The continued human rights abuse in Western Sahara

Background: Human rights

According to several internationally recognized human rights organizations Western Sahara is one of the countries in the world suffering from the greatest deprivation of civil and political rights.
14. september 2016

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Morocco has occupied Western Sahara for 40 years. No country in the world recognizes Morocco’s claim on Western Sahara. The UN mission MINURSO is installed with the task of overseeing a ceasefire between Morocco and Sahrawi representative Polisario, as well as securing a referendum on self-determination. The promise of a referendum on which the Sahrawi could decide their future, was made 25 years ago. The promise has not yet been fulfilled. MINURSO is the only UN mission of its kind with no mandate for monitoring human rights. However, documentation on human rights violations by the Moroccan administration are widespread. Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State and the European Union have all extensively documented the abuses occurring in the Moroccan-occupied areas of Western Sahara.

Lack of freedom

Freedom of expression is limited in the occupied territory. The Moroccan government has passed laws that criminalize acts deemed harmful to the monarchy, the king, islam and perhaps most importantly Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara. This leaves little space for media and activists to discuss the questions of Western Sahara independence. A press law mandates prison sentences for distribution of ‘false information’ and Sahrawi activist are often met with police brutality and the risk of being subjugated biased military trials, arbitrary arrest, torture and even disappearances.

Freedom of assembly and association is hardly existing in Western Sahara. Moroccan authorities have outlawed all public gatherings in Western Sahara believed hostile to Morocco’s claim over the territories. Officials continues to inhibit demonstrations and preventing legal registration of many associations. The Moroccan administration restricts access to Western Sahara expelling journalists, activist and professional human rights investigators.

“The absence of human rights monitoring perpetuates the cycle of abuse and impunity”

Magdalena Mughrabi on the MINURSO mandate

The case of Gdeim Izik

The Gdeim Izik protest camp, also referred to as the third Sahrawi intifada, was established on the 9th of October 2010 and was finally dismantled the 8th of November 2010. At first the camps, consisting of around 15.000 protesters, primary objective was to protest discrimination, poverty and human rights abuses in the occupied territories, later the questions of Western Sahara independence were introduced as well. Noam Chomsky has argued that the Gdeim Izik protests was the actual beginning of the Arab Spring. What started as peaceful protest ended in a violent clash between civilians, police and Moroccan military forces, leaving several dead on both sides. Morocco received international critique of its violent managing of the dismantling of the camp, as well as of its decision to put 25 activists on a military court for their affiliation with the protest. 22 Sahrawi activist charged in connection with the violence of Gdeim Izik continues to serve sentences between 20 years and life. The activist was sentenced at a military court in 2013, the trial failed to investigate allegations that police had tortured the activist in order to make them sign false statements. Morocco has passed a new law with the aim of ending military court trials of civilians, however this has not retroactively benefited the 22 defendants.

The death of Brahim Saika

The 15th of April 2016 Brahim Saika, a Sahrawi activist and university student, died after he few days earlier initiated a hunger strike. The 1. April Saika was detained reportedly for being involved in the fight for unemployed Sahrawi’s. Saika had been tortured for hours and the hospital personnel did not make a serious effort in saving his life, writes British NGO Adala UK. Brahim Saika is not the first to be tortured or the first to have died in Moroccan custody. According to Amnesty Morocco is one of the world’s worst torture-nations, using methods such as beatings, raping and electric shock applied to eyes and genitalia.  

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