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News Archive 2009
News Archive 2008

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RFK and HRW call for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights and Human Rights Watch are co-authors of a letter calling upon Ban Ki Moon's support at the UN Security Council for the establishment of a UN mechanism that would monitor and report on human rights in Western Sahara and in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
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His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
United Nations
Secretariat Building, Room S-3800
New York, NY 10017

Via Facsimile: (212) 963 7055 / 4879  

Re: Human Rights Monitoring in Western Sahara and in Camps in Tindouf, Algeria

Your Excellency:

Our organizations, Human Rights Watch and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center), have an established record of working on human rights issues in Western Sahara. Concerned about human rights violations against the Sahrawi people, we write to urge your support at the UN Security Council for the establishment of a UN mechanism that would monitor and report on human rights in Western Sahara and in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. When the Security Council reviews the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) this month, we ask that the mandate be extended to incorporate human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and in the camps in Tindouf.

When founded in 1991, the primary objective of MINURSO was to administer the settlement proposal between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, including overseeing the ceasefire and the implementation of a referendum on self-determination.  However, for almost two decades now, the referendum has not been held.

In the interim, the Sahrawi people have suffered from serious violations of their individual and collective human rights. Moroccan authorities continue to subject those Sahrawis who openly advocate self-determination or who denounce Moroccan human rights violations to various forms of repression, including imprisonment after unfair trials, beatings, arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel, and denial of the right to peaceful assembly, association, and expression.

The case of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate, is emblematic. Ms. Haidar, currently president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders, an organization Moroccan authorities have refused to recognize, was forcibly disappeared from 1987 until 1991.  On June 17, 2005, police beat her on the head as she was arriving at a demonstration, then arrested her as she left the hospital where she had received stitches for her injury. A Moroccan court then convicted her in an unfair trial on charges of inciting and participating in violent demonstrations. She spent seven months in prison before being freed. On November 14, 2009, Morocco confiscated the passport of Ms. Haidar and summarily deported her to the Canary Islands because she had listed as her place of residence on her border entry form as “Western Sahara”, an appellation Morocco does not recognize.  Morocco did not agree to her return until December 17, 2009.

Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have long reported on these human rights violations.  The Secretary-General’s Report of 28 July 2009 to the General Assembly took cognizance of such reports. Further, in 2006, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) conducted a mission to examine the human rights situation in the region, although it never officially published the report it had prepared on its findings.

Your new report on Western Sahara, dated April 2010, notes, “The Frente Polisario called for a United Nations [human rights] monitoring mechanism, and Morocco expressed its opposition.”

Sahrawis residing in the remote Polisario-run refugee camps in Tindouf live in a state of isolation and would, like residents of Western Sahara, benefit from the heightened protection that U.N. human rights monitoring would offer.

It is only fitting that the authority to monitor human rights in Western Sahara and in the camps in Tindouf be given to MINURSO. MINURSO is already present on the ground in Western Sahara, and has operated there since 1991.  Also, MINURSO’s mandate explicitly states that MINURSO would be governed by the general principles of United Nations peace-keeping operations.  The United Nations Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) identifies respect for human rights as a critical component for achieving sustainable peace integral to its operations. The mandate of MINURSO additionally provides for monitoring the “maintenance of law and order” in Western Sahara. The lack of a human rights monitoring component within MINURSO is therefore inconsistent with MINURSO’s own mandate and the general principles of the DPKO.  Further, although human rights monitoring is a standard feature in peacekeeping missions, MINURSO operates as perhaps the only contemporary U.N. peacekeeping mission without a human rights component.

In the event that the Security Council determines that MINURSO is not the most effective agency to take on these roles, we would endorse the assignment of another UN mechanism to monitor and report on human rights in Western Sahara and the camps in Tindouf. Either way, it is time for the UN to bring this peacekeeping mission into line with its other peacekeeping missions worldwide by ensuring that includes regular monitoring and reporting of human rights violations.

We thank you for your consideration of our request.


Monika Kalra Varma
Director, RFK Center for Human Rights
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
1367 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East & North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118



News archive:
14.04 - 2010RFK and HRW call for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara
10.04 - 2010Morocco to appoint a Polisario deserter Ambassador to Spain
09.04 - 2010Morocco must end harassment of Sahrawi activists
05.04 - 2010Worldwide appeal for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara
06.04 - 2010Moroccan crack-down against group of Saharawi activists
04.04 - 2010Appeal by political prisoner's mother
02.04 - 2010Health Sahrawi political prisoners on hunger strike deteriorating
16.03 - 2010Emprisoned Saharawi activist wins human rights award
05.03 - 2010First EU-Morocco summit: Don’t forget human rights in Western Sahara
05.03 - 2010Take action for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara
24.02 - 2010European Parliament's lawyers declare EU fishing illegal
12.02 - 2010Parties to Western Sahara dispute commit to further UN-backed talks
09.02 - 2010Parties in Western Sahara dispute to hold new round of talks tomorrow
28.01 - 2010Morocco slammed for Sahara travel ban
23.01 - 2010Peak phosphorous: mankind's latest threat
18.12 - 2009Activist's "victory" over Morocco puts Sahara back on world agenda
18.12 - 2009Activist heads home after ending hunger strike
17.12 - 2009As UN Council meets on Western Sahara, ill Haidar is freed
17.12 - 2009Western Sahara hunger striker taken to hospital
05.12 - 2009AU calls on Moroccan authorities to allow return of rights activist

Africa's last colony Since 1975, three quarters of the Western Sahara territory has been illegally occupied by Morocco. The original population lives divided between those suffering human rights abuses under the Moroccan occupation and those living in exile in Algerian refugee camps. For more than 40 years, the Saharawi await the fulfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
Trailer: Western Sahara, Africa's last colony


Have a look at this teaser for the upcoming documentary "Western Sahara, Africa's last colony". Coming soon.
Book: International Law and the Question of Western Sahara


To our knowledge the first collective book on the legal aspects of the Western Sahara conflict. Available in English and French.