Deportation, surveillance, indiscriminate imprisonment, prohibiting human rights organisations, censoring of the press, censoring of Internet. The living conditions for the Sahrawi population in the occupied Western Sahara is not well known in Belgium.
Western Saharan human rights activists are under constant surveillance. During 2006 a total of 685 Sahrawi human rights activists and peacefully protesting Sahrawis were imprisoned.
The photo below shows the overfilled Black Prison in the Western Sahara capital El Aaiun.
The Moroccan courts are indiscriminately used to repress freedom to organize, and to effectively limit the freedom of the speach and press. Furthermore, it is relatively common practice that the Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara conduct prosecution, imprisonment and interrogation without reference to any legal framework.
During the last Intifada, which broke out in 2005, with large demonstrations numerous and serious violations were reported. Reports describe physical punishment on the spot for civil disobedience, demonstrators being beaten by police using batons. In one of the reported incidents, the police brutality resulted in a demonstrator’s death. Typically, many arrests were made following the demonstrations. Notable examples were the human rights activist Aminatou Haidar, and the politically very active Ali Salem Tamek. It is worth noting that Tamek was not involved in the demonstrations. He was abroad, and was arrested upon his return to Western Sahara.
During one of the ensuing court trials that were held for several young demonstrators, in 2005, a Norwegian delegation wanted to attend the court proceedings, but was forcibly deported from the country. The same fortune has been shared by more than 10 delegations, in addition to several journalists, during 2005-2006. It is now becoming difficult for international observers and journalists to enter the country. Examples: On two occasions representatives for Norwegian Foreign Department have been refused entry to the occupied areas.
The list containing “disappeared” inhabitants has several hundred names.
The resistance movement Polisario has also received attention and criticism for violation of basic human rights, however not to the same extent as Morocco. For many years, Polisario was responsible for holding several hundred Moroccan prisoners of war. This was subject of sharp criticism from the international community. All these prisoners have been released, the last 404 prisoners were returned to Morocco in 2005.
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.