No UN Human Rights Protection for Western Sahara

28 Apr

(Washington, DC | April 26, 2013) Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), expresses profound concern for the decision of the United Nations Security Council to renew the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) without a human rights component. Such action will leave the Sahrawi people without a permanent mechanism that can protect them from ongoing rights violations by Moroccan forces in Western Sahara.

In a press release dated April 12, 2013, the RFK Center applauded the unprecedented United States’ draft resolution calling for a human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism to MINURSO. Such initiative could prevent many of the human rights violations that national and international organizations have reported. In its recently launched report “Nowhere to Turn: the Consequences of the Failure to Monitor Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara and Tindouf Refugee Camps,” the RFK Center details grave human rights violations against the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara, including summary execution, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests, violations to the rights to life, liberty, and integrity. The report highlights violations of the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly committed by Moroccan authorities.

After its September 2012 visit to Morocco and Western Sahara, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture reported that “torture and ill-treatment were used to extract confessions and that protesters were subjected to excessive use of force by Moroccan law enforcement officials, and that members of the Sahrawi population are specifically, but not exclusively, victims of such violations.” The Special Rapporteur cited a “pattern of excessive use of force in repressing demonstrations and in arresting protesters or persons suspected of participating in demonstrations calling for self-determination of the Sahrawi population.” The Special Rapporteur also visited the Laayoune prison and reported receiving “credible testimonies relating to torture and ill treatment including rape, severe beating and isolation up to several weeks, particularly of inmates accused of participating in pro-independence activities.”

The Special Rapporteur and the United Nations Secretary General have called for a permanent human rights protection mechanism for the Sahrawi people. The Special Rapporteur recommended that “the entire region would benefit from a robust regional inter-governmental human rights monitoring mechanism as an important confidence-building measure which can help to improve the situation with respect to human rights observance and particularly with respect to the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.” In his April 8, 2013 report concerning the question of Western Sahara, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that “[g]iven ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the camps becomes ever more pressing.”

“It is appalling that despite the evidence of unquestionable human rights violations against the Sahrawi by Moroccan state agents, the United Nations Security Council overlooked the recommendations of its own Secretary-General and Special Rapporteur and left the Sahrawi defenseless once again,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center.

The RFK Center welcomes the discussion within the Group of Friends—United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Spain—to incorporate a human rights mandate to MINURSO and encourages that such debate be the basis for continuing discussions.  In addition, in order to address the increased concern by the international community with the human rights situation in Western Sahara, the RFK Center calls upon the Security Council to ensure that, based on the current Resolution, the UN mechanisms responsible for the protection of human rights be allowed monthly visits to Western Sahara including, among others: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expressions, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Independent Expert on minority issues, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances. These discussions and visits should take place this year with an aim to have a permanent United Nations mechanism to effectively monitor and report on the human rights situation in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara and Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, by next year.

“Establishing a mechanism to protect human rights should be an automatic procedure for the UN, particularly in cases that the same UN reports the violations. It is inconceivable that some countries prefer to close their eyes and allow human rights violations to continue. However, even if the Security Council considers a permanent mechanism unnecessary, they can still have more effective supervision under the current Resolution, by facilitating more UN presence in the region.” said Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights and former Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

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