WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today expressed concern with Morocco's recent record on human rights and religious freedom. Inhofe's comments came after yesterday's Tom Lantos’ Human Rights Commission hearing on the matter that examined the Moroccan government’s persecution of Moroccan Christians and accusations of proselytizing or evangelizing. Since March, the country has deported almost 100 foreign residents, including 50 Americans, and among them sixteen people who worked in a orphanage without prior notice.
In an effort to raise concerns on these violations of human rights, Inhofe and several Members of Congress sent a letter to the King of Morocco, His Majesty Mohammed VI. The April 2010 letter expressed hope that the people deported would be able to return to Morocco and exercise religious freedom in a land where the official religion is Islam.
King Mohammed VI has previously stated in 2009, “My country also supports your (United States) efforts to uphold the universal values of freedom, democracy, solidarity, justice and brotherhood, and to promote the lofty ideals of human rights to which both our peoples are deeply committed.”
To this, Inhofe responded, “I sincerely hope that these are not just words but genuine ideals held by King Mohammed VI, and that he will give his people the right t choose their beliefs and the freedom to express them.
Inhofe added, “It is my grave concern that Christians in Morocco are being unjustly persecuted due to their religious beliefs. Religious freedom is an important basic right vital to democracy, so as someone who has had 111 country visits on the continent of Africa, it is my hope that the Moroccan government will allow freedom of worship for the people of Morocco and permit the foreign residents who were previously deported back into the country.”
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing:
Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Morocco
STATEMENT OF SENATOR JAMES M. INHOFE, MEMBER OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE AND SUBCOMMITTEE ON AFRICAN AFFAIRS
June 17, 2010
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today on the status of human rights and religious freedom in Morocco. I have been involved with Morocco and more specifically the dispute in the Western Sahara for many years. In fact, in 2005 I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the conflict with Morocco and the Western Sahara. Unfortunately, Morocco’s handling of the dispute over Western Sahara over the years has been less than encouraging. Morocco has gone back and forth in agreeing to give the Western Saharans a right to self determination; a choice in determining their political destiny.
The people of the Western Sahara have languished in desert camps for more than 30 years as the conflict has gone unresolved. I have visited the camps and have seen with my own eyes that their story is one of determination, persistence and hope that one day they will enjoy the basic rights all humans deserve—the right to life and to self-determination. There have been many negotiations, and it is my hope that a resolution will be reached in the near future, and Morocco will give the Western Saharans the right to choose for themselves their future.
We are gathered here today to face another, new, problem in Morocco which is also related to one’s choice. As you know, around 100 expatriates, including roughly 50 Americans, have been deported or denied re-entry because they have been accused of proselytizing. Many of these foreign residents in Morocco have lived and worked in the country for up to twenty years; contributing to a variety of sectors including education, business and development. They were given no warning or explanation for their immediate deportation and were given no opportunity to defend themselves against these charges. Some of these foreign residents were even caring for some of the most rejected and vulnerable of Moroccan society—orphans.
Specifically, on March 8, 2010, sixteen individuals, including a number of Americans, who were running the Village of Hope Orphanage in the town of Ain Leuh, were deported, leaving the children traumatized. These foreigners who have spent many years providing love and care for these children should be given the right to see the evidence to support the charges against them, and the opportunity to appeal such charges. I have also received reports that the Moroccan families who adopted children with the help of Village of Hope have been taken into police custody and questioned. In at least two reported cases, government officials have told families that their adopted children will be taken away from them, which has caused great uncertainty and trepidation for these families.
This story serves as an example of what seems to be a larger, troubling campaign to deny Moroccans the basic human right of freedom to worship one’s religion. This is a sad development for a country that has so much potential and has made so much progress. Morocco is a beautiful country with many resources; from miles of coastline, fertile agricultural valleys, snow capped mountains and rolling dunes of the Sahara desert. Morocco is rich in culture. Morocco has also been a beacon of religious tolerance in the past in a part of the world that is known for little religious tolerance. In fact, at one time Morocco was home to over 250,000 Jews, and to this day Jewish communities still exist. Morocco has a history of being friendly to other religions such as Christianity. As the Moroccan Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq has said as late as May 2010 in a Reuter’s interview, "war between religions is very dangerous and the world today does not need that."
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Morocco today. There are a number of reports that Moroccan Christians are being persecuted and denied the right to practice their religion. Many of these Moroccans are being harassed, thrown into prison and beaten only because they are Christians. One man, Jamaa Ait Bakrim has been in and out of prison since 1994, and was convicted in 2005 for converting Moroccans to Christianity, i.e. proselytism. He is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence. Rachid, another Moroccan who has submitted testimony for this hearing today, tells the story of his family, which was threatened and harassed and ultimately forced from their homeland because of their belief in Christ. Rachid explains that although the Moroccan government has sought to show it is a tolerant nation regarding religion, in reality it is not. For example, the Moroccan government does not acknowledge the existence of any Christian converts, does not allow legal marriages outside of Islam and restricts children to only Islamic schools in which they are required to recite the Koran.
In May of this year, I wrote a letter to King Mohammed VI, along with eight of my colleagues in Congress, regarding the deportation of foreign expatriates, and the denial of religious freedom in his country. We wrote:
While forced conversion is unacceptable under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which protects freedom of religion, proselytism is a protected right under this article. Moreover, as you know, Article 28 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties holds that states may not use domestic laws to justify violations of their treaty obligations. [emphasis added] Therefore, since Morocco has recognized the right to practice one’s own religion, we urge you to work with the legislature to reform the law banning proselytism and ensure the full provision of religious freedom, which includes the sharing and teaching of one’s faith. Article 18 of the ICCPR states, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
The response from the government was more than disappointing. Taib Fassi Fihri, Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, wrote that “Freedoms of opinion and expression, in all their forms, are and will remain protected and guaranteed by the Constitution of Morocco…. Everyone can practice these liberties without any restriction whatsoever.” He explained, however, that the foreign residents who were expelled were guilty of violating Articles 220 – 223 of the Moroccan Penal Code for using “means of seduction in the aim of undermining a Muslim’s faith or of converting him/her to another religion, either by exploiting his weaknesses or needs, or through the use of health or educational establishments, as well as shelters or orphanages,” i.e. proselytism. These accusations, which have also been used against Moroccan Christians, were given without evidence and without opportunity for an appeal. More importantly, the domestic laws of Morocco—Articles 220-223—outlawing proselytism are in contravention of Morocco’s treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which protects the freedom of religion, including proselytism. Morocco signed the ICCPR in 1975 and ratified it in 1979.
It seems to me, then, that this is a clear contradiction between Morocco’s assertion that they are a country which gives freedom of expression in “all” forms, and laws that attempt to accuse those of other faiths, whose sole desire is to practice their religion, of manipulation and exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. In fact, many of these expelled foreign residents have spent many years caring for and giving to the weak and vulnerable. I am also aware of many Moroccan Christians who have done the same. It is unfortunate that the Moroccan government sees these people as a threat to their sovereignty, and has decided to persecute them and force them out, instead of seeing them as an asset to their country.
On October 9, 2009, King Mohammed VI said, “My country also supports your (United States) efforts to uphold the universal values of freedom, democracy, solidarity, justice and brotherhood, and to promote the lofty ideals of human rights to which both our peoples are deeply committed.” I commend the King’s words, and I know that he has made reforms in his country in other areas over the years. And so I sincerely hope that these are not just words but genuine ideals held by King Mohammed VI, and that he will give his people the right to choose their beliefs and the freedom to express them. It is also my hope that the Saharawis in the desert will one day have their right to choose self-determination.Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing today.