Western Sahara: Right to Truth Day

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Western Sahara: Right to Truth Day
21 March 2020

International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims[1]

The Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara (GSGPPHRWS) pays tribute to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly for the designation of 24 March as International Day for the Right to the Truth about Gross Violations of Human Rights and for the Dignity of the Victims.

The SRSGDHSO recalls that the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has recognized the right to the truth, its scope and application (E/CN.4/2006/52), and that the Human Rights Committee and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (E/CN.4/1999/62) recognized that victims of gross human rights violations and their families have the right to know the truth about the events that occurred, including the identity of the perpetrators.[2]

The GSGPPHRWS also recalls that, according to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, victim means the disappeared person and any natural person who has suffered direct harm as a result of an enforced disappearance. The Convention establishes that every victim has the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person, and that each State Party shall take appropriate measures in this regard. It further provides that each State Party shall take all appropriate measures to search for, locate and release disappeared persons and, in the case of death, to locate, respect and return their remains.

The GSGPPHRWS also recalls the importance of the work carried out by the two successive Special Rapporteurs on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition, Mr. Pablo de Greiff and Mr. Fabian Salvioli.[3]

The situation in Western Sahara

The invasion and war of occupation (1975 - 1990) of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara by the Kingdom of Morocco, condemned by both the Security Council[4] and the UN General Assembly[5], as well as the continuing illegal military occupation, have caused and continue to cause serious systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of the norms of International Humanitarian Law.

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From the end of 1975 until 1977, the Moroccan army conducted a campaign of looting, arrests and expulsion of nomads who were in the desert. With these cases of looting, it is also necessary to add the cultural impact to the economic impact, because the strategy of seeking out the population and settling down, as well as the construction of a 2,700 km. wall riddled with millions of anti-personnel mines, has largely affected the socio-economic structure of the Saharawi people for decades.

These practices can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and cultural genocide as defined by international law.

By widely practicing coercion, corporal punishment, torture, degrading and inhuman treatment on members of the Polisario Front prior to the 1990 ceasefire agreement and on the Saharan civilian population to the present day, the Kingdom of Morocco has seriously violated and continues to violate articles 31 and 32 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

By deporting the original people of Western Sahara during the military campaign of invasion of Western Sahara and by continuously promoting on a large scale the transfer of Moroccan citizens to the Occupied Territory of Western Sahara, the Kingdom of Morocco has also been in constant violation, since 1975, of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Since 31 October 1975, the enforced disappearance of Saharan soldiers and civilians has been widely practised by Moroccan troops. The lowest estimates are around 1000 cases, 80% of which occurred between 1975 and 1977. While the Association of Families of Saharawi Prisoners and Disappeared (AFAPREDESA) has registered more than 4500 cases, today, more than 400 cases are still unresolved, of which 351 have been identified by the Moroccan National Human Rights Institution in 2010.

Enforced disappearance is an offence that continues to be committed until the fate and whereabouts of the victim are clarified and reliable information is provided on the fate of disappeared persons and their families. Refusing to provide information to the families on the fate of missing persons is a violation of their psychological integrity, a form of psychological torture, as it deprives the relatives of the possibility of dealing with their grieving.[6]

At the end of the 1980s, the discovery of clandestine detention centres such as the PCCMI Laayoune, Galaat Magouna and Tazmamert led to the launch of a campaign to reveal the whereabouts of missing persons. On 22 June 1991, 322 missing Sahrawis were released thanks to international pressure.

Enforced disappearance has survived until today in Western Sahara, even if on a smaller scale and for shorter periods of time. Enforced disappearance is a multiple violation of several human rights and constitutes a form of torture.

In recent years, several mass graves have been discovered in Western Sahara, containing victims identified by Spanish experts.[7]

The responsibility of the Kingdom of Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco ratified the four Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Victims of Armed Conflicts (1949) on 26 July 1956 and the First Additional Protocol on 3 June 2011: as such, the Kingdom of Morocco is bound to respect and apply the four Conventions and the Additional Protocol.

In November 2016, in adopting its Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of the Kingdom of Morocco, the Human Rights Committee recommended that the State party should continue and accelerate its efforts to elucidate all cases of enforced disappearance, including those related to Western Sahara, and that it should proceed without delay with investigations with a view to identifying, trying and punishing those responsible for enforced disappearances.

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It should be stressed here that under no circumstances can the work of the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission or the financial compensation granted to a number of Saharan families be interpreted as a mechanism for transitional justice in Western Sahara, because on the one hand, the original people of the Non-Self-Governing Territory have not yet exercised their right to self-determination in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV)[8] and, on the other hand, the Territory is still under the illegal military occupation of the Kingdom of Morocco.

It should also be stressed that any activity of the Moroccan National Human Rights Institution in the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara must be considered illegal since the mandate of each National Institution is limited to its national territory.

The Kingdom of Morocco acceded to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2013, but has not yet submitted its first report to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Solemn appeal

On the occasion of the International Day for the Right to the Truth about Gross Violations of Human Rights and for the Dignity of the Victims, the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara honours the peaceful struggle of the Saharawi People and their legal representative (Polisario Front), for the implementation of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence and calls upon:

  • the Secretary-General of the United Nations to appoint without delay a new Personal Envoy in order to complete the negotiation process reactivated by former President Horst Köhler so that the People of Western Sahara can freely exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence;
  • the United Nations Security Council to make every effort to ensure that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara established in 1991[9] completes its mission as soon as possible, which was to be carried out no later than nine months after the establishment of the Mission;
  • the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Territory of Western Sahara;
  • the relevant Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, in the framework of their respective mandate, and the Treaty Bodies to pay particular attention to the gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Western Sahara, the dignity of the victims and their right to the truth;
  • the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a technical cooperation and capacity building programme with the legal representative of the People of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front;
  • the Kingdom of Morocco to submit without delay the first report to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and to continue negotiations with the Polisario Front in good faith and without preconditions so that the People of Western Sahara can freely exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance with resolution 1514 (XV) and in compliance with the Principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Bir Lehlu / Geneva, 24 March 2020

On behalf of the GSGPPHRWS, the coordinators:

Abba Salek AL-Haissan Gianfranco Fattorini

President of the Sahrawi National Commission Main Representative at UNOG

for Human Rights (CONASADH) American Association of Jurists (AAJ)

ujsahara@gmail.com fgf.aaj@outlook.com

+213655366853 (Whatsapp) +41793265102 (Whatsapp / Signal)

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Signatories (210 NGOs):

Acción Solidaria Aragonesa (ASA), African Law Foundation (AFRILAW), Agrupación Chilena de Ex Presos poíticos, American Association of Jurists (AAJ), Amigos por un Sahara Libre, Arabako SEAD en Lagunen Elkartea, Asociación de Amigos y Amigas de la R.A.S.D. de Álava, Amal Nanclares, Asociación Amal Centro Andalucía, ARCI Città Visibili, A.R.S.P.S. - Rio de Or, Asociación Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui del Campo de Gibraltar (FANDAS), Asociación Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui de Toledo, Asociación de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui de Albacete, Asociación ARDI HURRA, Asociación Asturiana de Solidaridad con el Pueblo Saharaui, Asociación Canaria de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui (ACAPS), Asociación Chilena de Amistad con la República Arabe Saharaui Democrática, Asociación de la Comunidad Saharaui en Argon (ACSA), Asociación Cultural Peruano Saharaui, Asociación de Discapacitados Saharauis, Asociación Ecuatoriana de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui (AEAPS), Asociación Española para el Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos (AEDIDH), Asociación de Familiares de Presos y Desaparecidos Saharauis (AFAPREDESA), Asociación Hijas de Saguia y el Rio, Asociación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos, Asociación de Médicos Saharaui en España, Asociación Mexicana de Amistad con la República Árabe Saharaui A.C. (AMARAS), Asociación Navarra de Amigos y Amigas de la R.A.S.D. (ANARASD), Asociación Navarra de Amigos y Amigas del Sahara (ANAS), Asociación Panameña Solidaria con la Causa saharaui (APASOCASA), Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), Asociación Profesional de Abogados Saharauis en España (APRASE), Asociación por la Protección de los Presos Saharaui en las Cárceles Marroquí, Asociación Riojana de Amigos de la R.A.S.D., Asociación Saharaui de Control de los Recursos naturales y la Protección del Medio Ambiente, Asociación Saharaui para la Protección y Difusión del Patrimonio cultural Saharaui, Asociación Saharaui contra la Tortura, Asociación de Saharauis en Alicante, Asociación de Saharauis en Ávilla, Asociación de Saharauis en Bal, Asociación de Saharauis en Fuerteventura, Asociación de Saharauis en Jerez de la Frontera, Asociación de Saharauis en Lebrija, Asociación de Saharauis en Navarra, Asociación de Saharauis en Tenerife, Asociación de Saharauis en Valdepeñas, Asociación Um Draiga de Zaragoza, Asociación Venezolana de Solidaridad con el Sáhara (ASOVESSA), Asociación de Víctimas de Minas (ASAVIM), Asociación de Zamur Valencia, Associação Amigos e Solidaridade ao Povo Saharaui (ASAHARA), Associació d’Amics del Poble Sahrauí de les Iles Balears, Association des Amis de la RASD (France), Association de la Communauté Sahraouie en France, Association Culture Sahara, Association culturelle Franco-Sahraouie, Association des Femmes Sahraouies en France, Association of Humanitarian Lawyers, Association Mauritanienne pour la Promotion du Droit, Association Mauritanienne pour la Transparence et le Développement – ATED, Association for the Monitoring of Resources and for the Protection of the Environment in Western Sahara (AMRPENWS), Association Nationale des Echanges entre Jeunes (ANEJ), Association pour un Référendum libre et régulier au Sahara occidental (ARSO), Association Sahraouie des Victimes des Violations Graves des Droits de l’Homme Commises par l’Etat Marocain (ASVDH), Association des Sahraouis de Bordeaux, Association de la vie maghrébine pour la solidarité et le développement (AVMSD), Associazione bambini senza confini, Associazione Jaima Sahrawi per una soluzione giusta e non violenta nel Sahara Occ., Associazione Nazionale di Solidarietà con il Popolo Saharaui, Bentili Media Center, Bureau International pour le Respect des Droits Humains au Sahara occidental (BIRDHSO), Campaña Saharaui para la sensibilisación sobre el peligro de Minas (SCBL), Cantabria por el Sáhara, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile, Centro Brasileiro de Solidaridad con los Pueblos y Lucha por la Paz, CEBRAPAZ, Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM), Centro Saharaui por la Salvaguardia de la Memoria, Colectivo Saharaui de Defensores de Derechos Humanos (CODESA), Colectivo Saharaui en Estepona, Colectivo Saharaui en Gipuzkoa, Colectivo Saharaui en Jaén, Colectivo Saharaui en Lanzarote, Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos de Ecuador (CEDHU), Comisión General Justicia y Paz, Comisión Media Independientes, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de la República Dominicana (CNDH-RD), Comisión Nacional Saharaui por los Derechos Humanos (CONASADH), Comité d’Action et de Réflexion pour l’Avenir du Sahara Occidental, Comité de Apoyo por el Plano de Paz y la Protección de los Recursos Naturales en el Sáhara Occidental, Comité de Defensa del Derecho de Autodeterminación (CODAPSO), Comité de Familiares de los 15 Jóvenes Secuestrados, Comité de Familiares de Mártires y Desaparecidos, Comité de Familiares de los Presos Políticos Saharauis, Comité de Jumelage et d`Echange Internationaux / Gonfreville l`Orcher, Comité de Protección de los Defensores Saharauis – Freedom Sun, Comité de Protección de los Recursos Naturales, Comité Saharaui de Defensa de Derechos Humanos (Glaimim), Comité Saharaui de Defensa de Derechos Humanos (Smara), Comité Saharaui de Defensa de Derechos Humanos (Zag), Comité Saharaui por el Monitereo de los Derechos Humanos (Assa), Comité de Solidaridad Oscar Romero, Comité Suisse de soutien au Peuple Sahraoui, Comité de Victimas de Agdaz y Magouna, Comunidad Saharaui en Aragón, Comunidad Saharaui en Castilla y León, Comunidad Saharaui en Castilla la Mancha, Comunidad Saharaui en Catalunya, Comunidad Saharaui en Grenada, Comunidad Saharaui en Las Palmas, Comunidad Saharaui en Murcia, Coordinadora Estatal de Asociaciones Solidarias con el Sáhara (CEAS – Sáhara), Coordinadora de Gdeim Izik para un Movimiento Pacífico, Coordinadora de los Graduados Saharauis Desempleados, Coordinadora d´Organizacións No-Governamentals de Cooperaciò al Desenvolupament (CONGDIB), Coordinadora de las ONGs en Aaiún, Coordinadora Saharaui de Derechos Humanos de Tantan, DISABI Bizkaia, Emmaus Åland, Emmaus Stockholm, Equipe Média, Federació ACAPS de Catalunya, Federació d’Associacions de Solidaritat amb el Poble Sahrauí del País Valencià, Federación Andaluza de Asociaciones Solidarias con el Sahara (FANDAS), Federación de Asociaciones de Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui de Extremadura (FEDESAEX), Federación de la Comunidad de Madrid de Asociaciones Solidarias con el Sahara (FEMAS Sahara), Federación Estatal de Instituciones Solidarias con el Pueblo Saharaui (FEDISSAH), Fondation Frantz Fanon, Forum Futuro de la Mujer Saharaui, Freiheit für die Westsahara e.V., Fundación Constituyente XXI, Fundación Mundubat, Fundación Sahara Libre-Venezuela, Fundación Sahara occidental, Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social (Fundalatin), Giuristi Democratici, Global Aktion - People & Planet before profit, Groupe Non Violence Active (NOVA SAHARA OCCIDENTAL), Grupo por la renuncia de la Nacionalidad Marroquí, Habitat International Coalition, Housing and Land Rights Network, Ibsar Al Khair Association for the Disabled in Western Sahara, Indian Council of South America (CISA), International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), International Educational Development, Inc., International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), Liberation, Liga de Defensa de los Presos Políticos Saharaui, Liga de Deportistas Saharauis en España, Liga de Estudiantes Saharauis en España, Liga de Mujeres Saharauis en España, Liga Nacional dos Direitos Humanos, Liga de Periodistas Saharauis en España, Liga Saharaui de defensa de Derechos Humanos y Protección de RW-Bojador, Ligue des Jeunes et des Etudiants Sahraouis en France, Ligue pour la Protection des Prisonniers Sahraouis dans les prisons marocaines (LPPS), Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (MRAP), National Television Team, Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara, Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, Observatoire des Médias Saharaouis pour documenter les violations des droits de l’homme, Observatorio Aragonés para el Sáhara Occidental, Observatorio Asturiano de Derechos Humanos para el Sáhara Occidental (OAPSO), Observatorio Saharaui por el Niño y la Mujer, Observatorio Saharaui de Protección del Niño, Observatorio Saharaui de Recursos Naturales, 1514 Oltre il muro, Organización Contra la Tortura en Dakhla, Organización Saharaui por la Defensa de las libertades y la dignidad, Pallasos en Rebeldía y Festiclown, Paz y Cooperación, Plataforma de Organizaciones Chile Mejor Sin TLC, Por un Sahara Libre, Right Livelihood Foundation, Sahara Euskadi Vitoria, Sahara Gasteiz Vitoria, Saharawi Advocacy Campaign, Saharawi Association for Persons with Disabilities in Western Sahara, Saharawi Association in the USA (SAUSA), Saharawi Campaign against the Plunder (SCAP), Saharawi Center for Media and Communication, Saharawi Media Team, Saharawi Voice, Sandblast, Schweizerishe Unterstützungskomitee für die Sahraouis, Sindacato Español Comisiones Obrearas (CCOO), Solidariedade Galega col Pobo Saharaui (SOGAPS), Stichting Zelfbeschikking West-Sahara, Tayuch Amurio, Tawasol Lludio, The Australian Western Sahara Association, The Icelandic Western Sahara Association, The Swedish Western Sahara Committee, TIRIS - Associazione di Solidarietà con il Popolo Saharawi, Unión de Asociaciones Solidarias con el Sáhara de Castilla y León, Union des Ingénieurs Sahraouis, Unión de Juristas Saharauis (UJS), Unión Nacional de Abogados Saharauis, Unión Nacional de Estudiantes de Saguia El Hamra y Rio de Oro (UESARIO), Unión Nacional de la Juventud de Saguia El Hamra y Rio de Oro (UJSARIO), Unión Nacional de Mujeres Saharauis (UNMS), Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de Saguia El Hamra y Rio de Oro (UGTSARIO), Unión de Periodistas y Escritores Saharauis (UPES), US Western Sahara Foundation, VZW de Vereniging van de Sahrawi Gemeenschap in Belgie, Werken Rojo - Medio de comunicación digital, Western Sahara Resource Watch España (WSRW España), Western Sahara Times, World Barua Organization (WBO), World Peace Council

NGOs in consultative status with UN - ECOSOC

Photo: A Sahrawi refugee carries a flag of the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara. Mohamed Messara/EPA.


[1] UN General Assembly resolution 65/196 (21/12/2010).

[2] Human Rights Council resolution 12/12 (1 October 2009).

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/TruthJusticeReparation/Pages/Index.aspx.

[4] Security Council resolution 380 (6 November 1975).

[5] General Assembly resolutions 34/37 (21 November 1979) and 35/19 (11 November 1980).

[6] C. M. Beristain and E. G. Hidalgo, The Oasis of Memory: Historical memory and human rights violations in the Western Sahara (Universidad del Pais Vasco and Instituto de Estudios sobre Desarrollo y Cooperacíon Iternational, 2012); p. 47, at: www.hegoa.ehu.es

[7] Carlos Martín Beristain and Francisco Etxeberria Gabilondo, MEHERIS A possibility of hope: Mass graves and the first Sahrawi disappeared who have been identified (Bilbao: UPV/EHU, 2013), at: http://publicaciones.hegoa.ehu.es/uploads/pdfs/235/Meheris_SUMMARY_%28Ingles_Frances_arabe%29.pdf?1488539792.

[8] Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960.

[9] Resolution 690

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