For over 37 years Western Sahara has been militarily occupied by Morocco. The occupation generated and still generates gross human rights violations committed by the Moroccan State against the Saharawi people in the occupied territories, while it forced more than 160.000 Saharawi to live since 1975 in refugee camps South-East Algeria in very dire conditions because of the harshness of the climate and the scares humanitarian aid.
The UN mission for the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, was constituted and deployed in 1991 following the adoption by the UN Security Council of the UN-OAU Settlement Plan to end the last case of decolonization in Africa. Unfortunately, MINURSO was never mandated to monitor and protect human rights in the territory, and is thus the only UN peace-keeping mission without a human rights component.
All international human rights organisations, without exception, denounced gross human rights violations committed by the Moroccan State against the Saharawis. The Moroccan Consultative Human Rights Council itself recognized in a report in 2010 the accountability of the Moroccan army and different security corpses in flagrant crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the death of 115 Saharawi civilians in military bases under torture or because of barbarous conditions of imprisonment in secret detention camps.
The practice of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatments, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced disappearance, the use of rape as a mean of intimidation, are current practices committed by the Moroccan authorities against Saharawis adults and children. Moreover, the Saharawis are also denied their civil, political, economic and social rights. One major proof on these was the organization by more than 20.000 Saharawis of the tent-protest camp of Gdeim Izik, in October 2010 and its brutal dismantling by the Moroccan army in November 2010, arresting, injuring and detaining hundreds of citizens who were only demanding the respect of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
In its last report on Morocco, the UN Committee against Torture published a report (CAT/C/MAR/CO/4) expressing clear concerns as follows:
“Events involving Western Sahara
12. The Committee is concerned by the reports it has received regarding the alleged use by Moroccan law enforcement officers and security personnel of practices in Western Sahara such as arbitrary arrest and detention, incommunicado detention, detention in secret places, torture, ill-treatment, the extraction of confessions under torture and the excessive use of force.
The Committee recalls once more that, under the Convention, no exceptional circumstance whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture in territory that falls under the State party’s jurisdiction and that law enforcement measures and investigative procedures should be in full accord with international human rights law, as well as the legal procedures and basic safeguards in effect in the State party. The State party should, as a matter of urgency, take substantive steps to prevent the aforementioned acts of torture and ill-treatment. It should also announce the introduction of a policy that will produce measurable progress towards the eradication of all torture and ill-treatment by State officials. The State party should put in place stronger measures for ensuring prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture or ill-treatment of prisoners and persons taken into custody or in any other situation.
The Gdeim Izik camp
13. The Committee is particularly concerned by the events surrounding the closure of the Gdeim Izik camp in November 2010, during which several persons were killed, including law enforcement officials, and hundreds of others were arrested. The Committee takes note that the vast majority of the persons who were arrested were later released while awaiting trial, but is gravely concerned by the fact that those trials are to be held in military courts even though the persons concerned are civilians. The Committee is also concerned by the fact that there has not been an impartial, effective investigation to ascertain exactly what occurred and to determine what responsibility may be borne by members of the police or security forces (arts. 2, 11, 12, 15 and 16).
The State party should put in place stronger measures for ensuring prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations into the violence and deaths that occurred during the dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik camp and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The State party should amend its laws to guarantee that all civilians will be tried only in civilian courts.”
In 2006, and after more than 30 years silence, the UN finally dispatched a mission of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Western Sahara to investigate on the human rights situation. The mission was unable to work freely in the occupied zones, because Morocco tried to intimidate many human rights defenders and activists stopping them from meeting the mission. But in the end, the report issued was clear in concluding that all human rights violations committed by Morocco in Western Sahara are the result of the non-implementation of the right to self-determination by the Saharawi people. The report is still put under Embargo, because it was clearly denouncing Moroccan responsibilities in gross human rights violations.
For this reason, and because Western Sahara is still a Non-Self-Governing territory in the UN Decolonisation list, the UN must assume its legal responsibility in protecting all the rights of the Saharawi people against the violations committed by the illegal military occupier, Morocco. One of the possibilities to do this is to mandate the MINURSO to monitor and protect human rights in the territory while waiting for the implementation of the UN resolution that recommend the implementation of the UN Charter and UN principle of self-determination in the last colony in Africa.
France, “the land of human rights and democracy”, must stop supporting blatantly the Moroccan colonialist annexation of Western Sahara. It must instead support the Saharawi people’s rights to self-determination and independence and put an end to one of the main violations of international law in our age: The illegal military occupation of Western Sahara.
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* Malainin Lakhal is secretary general of the Saharawi Journalists and Writers Union.
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