Human Rights Situation in Occupied Western Sahara
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Morocco’s systematic violation of the basic human rights of the Non-Self-Governing territory of the people of the last colony in Africa, Western Sahara, disqualifies it from fulfilling the basic requirements of becoming a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Morocco also violates more than 110 UN resolutions that call for the complete decolonization of this colony, and denies to the Saharawi people the inalienable right to self-determination, in total violation of all international covenants, including the UN Charter, which recognizes to all peoples their inalienable right to govern themselves and seek the economic and political organization of their own country and resources.
These human rights abuses have been widely documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights, and even Moroccan organisations such as the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, among others.
In an embargoed September 2006 report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that almost all human rights violations in Western Sahara stem from the non-implementation of the Saharawi people’s fundamental right to self-determination.
In the past three years, UN Security Council Resolutions 1979 (2011), 2044 (2012) and 2099 (2013) have all stressed the need to improve the human rights situation in Western Sahara, and encouraged the implementation of “independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights.”
The UN Secretary General’s latest report on the situation in Western Sahara (S/2013/220), published in April 2013, stated that in Western Sahara, alleged and reported human rights violations related in particular to “violations of the right to a fair trial, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of expression, association and assembly.”
The UN’s peacekeeping mission, MINURSO, which has been present in the Territory since 1991, does not have a mandate to monitor and report on the human rights of the Sahrawi population. Instead, the international community has relied on the use of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council to monitor human rights. Moroccan membership of the Council would serve to undermine the integrity of this mechanism as Morocco would seek to use its privileged status to interfere with the work of UN Special Rapporteurs.
In February 2013, Morocco tried 25 Saharawi political activists who had been involved in a pro-independence protest camp at Gdeim Izyk in November 2010 in a military court. Nine received life sentences. It was reported that during their two-year pre-trial detention, the defendants were regularly subjected to torture, including sexual abuse, in order to coerce “confessions.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan Mendez, visited Western Sahara in September 2012. In reporting to the Human Rights Council in March 2013, Mendez found that Moroccan security forces had violated Saharawi’s human rights and “that torture and ill-treatment were inflicted during arrest, at police stations and at the prison in El Aaiún.”
In his April 2013 report, the UN Secretary-General concluded that “[g]iven ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the [Tindouf refugee] camps becomes ever more pressing.”
On this basis, efforts were made during the UN Security Council’s annual discussion on the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), to include human rights monitoring and reporting in the Mission’s mandate. This proposal was only withdrawn following a high-level and intensive lobbying campaign by the Moroccan government against the inclusion of human rights monitoring in the Mission’s mandate.