Morocco accused of systematic abuses in W. Sahara

Morocco accused of systematic abuses in W. Sahara
# 03 September 2012 23:50 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. A US human rights group on Monday accused Morocco of systematic human rights violations in Western Sahara, after visiting the disputed territory last week, saying its people live in a "state of fear", APA reports quoting AFP.

Responding to the accusations, government spokesman Mustapha al-Khalfi slammed "the biased nature" of the organisation, and insisted Rabat would follow through on its commitment to improving human rights throughout the kingdom.

The RFK Centre for Justice and Human Rights, in a preliminary report on its four-day visit, said it recognised positive changes to the Moroccan constitution, including "the criminalisation of torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances."

The Washington-based group also highlighted greater gender equality and freedom of expression in the North African kingdom.

But it deplored the heavy military and police presence in the Moroccan-held territory, reporting widespread intimidation of the Sahrawi people, and saying it heard of "many cases of police brutality" against non-violent protesters.

It said the delegation itself was constantly followed by plain-clothes security officers, but still witnessed a uniformed policeman and three individuals attacking a woman who was peacefully protesting.

"The overwhelming presence of security forces, the violations of the right to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association creates a state of fear and intimidation that violates the rule of law and respect for human rights of the Sahrawi people," the group said.

It called on the Moroccan government "to put an end to the pattern of violence" that it said affected the Sahrawi people who support the independence of Western Sahara.

It is not the first time the RFK Centre has visited the region, and Moroccan officials have already accused the group of siding with the Polisario Front, which has been campaigning for Western Sahara’s independence since before its annexation in 1975.

"We are astonished by the speed with which this document has been compiled, which corresponds to the arguments of the other party," said Khalfi, who is also communications minister.

The group also travelled to Tindouf, in western Algeria, where tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees live in extreme conditions, and where the delegates met Polisario leaders, families of the conflict’s victims, UN agencies and NGOs.

The RFK Centre, in its 11-page report, referred only briefly to the problems facing the refugees in Tindouf.

It lamented the "very harsh" living conditions of "more than 100,000 Sahrawi people," but praised the organisation and administration of the camps, which it said "have brought a sense of stability and normalcy."

Khalfi said he regretted that that the human rights situation in Tindouf "has not been raised" by the group.

Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community.

The rebel Polisario Front, supported by Algeria controls a small part the desert interior and has bases in Tindouf.