Rights abuses and war crimes by Morocco continue in occupied Western Sahara, CODESA report says: Peoples Dispatch

Members of CODESA.

The Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara (CODESA) published its first annual report report July 28 titled “Continuing War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Moroccan Occupation Against Sahrawi Civilians. What future for the process of decolonization in Western Sahara?

According to Mahjoub Maliha, head of external relations at CODESA, the report reflects “the seriousness and scale of the violations committed by the Moroccan occupying forces against Sahrawi civilians”. It records human rights violations and war crimes committed in occupied Western Sahara between September 2020 and December 2021.

Morocco claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara after Spain withdrew its colonial control from the territory in 1975. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was formed by the UNSC after the UN brokered a ceasefire between the Polisario Front, which is fighting for the liberation of Western Sahara, and Moroccan forces in September 1991. MINURSO was mandated to monitor the ceasefire and prepare the ground for a referendum in Western Sahara to decide its status.

The report claims that since Morocco violated the ceasefire agreement in November 2020, its oppression inside Western Sahara has increased. This highlights the inability of the international community and the UN to take effective measures to “complete the process of decolonization promised since 1991 on the basis of the right to self-determination as enshrined in international law”.

Moroccan crimes against the Saharawi people

According to the report, the Moroccan occupation carried out at least 20 extrajudicial executions and illegally arrested at least 121 Sahrawi citizens between September 2020 and December 2021. Various attacks carried out by the occupation forces in different parts of occupied Western Sahara in the same period resulted in serious physical injuries and malformations in 264 people. Moroccan occupying forces have also inflicted “collective punishment” by carrying out at least 139 home seizures.

The report asserts that Sahrawi prisoners inside Moroccan prisons are subject to a constant denial of their fundamental rights under international law. They “live in difficult conditions and are subject, among other things, to reprisals, ill-treatment and discrimination”. They were also denied outside visits and forced into solitary confinement. The report claims that Sahrawi political prisoners in Moroccan prisons face medical neglect, food deprivation and unsanitary conditions. According to her, at least 59 detainees had to resort to prolonged hunger strikes to oppose their mistreatment inside the prison. Their general condition amounts to the torture of Sahrawi prisoners at the hands of the Moroccan authorities, according to the report.

The report also notes that by incarcerating Sahrawi prisoners hundreds of kilometers away, the Moroccan occupation is deliberately keeping them away from their family and friends as a form of punishment. According to the report, almost 80% of all Sahrawi prisoners are held in prisons located at least 320 km or more from their homes.

The report alleges that Moroccan authorities have used the “health emergency” declared during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to increase their oppression of the Sahrawi people, both inside and outside of prisons. He claims that Morocco prevented foreign observers from traveling to occupied Western Sahara to hide its crimes and deprive the Sahrawi self-determination movement of the necessary resource of global contact.

The report accuses Morocco of using its control over Western Sahara to continue plundering the territory for resources and depriving Sahrawis of their economic rights. It asks organizations like the UN and the International Red Cross to assume their responsibilities “towards Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory under military occupation where international humanitarian law is applicable”. The report also underlines the continued responsibility of Spain as a former colonial power for the crimes of the Moroccan authorities.

Stating that similar findings were affirmed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2006 and other international organizations, Maliha said Dispatch of the Peoples that as long as the UN and other international organizations fail to defend the “fundamental right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination, the Moroccan occupation forces will continue their multiple forms of systematic repression, war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Western Sahara.

The continuous political cover provided by the European Union, Spain and other countries is the main reason for the increase in Moroccan crimes in Western Sahara, Mahjoub asserted.

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