Human Rights Council: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco reviewed by the Human Rights Council under their Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process conducted by States within the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, consists of "reviewing the human rights achievements of all UN Member States".
This review, which takes place every four years, allows civil society to express its concerns to the Member States, which in turn can make recommendations to the State under review. It is then up to the latter to accept or reject them, in which case it commits to implementing them before its next UPR.
The Maghreb countries were most recently reviewed in May 2017. Their next review (fourth review), scheduled for 8-11 November 2022 in Geneva, will be an opportunity to determine whether previous recommendations have been effectively implemented.
In March, Alkarama submitted a report for each of the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) in which it drew attention to the human rights situation in the country, expressed its main concerns and made recommendations.
The UPRs are closely followed by Alkarama, which focuses on the most serious violations, including those against the right to life and security of the person, as well as the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Human rights situation in the Maghreb: Alkarama's concerns brought before the HRC
Alkarama has noted with regret that the recommendations made during previous UPRs to improve the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Maghreb countries are far from having been implemented.
On the contrary, human rights violations have continued in recent years, reaching their peak in the repression of peaceful popular protest movements.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents remain major issues common to all three countries.
Alkarama has documented numerous cases of individuals arbitrarily arrested and detained in conditions that do not meet the requirements of international law.
Prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement is not uncommon, in violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
Similarly, Alkarama has also documented cases of convictions based solely on confessions extracted under duress.
Alkarama has documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, particularly in the context of the repression of the peaceful Hirak demonstrations. Many demonstrators were arbitrarily arrested and then sentenced to heavy penalties for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Hundreds of members of civil society, as well as journalists and human rights defenders, have been arbitrarily arrested simply for their activism. These criminal proceedings have been brought against them on the basis of increasingly repressive and freedom-restricting anti-terrorism legislation.
Since its last review, several UN human rights mechanisms have expressed strong criticism of the alarming human rights situation in the country, particularly since the beginning of the Hirak.
Thus, the appeals of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which expressed "deep concern about the deterioration of the situation" in March 2021, have so far remained unanswered.
In addition, the Algerian authorities continue to refuse to cooperate in good faith with the UN Committees and Special Procedures, particularly in the context of individual complaints.
In Morocco, much progress remains to be made in the area of human rights in order to fully implement the recommendations accepted in previous reviews.
As in neighbouring countries, the expression of political opinions contrary to the official ideology, especially on so-called "sensitive" issues, is subject to restrictive and repressive measures. Similarly, Moroccan legislation contains numerous restrictions on the freedom of association, assembly and peaceful demonstration.
Many peaceful demonstrations have been banned or violently repressed by the police with impunity.
Finally, with regard to the rights to life, liberty and security, Alkarama expressed its deep concern about the persistence of arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment in detention.
Alkarama expressed similar concerns regarding the human rights situation in Tunisia, which has deteriorated significantly since the suspension and subsequent dissolution of Parliament by President Kaïs Saïed.
An increasing number of criminal proceedings have been brought against bloggers or Facebook users for peacefully expressing dissenting views or criticism of the executive online.
Many have been investigated or charged and, for the most part, convicted on charges such as defamation, contempt of state institutions and "harming" others through telecommunication networks.
In addition, numerous peaceful demonstrations against social injustices have been violently repressed by the Tunisian security forces.
Since their last review, the three Maghreb countries have not put an end to excessive restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. On the contrary, these have been exacerbated despite recommendations calling for the respect of these rights and freedoms.
Thus, in the run-up to the periodic review, Alkarama drew the attention of Member States to the worsening human rights situation and the lack of implementation of recommendations from previous cycles in all three countries.
Improving human rights in the Maghreb: Alkarama's recommendations
For each country, Alkarama reiterated the recommendations that it considered most important, but which have remained unimplemented since the last Universal Periodic Review.
Indeed, many of the recommendations rejected by States during the last UPR remain essential to improving the human rights situation, including :
1. With regard to Algeria: "Amend the articles of the Penal Code punishing the exercise of freedom of peaceful expression with prison sentences, so as to bring them into conformity with the Algerian Constitution." (Recommendation No. 129.103)
2. With regard to Morocco: "Cease the prosecution of journalists and others detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association and release them." (Recommendation #144.119)
3. With regard to Tunisia: "Ensure that the perpetrators of all acts of torture committed in the context of the fight against terrorism are held accountable for such acts. (Recommendation n°125.78).
In addition, Alkarama also reiterated the recommendations accepted during the last UPR, but which have still not been implemented, including :
1. With regard to Algeria: "Take steps to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.” (Recommendation 5)
2. Concerning Morocco: "Revise the provisions of the Penal Code on terrorism and define terrorism-related offences more clearly and precisely.” (Recommendation No. 144.85)
3. With regard to Tunisia: "Adopt measures to ensure due protection and respect for the right to information, freedom of expression and freedom of the press; take additional measures to ensure freedom of expression, including on the Internet; Adopt the necessary legislation to ensure better protection of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of information; guarantee in law and in practice freedom of expression, freedom of the press as well as freedoḿ of assembly and association, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (Recommendation No. 114. 55)
Finally, in light of the deterioration of the human rights situation in each country since their last review, Alkarama also made new recommendations, including:
1. With regard to Algeria: "Take all necessary measures to effectively prohibit arbitrary arrests and detentions by respecting in particular the limitation of the duration of police custody to 48 hours and by ensuring immediate access to a lawyer.”
2. With regard to Morocco: "Ensure that acts that fall within the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms do not fall under the scope of the anti-terrorism law".
3. With regard to Tunisia: "Ensure that any complaint relating to cases of torture is followed by an independent and impartial investigation and that the perpetrators of these acts are punished".
Following this fourth review cycle, Alkarama will monitor the implementation of accepted recommendations in cooperation with independent civil society organisations.
Ensuring state accountability: Alkarama's monitoring of the implementation of UPR recommendations
While States remain officially responsible for the implementation of recommendations adopted at the end of Universal Periodic Reviews, civil society plays an important role in monitoring their implementation. This role is all the more important regarding states' failure to meet their international human rights obligations.
In each country, Alkarama regularly monitors the evolution of the human rights situation in the field with regard to the UPR recommendations in order to evaluate their implementation.
This monitoring ensures the accountability of States and raises public awareness of the international commitments made by their governments in terms of human rights.
It is also an opportunity to make the UPR more effective by maintaining pressure on States from civil society and thus allow the review to contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation on the ground.
Alkarama therefore calls on members of civil society in the Maghreb to join its efforts to ensure the effectiveness of this follow-up.