Saharawi political prisoners file legal complaint against Morocco

A group of Saharawi political prisoners today filed a legal complaint against Morocco in to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. 

Published 01 July 2022

Today, 18 Saharawi political prisoners filed a complaint against Morocco to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The group has been imprisoned since 2010, when they were detained in relation to the so-called Gdeim Izik protest in occupied Western Sahara. '

The complaint was filed by their legal representatives, Mads Andenas, professor and former President-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group and Gianfranco Fattorini, Co-coordinator of the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara. 

As leader of the UN working group, Mr. Andenas (photo above) visited the group in Moroccan prisons in 2013. 

“Morocco is known for being excellent at signing and ratifying UN treaties and its tireless efforts to gain seats at various UN tables”, Andenas told.

“Morocco is however also known for its notorious non-compliance and non-respect of international instruments, its non-implementation of UN decisions and its punishment of victims who cooperate with the UN. If our human rights instruments are to be worth more than the paper it’s written on, this downward spiral and erosion of UN bodies cannot be allowed to continue”, he said. 

The working group is part of the Human Rights Council Complaint Procedures with mandate to consider individual complaints, leading to the adoption of opinions as to the arbitrariness of a detention.

The Gdeim Izik group refers to a group of originally 25 Sahrawi activists, journalists, human rights defenders, political activists, jurists and protesters who were arrested prior to and following the violent dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik protest camp of November 2010. With confessions signed under torture serving as the main piece of evidence against them, 23 of the Gdeim Izik Prisoners were sentenced to prison ranging from 20 years to life by a Military Court in 2013 and later on 19 July 2017 by a civil appeal court for 19 of its members.

Decrying torture and usage of confessions signed under torture, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN Special Procedures 4 slammed the breaches of due process at their 2017 trial, denouncing how the prisoners had been arrested in response to their human rights activism and participation at the Gdeim Izik camp where fifteen thousand Sahrawis gathered to peacefully protest against the economic and social discrimination suffered by Sahrawis in the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco since 1975.

The prisoners during the Court of Appeals process in 2017.

The group complaint filed today to the UN body was made possible with the support of the League for the Protection of Saharawi Political Prisoners held within Moroccan jails (LPPS) and the families of the Gdeim Izik prisoners.

The arbitrary detention of Saharawi human rights defenders by Morocco has been widely documented by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finding 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 on the basis of torture marred confessions as punishment for their human rights activism. 

The database of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention documents a series of related decisions: 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.

The UN Torture Committee also recently published two decisions concerning Gdeim Izik prisoners Mohammed Bourial and Sidi Abdallahi Abbahah denouncing torture and usage of confessions served under torture as the basis for their continued imprisonment. The UN Torture Committee has previously reached the same conclusions in the case of Naama Asfari whom has been subject to reprisals in response to his cooperation with the UN ever since.

"International law cannot suffer from double standards, it must be implemented equally in all countries, beyond the geostrategic interests of the various powers", stressed Gianfranco Fattorini, Co-coordinator of the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara.

See press release also in French and Spanish

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