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This is a letter Human Rights Watch sent to all 15 members of the UN Security Council on human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and in camps in Tindouf, Algeria.

April 13, 2012

H.E. Mr. Mohammed Loulichki

Permanent Representative

Permanent Mission of the Kingdom

of Morocco to the United Nations

866 Second Avenue, 6th and 7th Floors

New York, N.Y. 10017

Re: Human Rights Monitoring in Western Sahara and in Camps in Tindouf, Algeria

Dear Ambassador:

Human Rights Watch urges the Security Council, when it reviews the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) this month, to extend it to incorporate human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and in the Polisario Front-run refugee camps near Tindouf.

MINURSO is one of the rare UN peacekeeping operations that does not include a human rights monitoring component. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in his report on the situation in Western Sahara released this week, regrets obstacles to the fulfillment of MINURSO’s mission, including in its reporting functions.

Security Council Resolution 1979 of April 27, 2011 welcomed two Moroccan initiatives on human rights: its establishment of the National Council on Human Rights (NCHR) with a component proposed for Western Sahara, and its commitment to ensure access to all Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

These Moroccan initiatives, however welcome, fall far short of ensuring regular and impartial monitoring of the current human rights situation in Western Sahara and the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria.

The NCHR has opened two offices in Western Sahara, has undertaken a number of human rights activities there, and can receive complaints from individual citizens. However, putting aside the fact that the NCHR is a national institution of Morocco, whose sovereignty over Western Sahara the UN does not recognize, this institution does not monitor human rights conditions in Western Sahara regularly and broadly; nor does it issue public reports on them.

As for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, Morocco hosted a visit in September 2011 by the UN Independent Expert on Cultural Rights, who spent one day in Western Sahara. The Special Rapporteur on Torture has announced his plan to visit Morocco and Western Sahara this September.

While these visits to Western Sahara by the UN’s thematic mechanisms are positive developments that should continue, they are by their natures brief and infrequent, and will never add up to monitoring that is broad and regular. That objective would be best achieved by enlarging the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights monitoring, or by creating a Special Rapporteur for Western Sahara.

The Secretary-General, in his new report on Western Sahara, states in paragraph 112 that “MINURSO is unable to exercise fully its peacekeeping, monitoring, observation and reporting functions,” and seeks the Security Council’s support “to sustain the peacekeeping instrument as it was intended to operate,” for purposes that include “provid[ing"> independent information on conditions on the ground to the Secretariat, the Security Council, and the international community.”

That independent information should include monitoring of the evolution of human rights conditions. As the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Western Sahara Ambassador Christopher Ross told the Security Council on October 26, 2011, “Six months [after the Security Council adopted resolution 1979">, a variety of human rights problems have been reported in both Western Sahara and the refugee camps, but the only independent look to date at one specific aspect of human rights took place in September when [the UN Independent Expert on Cultural Rights"> visited.”

Morocco’s initiatives do not change the underlying situation: the Sahrawi people continue to suffer from violations of their rights (see “Recent Developments of Concern to Human Rights Watch,” annexed to this letter). Authorities continue to subject Sahrawis who advocate self-determination or denounce Moroccan human rights violations to various forms of repression, including imprisonment after unfair trials, beatings, and denial of the right to peaceful assembly, association, and expression. Ambassador Ross told the Security Council: “The international community [during the Arab Spring"> has validated the right of peoples throughout the region to assemble and express their views, yet both in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps, restrictions exist on freedom of assembly and expression, particularly with regard to the future status of that territory.”

Human Rights Watch has always advocated that the enlarged mandate for MINURSO should include human rights monitoring not only in Western Sahara but also in the Sahrawi refugee camps across the border in Algeria, whose residents live in a state of relative isolation.

The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) identifies respect for human rights as a critical component for achieving sustainable peace integral to its operations. It is time for the UN to bring MINURSO into line with its other peacekeeping missions worldwide by ensuring that it includes regular monitoring and reporting of human rights violations.

We thank you for your consideration of our request.


Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division


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