By Souhail Karam
RABAT (Reuters) - The United Nations' special rapporteur said on Saturday torture against people suspected of national security crimes in Morocco was systematic and urged the country to quickly end ill treatment in its prisons and police detention centers.
At the end of a rare fact-finding mission at the invitation of Moroccan authorities, Juan Mendez told reporters there was also evidence of torture being inflicted on people held in prisons and detention centers in the disputed Western Sahara, which Rabat controls.
Treatment "amounting to torture" appears in Morocco during "large demonstrations, a perceived threat to national security or terrorism," Mendez told a news conference.
"Torture tends to be much more cruel, harsh and systematic in national security issues."
He said torture was not as common as it used to be during "the past decades", but noted his preliminary findings showed cases of "credible reports" of punches, application of electric shocks and cigarette burns.
"In addition, I have good reason to believe there were credible allegations of sexual assault, threats of rape of the victim or family members and other forms of ill-treatment," he told the news conference, attended by relatives of jailed activists and plain clothed policemen.
A spokesperson for the official National Council of Human Rights (CNDH), who attended Mendez' press conference, declined to comment on his findings.
Government spokesman Mustafa el-Khalfi could not immediately be reached for comment.
The U.N. investigator also denounced a rise in "severe beatings, sexual violence and other forms of ill-treatment" on undocumented migrants, many of whom flock from sub-Saharan Africa to Morocco in the hope of moving illegally into Europe.
He urged Rabat to ratify "as soon as possible" the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, known as Opcat, that aims to prevent mistreatment of people in detention.
Mendez will submit his findings and recommendations, coupled with the Moroccan government's responses, to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in February.
Torture is a criminal offence in Morocco but no official has publicly stood trial for crimes involving torture.
Mendez said Rabat may need to amend the definition of torture "to bring the offence in line with international law".
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month Morocco, a staunch U.S. ally in North Africa, could be a regional model after it managed to contain Arab Spring protests with reforms.
But she urged Rabat to reform the courts, make government more open and respect human rights.
Last week, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Morocco to investigate accusations police tortured pro-democracy activists to force false confessions.
(Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Sophie Hares)