Tuesday, March 13, 2007

First Arab country to abolish death penalty

Morocco edges closer to abolishing death penalty
13 March 2007

A royal birth followed immediately by an amnesty for more than a dozen death-row prisoners, among others, is being interpreted in Morocco as a signal that the country is on the verge of making history in the Arab world by being the first to abolish the death penalty.

On February 28, the wife of King Mohammed VI, Princess Lalla Salma, gave birth to the ruling couple's first daughter, Princess Lalla Khadija. Immediately afterwards, Morocco's Minister of Justice, Mohamed Bouzouba, appeared on nationwide television announcing the biggest royal pardon yet for almost 9 000 prisoners, including 14 people sentenced to death.

Reading from an "official communiqué", the minister repeated several times that this amnesty included people on the death row. This was taken as a clear sign here that the king supported abolition of the death penalty.

The royal message to the Moroccan people was underlined by the minister's unusual appearance on television in traditional Moroccan attire. It was also a signal that the day of the formal abolition of the death penalty in Morocco is fast approaching.

The final decision to abolish the death penalty will be taken by the Moroccan Parliament. But the king, who appoints his prime minister and other key ministers, would have to give his support for such a crucial change to the state's existing constitutional and legal system.

At the Third World Congress against the Death Penalty in Paris last February, the head of Morocco's state-appointed consultative committee on human rights, Ben Zekri, confirmed there was a general consensus among MPs to end capital punishment.

The Moroccan press has speculated that a parliamentary vote will be taken on the issue in the current parliamentary session, which ends in June. A bill to abolish the death penalty has already been drawn up and put before the government. The king has also set up a special legal commission that is working on the task of removing capital punishment from the country's legal code. Since 1993, Morocco has operated a moratorium on the death penalty -- one of about 20 African countries that have not carried out executions for more than 10 years.

Opponents of the death penalty worldwide hope that Morocco's removal of the death penalty from its statute books will set an example to North African and Middle Eastern states. None of the 22 states in the region has yet abolished the death penalty. Saudi Arabia and Iran execute more than 100 every year.

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