STATE DEPARTMENT HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON WESTERN SAHARA
IGNORES RAMPANT ABUSES
[NEW YORK – 13 August 2018] We the undersigned – a coalition of Saharawis including civil society
representatives, human rights defenders, and activists – led by the Saharawi Association in the USA, call on the United States Department of State to address wholesale deficiencies in its Western Sahara Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2017. Western Sahara is recognized as a Non-Self Governing Territory by the United Nations as established by the UN Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). General Assembly resolutions 34/37 (1979) and 35/19 (1980) make clear that Morocco is the occupying power of Western Sahara, and the UN has never recognized it as administering power of the Territory.
It is particularly troubling that the whitewashing of human rights abuses on a wide scale in occupied Western Sahara has come as a result of intense Moroccan diplomatic pressure. Compared to previous years, the 2017 report has been significantly watered down. It fails to report on many serious human rights abuses and mischaracterizes others, in contrast to the far more credible Country Report on Western Sahara issued by the State Department in 2015. Morocco subjects the Saharawis to systematic human rights abuses including arbitrary arrest for political reasons, torture, beatings and intimidation, denial of the right of assembly and free speech, and the use of military courts to try civilians. The human rights violations endured by the Saharawi people result from the failure of the international community to hold Morocco accountable. The State Department’s latest human rights report feeds into this dynamic by suggesting that the United States will abandon its principles in the face of political pressure. In contrast to its 2015 report, in 2017 the State Department fails to mention that the root cause of human rights abuses in Western Sahara is Morocco’s 1975 annexation of the territory and subsequent brutal occupation. The UN regards Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory (NSGT) awaiting a process of decolonization. Under the UN Charter, its people enjoy an absolute right to self-determination. The ceasefire agreement and Settlement Plan of 1991 established the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) – the only modern peacekeeping mission that lacks a human rights monitoring
mandate. Morocco – with the support of France and other allies on the UN Security Council – has
consistently taken action to ensure that such a mandate is not added to MINURSO.
The State Department relies heavily on information provided by the Moroccan government-funded and affiliated National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), while ignoring many independent Saharawi and international human rights monitoring groups. CNDH is an organization created by Morocco, comprised of officials appointed by the King of Morocco, and representative of official Moroccan government positions on Western Sahara. CNDH reports should therefore not be considered credible when it comes to Western Sahara. The United States should instead utilize reports by Saharawi human rights NGOs and independent human rights monitoring groups.
The report fails to mention that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both been banned from Western Sahara for attempting to report on the human rights situation. Nor does the report make any mention of the brave Saharawi human rights defenders who risk their safety and freedom on a daily basis to get around Morocco’s media blockade in Western Sahara and expose the extent of the security forces’ brutal repression. Video evidence is available through initiatives such as Watching Western Sahara from the international NGO WITNESS as well as numerous other activists. The State Department report repeatedly references Moroccan laws and practices and the general human rights situation in Morocco. This is not reflective of the fact that the situation the ground is entirely different in Western Sahara, where the principle right to self-determination is being violated and Saharawis are subject to routine harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, and other abuses.
In the rare instances where independent voices are referenced in the State Department report, they are frequently portrayed inaccurately. Aminatou Haidar of the Saharawi human rights organization Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) and the RFK Center for Human Rights have detailed many of these errors and urged the State Department to correct them.
We – as Saharawi civil society – call on the State Department to correct its 2017 Country Report on
Western Sahara and take steps to ensure that future reports reflect the realities on the ground in occupied Western Sahara. The State Department’s failure to provide credible reporting emboldens Morocco to continue – and intensify – the rampant human rights abuses that are part of daily life in the occupied Territory of Western Sahara.
Mohamed Ali Arkoukou: Sahrawi Association in the USA (SAUSA)
Lahcen Dalil: Association for the Monitoring of Natural Resources and for the Protection of the
Environment in Western Sahara (AMRPEN)
Mohamed Mayara: Equipe Media
Mahmoud Lamaadal: Nuchatta
Brahim Dahan: Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights Committed by the Moroccan
Hammadi Naciri: Freedom Sun Association
Mohamed Hossein Mohamed Fadel: Association of the Sahrawi Community in Belgium
Hmad Hammad: Committee for the Defence for the Right to Self-determination for the People of Western