Above Photo: CODESA members.
CODESA’s first annual report since its formation in 2020 asks the UN and other international organizations to take immediate steps to complete the decolonization process in Western Sahara.
The Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara (CODESA) released its first annual report on July 28 titled, “Continuous war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Moroccan occupation against Saharawi civilians. What future for the decolonization process in Western Sahara?”
According to Mahjoub Maliha, head of CODESA’s external relations, the report reflects “the gravity and scale of the violations committed by the Moroccan occupation forces against Saharawi civilians.” It records human rights violations and war crimes committed in the occupied Western Sahara in the period between September 2020 and December 2021.
Morocco claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara after Spain withdrew its colonial control from the territory in 1975. The United Nations Mission for the Organization of the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was constituted by the UNSC after the UN mediated a ceasefire between the Polisario Front, which is fighting for Western Sahara’s liberation, and the Moroccan forces in September 1991. MINURSO was mandated to monitor the ceasefire and prepare the ground for a referendum in Western Sahara to decide its status.
The report claims that since Morocco violated the ceasefire agreement in November 2020, its oppression inside Western Sahara has increased. This underlines the failure of the international community and the UN to take any effective measures to “complete the decolonization process promised since 1991 on the basis of the right to self-determination as enshrined in international law.”
Moroccan Crimes Against Saharawi People
According to the report, the Moroccan occupation carried out at least 20 extrajudicial executions and illegally arrested at least 121 Saharawi citizens in the period between September 2020 and December 2021. Various attacks carried out by the occupation forces in different parts of occupied Western Sahara in the same period have led to severe physical injuries and deformities in 264 people. The Moroccan occupation forces also meted out “collective punishment” by carrying out at least 139 home seizures.
The report claims that Saharawi prisoners inside Moroccan jails are subjected to consistent denial of their basic rights under international law. They are “living in harsh conditions and subjected to, inter alia, reprisals, ill treatment and discrimination.” They have also been denied outside visits and forced into solitary confinement. The report claims that Saharawi political prisoners in Moroccan jails are facing medical negligence, food deprivation and unhygienic conditions. According to it, at least 59 prisoners had to resort to hunger strike for prolonged periods to oppose their ill treatment inside prison. Their overall condition amounts to torture of the Saharawi prisoners at the hands of the Moroccan authorities, as per the report.
The report also notes that by incarcerating Saharawi prisoners hundreds of kilometers away, the Moroccan occupation is deliberately keeping them away from their family and friends as a form of punishment. According to the report, close to 80% of all Saharawi prisoners are kept in jails which are at least 320 km or more from their homes.
The report alleges that Moroccan authorities used the “health emergency” declared during the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to increase their oppression of the Saharawi people, both inside and outside the prisons. It claims that Morocco has prevented foreign observers from visiting occupied Western Sahara to hide its crimes and deny the Saharawi self-determination movement the necessary resource of global contact.
The report accuses Morocco of using its control over Western Sahara to continue looting the territory of resources and depriving the Saharawis of their economic rights. It asks organizations like the UN and the International Red Cross to assume their responsibilities “towards Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory under military occupation where international humanitarian law is applicable.” The report also highlights the continued responsibility of Spain as a former colonial power for the crimes of the Moroccan authorities.
Claiming that similar conclusions were affirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2006 and other international organizations, Maliha told Peoples Dispatch that as long as the UN and other international organizations fail to uphold the “fundamental right of the Saharawi people to self determination, the Moroccan occupation forces will continue their multiple forms of systematic repression, war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Western Sahara.
Continued political cover provided by the European Union, Spain and other countries is the primary reason for the rise in Moroccan crimes in Western Sahara, Mahjoub asserted.