Moroccan Flag NGO Law Monitor: Morocco

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 4 September 2014

Introduction

Morocco has undergone a series of major reforms since King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne in 1999, including the passage of substantial amendments to the Decree on the Right to Establish Associations in 2002 and approval of a new Constitution following popular protests in 2011. These reforms have enlarged the legal space for civil society, expanding its rights as well as its role in policymaking and the public sphere. As a result of the more enabling legal environment, Moroccan civil society has undergone substantial development. Some challenges persist; for instance, associations touching on sensitive topics such as Western Sahara, the monarchy, and religion, have reported some resistance from authorities, both within and outside the bounds of the law. If implemented properly, however, Morocco's legal framework for civil society could be considered among the most enabling in the Arab world and a model for other countries.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations
Registration Body Headquarters of the Local Administrative Authority, NGOs Directorate
Approximate Number 90,000
Barriers to Entry Administrative officials sometimes refuse to issue registration receipts. (Registration is voluntary, but required for an association to carry out financial transactions among other things.)
Barriers to Activities Organizations which pursue activities that are "illegal, contrary to good morals, [or which aim] to undermine the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or call for discrimination" are prohibited.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Organizations which pursue activities that are "illegal, contrary to good morals, [or which aim] to undermine the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or call for discrimination" are prohibited.
Barriers to International Contact n/a
Barriers to Resources Legal registration is required to receive funds – including foreign funds – and carry out financial transactions. An additional license is required to do domestic fundraising, and officials sometime deny license applications.

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Key Indicators

Population 32,309,239 (July 2012 est.)
Capital Rabat
Type of Government Constitutional Monarchy
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 73.04 years
Female: 79.32 years (2012 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 68.9%
Female: 43.9% (2009 census)
Religious Groups Muslim: 99%; Christian: 1%; Jewish approx. 6,000 persons
Ethnic Groups Arab-Berber: 99%; Other: 1%.
GDP Per Capita $5,100 (2011 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 130 (2013) 1 – 186
World Bank Rule of Law Index 49.3 (2012) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 29.4 (2012) 100 – 0
Transparency International 91 (2013) 1 – 177
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 4 (2013)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 92 (2014) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1979
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1979
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1970
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1993
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1993
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 1993
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2009
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Arab Charter on Human Rights Yes 2004 (signed but not ratified)
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Note: Morocco withdrew from the African Union in protest at the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara).
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The first Moroccan Constitution was passed in 1962 after the country regained independence from France. The Constitution has undergone a number of revisions, most recently in July 2011 following popular protests and other events of the “Arab Spring.” Following the 2011 amendments, the Constitution provides more expansive rights for civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations, and guarantees their freedom to operate in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Morocco. The relevant articles include the following:

Article 12
The associations of civil society and the non-governmental organizations are constituted and exercise their activities in all freedom, within respect for the Constitution and for the law.

They may not be dissolved or suspended by the public powers except by virtue of a judicial decision.

The associations interested in public matters and the non-governmental organizations, contribute, within the framework of participative democracy, to the enactment, the implementation and the evaluation of the decisions and the initiatives of the elected institutions and of the public powers. These institutions and powers must organize this contribution in accordance with the conditions and modalities established by the law.

The organization and functioning of the associations and the non-governmental organizations must conform to democratic principles.

Article 13
The public powers work to the creation of instances of dialogue, with a view to associate the different social actors with the enactment, the implementation, the execution and the evaluation of the public policies.

Article 29
The freedoms of reunion, of assembly, of peaceful demonstration, of association and of syndical and political membership, are guaranteed.

The right to strike is guaranteed. An organic law establishes the conditions and the modalities of its exercise.

Article 139
The participative mechanisms of dialog and of acting in concert are implemented by the Councils of the regions and the Councils of the other territorial collectivities so as to favor the participation of the citizens and of the associations in the enactment and the application of the programs of development.

The citizens and the associations can exercise the right of petition with a view of demanding the inclusion  in the agenda of the Council, a question relevant to its competence.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national legislation includes the following:

  • Decree on the Right to Establish Associations (Decree 1-58-376 of 1958 as amended by Decree 1-733-283 of 1973 and Decree 1-02-206 of 2002)
  • Decree to Implement the Decree on the Right to Establish Associations (Prime Ministerial Decree 2-04-969 of 2005) [English] [عربي]
  • Circular on the Conditions of Recognizing Public Benefit for Associations (Circular 1 of 2005) [English] [عربي]

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

The Ministry in charge of Relations with Civil Society created the National Dialogue Committee on Civil Society and Constitutional Role; the Committee was composed of relevant government officials, civil society representatives, and experts, and strove to ensure the widest participation of non-governmental organizations in setting the legal rules and bases for participatory democracy. The National Dialogue Committee completed its work in May 2014 and issued a final report.

In December 2012, the Ministry proposed a new Prime Ministerial Circular on the Conclusion of Partnerships between the State and Associations in December 2012. The Circular aims to promote partnerships between the Moroccan government and civil society. It also aims to promote principles of good governance, accountability, and transparency in the implementation of the government’s program to fund civil society. However, the order may restrict Moroccan associations’ ability to seek and secure resources from diverse sources. As with any law or regulation, there should be adequate consultation with civil society about the circular to help ensure that it meets the needs of both government and civil society. For more information, please contact ICNL

We are unaware of any other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs. Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

The association is the main form of non-governmental organization in Morocco. The Decree on the Right to Establish Associations (Decree 1-58-376 of 1958 as amended by Decree 1-733-283 of 1973 and Decree 1-02-206 of 2002) allows for the formation of an association, which it defines as "an agreement to achieve constant cooperation between two or more persons using their information or activities for a non‐profit purpose."

Public Benefit Status

Although the Decree on the Right to Establish AssociationsDecree on Public Benefit Status for Associations, and Ministerial Circular on the Requirements and Process of Awarding Public Benefit Status all set out a procedure by which associations can apply for public benefit status, no Moroccan law sets out clear conditions for what activities qualify as public benefit. Obtaining public benefit status entitles the association to tax benefits along with the ability to apply for government financial support. The number of associations with the status is small, however: A report issued by the NGOs Directorate in 2014 stated that nine associations had applied and obtained public benefit status during the previous year, bringing the number of organizations with the status to 206. 

Barriers to Entry

Morocco provides for establishment and registration via a “notification” process, however in practice the process effectively requires prior government approval and can present a significant hurdle for associations. Under the law, obtaining legal personality is voluntary: Article 2 provides that “associations can be freely established without prior permission, provided that” the notification process is followed. Accordingly, per Article 5, organizations that desire legal personality should file a notification with the Local Administrative Authority in which the organization's headquarters are located. The notification application must contain information including: the name and purpose of the association; the name, nationality, age, profession, residence, and national or foreign ID of its founders; and the address of the association’s headquarters. According to the law, once the complete application has been submitted, “a receipt is to be delivered within 60 days.” If no response is received, the association can carry out its activities (Article 5).

While the law appears to give limited discretion to government officials concerning an association's notification, in practice the authorities may refuse to receive the notification documents, or issue the notification receipt. The lack of a registration receipt effectively deprives some organizations of legal entity status. While unregistered associations may implement activities, moreover, registration is required in order to carry out financial transactions, including receipt and possession of funds to support those activities.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Article 3 of Decree 1-58-376 of 1958 (as amended) prohibits the formation of associations that pursue objectives which are “illegal, contrary to good morals, [or which aim] to undermine the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or call for discrimination.” Moroccan authorities regularly use this vaguely-worded provision to refuse to accept the notification announcement of Amazigh (native Berber) and Sahrawi (Western Saharan) organizations, including among others the Iz’uran Association, the Imal Association, and the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations Committed by the Moroccan State.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Decree 1-58-376 of 1958 (as amended) and the Criminal Code of Morocco prohibit membership in groups which are deemed seditious, violent, or in furtherance of terrorist activities. Punishment for participation in aiding terrorism is punishable by lengthy imprisonment and even death. Participation in an association which has the "features of special armed groups" or "may affect the unity of the national territory" is punishable by up to five years in prison. In June 2009, for example, the Casablanca Court of First Instance sentenced the Amazigh president of the Rif Human Rights Association to imprisonment for three years for “insulting behavior towards State institutions” and the receipt of foreign funds to “undermine and discredit the Moroccan authorities’ efforts in the fight against drug trafficking.”

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international contact and communication.

Barriers to Resources

There are limited legal barriers to the collection of resources, whether from domestic or foreign sources. The primary obstacle facing associations is legal registration, without which they are unable to conduct financial transactions as discussed above. In addition, organizations must apply for an additional license before they may collect donations, though the NGOs Directorate generally grants a fundraising license to most of those organizations that apply. Foreign funding is not subject to major restrictions, and in practice many organizations receive funds from abroad.   

Barriers to Assembly

Article 29 of Morocco’s 2011 Constitution provides broad protection for the freedom of assembly, stating: “The freedoms of reunion, of assembly, of peaceful demonstration… are guaranteed.” Law 76 on Public Assemblies, which was passed in 2002 to supplement Decree No. 1-58-377, further regulates the right. The legal framework for assemblies is not well publicized, however; even many civil society organizations are unaware of the details of provisions regulating assemblies.

Vague Provisions

Law 76 on Public Assemblies contains a number of vague and broadly-worded provisions, which gives authorities much discretion in their implementation of the law. Chapter 6 provides, for instance, that organizers of assemblies must “prevent any statement that contradicts with the public order and manners, or that involves incitement for a misdemeanors or a crime." Chapter 13 of Law 76 on Public Assemblies also provides that "if the local administrative authority deems that the assembly in question threatens public security, it can ban [the assembly] upon a written decision that shall be served to the signing applicant to their selected places of abode." The use of vague terms such as “contradicts with the public order and manners," and “threatens public security” gives wide discretion to the authorities to interpret the provision the way they deem fit.

Advance Notification
Chapter 3 of Law 76 on Public Assemblies governs the process for notifying authorities prior to a public meeting. (Associations and legally constituted groups are exempt from the notification requirement for their meetings.) Organizers that wish to hold a public meeting must notify the local administrative authorities at least 24 hours in advance and obtain a stamped receipt of acknowledgement. The notification must include the day, time, place, and purpose of the meeting, as well as the names, professions, and addresses of three people domiciled in the province where the meeting will occur. The public meeting may take place 24 hours after obtaining the stamped receipt.

Law 76 also provides a process by which registered, established groups – including associations, political parties, unions, or professional bodies – may hold demonstrations on public roads. (Only such groups may do so; demonstrations on public roads by any other entity are barred.) Demonstration organizers must submit a notification statement to the local administrative authority at least three days beforehand (Chapter 12). The statement must include: the organizers’ names, nationalities, residence and identification number; the demonstration’s venue, date, time, route, and purpose; and the signatures of three individuals who live in the province where the demonstration is planned.

For both public meetings and demonstrations on public roads, if the organizers are unable to obtain the stamped receipt on the declaration, they may send the authorities a registered letter containing the same information with acknowledgement of receipt. However, the law does not require the authorities to procure either the stamped receipt, or acknowledgement of receipt for the registered letter; accordingly this provides a means for authorities to effectively prohibited assemblies, for instance based on their political or cultural content.

In addition, the local administrative authority has the power to ban a demonstration it deems likely to disturb public security (Chapter 13). The ban must be served, in writing, to the organizers at their places of residence. The organizers may challenge the decision before an administrative court, however this process often involves significant delays and is not required to be expedited, and as such is rarely effective.  

Spontaneous Demonstrations
The law does not provide for spontaneous assemblies. Accordingly, given the prior notification and receipt requirement, spontaneous public meetings and demonstrations likely fall under the law’s provisions concerning “mobs,” and are prohibited. The advanced notification requirement does not apply to assemblies that are part of local customs, however. The last clause of Chapter 11 of Law 76 on Public Assemblies provides that "assemblies on public roads that are according to local customs shall be exempted from permit requirement." Examples of such assemblies are weddings, circumcision celebrations, and funerals.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
Law 76 on Public Assemblies provides that assemblies may not take place after midnight, or beyond the time stated in the notification permit. For demonstrations, the law gives the local administrative authority to modify the route or timing on the grounds of traffic interference or security. The authority may also prohibit the display of emblems, flags, or other rallying symbols in public places, via a written decision. 

Fines and Criminal Penalties
Law 76 provides for criminal penalties in the case of violation of the law. Chapter 9 provides that any violation of Law 76 will be punished by a fine of between 2,000 and 5,000 dirham (USD 240-595). A similar fine and possible prison sentence of 1-6 months is specifically provided for relatively minor infractions, including making an inaccurate declaration that is likely to mislead authorities regarding the nature of an assembly, or attempting to engage participants in an undeclared or prohibited demonstration. A repeat offense is to be published by imprisonment from 1-2 months and a fine of 2,000-10,000 dirham (USD 240-1,190).

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Universal Periodic Review: Morocco (2012)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Morocco
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Morocco
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2010: Morocco
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 2014
IMF Country Reports Morocco and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Morocco

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Moroccan human rights organizations boycott the national dialogue on civil society (March 2014)
The National Committee for National Dialogue on civil society and new constitutional roles presented a report recommending the preparation of a national charter on democratic principles and international standards. A number of human rights organizations have decided to boycott the National Dialogue and are carrying out parallel meetings and consultations.

Al-Chobani: The creation of a ministerial committee on civil is near (March 2014)
The Minister in charge of relations with parliament and civil society announced that a new ministerial committee for civil society will be established soon, per a forthcoming government decree.

Moroccan civil society is ranked the last of all other African countries (February 2014)
A civil society barometer revealed Morocco’s last-place standing among African countries in a report prepared by the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) in cooperation with CCFD-Terre.

European NGO Denounces "Serious" Violation of Human Rights in Western Sahara (September 2013)
Morocco "violates seriously human rights in its country and in the occupied territories" of Western Sahara, Europe's Central and Eastern Alliance for Solidarity with the Sahrawi People claimed. The reaction of the European NGO comes after the visit made by Moroccan minister of foreign affairs to Hungary where the two sides made a joint statement at the end of the visit. "We consider worryingly that the joint statement doesn't mention that Morocco seriously violates human rights in its country and in the occupied territories of Western Sahara," NGO said in a letter sent to the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs János Martonyi.

Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility officially launched in Morocco (April 2013)
An exchange seminar with the civil society organizations that are partners of the EU in Morocco, was held in Rabat. The event was the occasion to launch officially the 18 new partnership projects with civil society funded by the EU in 2012 (for a budget of approximately €4 million), as well as the new capacity building programme for civil society organizations in Morocco (budget of approx. €1.2 million), financed through the civil society facility set up by the EU in the Neighbourhood.

Is Morocco on the path to democracy?‏ (November 2012)
Morocco is not yet an exemplar of Jeffersonian liberalism, but it is on a path paved with democratic principles. Making the Berber language an official language of the nation along with Arabic is a symbolic gesture of extraordinary magnitude. It recognized universally agreed upon rights, including most significantly the rights of minorities. At long last there is another model for the Arab future, one that Americans and Europeans should embrace wholeheartedly. It is true that there are still challenges ahead of the democracy path n Morocco but the most important is that Moroccans (civil society, political parties and most important youth) have made their irreversible choice to continue their peaceful struggle towards full democracy.

Assaults On Peaceful Demonstrations Calling for Saharawis Self-Determination (October 2012)
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has condemned the acts of repression of the Moroccan regime against the peaceful demonstration calling for self-determination of the Saharawi people. The Cairo-based Organization confirmed that the assault on the peaceful demonstration and injuring of its activists is "a severe violation" of the freedom of expression and opinion, pointing out that the suppression "is the only method that the Moroccan authorities recognize to address the peaceful demonstrations" in Western Sahara. 

Trending away from absolute power (September 2012)
There is no doubt that traditional political parties and human rights activists feel overtaken by the "Facebook insurgents".  Two and a half million Moroccans are Facebook members, making Morocco second only to Egypt in the number of Facebook members in North Africa and the Middle East.  A higher percentage of Moroccans use the Internet, however, than Egyptians do.  And these Moroccans are mobilizing for their own protest against corruption, poverty, unemployment, access to health care, and various forms of indignity. Traditional activists think that Facebook uprisings are not enough to see reform through; public discontent needs to be channeled and framed by traditional political parties and human rights organizations.

"Controlled Development" of civil society (July 2012)
In Morocco, the monarchy and Makhzen have encouraged a controlled development of civil society for several decades, but they haven't always succeeded in keeping it under check. In 2003, in one of the first successful youth-led, internet driven protests against an Arab regime, members of the Moroccan heavy metal community responded to the arrest of 14 fans and musicians on charges of Satanism by starting local and international campaigns to free their fellow metal heads, staging protests at the court house where they were tried and ultimately forcing the government to overturn their convictions.

EU-Morocco 'Action Plan' highlights involvement of civil society (May 2012)
A new comprehensive EU-Morocco Action Plan will provide an operational roadmap for their bilateral relations in the next five years (2012-2016). The new action plan will be fully in line with the political, economic and social reform agenda of Morocco and with the EU's renewed approach to the European Neighborhood Policy. Among other areas, the action plan contains important objectives for the consolidation of the respect of human rights and democratic principles, improved governance and a more active involvement of civil society.

Ten percent of Moroccan NGO’s benefit from 80% of public funding- Minister (April 2012)
According to the Moroccan daily Attajdid, the Minister in charge of relations with the parliament and civil society uncovered shocking findings about the funding of civil society associations in Morocco. The data collected revealed the existence of 70,000 active associations. Only 10% of these associations benefit from 80% of public funding that mounts up to 9 Milliard centimes. He added that 97% of these associations do not submit any document that evidences the financial transactions, such as receipt and vouchers.

Young Moroccans keep Arab Spring spirit alive (March 2012)
The youth-led February 20 Movement in Morocco has simmered down to a core group that includes many female activists. They are keeping an eye on constitutional reforms enacted last year that some say didn't go far enough. "We want real, radical change," says one.

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The foregoing information was collected by Essaadi Mostafa, Director of the Center for Local Development in Casablanca, Morocco.