International Coalition calls attention to the human rights situation in Western Sahara
During the UN Universal Periodic Review of Morocco, International Coalition calls attention to the human rights situation in Western Sahara
(Washington, DC -- May 17, 2012) In response to the "Arab Spring" movement for democracy in North Africa and Middle East, the Kingdom of Morocco announced a new Constitution that would include reforms allowing for greater democracy in Morocco and substantial human rights guarantees. In spite of those reforms, those under Moroccan jurisdiction cannot fully enjoy their freedom of expression, association, and assembly. They would be criminalized and punished if they are deemed challenging the Constitutional authority of the King, the religion, or the nation’s territorial integrity.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate Aminatou Haidar, RFK Partners for Human Rights Advocacy Director Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Professor Susan Akram from Boston University Asylum & Human Rights Program, and Erik Hagan from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara will travel to Geneva next week as part of an international coalition of human rights organizations to attend the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session and to draw attention to human rights violations against Sahrawi people in Morocco occupied Western Sahara.
The Universal Periodic Review process is a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven peer-review process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council. Morocco second review will take place this summer. In advance of the May 22, 2012 session, the coalition, representing organizations from three different continents, submitted a joint report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on human rights violations Morocco committed during 2008-2011. The coalition includes the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), the Collective of Sahwari Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), the Boston University Asylum & Human Rights Program, the Norwegian Support Committee for the Western Sahara, the Fahamu Refugee Programme, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the US-Western Sahara Foundation.
Based on first-hand information, the report emphasizes recent human rights violations affecting Sahrawi civilians under Moroccan jurisdiction. The Sahrawi are victims of: arbitrary arrests, and detentions, torture and sexual abuse, forced disappearances, and the forced expulsion. Moroccan judicial system does not guarantee a fair trial to Sahrawi dissidents or guarantee their right to freely express their opinions or assemble without fear. Sahrawi detainees endure rape and sexual assault, severe beatings, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by Moroccan authorities.
"As Sahrawi youth has been systematically beaten, tortured, and arbitrarily arrested for expressing their views, it is becoming harder and harder to assure them it is worthwhile o sustain a non-violent struggle against Moroccan occupation," expressed Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate and President of CODESA, Aminatou Haidar, adding "especially when Sahrawi organizations are deemed illegal."
The report also refers to human rights violations surrounding the violent dismantling of the Gdaim Izik protest camp in November 2010. Of the Sahrawi arbitrary arrested on the occasion, there are twenty-three civilians currently in jail without trial due to face a military court. Moroccan authorities have engaged in an extended crackdown on Sahrawi human rights defenders that have routinely involved torture, cruel and abusive treatment, and violations of due process, in violation of Morocco’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
"Moroccan and Sahrawi dissidents alike will be persecuted and shut down until the Kingdom of Morocco strikes down Article 3 of the Law of Associations that consider dissent opinion as undermining the Kingdom. Sahrawi civilians are arbitrary detained, tortured and imprisoned for only expressing their views on self-determination," said Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director of the Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center. "We urge the UPR committee to recommend the Moroccan Kingdom eliminates that provision, in order for Morocco to fulfill its obligations to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and to get closer to be a real democracy in North Africa."
The innumerous human rights violations committed by Moroccan authorities chronicled in the report demonstrate the urgent need for a permanent UN human rights monitoring, and reporting mechanism in Western Sahara. The escalation of human rights violations against the Sahrawi people have proven the ineffectiveness of MINURSO – the UN peacekeeping mission – in Western Sahara and the need for the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to look at this issue effectively and appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Western Sahara.
The Report is available here in English, French, and Spanish. Arabic version will be available soon.
Cate Urban, Communications
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
Office: 202-463-7575 x234
Western Sahara is known as "Africa’s last colony." The current conflict has existed since 1975, when Morocco occupied Western Sahara in spite of a ruling by the International Court of Justice that Morocco did not have a legitimate claim to the territory. This invasion has led to a decades-old conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, a national movement committed to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. With the war and Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, its native people—the Sahrawi—were divided in two, those living under Moroccan Occupation and those living in Polisario-run camps in Algeria. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara -MINURSO was created in 1991 to provide an international presence overseeing a cease-fire between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. The mission was also tasked with helping to administer a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara. In spite of the mandate’s success at maintaining the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the situation in Western Sahara is no closer to being resolved now than it was in 1991. The referendum on self-determination never took place and systematic human rights violations are recurring. In the decades since the creation of the MINURSO mandate, Morocco has consistently ignored the basic human rights of the Sahrawi people, particularly those who advocate for change in Western Sahara.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights was established in 1968 to carry on the legacy of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In 2008, the president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), Aminatou Haidar, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her undaunted non-violent work, promoting the civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights of the people of Western Sahara. Through the RFK Human Rights Award, the RFK Center joins CODESA and Ms. Haidar in their struggle to increase visibility and dialogue about ongoing rights violations in Western Sahara and to promote the protection of human rights in the territory. http://rfkcenter.org/
The Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) is a grassroots collective of Saharawi human defenders distributed throughout occupied Western Sahara who operates under severe risk and constant surveillance. They are deemed illegal by Morocco and unable to register as an association. http://codesaso.com/
The Boston University Asylum & Human Rights Program
The Asylum and Human Rights clinical program at Boston University School of Law is a full-year live-client representation and advocacy program through which law students handle domestic immigration and international human rights cases and projects on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers and forced migrants. Under the supervision of BU law faculty, students represent clients in immigration and federal court proceedings, as well as in regional human rights and UN fora on a range of issues and projects in many areas of the world.
The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara (NSCWS) is a membership organization, formed in 1993in Norway. The organization distributes information on the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The most important campaign areas have been work towards stopping foreign companies that work for the Moroccan authorities in the occupied territories, and to put pressure on Morocco at the times when Sahrawi civil society is subjected to particularly grave human rights violations. http://www.vest-sahara.no/
The Fahamu Refugee Programme (FRP) is part of the FAHAMU TRUST with offices in the UK, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal. The Fahamu Refugee Programme was created to provide access to knowledge, nurture the growing refugee legal aid and advocacy movement in all countries, and encourage active sharing of information as well as expertise among legal practitioners throughout the world. It links refugee-assisting networks both on line and off line. http://www.frlan.org/
The US-Western Sahara Foundation is a program of the Defense Forum Foundation (DFF). DFF is a U.S. non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting a strong national defense and promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights abroad. It works promoting the freedom, human rights and dignity of the people of North Korea, and self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. http://www.defenseforum.org/
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) is an independent regional non-governmental organization founded in 1993. It aims at promoting respect for the principles of human rights and democracy, analyzing the difficulties facing the application of International Human Rights Law and disseminating Human Rights Culture in the Arab Region as well as engaging in dialogue between cultures in respect to the various International Human Rights treaties and Declarations. http://www.cihrs.org/