The Human Rights Warrior

Jennifer Prestholdt

Jennifer Prestholdt
Location
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
Birthday
February 25
Bio
Human rights lawyer, wife, and mother of three. (Not necessarily in that order.) I write about my experiences in fighting for human rights and how I am trying to bring those lessons home to my kids. Join our journey at www.humanrightswarrior.com, Humanrightswarrior on facebook and @JPrestholdt on Twitter. All material on this blog is © Jennifer Prestholdt, 2011, 2012

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MARCH 15, 2012 10:29AM

Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco

Rate: 13 Flag

 Morocco demonstration

Demonstrations in Morocco after the suicide of Amina Filali 

 Image source

Amina Filali was only 16 years old when she took her own life.  According to media reports, Amina was raped last year at the age of 15 by a man 10 years older than her, but that crime alone was not what drove her to swallow rat poison. Instead of seeing her rapist punished for his crime, Amina was forced to marry him. A few months into an unconscionable marriage, her rapist/ husband was beating her, she told her mother.  Her mother counseled her to try and bear it, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massa.  Amina must have seen no way out, no future worth living.

Why would a judge order - or even recommend that - a young girl to marry her rapist? Under Article 475 of the Morocco Penal Code, a perpetrator of rape on a minor is allowed to escape punishment if he marries the victim.  While it may not be a provision of Moroccan law that is used frequently, it is a violation of human rights that has attracted international scrutiny both before and after Amina's tragic death.  I saw this myself when I was in Geneva last November with a group of Moroccan human rights activists.  We were there to participate in the review of Morocco's compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  Violence against women is considered torture under the Convention and the independent committee of experts charged with monitoring state compliance with the treaty had many pointed questions for the Moroccan delegation about Article 475 and other provisions related to the Moroccan government's failure to protect women from violence.

There is no text that allows a rapist to escape prosecution or a "kidnapper" to escape punishment if he marries his victim, the Government assured the UN Committee Against Torture.  The penal code has a law on the rape of a minor, but the victim – if she has reached puberty - may CHOOSE to marry.  The marriage, if it takes place, continued the Moroccan Government delegation, would have to be based on the consent of the victim.  

As Amina's case shows, "consent" is neither adequate protection for a minor nor a remedy for the crime of rape.  Victims are not often in a position to offer informed consent as they may be pressured into marriage as an alternative in order to preserve family honor.  But in this case, Amina's father has, according to some news reports, denied that the family ever consented to the court ruling ordering marriage to preserve family honor. 

Amina's story may be shocking to some of us, but it is a glimpse at the reality of the violence faced by women in Morocco every day.  While it is difficult to determine the exact prevalence of domestic violence throughout Morocco, statistics that are available demonstrate that domestic violence is a widespread problem. A 2011 national study on the prevalence of violence against women found that 62.8% of women in Morocco of ages 18-64 had been victims of some form of violence during the year preceding the study.

The Moroccan Penal Code provides insufficient protection against rape and sexual assault, which are often unreported and prosecutions not pursued. Spousal (also called marital or conjugal) rape is not specifically considered a crime in the Penal Code nor is it prosecuted in practice. Women are deemed to have consented to all sexual relations with their husband by the fact of marrying them. Women do not seek help when they are raped by their husbands because of the social stigma associated with rape, the difficulty in proving rape, and the futility in reporting an act that the Moroccan Government does not even recognize it as a crime. The issue of marital rape in Morocco is trivialized by the officials and executives, and is considered as being unimportant, and therefore, it is not defined nor is it acknowledged by the Moroccan law.

Rape cases in general are difficult to prove in Morocco, as actual physical injuries are required to prove non-consent. Under the Penal Code, rape is considered a crime against morality and not identified as a crime against persons.Women are deterred from reporting rape cases because of the lack of response from law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Even when a rape case is investigated, the perpetrator is not always punished.

Furthermore, sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal in Morocco, and penalties are increased if one or both people engaged in the affair are already married. Thus, there is a strong disincentive for a woman like Amina to report a rape as she risks being prosecuted for illicit sexual relations if she does not prevail in proving her rape case and she is not married to her rapist. Is it any wonder that Amina apparently kept her rape a secret even from her parents for two months?

Amina's story is a tragedy.  But the media attention it has drawn is a cause for hope.  Amina's story has raised awareness both inside and outside of the country about violence against women.  In addition to the media attention, there is a reinvigorated campaign to abolish the law.  There is a Facebook page and an online petition.  There have been demonstrations, with protests planned for this Saturday, March 17.

The silver lining to Amina's story would be that the internal and external pressure  on the Moroccan government finally results in the passing of a Violence Against Women law in Morocco.  (A draft is currently stalled in InterMinisterial consultations and has not yet been introduced in Parliament.) 

As the Moroccan human rights activists recommended to the UN Committee Against Torture last November:

The Moroccan Government should pass a specific violence against women law that contains both criminal and civil provisions.

• Care should be taken that that the new law does not contain provisions that would cause further harm to victims.
• The new law should expand the definition of violence against women and ensure various types of relationships
are covered by the law
• The new law should establish civil remedies, including comprehensive Civil Protection Order provisions for
women who are victims of violence

Morocco’s Penal Code should be amended to:

• explicitly criminalize conjugal rape;
• abolish criminal prosecutions for illicit sexual relations;
• eliminate laws that criminalize those who assist or harbor married women;
• abolish provisions that allow a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution for marrying his victim; and
• eliminate discriminatory legal provisions that place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim of violence.

Sources:

Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, Al Arabiya News, March 14, 2012  http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/14/200577.html

 Morocco protest after raped Amina Filali kills herself, BBC News, March 15, 2012  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17379721

Morocco Penal Code Article 475 

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “2010 Human Rights Practices: Morocco”, (April 8, 2011), available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154468.htm (last visited October 10, 2011).Morocco Penal Code, Article 475

Moroccan Haut Commissaire au Plan, “Principaux résultats de l’Enquête Nationale sur la Prévalence de la Violence à l’Egard des Femmes (version française)”, (January 2011), available at  http://www.hcp.ma/Conference-debat-consacree-a-l-etude-de-la-violence-a-l-egard-de-femmes-au-Maroc_a66.html (last visited October 6, 2011); see also, UN Women, “Moroccan Government Release Extensive Gender-Based Violence Study”, (10 January 2011), available at  http://www.unwomen.org/2011/01/moroccan-government-releases-extensive-gender-based-violence-study/ (last visited October 6, 2011).

Written Communications to The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (26 September 2011). 

MOROCCO: Challenges with addressing domestic violence in compliance with the  Convention Against Torture 47th  Session of the Committee Against Torture (31 October – 25 November, 2011), Joint Written Statment submitted by The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, in collaboration with an alliance of Moroccan NGOs at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/final_shadow_report_to_cat_re_morocco_response_to_dv_oct_14_2011_sent_to_geneva_2.pdf

  

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Comments

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Often your posts make me wish I'd gone to law school so I could do the kind of work that you take on. This one makes me question that... my first impulse is to wait quietly in the shadows some night and waste... the rapist and the judge. Such is the curse of testosterone. You're so damn strong! Where do you find such strength? Of course the answer lies in your heart and the eyes of those you save.
It is very possible to survive the rape done by one man. But, when anyone witnesses, or is a victim of such a gang rape, by judges and those that are seen as the good guys--- I think it's a recipe for suicide. In America, I have witnessed judges acting like lawless monsters. Any attempt to expose that or address judicial corruption gets met with accusations of paranoia. Judges in all countries have such immunities and literally can't be held accountable ,and they know it.

Poor Amina. Too sick and sad this story.
I feel sick after reading this. I heard that Amina had committed suicide after marrying her rapist but did not know much about law in Morocco. Thank your for raising our awareness of this important, terrible situation.
Thank you for the work you do, Jennifer.
I imagine that the law was originally 'conceived' to give these women shelter from the shame of their broken virginity and a home for children born out of wed-lock. What was not taken into consideration is that rapists are violent. Married or unmarried. Such a sad story and even more so, a sad commentary regarding abuse in general. Perhaps women should have been genetically designed to be bigger and men smaller. Would be hard to rape someone your own size and strength.
Of course! Yet, and I don't mean to be insensitive here, the culture in Morocco is so backward, it is disgusting. I know that Morocco gets more that its fair share of positive feedback since the film Casablanca, but the truth is painful. The moral code in Morocco is that of North African nomads, not much different from that of medieval Europe, present Afghanistan or that of Rick Santorum. Always blame the culture. Excellent post, J. R
This is sad to know even though the last time in the country women had taken a huge step towards independance.
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
☼•*¨`*•.¸.(ˆ◡ˆ).¸.•*
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx(ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥
Thanks for bringing the background to this story to light with such a well-researched, well-written piece. /r/r/r/
Thanks for your comments everyone! I think it is important to understand that there has been some progress in Morocco on improving protection of women's rights. Morocco will hopefully be the first Arab country to pass a VAW law; the government has been promising that since 2006. The ongoing Penal Code reform includes an abrogation ofarticle 475, which is why it is so easy for the government to say they will take quick action on the issue. NGOs in Morocco are now concerned that the current focus on the elimination of article 475 will detract from the overall efforts to get the government to follow through on its promises to pass the larger VAW law. That's what we're working for.
I had read about this tragic case. It's good to see that it might actually be bringing about some change in the laws. It would be a good first step in changing attitudes and hidden realities. Nice post and good work.
Thanks for your comment, jl. Today my thoughts are with the courageous women and men holding a sit-in in Rabat in memory of Amina.
Thank you for the work you do and bringing these attrocities to light, Jennifer. Every time I hear or read about something like this, my heart falls into pieces. When will this ever stop? Yet the irony is that while we look at places like Morocco in disgust, we are in US still fighting to hang unto womens' basic rights.
R♥
Hi Fusun! Thanks for stopping by. A lot of the media coverage (in North America, at least) has focused on the "culture"behind Art. 475 of Morocco's Penal Code. It is apparently even in Deuteronomy in the Bible. But the truth is that governments - wherever they are - have an obligation to protect women from violence. That is the challenge.
This is the legacy of allowing primitive religious thinking to dominate a worldview and a political system. Apparently in these people's minds it is more important to make superficial formal appearances conform to a religious ideal than it is to protect an individual from physical and emotional violence.

As long as the social structure performs the kabuki of accepted norms of purity and chastity and monogamy those with responsibility to preserve social order evidently imagine they are fulfilling their goals of social and religious duty. Because they are fearfully enslaved to superstitions, they believe this brutal pantomime of ritual compliance is an acceptable substitute for genuine caring and compassion for human beings. And of course it is all childish insecure males protecting other childish insecure males. When will this foolishness end? Thanks for the work you are doing!
This is a sad first morn read.
I heard about this in my P.U..
After such Violation, suicide?

She ate rat poison to end her life?
What a painful exit from torture?
Wonder? Maybe She? Murdered.

I have no idea. The news was sad.
Evil.
I had to wince. Then turn news off.
You work good. I agree: jmac1949.
I'll go to law school to meet a` Sue.
Sue may help me sue foul lawyers,
crooked judges, the bankers in PA,
sow good Mustard seed in the court,
and get Eric Holder to help Kim Doan.
What happened to FBI agent Sonny?
Ande Bliss goes to a Vietnamese toe
manicurist. Kim Doan did that too.
Then Kim bought a laundromat.
GOPs solicitor for Mike Fisher:
Lawyers stole the laundromat.
A lawyer from Waynesboro:
He trick/sold it to Kim Doan.
GOPs solicitor stole it back.
Thankfully, some Lawyer?
A few are Respectable.
I rant about that too.
Poor Kim Doan.
She's suicidal?
She despairs.
I vent again.
Justice . . .
I'll sow . . .
reap what we
sow. I believe.
Sad. So young.
Evil.
It's Everywhere.
My thought ...
Mind wanders.
Thanks to You.
Do Good Work.
This is a sad first morn read.
I heard about this in my P.U..
After such Violation, suicide?

She ate rat poison to end her life?
What a painful exit from torture?
Wonder? Maybe She? Murdered.

I have no idea. The news was sad.
Evil.
I had to wince. Then turn news off.
You work good. I agree: jmac1949.
I'll go to law school to meet a` Sue.
Sue may help me sue foul lawyers,
crooked judges, the bankers in PA,
sow good Mustard seed in the court,
and get Eric Holder to help Kim Doan.
What happened to FBI agent Sonny?
Ande Bliss goes to a Vietnamese toe
manicurist. Kim Doan did that too.
Then Kim bought a laundromat.
GOPs solicitor for Mike Fisher:
Lawyers stole the laundromat.
A lawyer from Waynesboro:
He trick/sold it to Kim Doan.
GOPs solicitor stole it back.
Thankfully, some Lawyer?
A few are Respectable.
I rant about that too.
Poor Kim Doan.
She's suicidal?
She despairs.
I vent again.
Justice . . .
I'll sow . . .
reap what we
sow. I believe.
Sad. So young.
Evil.
It's Everywhere.
My thought ...
Mind wanders.
Thanks to You.
Do Good Work.
&
comment stuck?
Thanks, Jeff J. and Art J., very much for your comments. There was a sit-in at the Parliament on Saturday. People came from around the country to demand that the government take action to better protect girls and women like Amina. These are the people who deserve the thanks for the good work, not me! But I appreciate everyone who has read, commented, rated - and cared - about the problem of VAW in Morocco.