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Sunday, 16 April, 2000, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Rights centre opens in Morocco
Rabat cityscape
Rabat, home of new human rights centre
By Nick Pelham in Rabat

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has launched the Arab world's first centre for human rights training and information in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

The half-a-million dollar centre, jointly funded by the Moroccan Ministry for Human Rights and the United Nations, will train prison warders, judges, policemen and teachers.

There is a willingness to reach out to victims of human rights violations

Mary Robinson

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Mrs Robinson said the centre reflected what she called Morocco's remarkable evolution on human rights.

"I'm very glad to come back to Morocco because there is a lot happening that I want to support and this centre will provide an infrastructure of human rights," she said.

"It reflects the determination of Morocco to make substantial progress and there is a willingness to reach out to victims of human rights violations," Mrs Robinson said.

Human rights groups have questioned whether the UN-backed centre actually marks change for the Moroccan authorities or is just good public relations.

On Sunday, as Mrs Robinson spoke at a press conference welcoming the opening of the human rights centre, the Moroccan Information Ministry announced that it was banning the latest editions of two news magazines.

They carried reports of an interview with a leader of Polisario, which campaigns for Western Sahara to be independent of Morocco

But diplomats maintain that Morocco's record on human rights, once one of the worst in the Arab world, is now one of the best.

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson: glad to be back

Mohammed VI, the country's new King, says he wants Morocco to serve as a beacon for human rights in the region.

Observers insist the abuses continue.

Rabat authorities admit complicity in more than 100 disappearances and extra-judicial killings over the past 30 years, but have yet to respond to allegations hundreds of Saharawis have been abducted and killed during Morocco's rule of Western Sahara.

The authorities continue to keep an Islamist leader under house arrest without trial and deny women equal rights.

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03 Apr 00 | Africa
Morocco's quest to be European
31 Jul 99 | Africa
Morocco frees prisoners
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