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HRW report on Western Sahara and Tindouf refugee camps

Human Rights Watch publicou antonte un informe sobre os Direitos Humanos no Sahara Occidental e nos campos de refuxiados de Tinduf (Alxeria). O Sahara Occidental foi unha colonia baixo soberanía española ata 1975, pero España retirouse e, incumprindo as súas obrigas dentro do Direito Internacional, deixou que un novo colonizador, Marrocos, se anexionase o territorio e pasase a administralo de facto.

O informe leva por título “Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps”. Copio un extracto da súa introducción:

This report is in two parts. Part one examines present-day human rights conditions in Western Sahara. Part two examines present-day human rights conditions in the Sahrawi refugee camps administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), the Sahrawi independence organization, near Tindouf, Algeria.

For Western Sahara, the focus of Human Rights Watch’s investigation is the right of persons to speak, assemble, and associate on behalf of self-determination for the Sahrawi people and on behalf of their human rights. We found that Moroccan authorities repress this right through laws penalizing affronts to Morocco’s “territorial integrity,” through arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, restrictions on associations and assemblies, and through police violence and harassment that goes unpunished.

For the refugee camps in Tindouf, the focus is freedom of expression and of movement. We found that at the present time, the Polisario effectively marginalizes those who directly challenge its leadership or general political orientation, but it does not imprison them. It allows residents to criticize its day-to-day administration of camp affairs. In practice, camp residents are able to leave the camps, via Mauritania, if they wish to do so. However, fear and social pressure keeps those who plan to resettle in Western Sahara from disclosing their plans before leaving.

The rights of residents of the Tindouf camps remain vulnerable due to the isolation of the camps; the lack of regular, on-the-ground human rights monitoring; and the lack of oversight by the host country of Algeria to ensure the human rights of Sahrawis living in POLISARIO-run camps on Algerian soil. The United Nations Security Council should establish a mechanism for regular observing and reporting on human rights conditions both in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf refugee camps.

This report does not cover past abuses, an important subject in its own right that merits attention today. Although civil and political human rights conditions have improved in the Tindouf camps as well as in Western Sahara since a ceasefire ended the armed conflict between the POLISARIO Front and Morocco in 1991, neither party has brought to justice or otherwise held accountable the perpetrators of atrocities committed during that earlier period.

Human Rights Watch takes no position on the issue of independence for Western Sahara or on Morocco’s proposal for regional autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. However, all persons, whether living in contested territory under de facto Moroccan control or in refugee camps administered by the POLISARIO Front, are entitled to respect for all of their fundamental human rights. Abuses committed by Morocco can in no way justify or mitigate abuses committed by the Polisario, or vice versa.

Western Sahara

Morocco has made steady gains in its human rights performance in the past fifteen years. It has allowed greater freedom of expression and independent human rights monitoring, and has established a truth commission that investigated and acknowledged past abuses and compensated victims. It has ended some of the most grievous practices, such as long-term “disappearances,” that were commonplace in the past.

However, the limits to Morocco’s progress on human rights are apparent in the way authorities suppress opposition to the officially held position that Western Sahara is part of Morocco. The government bans peaceful demonstrations and refuses legal recognition to human rights organizations; the security forces arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Sahrawi activists, beat them and subject them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; and the courts convict and imprison them after unfair trials.

Moroccan authorities consider the “Southern Provinces” (their term for the contested territory) part of Morocco, subject to the same laws and administrative structures as the rest of the country. Therefore, their treatment of dissent in this region, despite its particular characteristics, should not be considered an aberration but rather an example of the extent to which Moroccan authorities continue to violate human rights in order to suppress political dissent on issues they deem critical.

Because Human Rights Watch did not conduct comparative research in various regions of Morocco, it cannot say whether Morocco’s human rights practices in Western Sahara are better or worse than its practices elsewhere. There is, of course, the particular problem of Moroccan laws that forbid attacks on Morocco’s “territorial integrity” – interpreted to mean advocacy of independence for Western Sahara. But beyond this issue, further research would be needed to judge whether dissidents or protesters who advocate on behalf of other politically sensitive causes in, say, Tangiers or Fez, enjoy more freedom to associate or assemble, are more likely to have a fair trial, or are less likely to face physical violence at the hands of the police, than Sahrawi activists in El-Ayoun or Smara.

In measuring Morocco’s compliance with its international human rights obligations in Western Sahara, Human Rights Watch is not implying any position on the future status of the territory. Whatever Western Sahara’s current or future status, its residents are endowed with human rights that those who exercise de facto authority are legally bound to respect. Any political arrangement that denies people the right to speak, assemble and associate peacefully on a political issue central to their lives constitutes an affront to human rights.

Morocco’s Autonomy Plan

In April 2007 Morocco presented to the UN a proposal for an autonomy plan for Western Sahara, a plan that, Morocco claims will satisfy Sahrawi aspirations for self-determination under continued Moroccan sovereignty. Under the proposal, Morocco will devolve a measure of power from the central authority to locally elected bodies and officials. Morocco has presented its autonomy plan as a basis for negotiations with the Polisario Front.

However, Moroccan authorities have not to our knowledge indicated that their autonomy plan envisions a change in the environment governing freedom of expression on the Western Sahara issue. Persons may freely debate the modalities of implementing the autonomy plan. But to propose any path, including a referendum, that might lead to independence, will continue to be viewed as an attack on Morocco’s “territorial integrity” (see letter from Moroccan government in Appendix 2 of this report), incurring the risk of criminal penalties.

Laws Penalizing Attacks on Morocco’s “Territorial Integrity”

One of the causes of the human rights violations described in this report is Moroccan legislation prohibiting attacks on the kingdom’s “territorial integrity.” In practice, this phrase is applied to repress challenges to the official position that Western Sahara is part of Morocco. This is one of the three explicit red lines in Moroccan law limiting free expression, alongside “undermining” the Islamic religion and the monarchical regime.

Morocco’s 1996 constitution states in Article 19, “The King shall be the guarantor of the … territorial integrity of the Kingdom within all its rightful boundaries.” The Law on Associations, while liberal in some respects, permits banning of associations that, in the interpretation of the courts, seek to undermine Morocco’s “territorial integrity.” The 2002 Press Law, more progressive than its predecessor, maintains prison terms and heavy fines, and the suspension or banning of a publication, as punishment for speech that undermines “territorial integrity.”

The conclusion is inescapable: prohibitions on speech and activities deemed to undermine “territorial integrity” violate Morocco’s obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to respect freedom of speech, association, and assembly. Moroccan authorities claim to restrict only speech and activities whose suppression the ICCPR allows because they threaten security and the public order (see letter from Moroccan government in Appendix 2 of this report). In practice, they use the broad and vague concept of “undermining territorial integrity” to repress all kinds of peaceful political activity and speech when it opposes the official line on the Western Sahara issue. […]

Enlaces sobre o Sahara Occidental:

21 Decembro 2008 - Posted by | Algeria, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Morocco, Politics, Spain, Western Sahara

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