The human rights violations taking place right now in occupied Western Sahara need to be denounced. Here are some suggestions on how to do that.
Today, the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara together with the Spanish human rights organization #NomadsHRC issued an Urgent Public Appeal in response to the alarming increase of repression and violence against Sahrawi civilians in the territories of Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation, following the recent escalation of the 45-year conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco.
The appeal documents and highlights how the current situation being witnessed in the occupied territories are extremely dangerous for Sahrawi civilians. The document is meant to serve as support for individuals and human rights organizations responding to the calls coming from the occupied territories whilst providing documentation of the latest developments in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.
On 13 November, a 29-year-long ceasefire between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Sahara, under the leadership of the national liberation movement Polisario Front, came to an end. Following a military operation carried out by Morocco against a group of peaceful Sahrawi civilians in a buffer zone located in the southern tip of Western Sahara, a grave violation of the ceasefire accord, Polisario proclaimed the end of the ceasefire and the UN-led peace process, and consequently the resumption of war. With the escalation of war between Morocco and Polisario, we have witnessed fierce repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.
Since the 13 of November, there is an increased and massive presence of Moroccan military, gendarmerie, police and intelligence forces on the streets of the occupied Western Sahara. It is reported that these armed units are terrorizing Sahrawi civilians, with night raids on the homes of civilians and activists and the rounding up and mass arrest of young people, as well as beatings and other forms of abuse. Sahrawi activists and human rights defenders report a massive campaign of collective intimidation and harassment.
Reports from trusted sources say that in response to street protests in support of the Sahrawi right to self-determination on 13, 14 and 15 November, a total of 25 young Saharawis have been arrested in the last days, the youngest reportedly 12 years old and most reported to be between 16 and 17 years old. Scenes of streets filled with police vehicles and agents have been caught on camera by eyewitnesses.
Right before the end of ceasefire this past November 13, several prominent Sahrawi activists, including award-winning Aminatou Haidar, had been targeted for harassment and increased surveillance for creating a new organization named ISACOM, whose primary goal is to end the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The main prosecutor in the occupied city of El Aaiún had announced an investigation into whether ISACOM's founders had violated laws in Morocco that criminalize activities threatening the regime’s "territorial integrity".
The situation of the two last months have also been categorized with the continued persecution of Saharawi human rights defenders belonging to ISACOM, CODESA and other Saharawi human rights organizations; with the continued and systematic persecution of Saharawi journalists attempting to document and report on what is happening in the occupied territories. The repression escalated into the latest abduction and torture of the two Saharawi activists Ali Saadouni and Nour Eddin Aargoubi on 10 November.
For decades, Morocco has tried to ensure that there are no international witnesses to its human rights violations in Western Sahara. The UN peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, MINURSO, set up to oversee the promised referendum, does not have human rights monitoring within its mandate, despite numerous calls by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in response to reports of human rights violations by Morocco against the Sahrawi population. In addition, there is a practical de facto Moroccan ban on international human rights monitors and media in the territory. Sahrawis who try to fill this void, including citizen journalists and human rights defenders, are particularly targeted for harassment, arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment. This means that the only witnesses to their own condition as victims of human rights violations are Sahrawi civilians themselves. Through images captured clandestinely at great risk to their lives, and via frequent reports through social media and other means, Sahrawis have been sharing information these past days on these abuses and pleaded for help from the outside. The international community needs to respond to their urgent calls before it is too late.
The appeal highlights points of actions for individuals and NGOs wishing to respond to the calls coming from the occupied territories.
We encourage individuals to:
* Reach out to elected public officials in your city or area and ask them to highlight the issue of Western Sahara and the repression in the occupied territories;
* Write an article in your local newspaper or contact journalists to make them aware of the escalation of the Western Sahara conflict and the repression in the occupied territories;
* Organize a demonstration or meeting in your community in order to protest the continued illegal occupation of Western Sahara and the persecution of Saharawi human rights defenders;
* Use your social media platform to tell about the suffering of the people of Western Sahara and join the international campaign #ReferendumNow for #WesternSahara;
* Encourage five of your friends or family to do the same.
We encourage national NGOs to:
* Write a letter to your national government and ask them to denounce the current situation in the occupied territories of Western Sahara;
* Write a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and urge him to immediately take action to prevent an humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories of Western Sahara;
* Write a letter to the Moroccan government and ask them to ensure respect for their obligations both under International human rights law and International humanitarian law and to ensure that all Saharawi activists and civilians are free to conduct their activities and express their opinions without fear of any form of retaliations;
* Take public actions by writing an article or issuing an public appeal or create a campaign in support of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara and the denouncing of the continued illegal occupation and the repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara;
* Organize a demonstration or meeting in your community in order to protest the continued illegal occupation of Western Sahara and the persecution of Saharawi human rights defenders.
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In a letter to Norwegian civil society today, the Norwegian minister of foreign affairs expressed that self-determination for the people of Western Sahara must constitute the basis for the solution to the conflict.