities. Even though the size of the capital lent seem comparatively small, sometimes less than a couple hundred dollars, it is a significant sum for half of the world’s population, who lives on less than $2 a day.

After using credit to start a business or buy land, poor individuals in developing countries can benefit from savings services that microfinance institutions provide. Since the poor are more likely to lose control of their money due to mismanagement, fraud, and corruption, secure financial services allow safer and more responsible transactions. Additionally, low-income families in developing countries are more likely to be adversely affected economically due to many uncontrollable factors such as death, illness, and natural disaster. Access to credit, insurance, and savings can make these precarious conditions easier to manage and maintain financial security.

Empirical evidence from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) shows the benefit that microfinance services can provide to the world’s poor. For example, members of the Grameen Bank, a nonprofit microfinance organization for women, who use microfinance services have over 40% higher incomes than those who do not. Development in countries like India, the Philippines, and Morocco has also been advanced due to microcredit. Businesses have expanded and industries have diversified.

Individuals in developing countries are in dire need of a broad range of financial services. Microfinance services provides these people with the opportunity to develop their own businesses, build assets, and manage their incomes and risks. Those who are given access to microfinance services live in significantly better economic conditions than those who do not. And in time, many of these people are able to pull themselves out of poverty.

– Rahul Shah 

Sources: KIVA, CGAP, Lend with Care
Photo: The Guardian

women_opt
A new plan was recently released to advance women’s rights in Morocco over the next four years. The plan, called “IKRAM,” will provide shelter for domestic violence victims, increase educational opportunities for girls, and increase the percentage of women in public office.

While the plan is commendable, some women’s rights activists believe it falls far short of what is necessary. Morocco reformed its family law in 2004, but many of these reforms are circumvented by conservative judges. Sex outside of marriage remains illegal.

The reform raised the legal age for marriage from 15 to 18, but according to 2010 data, courts have allowed minors to marry in 90% of cases. In 2012 the global community was shocked by the suicide of a young girl who was forced to marry her rapist by her parents and a conservative judge.

Advocates of women’s rights believe a pressing issue is amending the 475 law. The 475 law allows statutory rape charges to be dropped if the two individuals involved are married. This encourages rapists to marry their victims to avoid all charges. Conservative judges support this action as they believe it will save the girls’ honor. While there are rumors that the government will review the penal code, it is uncertain how they plan to approach it or if they will take women’s rights into consideration.

The government has set up a committee that will monitor IKRAM and ensure that its goals are met. This committee will monitor action across all ministries. The committee will also advocate legislation supporting women’s rights.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources:Open Equal Free,New York Times,Al Monitor,All Africa
Photo: Monsite

africa-seychelles
Though African countries may not be the most traditional tourist destinations for the average Westerner, the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 ranked five African countries in the world’s top twenty-five most welcoming places to travel. This report, which evaluates destinations according to their “attractiveness and competitiveness,” also indicated that several African countries are frequent destinations for business trip extensions. While these measures cannot wholly encompass the subjective factors that draw people to specific tourist destinations, the WEF’s report highlights the burgeoning role of African countries in the global economy and encourages people to travel to Africa for their next trip abroad. Here are the top 5 countries to visit in Africa:

1.  Seychelles – Ranked as the top country for travel and tourism competitiveness in Africa, the Republic of Seychelles is a group of 115 islands located off the east coast of Africa. The islands’ scenery is replete with luxury hotels, sandy beaches, and palm trees, vastly different from the diverse climates of continental Africa.

2.  Mauritius – Mauritius came in second on the WEF’s list of Africa’s most competitive travel destinations, ranked highly because of its high safety and security ratings and desirable island environment. Located to the east of Madagascar, Mauritius is a popular destination for golf and deep sea fishing and is home to countless resorts and spas.

3.  South Africa – South Africa has become an increasingly popular tourist destination due to its historical significance, outdoor activities, and cultural opportunities. Listed as the third most competitive travel destination in Africa by the WEF, South Africa’s visitors embrace the country’s climactic and cultural diversity.

4.  Morocco – Ranked third in the world on the WEF’s list of the most welcoming nations for tourists, Morocco is home to many sites of cultural and historical significance. Visitors flock to the country in pursuit of its grand architecture, exciting bazaars and monumental cities such as Casablanca.

5.  Rwanda – Placed third on the WEF’s list of the African countries most recommended for business trip extensions, Rwanda is finally moving past the days of its 1994 genocide to become a popular travel destination. The country boasts mountainous scenery, hidden beaches, and extensive rainforests, a prime destination for visitors wishing to experience Africa’s beauty without traveling to its more frequented sites.

Katie Bandera

Sources: How We Made It In Africa, WEF, Lonely Planet
Photo: Vacation Rental Times

Poverty in Morocco
Poverty in Morocco is a fact of life for many. The name Morocco does not immediately conjure images of destitution. The country has done well as branding itself as an exotic tourist destination, but the country is suffering a significant poverty problem, one that cannot be disguised even to foreigners.

A blogger wrote of her travels in Morocco:

“…from the minute you arrive, the beggars, orphans, story-tellers and snake charmers, all desperately competing to prize a few pennies from the newest tourist’s pockets, not only colourfully line the city’s streets, but paint a picture that poverty, in one of Morocco’s most imperial cities and capital of the south, is depressingly genuine.”

The majority of poverty in Morocco is in rural areas –- according to the Rural Poverty Portal, of the 4 million people living under the poverty line in Morocco, 3 million of them are in rural areas. This may stem from the number of people depending on agriculture as a source of income in a geographically challenging region, as well as a lack of access to resources like water and financial credit and also a low level of training and education.

Morocco has seen vast improvement in its poverty levels in the last two decades, but is still far behind other countries at the same income level. Infant mortality is higher than most lower-middle income countries and total school enrollment and female enrollment are both lower. In rural areas, the vast majority still do not have access to clean water or electricity.

The Moroccan government is indeed working towards alleviating poverty in the country, though recommendations by the world bank have suggested they focus more on improving the agricultural sector as well as targeting services towards the poor and encouraging the better off to use private services.

– Farahnaz Mohammad
Source: UN Post, Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: Sanatoy

 

malaria
For developed world travelers, malaria is an exotic hazard, and easily preventable. Yet for many underdeveloped communities, malaria is an epidemic. 90% of all deaths from malaria in 2010 were in Africa, with the majority of victims being under five years old. Spread by a mosquito bite, symptoms of malaria can show up 10-15 days after being bitten and include fever, vomiting, sweating, weakness, and muscle pain. Once diagnosed, malaria is treatable with artemisinin-based combination therapy. But left untreated, the disease can be fatal. Because it takes only a single bite to be infected, and mosquito populations are booming, it is very difficult to prevent the spread of the disease.

Many international health organizations have been working on ways to help control the disease with one of the most effective being the use of insecticide treated mosquito nets over beds because the species of mosquito which spreads malaria bites mainly at dusk and dawn. Vector control (i.e. the control of animals carrying pathogens) is another method used, as mosquitos have specific breeding preferences, mainly in residual puddles of water. The World Health Organization also encourages the use of insecticide around homes to protect families and communities.

Using the current strategies there is hope that the spread of malaria may be one day halted. Recently, four countries have been declared as malaria free – the UAE in 2007, Morocco and Turkmenistan in 2010, and Armenia in 2011. The greatest challenges, however, remain in sub-Saharan Africa.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: WHO
Photo: Life Saver

Transforming Arab Economies

A new report recently released will aid in the effort to inspire Arab economies to implement concrete actions, which in turn will spur economic growth and competition. The report, titled “Transforming Arab Economies: Travelling the Knowledge and Innovation Road,” is joint collaboration between the World Bank, CMI (Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration), EIB (European Investment Bank) and ISESCO (the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Together, these organizations promote greater investment in a knowledge-based economy model, which is needed to meet the job creation challenge in the Middle East. Inger Andersen, Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, said, “We hope this report can help countries of the Arab world imagine a new kind of development strategy with a knowledge and innovation-driven model at its very heart.” Through innovation and diversification of their economies, Arab countries will be able to create new enterprises and jobs.

By tapping into the field of technological knowledge, these countries will be able to continue improving their level of access to education and to information communication technologies (ICT). To achieve this, countries in the region need to implement a series of reforms, including more open and entrepreneurial economies, a more skilled labor force, improved innovation and research capabilities, and the expansion of ICT.

In addition to these structural reforms, the report suggests that governments should provide more hospitable conditions in which promising sectors can generate new activities and jobs. Governments should also establish channels through which knowledge can be transferred and disseminated, for example through foreign direct investments and international trade in goods and services.

The finance and economy minister of Morocco highlighted efforts made by the Moroccan government to create a new economic model with its foundations in knowledge and innovation. He also stressed the importance of redesigning current economy structures in the Middle East, as well as improving youth employment and maintaining a global economic presence.

However, in order to successfully create stronger economies in the Middle East, it will take a strong and focused effort. Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri, Director General of ISESCO, said, “The implementation of a knowledge and innovation-based development strategy requires a vision, strong coordination at the top level of government, and a participatory approach to mobilize the population to back the needed reforms.” The approach of the report is intended to reflect the huge differences and challenges across the Middle East, and recognizes that each county must be approached with policies that are customized to their individual needs.

– Chloe Isacke
Source: World Bank, ISESCO
Source: World Economic Forum