Complaint submitted against Morocco on behalf of 10 imprisoned Saharawi students

The torture and detention of 10 Saharawi students by Moroccan authorities must be investigated and denounced. This is the demand in a complaint submitted today to the UN Special Procedures.

Published 14 December 2022

Illustration photo: Saharawis demonstrating in occupied Western Sahara.

10 Saharawi students are victims of arbitrary arrest and detention in response to their student activism. They were all tortured at the time of their arrest and under detention. Six of the students continue to languish in Moroccan jails, subject to racial discrimination and arbitrary deprived of basic rights. In response, the students regularly conduct hunger strikes, serving as their last and only source of protest. 

This situation is the essence of a complaint that was submitted today to the UN Special Procedures.

The complaint is authored by the Norwegian legal aid clinic Jussbuss, The National Union of Students in Norway, The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara alongside Norwegian lawyer Tone Sørfonn Moe.

“For most people, the situation of the students is unimaginable. They are imprisoned, tortured and stripped of fundamental human rights; simply because they try to take advantage of rights many of us take for granted. We stand with the Saharawi students in solidarity – against the cruel actions of Morocco”, echoes the president of Jussbuss, Ole Martin Juul Slyngstadli. 

“With the spotlight now placed on Morocco and the World Cup in Qatar, we need to remind ourselves that Morocco remains an Occupying Power of the greater parts of Western Sahara, carrying out daily systematic and widespread repression to silence the voice of the Saharawi people”, echoes president of the National Union Students in Norway, Maika Marie Godal Dam. 

The complaint was submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom and expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture. The complaint details the recent crackdown on the Saharawi student movement in Moroccan universities, requesting the UN Special Rapporteurs to take urgent actions to safeguard the rights of the ten students. The students in question are imprisoned Abdelmoula El Hafidi, Mohammed Dadda, Elkantawi Elbeur, Aziz El Ouahidi, Al-Hussein Al-Bashir Ibrahim, Mohammed Laychi and released Jamal Arouch, Hamza Bouhriga, Jalal Bouchaab and Hassan Alloud. Jamal was released today, 14 December 2022. 

In 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that four of the mentioned students -- arrested back in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison -- are held on arbitrary detention as punishment for their student activism, requesting their immediate release. The students remain imprisoned and were joined by Hussein Bachir Brahim in 2019 when he was deported from Spain without having his asylum application treated and immediately arrested upon his forcible return to Morocco, later sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison. His case led to out-cries by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, also included in her report on the long-term detention of human rights defenders. 

In September 2021, an additional three students were arrested following the Moroccan elections and protests that erupted in the city of Guelmim, South of Morocco. Jalal Bouchaab was two months later sentenced to time served with Hamza Bourigha being handed a seven-month prison sentence and Jamal Arouch one year and three months. The latest crackdown occurred in April 2022 when Mohammed Laychi and Hassan Alloud were arrested at the student campus of Agadir, with Mohammed later being sentenced to one year in prison. 

“The occupation of Western Sahara remains a humanitarian and human rights crisis. Yet, to the silence of the world, the repression of Morocco is allowed to continue. With this complaint, we aim to inform about the crackdown on Saharawi students, expecting states and those in a position of influence to take actions”, lawyer Tone Sørfonn Moe stresses. 

Western Sahara is a non-self-governing territory that has been partially occupied by Morocco for 47 years. Sahrawi human rights defenders advocating for social justice and activists who demand the celebration of a long-promised UN referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara are often charged with violent crimes, tortured into signing confessions and given long prison sentences, effectively ending or severely limiting their advocacy work. 

The arbitrary detention of Saharawi human rights defenders has been widely documented by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has found that Saharawis advocating in favour of self-determination are subjected to discriminatory practices in breach of the equality of human rights and sentenced to long term imprisonment as punishment for their human rights activism.[1] 


Maika Marie Godal Dam, president of National Union of Students in Norway, 
Ole Martin Juul Slyngstadli, president of Jussbuss, Erik Hagen, president of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, 
Tone Sørfonn Moe, Norwegian human rights lawyer, 

[1] Reference is made to UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 39/1996, Opinion No. 4/1996, in Opinion no. 11/2017 concerning Salah Eddin Bassir, in Opinion No. 31/2018 concerning Mohamed Al-Bambary, in Opinion No. 58/2018 concerning Ahmed Aliouat, in Opinion No. 60/2018 concerning Mbarek Daoudi, Opinion No. 23/2019 concerning Laaroussi Ndour, in Opinion No. 67/2019 concerning the Student Group (14 victims), in Opinion No. 52/2020 concerning Ali Saadouni and Opinion No. 68/2020 concerning Walid Salek El Batal. See database: 

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