“Severe beatings, sexual violence, and other forms of ill-treatment [against migrants] appear to be on the rise,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, said Saturday after returning from an eight-day mission to Morocco. The mission included a two-day visit to El Aaiun, in occupied Western Sahara, where Méndez said he was “overwhelmed” by hundreds of victims and civil society representatives who wished to report to him on Moroccan human rights violations.
These details comes just a few weeks after the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center) released their preliminary observations on the findings of their international delegation’s visit to Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in August.
In a press release, the RFK Center speaks of Morocco’s “grave human rights violations in Western Sahara” that include “violation of the rights to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association” as well as “intimidation and state sponsored violence against critics of the regime.”
In the preliminary observations, the RFK Center mentions reports of further human rights violations committed by Moroccan forces in Western Sahara, including disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions, police brutality, extrajudicial executions and the “nearly absolute impunity” for these human rights violations. “Over the past five years, only one state agent was successfully prosecuted for committing an act of torture,” the RFK Center says.
Additionally, the RFK Center delegation witnessed the brutality of the Moroccan occupation forces first hand. “The delegation witnessed … one uniformed police officer and three individuals [including the vice governor for the region], identified by civil society organizations as State agents, attacking a woman who was peacefully protesting.” The woman needed hospital treatment.
“The violence we witnessed is not an isolated incident,” RFK Center President Kerry Kennedy had written in a blog whilst in El Aaiun. “We met a dozen women whose sons and husbands were beaten and remain in prison for their non-violent activism. We met with a group of men who showed us home videos of non-violent demonstrators be harassed, kicked, and beaten with nightsticks by uniformed police and their ununiformed colleagues. We met with a group of lawyers who said from 1999 forward they have represented over 500 cases just like the one we witnessed today, non-violent protesters bruised, bloodied and too often, murdered.”
Western Sahara has been colonized by Morocco since 1975, and a United Nations-sanctioned referendum to decide the status of the territory, which Morocco initially agreed to in 1991, has yet to be held.
Whereas the Western Saharan government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) that is based in a refugee camp in the Algerian desert, is a member of the African Union and is currently recognized by 50 countries (an additional 34 countries have previously recognized SADR), no country recognizes Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara.
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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