aIn 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.