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Western Sahara – Human Rights & Occupied Territories

Mohammed Abdaziz, general secretary of the Polisario Front and president of the provisional government of what it calls the Saharwi Arab Democratic RepublicThe International Crisis Group calls it one of the world's longest and most neglected conflicts.

For the Saharwi who live in the Western Sahara in southern Morocco, everyday is a struggle for recognition of basic fundamental rights and international attention. Neither seem to materialize.  Progress is slow but for the global solidarity movement represented here in  EUCOCO, each step sets in motion a hope for justice.

Aminatour Haidar won the RFK Human Rights Award, the United Nations High Commission For Human Rights is fully informed as isJudge Baltasar Garzon. In the territories, thousands continue to live in fear, in oppression, under a kingdom that denies access to foreign media and will imprison those who are seen to oppose Rabat.

I've heard of terrible stories involving torture, rape, forced abortions, and a constant pressure by Morocco on the Saharwi people.

With these sobering thoughts I attended the Human Rights and Occupied Territories workshop where the Polisario, representatives from NGOs, human rights and international law attorneys discussed the steps needed to liberate political prisoners detained by the Moroccan state, a task that will fall upon CODESA, CODAPSA, ASVDH and AFAPREDESA to coordinate.

The Saharwi want to expand the UN mandate in the Western Sahara. This involves establishing a human rights bureau within the framework of the UN High Commission of Human Rights and allowing observers into the territories.  But the challenges are numerous.

Permanent Security Council member France has blocked the official 2006 UNHCR report which documents human rights abuses committed by the Moroccan state against the Saharwi. And there is no reason, aside from infringing international law, that it should change its mind.

The movement has no full time paid lawyer and there is a logistic disconnect between the civil solidarity movement, NGOs, international organizations states and human rights activists. This includes the Polisario who have yet to coordinate a plan of action said Brahim Dahane, president of the banned ASVDH human rights organization in Morocco.

Mansur Omar, Polisario representative of France, said activists and NGOs need training in human rights and international law and more needs to be done to organize international organizations and governments with SADR.  «We must find a way to send lawyers to defend Saharwi in Moroccan courts, » said Omar.

Human rights strategies in the occupied territories also involves getting the Spanish government to support human rights organizations in Western Sahara.  It is hoped that Madrid will pressure Morocco into opening the territories for activists, NGOs, and the Saharwi.

But officially, the Spanish government no longer recognizes SADR nor its claim on the Western Sahara. Spain, along with several other EU countries, have instead signed lucrative fishing contracts with Rabat off the disputed coastline.  So far, only Sweden has officially denounced the plunder of these natural resources. Among those are phosphates Morocco operates a major phosphate mine in Boucraa.

« The question of human rights is the only instrument we have in our political combat in the occupied territories « said Saharwi human rights activist activist Ennaama Asfari. « We need to work close with all human rights committees in the United Nations and present them with all the testimonies,« he added.

Sahawri who are detained and arbitrarily arrested have no impartial legal representation.    Efforts are underway to release these political prisoners, in particular, Yaha Mohamed Elhafad Iaaza who was arrested this year in Tan-Tan and sentenced to 15 years.

But more needs to be addressed for the struggle of women who face discrimination as well as human rights abuses by Moroccan authorities. «Even if we speak the same message we are not getting the same attention, » said Zahra Ahmed, president of the association of Saharwi women.

Plans include getting the UN to create a human rights special rappateur for the Western Sahara and establish a bureau within the UN High Commission for Human Rights.  Access to the areas is severally restricted.  Morocco authorities do not accredit NGOs said Polisario representative for Switzerland, Sadafa Ahmed Bahia.

Bahia wants the international community to pressure Morocco into accepting those accreditations for Swiss organizations in the hopes of generating more awareness for a conflict that rarely gets into the news.

Eighty countries recognize SADR as the legitimate political representative of the Sahawri.

written November 8, 2008

Next blog entry will discuss final day of EUCOCO.



Nikolaj Nielsen

Nikolaj Nielsen has a Master's of Journalism and Media degree from a program partnership of three European universities - University of Arhus in Denmark, University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Swansea University in Wales. His work has been published at Reuters AlertNet,, the New Internationalist and others.

Areas of Focus:
Torture; Women and Children; Asylum;