The Inalienable Right to Self-Determination of the Saharawi People Is Not Negotiable
Since the invasion of Western Sahara by the Kingdom of Morocco, the month of November has been a period of painful recurrence for the Saharawi people.
Indeed, on 6 November 1975, the illegal occupation of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara by the Royal Armed Forces was officially launched.
On 10 November 2010, the same Royal Moroccan Forces violently destroyed the peaceful protest camp that housed thousands of Sahrawis in the desert (Gdeim Izik).
On 13 November 2020, the Royal Moroccan Forces intervened in the demilitarised zone in the south of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara (Guarguerat) to disperse a peaceful demonstration of a few dozen Saharawis who were protesting against the illegal plundering and export of the natural resources of the illegally occupied Territory.
On year ago, on 13 November 2020, the 29-year-long ceasefire between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, that was supposed to pay the way for the organisation of a referendum for self-determination under the auspices of the United Nations, came to an end.
Ever since, the Moroccan Occupying Forces have carried out a massive campaign of repression against Saharawi human rights defenders, journalists and political prisoners, as well as Saharawi civilians.
While the UN Security Council constantly encourages the two parties to work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights, the occupying Power has locked down since 2015 the access to any independent scrutiny, including that of the UN Office of the High- Commissioner for Human Rights.
On the occasion of the renewal by the UN Security Council of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) last 29 October, the Kingdom of Morocco, with the support of the US and France, has yet again refused to include a Human Rights monitor mechanism in the MINURSO’s mandate.
The Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara deeply deplores the attitude of the two western Powers, which inexplicably offer immunity and impunity for the widespread, serious and systematic violations of the International Humanitarian Law and of Human Rights by the occupying Power, the Kingdom of Morocco.
With no outside monitors and observers, Sahrawis are left on their own to document and report human rights violations against them. Those trying to break the blockade and the current culture of impunity are risking their own lives, safety and freedom to do so, as has been the case for all currently imprisoned Saharawi activists.
Organized into media collectives, Sahrawi journalistshave become a key, trusted source of information both for international human rights monitors and for media organizations unable to access the territory. The figure of citizen journalists, often lacking an official title or accreditation, is particularly critical in places of the world where press freedom is severely restricted or absent, as is the case of the occupied Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara, leaving Sahrawi journalists in an alarmingly vulnerable position.
The widespread crackdown has been closely monitored by both Amnesty International,1 Human Rights Watch2 and Front Line Defenders,3 having documented the intensification of reprisals against Saharawi human rights defenders by the Moroccan security forces. According to ACAT-France4, the level of violence and repression is similar to the repression witnessed following the Saharawi Intifada of 2005 and following the violent dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik camp in 2010.
In recent time, the UN has sent three joint communications to the Kingdom of Morocco567 – documenting violations in 24 individual cases; supported by numerous past communications8 and opinions rendered by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.9
On 10 June 2021, and whilst denouncing violations in a total of 14 cases, a total of six UN mandate holders10 collectively denounced the widespread crackdown in the Occupied Territory of Western Sahara, stating that the violations comprise a concentrated effort to intimidate and to deter human rights defenders in Western Sahara from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, and to retaliate against human rights defenders’ for their peaceful and legitimate activities, including information sharing and dialogue with the UN, and membership in human rights organizations. 11 The communication was followed by a strong press release of 1 July 2021, condemning the widespread crackdown against Saharawi human rights defenders.1
Serving as one of the gravest examples and symbols of the repression carried out in the occupied territories of Western Sahara is the ongoing arbitrary house arrest of human rights defender Sultana Khayaand her sister Luara. Since the 19th of November 2020, she and her family members have been held under arbitrary house arrest by the Moroccan Occupying Forces, systematically subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual violence. On May 10, they rampaged through the home, arrested three activists who were living with the family, beat Sultana and her sister, destroyed furniture, and stole documents, money, computers and valuables. On May 12, they raped Sultana and her sister, and poured a foul-smelling, toxic liquid all over the house, that made the Khaya family sick13. On August 22, Moroccan agents again raided the house. They sexually assaulted Sultana and her sister and forcibly exposed Sultana to COVID-19, probably by rubbing a rough cloth doused in an unidentified substance over Sultana’s nose and mouth. Sultana began to experience symptoms of the virus in the week following this raid before testing positive for COVID-19 on September 1. Until this day, the house arrest is still continuing with the same force, manifesting itself into yet another raid during the early hours of 8 November where Sultana, her sister and her mother was subjected to physical and sexual violence with Sultana also being injected with an unknown substance; leaving her in a critical health condition.
During the course of the year, widespread reprisals against the Saharawi political prisonerswere also documented, consisting of increased isolation and arbitrary deprival of rights, compounded by threats, intimidations and racial discrimination. Two Saharawi political prisoners even launched open hunger strikes in response to inhumane treatment and continuous isolation. Yahya Mohamed Elhafed Iaazza, held for over 13 years under arbitrary detention, launched an open hunger strike in July 2021 after having effectively disappeared for a period of 8 weeks whilst being held isolated and deprived of his most basic rights, including being able to prepare his own food.
One of the Gdeim Izik prisoners, Mohammed Lamin Haddi, has also launched several open hunger strikes during the course of the year in protest of his prison conditions, including continued isolation, medical negligence and deprivation of basic rights. His situation continues to be cause of great concern with Mohammed Lamin Haddi currently being on an open hunger strike that he initiated on 27 September 2021.
In October 2021 alone, it was reported that Saharawi political prisoners was finding themselves under increased surveillance while being deprived of their right to contact the outside world. The deterioration of the situation is believed to be directly linked to the UN Security Councils treatment of the Western Sahara case. The Gdeim Izik prisoners held in Kenitra prison was forced to speak in the Moroccan Arabic dialect Darija as opposed to Hassania, the Arabic dialect spoken in Western Sahara – clearly constituting racial discrimination against the Saharawi human rights defenders imprisoned in Morocco proper. In protest of this, the Gdeim Izik prisoners initiated a 48-hour warning hunger strike, alongside their colleague Mohamed Lamin Haddi on an open hunger strike. Human rights organizations regularly call on Morocco to release all Saharawi political prisoners with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention having found their detention arbitrary. Morocco, however, continues to ignore the calls coming from the international community and the UN human rights mechanisms.
The Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in WesternSaharacallsuponallHighContracting parties to implement common Article 1 of the four Geneva Conventions and to ensure that the occupying Power, the Kingdom of Morocco, fully implement the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara.
The Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara calls upon the members of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, of the UN Security and of the UN Human Rights Council to fulfil their mandate by tacking the needed measures, in conformity with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, in order to protect the Saharawi population and to ensure that the Saharawi people can freely exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), entitled “Declaration on the Granting Independence to colonial Countries and Peoples.”
Abba El Haissan –CONASADH Gianfranco Fattorini – AAJ
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Photo on front page: Sahrawi’s raise their national flag in protest against Moroccan occupation. Source: Sidali Djarboub/AP. Photo on this page: King Mohammed VI described Morocco`s sovereignty in Western Sahara as ‘non negotiable’ in his televised speech to mark the 46th anniversary of the Moroccan invasion of the since-occupied Western Sahara. AFP.
5 Al Mar 5/ 2020 of 7 January 2021 (8 victims), https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25731.
6 UA Mar 5/2021 of 10 June 2021 (14 victims), https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=26478.
7 AL MAR 4/2021 of 16 June 2021 (2 victims), https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=26415.
8 Communications issued by the Special Procedures include inter alia the communication issued in relation to the arrest and torture and the breach of the right to a fair trial for the Gdeim Izik prisoners (AL MAR 3/2017), the communication issued in response to the violent arrest of Sahrawi journalist Walid Salek El Batal (AL MAR 3/2019), and communication issued in response to the illegal charges brought against the Sahrawi journalist Naziha El Khalidi (AL MAR 2/2019 and AL MAR 1/2019), including communications issued the imprisonment of the young Sahrawi journalist Khatri Dadda (Al Mar 3/2020) and imprisoned Sahrawi student Hussein Bachir Brahim (JAL Mar 2/2020). See database: .https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TmSearch/Results
9 Reference is made to Opinion No. 39/1996, Opinion No. 4/1996, in Opinion no. 11/2017 concerning Salah Eddin Bassir, in Opinion No. 31/2018 concerning Mohamed Al-Bambary, in Opinion No. 58/2018 concerning Ahmed Aliouat, in Opinion No. 60/2018 concerning Mbarek Daoudi, Opinion No. 23/2019 concerning Laaroussi Ndour, in Opinion No. 67/2019 concerning the Student Group (14 victims), in Opinion No. 52/2020 concerning Ali Saadouni and latest in Opinion No. 68/2020 concerning Walid Salek El Batal. See database: https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/detention/pages/opinionsadoptedbythewgad.aspx.
10 The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, the Special rapporteur on freedom of association, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Working Group on discrimination against women.
13 Read Sultana´s own account of the house arrest and sexual violence in her published opinion piece: Sultana Khaya, I’ve Been Raped, Beaten and Held under House Arrest for Fighting for My Sahrawi People, CNN, July 29, 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/29/opinions/morocco-western-sahara-activist-raped-beaten-khaya/index.html.