February 9, 2013

Human Rights

Human rights violations are carried out on a frequent and systematic basis in Western Sahara by the Moroccan authorities. Please find below further details on the nature of these violations – it is imperative that we take a collective stand against these unacceptable and illegal human rights abuses, and demand that the United Nations monitor these abuses in the territory at once.


The right to freedom of expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. 

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19)

Activists and journalists in Western Sahara face prosecution and imprisonment for publicly criticising state officials or institutions. To question or deny the legitimacy of Morocco’s occupation of the nation is also a criminal offence for which many individuals have been prosecuted. This now extends to social media, with those expressing objection to Moroccan rule via Facebook or Twitter also liable to be prosecuted by the government. Even journalists profiling the opposition movement have faced intimidation. Without independent human rights monitoring, such violations are likely to continue unabated.


The right to freedom from torture

No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5)

Practices of torture and degrading punishment are frequently used upon the Sahrawi people by the Moroccan authorities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mandez, visited Western Sahara in September 2012, returning with the conclusion that ‘there is a lot of evidence of excessive use of force…[and] there is a tendency to use torture in interrogation.’  While Mr. Mendez expressed uncertainty about just how frequently such practices were invoked, a great many cases have been reported. The methods of torture are often cruel and barbaric. Such practices constitute a flagrant and reprehensible contradiction of international human rights law, and highlight the urgent need for independent monitoring of the situation by the United Nations.


The right to a fair trial

Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11, (1))

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. 

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9)

Morocco is alleged to frequently impose arbitrary detention upon Sahrawi activists, and when cases are brought to trial these are often claimed to be unfair. An independent human rights monitoring body in the Western Sahara must prioritise this as a key issue. Without such a body, it is highly likely that arbitrary arrests will continue, as will detention without charge or trial. MINURSO is explicitly tasked with addressing such issues pertaining to political prisoners, but has failed to meet its responsibilities in this regard.


The right to cultural freedom

Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancements and its benefits. 

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27)

Sahrawi culture, history and identity has been challenged by the Moroccan Government on a frequent basis. Claiming that the nation of Western Sahara is in fact ‘Moroccan’ in cultural as well as sovereign terms, it is commonplace for parents not to be allowed to give to their children ‘Sahrawi’ or Hassani names at birth, as defined by the authorities. Furthermore, Sahrawi musicians have been denied participation is certain festivals due to the cultural references to a historically unique Western Sahara in the lyrics. As the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights, Farida Shaheed, said in September, 2011, following a visit to the region, “measures [of the Moroccan government] that limit the cultural rights of the population of Western Sahara should be immediately revoked”. Clearly, the Rabat-based National Council on Human Rights is failing to pressure the Moroccan Government to abandon such practices. These violations are particularly concerning in terms of the effect they might have in demographically skewing Western Sahara so as to change the outcome of any future referendum on independence. Violations of cultural rights of the Sahrawis must be monitored by the United Nations immediately.


The right to work with just and favourable remuneration

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. 

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23, (1)

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23, (3))

Western Sahara is rich in natural resources – particularly in fish and phosphates. However, the Sahrawi people themselves rarely have the right to profit from these industries, or to find employment in their extraction, production or sale. The Moroccan government creates highly favourable tax and salary incentives to encourage Moroccans to relocate to Western Sahara in order to work for the government in these industries. As a consequence, ethnic Moroccans largely take all the labour jobs in these industries, entrenching poverty and economic disempowerment among Sahrawis. This represents a violation of the Sahrawis’ labour rights under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is an issue that needs to be addressed at once by a human rights monitoring presence from the United Nations.