Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Topical Issue Debate
Human Rights Issues
I wish to raise with the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, the horrific and tragic case in Morocco that came to light recently where a 16 year old girl, Amina Filali, committed suicide after being pressurised by a court, and her mother, to marry her rapist. While the marriage was seen to be required for cultural and religious reasons by some of Amina's family - so as to avoid any damage to the family's honour - the impetus to resolve rape cases in this way is also prompted by an aspect of Morocco's penal code, which allows the rapist of a minor to shield himself from prosecution if he marries his victim. The relevant part of the penal code is Article 475.
Amina's father was against the marriage but was pressurised by the court to agree to it. One can only imagine the psychological trauma visited on the family and the child by having to marry her rapist. After the marriage, she was severely beaten by her rapist and his mother over a period of three and a half months. Then, on the 10 March, she took her life after swallowing 60 cent worth of rat poison. Women's groups in Morocco have been protesting outside the parliament in Rabat calling for an inquiry into the case and for the repeal of Article 475. They rightly point out that, "Marriage is not the solution for a rape, which is a crime", in this case one that went unpunished.
This week we are deciding on whether to introduce gender quotas to improve the participation of women in politics in this country. Our history on the treatment and equality of women is not without blemish; an example of which we heard last week was the matter of symphysiotomy. We have travelled far but we still have some way to go. I respect the fact that we must have due regard to cultural sensitivities and be cautious to avoid the mistakes and evils of colonialism committed by other countries in the past, which were often rooted in arrogance. However, we must be proactive as we owe it to those who are struggling around the world for justice. Poverty and a lack of educational opportunities are at the heart of many such actions, in particular in the case of women. In the midst of our financial and economic difficulties we should be also mindful of the obligations to those living in desperate poverty around the world, in particular to the family that is affected in Morocco.
I urge the Minister of State to call in the Moroccan representative to this country. As a fellow parliamentarian I ask her to indicate our displeasure and to add her voice to a call to have this reprehensible law repealed. Further, as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I urge Deputy Creighton to encourage her European colleagues and the European Union itself to bring to bear as much political pressure as possible on Morocco to repeal a law that provides for a situation whereby a rapist can rape a minor and have an exit strategy as a consequence of a provision in civil law. I find that disgusting and reprehensible. I ask the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to take whatever action is necessary on behalf of this country and this House to highlight it to the Moroccan representative in this country and in Europe.
I thank Deputy Keaveney for bringing this horrendous case to the attention of the Dáil. I am sure I speak for everyone in this House in expressing my horror at the details of the case of Amina Filali. As the Deputy correctly pointed out, she was raped and then forced to marry her assailant so as to prevent him from being prosecuted for his appalling and heinous crime. She then suffered severe beating at the hands of the man who raped and subsequently married her. We can have no understanding of the depth of despair that Amina suffered which drove her to take her own life. She was stripped of her rights and punished for the wrongs of her abuser. She was abandoned and neglected by the legal system that should protect vulnerable members of society. She was left without the promise of a future. She was just 16.
Women have played an important role in the momentous changes we have seen across the Arab world in the past 12 months. They have stood shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and husbands and demanded freedom and equality. Their demands extend to gender equality and protection under the law. Strong encouragement must be provided by the European Union and other international actors to ensure real benefits flow for women from the Arab spring and that their overall position is advanced in Morocco and other countries undergoing reform and change.
Morocco has in recent years taken some steps to empower women in Moroccan society. The adoption of the family code in 2004 was a major milestone in improving the protection of women's right in Morocco, including by raising the age of marriage to 18 and prohibiting polygamy. The new Moroccan constitution, which was adopted by referendum last year, has for the first time recognised gender equality. Those are steps in the right direction but it remains clear that Morocco must take further steps to protect women that have been the victims of rape or domestic violence, including the repeal of Article 475 that permits such an appalling miscarriage of justice as was suffered by Amina. Amina's death was a heart-breaking tragedy but it has resonated considerably within Moroccan society and galvanised many Moroccans to seek changes to this draconian law. I fully support the calls of human rights defenders in Morocco and elsewhere seeking an immediate repeal of Article 475 and I also strongly urge the Moroccan authorities to launch a full investigation into the death of Amina and the important issues it raises.
Morocco will undergo the second review of its human rights obligations and commitments as part of the universal periodic review, UPR, process at the next session commencing in May this year. Ireland and our EU partners will engage with Morocco in the course of its UPR on the human rights situation in Morocco, including recommendations on necessary reforms to its penal code to ensure greater protection of women and reforms required to provide greater equality and empowerment of women in Moroccan society.
This country is committed to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and is involved in a variety of initiatives at international level to this end, such as playing an active role in the negotiation and adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council aimed at promoting the rights of women and girls. This country was to the fore in promoting the establishment of UN Women, the new UN agency working for gender equality and women's empowerment, and has provided more than €1.8 million since its establishment last year for its work in developing countries.
I thank the Minister of State for her objective, well researched and honest response. I call on her as a fellow Oireachtas Member whom I know shares my concern to call the Moroccan representative in this country to this House. I am sure it is a man; it is hardly a woman.
I would be grateful if the Minister of State would call the man from Morocco to her office to outline the palpable outrage of decent people in this country who are ashamed that in a contemporary, allegedly civilised society, courts of justice would provide an escape route for rapists to marry their victims to save face for families for cultural reasons. That form of abuse cannot be provided for in any society. I ask the Minister of State who has responsibility for European affairs to take whatever action is necessary to demonstrate with great ferocity our concern. This was an innocent child who, for reasons beyond our imagination, was forced to marry her rapist, imprisoned for three months in an horrific relationship and beaten consistently and her only way out was to take her own life. I ask the Minister of State to call in the officials attached to the Moroccan mission in Ireland and ask what are the plans to repeal this awful law.
I thank the Deputy once again for his contribution. I have no difficulty with either myself or the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade calling in the ambassador. I will discuss the matter with the Tánaiste. As the Deputy correctly states, it is of such grave concern that it behoves the Government to take strong and decisive action. There is no doubt the case has resulted in widespread concern across the international community. In many ways, the case of Amina Filali can be compared with those of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia and Wael Ghonim in Egypt which have helped to highlight the urgent need for reform and the greater promotion and defence of human rights in countries which are undergoing significant transformation as a result of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. The important leadership role played by women in advocating for democratic reform and greater human rights has been much commented upon. The Tánaiste referred to the "striking and inspirational" leadership role played by women in the Arab Spring when he addressed the UN General Assembly last September. Ireland has been active in arguing at both EU and UN level that particular attention needs to be paid to promoting and safeguarding women's rights and the position of women within these societies in measuring the changes taking place in those countries in transition. Strong encouragement needs to be provided by the European Union and other international actors to ensure real benefits flow from the Arab Spring for women and their overall position is enhanced.
In the case of Morocco, it is important to note that a process of change has commenced in the wake of the Arab Spring and in response to popular protests which, thankfully, have been peaceful overall. A new government headed by the moderate Islamist Party for Justice and Development, PJD, has taken office following last November's parliamentary elections. A new constitution came into operation last July and King Mohammed VI who continues to exercise much influence in the country has identified judicial reform as one of his priorities, which is to be welcomed.
Ireland, with its EU partners, will continue to strongly encourage Morocco along the path of reform and democratic change. The European Union is engaged in an active human rights dialogue with Morocco as part of the EU-Morocco association agreement. Ireland will seek to ensure these structures are fully utilised in pressing Morocco to do more to improve its overall human rights record and introduce the fundamental reforms needed to prevent human tragedies such as that involving Amina Filali from occurring.