Saharawi population living under Moroccan occupation has been suffering ongoing human rights violations ever since the conflict begun in 1975. During the years of war, Moroccan authorities carried out systematic ethnic cleansing of Saharawis by incommunicado detentions, killings and enforced disappearances. Read more here.
The Settlement Plan in 1991 brought about a unique opportunity for the international community to monitor human rights in the Western Sahara occupied territories. Outrageously, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is the only UN mission with no mandate to protect human rights. UN mismanagement practices have been denounced by international NGOs like AI or HRW.
The international community has turned a blind eye to Morocco’s unmoral and unlawful practices against the Saharawi people. Since 1999, efforts from Saharawi activist and international supporters have strengthen Saharawi translational activism. Prominent Saharawi activists such as Aminatu Haidar or mass peaceful protests like Gdeim Izik 2010 (labeled as the inception of the Arab Spring) have finally broken the wall of fear.
Despite efforts from the Saharawi transnational human rights activism to bring the Saharawi plea for self-determination into the agenda of the international community, the situation in Western Sahara reminds the same.
Human rights abuses (after 1991)
After 1991, the pattern of human rights abuses in occupied Western Sahara shifted from long-term imprisonment and disappearances to one of repeated arrests and shorter-term prison sentences. Indeed, no more than three cases of disappeared Saharawis have been reported since 1992. Nevertheless, the practice of torture during detention is still known to take place on a regular basis, and according to AI, the number of reported incidents appears to have risen sharply between 2002 and 2004. Many human rights abuses are believed to take place during the period of garde-a-vue (pre-arraignment detention). Human rights activists, both in Morocco and occupied Western Sahara, assert that the Moroccan state practices the policy of criminalizing all political activity.
Hundreds upon hundreds of Saharawis have been arrested since 1991 as a result of staging protests against high-level Moroccan visits to the territory or demanding improved economic conditions, which then became political in nature. The most prominent instances were in 1992, 1995, 1999, and 2001 and 2005. In many cases, Saharawis have been tortured in order to extract false confessions and have been given prison terms of one to ten years. Vigorous international campaigning, especially by AI and other campaign groups, have often been effective in pressuring Morocco to release Saharawi prisoners well before the end of their terms. In 2001, the longest-serving Saharawi prisoner of conscious (for twenty-three years), Sidi Mohammed Daddach, was released and awarded the Norwegian Rafto prize in recognition of his sacrifice to the Saharawi cause of independence.
Following the forceful dismantling of the Gdeim Izik protest camp, which was settled in the surroundings of Western Sahara’s capital El Aaiun in November 2010, 100s of Saharawi civilians and activists were imprisoned by the Moroccan authorities. A year and a half later, 23 political prisoners still remain in the prison of Salé, pending a military trial. Morocco uses a “policy of procrastination” by which the authorities systematically postpone the trials of political prisoners without justified reasons in order to control Saharawi activists.
More subtle forms of human rights abuses, such as the lack of freedom of expression, association, and movement, are a constant feature of the Saharawi experience under occupation. Numerous Saharawis who are considered troublemakers, such as known human rights activists, are deprived of travel documents. The US State Department Country Report on Human Rights acknowledges that Saharawis are under much heavier surveillance than the rest of the population, and that access to the territory and to Saharawis remains highly restricted in many instances. Also, there is substantial evidence to suggest that Saharawis are systematically discriminated against in the workplace and in terms of obtaining job opportunities.
Morocco has consistently accused the Polisario of holding the Saharawis hostage in the refugee camps in south-west Algeria and to knowingly overestimate the number of people living in the camps to acquire more foo rations from the UN World Food Program to then resell the food for profit. The Polisario deny this, and no organization that has worked in the camps has corroborated this claim.
For more information please view the reports below:
- 2003 US State Department Human Rights Country Report: Western Sahara (February 2004)
- International Committee of the Red Cross: ICRC activities in 2009
- ASVDH: The Saharawi Association of Grave Human Rights Violations
- AFAPREDESA: The Association for the Families of Saharawi Prisoners and the Disappeared
- CODESA: Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (in Arabic only)
- Frontline Defenders
- Human Rights Watch: Human rights in Western Sahara and the Refugee Camps in Tindouf
- Codapso (Comittee for the Defence of the Right to Self-Determination of the Western Sahara) Report on Gdeim Izik Camp, 2011
- Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara for the information of the members of the Security Council, April 2012
- The documentary “Gdeim Izik – The Saharawi Resistance Camp” on Western Sahara Human Rights Watch, July 2012