Human rights violations: A tool of the Moroccan state to maintain their occupation of Western Sahara
Police violence, false imprisonment, unfair trials, sexual violence, and torture are systematically perpetrated against the people of Western Sahara by the Moroccan state. These violations are enabled and emboldened by the failure of the members of the UN Security Council - including the UK - to uphold their obligation to provide a referendum on self-determination. Not only has the UN failed in this obligation but it has repeatedly refused to mandate the UN Peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to monitor human rights. This is despite repeated calls to do so from Saharawi, international human rights organisations and UN human rights experts. As a result, MINURSO is one of only a handful of missions without such a mandate, allowing violations to be enacted with impunity.
Published: 21.07 - 2019 21:23
The UK must support a free and fair referendum on the right to self-determination for Western Sahara as is required under international law and call for a date to be set for its implementation. Until the referendum process is complete it should call for MINURSO to systemically monitor human rights violations and report these directly to the UN Security Council. Illustrative examples of human rights violations The following are illustrative of some of the forms of human rights violation regularly faced by Saharawi. In the immediate term, we encourage you to raise urgent awareness of these cases, directly with the Moroccan authorities. As long as the UK remains complicit in this failure of justice and international law, the least it can do is advocate for the protection of its victims.
The Student Group The “Student Group” were arrested and imprisoned in spring 2016, following a demonstration held at Marrakech University. They were held incommunicado in unknown locations, lasting from two to five days and subjected to torture, involving severe beatings, ill- treatment and threats of rape. They were forced to sign “confessions” they were not allowed to read. All of the students report that they were interrogated solely about their student activism and their connection to the struggle for self-determination.
The Group were charged with the murder of a Moroccan student, Omar Khalek, with intent to kill, later altered by the Court of First Instance in Marrakech to violence resulting in death with intent. The sole piece of evidence used against the students were the so called “confessions”. On 6 July 2017, 11 of the students were sentenced to three years, whilst four were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the Court of First Instance in Marrakech. The latter remain imprisoned, placed under intense scrutiny and subjected to systematic racial discrimination and systematic harassment from the prison guards, whilst denial of the right to study, medical care and contact with the outside word is used as punishment. In response to their alarming prison conditions, several of the prisoners commenced hunger strikes, and have been placed in solitary confinement as a result. placed under intense scrutiny and subjected to systematic racial discrimination and systematic harassment from the prison guards, whilst denial of the right to study, medical care and contact with the outside word is used as punishment.
The students are: Aziz-El Ouahidi and Elkantawi Elbeur (Bouzarkarn prison); Abdelmoutal El Hafidi (Oukacha prison); Mohammed Dadda (Loudaya prison). Their treatment is illustrative of the frequent repression of young people and children (See for example Human Rights Council Written statement submitted by the Liberation NGO A/HRC/30/NGO/148) as well as the unfair trials, torture in detention and alarming and degrading prison conditions widely reported including by the UN Human Rights Mechanisms and international human rights organisations (See for example: UN Committee Against Torture (CAT/C/MAR/CO/4), the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (A/HRC/22/53/Add.2) and the latest report by Amnesty: https://bit.ly/2JGXP2h).
The Gdem Izik 19 In 2011 Western Sahara experienced its worst violence since the ceasefire, when the Moroccan security forces violently dismantled a protest camp, in which eleven people, the majority members of the Moroccan Security forces died in the violence. Following the event, hundreds of protesters were subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture. 24 men, known as the “Gdeim Izik Group”, were held accountable for what happened during the dismantlement of the camp. They were convicted in a military court in an unfair trial descried by the former President-Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Professor Mads Andenæs as follows: “so many serious violations of fair trial guarantees have taken place that the convictions are rendered unsafe. The current report documents grave violations of international law rules on torture and the right to a fair trial. The convictions were not based on sufficient evidence. The reports by the police and the gendarmerie have been relied on as evidence; the defence has not been able to challenge it. The detainees have been subjected to torture.”
Currently, 19 of the 24 are imprisoned with sentences ranging from 20 years to life. They have reported ill-treatment, consignment to isolation and prolonged usage of solitary confinement, harassment, discrimination and violence. (See report by Tone Moe, ”Alarming situation regarding the Gdeim Izik prisoners, Western Sahara/Morocco”, 27 November 2017. Available here: http://vest-sahara.no/files/dated/2017-11-27/gdeimizik_situation_27.11.2017.pdf)
The 19 are: Sidi Abdallah Abhah; Naâma Asfari; Mohamed Khouna Babait; Cheikh Banga; Mohamed Bani; Mohamed Bourial; Mohamed El Bachir Boutinguiza; Hassan Dah; Mohamed Lamin Haddi; Brahim Ismaili; El Bachir Khadda; Abdeljalil Laroussi; Abdallahi Lakhfawni; Sid Ahmed Lamjayed; Mohamed Embarek Lefkir; Ahmed Sbaai; Mohamed Thalil; Abdallah Toubali; Houssin Zaoui
Their treatment illustrates the pattern of the use of arbitrary detention as a response to calls for self-determination, similarly emphasized by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention after their country visit to Morocco in 2013. (See report by Tone Moe, ”Alarming situation regarding the Gdeim Izik prisoners, Western Sahara/Morocco”, 27 November 2017. Available here: http://vest-sahara.no/files/dated/2017-11-27/gdeimizik_situation_27.11.2017.pdf). A 2015 report by Amnesty International highlights a pattern of torture during police interrogations, often used to force suspects to incriminate themselves or others. Methods they identified range from beatings and stress positions to asphyxiation and drowning techniques as well as psychological and sexual violence including rape threats, and rape. (Amnesty International, Shadow of Impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara, 19 May 2015)
Nazha Al Khalidi Journalist Nazha Al Khalidi faces trial on 24 June for her work to expose human rights abuses in Western Sahara after she live-streamed footage of police beating peaceful protesters. The “charge” she faces under Article 381 of the Moroccan Penal Code is calling herself a journalist while not having a journalism degree. If convicted, Nazha faces up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to 5000 Dirhams (approximately £410).
Nazha's case is illustrative of Morocco’s systematic repression of press and refusal of entry to international observers and journalists in order to quell coverage of their occupation. To question or deny the legitimacy of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara including on social media is a criminal offence for which many individuals have been prosecuted. Freedom House ranks Western Sahara at 93 out of 100 countries for overall freedoms. (Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019 https://freedomhouse.org/report/countries-world-freedom-2019?order=field_fiw_aggregate_score&sort=asc). On 11 June, Reporters Without Borders published "Western Sahara - a desert for journalists" confirming that it the territory is "a veritable news black hole that has become a no-go zone for journalists". (Reporters Without Borders, 2019, Western Sahara a desert for journalists https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/rsf_report.pdf). This media black hole has been further documented by a range of human rights organisations (see for example: Rights Watch, November 6, 2015, Statement Regarding Human Rights Watch Activities in Morocco (accessed 23/06/19) https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/06/statement-regarding-human-rights-watch-activities-morocco; Human Rights Watch, World report 2015 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/morocco/western-sahara; Amnesty International 26 January 2016, Morocco ramps up crackdown on press freedom with trial over citizen journalism https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/01/morocco-ramps-up-crackdown-on-press-freedom-with-trial-over-citizen-journalism/) and is one of the reasons the conflict receives such little international attention, allowing Morocco to maintain its occupation with impunity.
Bellal Mustapha Bellal Mustapha has not been seen for nearly thirty years. A Saharawi soldier in the Moroccan army, Bellal disappeared from a military hospital in 1990 where he had been held after expressing concern about the army’s treatment of Saharawi. The military claimed he had mental health issues and accused him of trying to leave to join the POLISARIO run refugee camps. They forced to take medication against his will that left him paralyzed. When Bellal’s brother raised concerns about this, the military offered him a job in what he believes was an attempt to buy his silence. One week after he refused, he arrived to visit Bellal in hospital to find he had disappeared. Bellal has never been seen from again. Bellal’s family have made numerous approaches to the authorities to find out what happened to Bellal, but have received no answers. Bellal's mother is now 90. She has spent nearly 30 years searching for answers and still dreams of seeing him again.
Over the last few decades, hundreds of people from Western Sahara have been subjected to enforced disappearances. Whilst some – including Aminatou Haidar - were later freed, credible estimates are that as many as 500 Sahrawis remain missing, their families left with no answers. (Robert F Kennedy Human Rights et al, 18 December 2015 report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee http://rfkcenter.org/media/filer_public/66/ca/66ca7b60-5e22-4c3f-8b5f-cadf8c306c22/english_report_for_list_of_issues_including_annex.pdf).
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