Visit of the International Delegation of the Robert F. Kennedy Center to the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and to the Refugee Camps in Algeria | WSHRW
Visit of the International Delegation of the Robert F. Kennedy Center to the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and to the Refugee Camps in Algeria.
On Friday August 31, 2012 an international delegation from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights RFK concluded a visit to assess the situation of Human Rights in the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps nearby. of Tindouf in Algeria. The RFK Center delegation met with victims of human rights violations, a broad spectrum of representatives of civil society, representatives of the international community, and government officials.
The delegation included Kerry Kennedy, United States, President of the RFK Center; Santiago A. Canton, Argentina, Director, Partners for Human Rights RFK Center; Marselha Goncalves Margerin, Brazil
Director Advocaría Centro RFK; Mary Lawlor, Ireland, Director Frontline Advocates; Margarette May Macaulay, Jamaica, Judge Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Marialina Marcucci, Italy, President of the RFK Europe Center; Stephanie Postar, United States, RFK Center Advocacy Assistant; Maria del Rio, Spain member of the Board of Directors of the José Saramago Foundation and Eric Sottas, Switzerland, Former Secretary General of the World Organization Against Torture OMCT.
Accompanying the delegation was Mariah Kennedy, granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
The RFK Center delegation expresses its appreciation to all parties who have helped organize and coordinate the visit. Special thanks go to all the victims of Human Rights violations who have courageously shared their experiences. Our thanks to civil society organizations, the governments of Morocco and Algeria, as well as the Polisario Front for their support and cooperation in organizing the visit. Finally, we want to thank the members of MINURSO and the UNHCR Office for having the time to meet with the delegation.
For almost 40 years, Morocco and the independence movement Frente Polisario have claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic SADR, establishing a government-in-exile in refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. A Presidency and various government institutions such as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice and Defense form the Government in exile.
In 1974, Morocco asked the ICJ International Court of Justice to recognize its claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara, an effort that Mauritania later joined. In October 1975, the ICJ concluded in its opinion that neither Morocco nor Mauritania provided sufficient information to support their claims of sovereignty over the Territory. The issue was taken to the UN Decolonization Committee, considering Western Sahara as a Non-Autonomous Territory.
Since then, more than 100 UN resolutions have reaffirmed the right to self-determination of the Sahrawis, the indigenous people of Western Sahara. SADR is a member of the AU African Union and has been recognized as a state by approximately 50 countries. The United Nations and the Arab League have not recognized SADR as a government of an independent state. No country has recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
In 1988, Morocco and the Polisario Front accepted the joint UN / OAU proposal, predecessor of the African Union, which stipulated a settlement through a Referendum, but due to differences over voters and the type of self-determination, the referendum could not be held. . In 1991, the UN achieved a ceasefire and created MINURSO, which deployed a contingent of approximately 200 people in the territory. MINURSO’s mandate includes the monitoring of the ceasefire and the administration of the Referendum that has not yet taken place.
During the last decades, many local and international organizations have denounced human rights violations perpetrated by the Moroccan government against the Sahrawi people living in Western Sahara, particularly those who criticize the government. The Moroccan government and some local civil society organizations expressed their concern regarding human rights violations carried out by the Polisario Front in the refugee camps.
The delegation recognizes that the political context of this conflict has an impact on the full enjoyment of human rights and provokes an emotional debate for people on both sides of the conflict, however, the RFK Center does not take a position on the status of Western Sahara. The failure of the parties to achieve a permanent solution to the future of Western Sahara does not limit the international responsibility of current administrations to comply with international standards regarding respect for the human rights of the people under their jurisdiction.
The RFK Center delegation visited Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, and the refugee camps in Algeria to assess the human rights situation. The delegation also had meetings in Casablanca, Rabat and Algiers with human rights experts, members of civil society and government officials.
The RFK Center will write a comprehensive report based on the research from the visit. For the time being, the delegation has prepared the following preliminary remarks.
Preliminary Observations in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara
The RFK Center delegation recognizes the positive changes made to the Moroccan Constitution which include the criminalization of torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. Additional important changes to the Constitution include greater gender equality and freedom of expression. These constitutional changes must be applied through appropriate mechanisms that allow the full enjoyment of the rights of the people under Moroccan jurisdiction without discrimination.
The delegation recognizes the importance of the creation of the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights CNDH. The delegation met with representatives of the CNDH and received information on initiatives to promote civil society participation and the procedures for filing complaints of human rights violations. The delegation from the RFK Center reminded the Moroccan government of the importance of following the Paris Principles for Human Rights Institutions, particularly those related to respecting and strengthening the CNDH’s capacity to operate independently.
The delegation is grateful to the Governor and Mayor of El Aaiún, and to more than 70 people representing NGOs and civil society organizations that are pro-autonomy or integration, for having met with us and shared their points of view. Their desire to meet us, their expressions of concern for members of their families and friends in the refugee camps, the information they shared about disappearances and human rights abuses committed during the war years, and their concerns about future generations. I help to understand the current climate in Western Sahara.
The delegation is very grateful to the Members of Parliament with whom it met in Rabat, for their open exchange and their desire to address the issues mentioned by the delegation. The RFK Center looks forward to working with them in the future.
The delegation met with civil society organizations and with individuals from several cities in Western Sahara and southern Morocco, including El Aaiún, Dakhla and Smara, who presented information on cases of disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, police brutality, threats , intimidation and extrajudicial executions. The delegation also received complaints about the violation of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
During the visit to Laayoune, the delegation observed two or more police or military vehicles parked on the corners of almost every street. Many of the Sahrawis interviewed expressed their concern when feeling intimidated by the large presence of military and police personnel, uniformed and in civilian clothes, who persecuted them in the streets and verbally abused them with derogatory and discriminatory words. The RFK Center delegation was also constantly pursued by plainclothes security agents throughout their stay in Laayoune. Many of the Sahrawis encountered describe how they live in a * climate of fear *.
The delegation also received testimonies of many cases of police brutality against non-violent protesters. The delegation witnessed one such incident in which a uniformed police officer and three individuals identified by civil society organizations as state agents attacked a woman who was demonstrating peacefully. The delegation documented the moment of the violation, the attempt by the security forces to block the delegation and prevent it from witnessing the incident, the physical and verbal assault of the delegation by the security forces and the survivor of the attack receiving a cure. medica at the hospital. In an effort to discredit the delegation’s report on the incident,
The next day when the delegation showed photographs of the woman being beaten by the police to a representative of the Ministry of the Interior, El Arbi Mrabet, he implied that the photograph was not good evidence as it may have been tampered with. Two of the individuals who participated in the beating were identified as Mohamed Al Hassouni, and the deputy governor for the region, Basha, Mohamed Natichi. Both were identified in multiple testimonies from victims for their repeated participation in human rights violations. The RFK Center delegation asked the Moroccan government to immediately suspend the state agents responsible for this human rights violation, pending an investigation. It’s more,
The RFK Center delegation received testimonies of the repeated brutality carried out by the police against a disabled man, who was participating in protests. According to human rights organizations representing this man, the police beat him in demonstrations in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and it appeared that they were targeting him for his brutality.
The delegation met with the family of Said Da mbar, 26, who was shot and killed by a Moroccan police officer after being beaten on December 21, 2010. The family believes that Said was selected because of his family’s involvement in the demonstrations for the independence of Western Sahara. After the incident, the police went to the family’s home to inform them that Said had been beaten and they asked for his documentation. Police claimed that Said had only minor injuries and that he was healing in hospital. Dambar’s family went to the hospital where he waited several hours without hearing of his condition or knowing whether or not he was alive. On December 23, he was officially declared dead and his family was not allowed to see his head, which clearly showed the impact of a bullet.
A court concluded that the murder was an accident and that the policeman was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Despite several requests from human rights organizations for an investigation into the causes of Dambar’s murder and for an autopsy to be carried out, Morocco did not carry out any serious investigation or autopsy.
Despite the refusal of the Dambar family to bury Said before an autopsy is done, on June 4, 2012 at 8.30 a.m. the Moroccan authorities presented the Dambar family with a court order, demanding the burial. of the body at 9 o’clock on the same day. The family refused to sign the order and continued asking for an autopsy to be done and demanding to know the location of the body. Members of Dambar’s family are constantly chased by plainclothes policemen.
The delegation’s greatest concern is the almost absolute impunity for human rights violations. For example, despite numerous complaints of torture cases received by the delegation, the First Instance Attorney in El Ayoun informed the delegation that during the last five years, only one state agent was successfully convicted of committing an act of torture.
The delegation interviewed members of families of victims of enforced disappearance, who informed them of the impunity that exists. Impunity affects cases of enforced disappearance from the 1960s to recent cases.
The delegation received many testimonies about impunity in cases of past human rights violations. She was also informed of the work carried out by the Moroccan Commission for Equity and Reconciliation ERC, a Truth Commission created with the mandate to investigate the forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions carried out between 1956 and 1999 and recommend reparations to the victims. Although the ERC played an important role in initiating a process to address past atrocities, many people believe that it has failed to satisfy many of the victims on both sides of the conflict and that its recommendations have not been fully implemented, denying access to justice, truth and reparation for many victims.
The delegation received information on the violation of the rights of freedom of expression, the right to assembly and the right to association, perpetrated against the Saharawi people. The delegation met with representatives of a group of seven criminally tried under false accusations for having expressed their opinion. The group was arrested and charged with treason upon arrival in Morocco after criticizing the Moroccan government from Algeria. The group was jailed and is now on provisional release, awaiting a final decision.
A major concern expressed by Sahrawi human rights defenders is their inability to register as a civil society organization. This is particularly the case with many organizations whose opinion is contrary to that of the Moroccan government. For example, CODESA has not received a response to its petition filed in 2007. The ASVDH and the local representation of the AMDH are in the same situation. Registration is essential to enable these organizations to work effectively in their communities.
The delegation received information indicating a pattern of attack and intimidation against human rights defenders. Assaults, threats, illegal searches, surveillance, criminal persecution and statements made by high-level authorities discrediting and stigmatizing the work of human rights defenders are some of the activities that tend to block and discourage their work.
A group of lawyers informed the delegation about the ongoing harassment and obstacles they face in representing victims of human rights violations who have been detained and tortured for participating in peaceful demonstrations.
The case of Aminatou Hadar best symbolizes the state of oppression faced by human rights defenders in Western Sahara over the past three decades. Aminatou Haidar is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Western Sahara. After several years of illegal detention, Ms. Haidar courageously maintains a firm commitment to Non-Violence. In 1987 Aminatou was * disappeared * after participating in a peaceful demonstration. During the detention, Aminatou was tied to a wooden plank with her head down and beaten continuously, cloth soaked with chemicals was put in her mouth, and she received electric charges all over her body. During the entire period of detention, Ms. Haidar was blindfolded, she was kept in subhuman conditions and totally isolated from the outside world. His health has deteriorated considerably as a result of abuse at the hands of the Moroccan police.
On June 17, 2005, again Ms. Haidar was brutally beaten and injured by the police during peaceful demonstrations in Laayoune. She was arrested at the hospital, after receiving 12 stitches in a head injury and having three broken ribs. She spent seven months in detention in the notorious * Black Prison * in El Aaiún.
Today, the Moroccan authorities continue to harass Aminatou Haidar and restrict her freedom of movement, violating her right to a trial, denying the registration of her CODESA and having plainclothes policemen constantly follow her.
The RFK Center Mission was subjected to intimidation and harassment that obstructed our ability to work. During our stay in El Aaiún, the delegation was permanently followed by two or more cars and plainclothes policemen tried to prevent the delegation from seeing and documenting the beating of a peaceful protester.
The delegation is deeply concerned about the possibility of what may happen to the people who collaborate with the RFK Center. The delegation drivers have been intimidated for helping us during our stay and the hospital staff who allowed the delegation members to visit the woman who was beaten during the demonstration were threatened to lose their jobs. Furthermore, the police persecuting Aminatou Haidar has increased significantly before and after the delegation’s visit.
State interference in the work of human rights defenders is contrary to Morocco’s role in the approval of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders UNDPHRD. Morocco is co-author of this Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, which was an extraordinary first step in the international protection of Human Rights defenders and Morocco should be proud of that contribution. Unfortunately, Morocco is not applying the principles of the Declaration, when it comes to Defenders in Western Sahara.
The RFK Center delegation considers that in the Moroccan-controlled Sahara, the overwhelming presence of the security forces, the violations of the right to life, liberty, physical integrity, freedom of expression, assembly and association, create a state of fear and intimidation that violates the rule of law and respect for the human rights of the Saharawi people. The RFK Center asks the Moroccan government to put an end to these models of violence that affect the Saharawi people who support the independence of Western Sahara.
The delegation wanted to point out that Morocco has signed and ratified several international human rights treaties, which establish international responsibility for human rights violations. Among others, the treaty on the International Convention for the Protection of all persons from Enforced Disappearance, the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights ICCPR, the CAT Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders UNDPHRD. The delegation also reminded Morocco of the latest draft of the recommendations of the UPR Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Council for Human Rights HCR,
Preliminary Observations in the Sahrawi Refugee Camps
The delegation carried out an assessment of the human rights situation in the Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. Although they are refugee camps recognized by UNHCR, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Polisario Front government in exile, have established institutions to administer the camps. Refugee camps have existed since the conflict began in 1975 and provide temporary accommodation in extremely harsh conditions to more than 100,000 Sahrawis.
The refugees are divided into five Smara camps, El Aaiún, 27 de Febrero, Auserd and Dakhla. Seven small camps, run by elected mayors and governors, make up each Camp. Each camp elects its own representatives in Parliament. Central Institutions and International Humanitarian Organizations are in the Rabuni Administrative Center near Tindouf.
The delegation walked freely in the camps and interviewed various people, including members of civil society and individual refugees. The delegation visited the prisons for men, women and children and interviewed some of those incarcerated. The delegation met with UNHCR, the Algerian Red Crescent, the World Food Program, the MINURSO Office in Tindouf. The Saharawi Red Crescent is responsible for the distribution of food rations for the population. The delegation met with Doctors of the World and other international volunteers who assist the population. Civil society appears to be free to associate and women play a prominent role in society and in the administration of the camps.
Under 47 degrees of heat, the delegation experienced an example of the difficult conditions in which Sahrawi refugees have lived for the past 37 years. We have heard complaints about the quantity and quality of the food ration and the lack of opportunities among a highly educated population, where literacy among women hovers around 95 percent. We have heard stories that reflect the anxiety produced by the separation of families and the urgency to find a solution to human rights violations in the past, especially the disappearances of family members during the war.
Mientras la organización y la administración de los campamentos produjo un sentimiento de estabilidad y normalidad, la delegación quisiera expresar su preocupación por la vulnerabilidad de esta amplia población que vive en campamentos de refugiados aislados durante casi cuatro décadas. A pesar de la colaboración internacional que proporciona a casi 100.000 personas las necesidades básicas de la vida, representantes de organizaciones internacionales que apoyan a los refugiados expresaron a la delegación que las condiciones en los campamentos de refugiados podrían tener consecuencias negativas para la integridad física y psicológica de los habitantes. La delegación observo que las condiciones en los campamentos no pueden ser aceptadas como un estándar de vida permanente. Estas condiciones incluyen, entre otras, la exposición permanente al calor extremo, electricidad limitada, falta de sanidad y de variedad de dieta y muy limitadas carreras alternativas.
The parties to the conflict as well as the international community have the responsibility to renew and strengthen efforts to find a sustainable living situation for the more than 100,000 people living in these camps. Although the basic standard of living may be sufficient in refugee camps as part of an interim solution, after four decades these standards are no longer acceptable and seriously affect the lives, dreams and aspirations of more than 100,000 people.
The RFK Center will write a comprehensive report of the visit that will cover additional aspects not included in these preliminary observations. The delegation hopes that this visit, the preliminary observations and the report that the RFK Center will prepare in the coming months will help governments and peoples to develop plans and implement changes that advance the protection of human rights. The RFK Center will continue its collaboration and support.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights was founded in 1968 by the Robert Kennedy family and friends as a living memorial to continue their vision of a more just and peaceful world. RFK partners commit to a long-term strategy with RFK laureates to increase the effectiveness of grassroots leaders in supporting sustainable social justice movements.