The Wolf In Charge of the Lamb

The occupying power Morocco, which sabotages the work of the UN Human Rights Council in occupied Western Sahara, has begun its first session after being elected to preside the Council.  

Published 29 February 2024

From the left: Jon Eskil Ramsrud Kindberg and Eskil Vik Urdal from the Norwegian legal association Jussbuss, Saharawi Human Rights Activist Hassana Abba, Professor Mads Andenæs and Jurist Tone Sørfonn Moe, from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara. 

On 26 February, the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council was opened. This time presided by its newly elected president, Morocco. Attending the Council, Saharawi human rights defender Hassana Abba stated that to be in Geneva now feels like being in Rabat - “We are now forced to address our oppressor when testifying to the human rights community.” 

Attending the Council, was also professor Mads Andenas and jurist Tone Sørfonn Moe of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, serving as legal counsel for the so-called Gdeim Izik prisoners. The two were joined by two representatives from the Norwegian legal association Jussbuss, Eskil Vik Urdal and Jon Eskil Ramsrud Kindberg. The team followed up on the recent decision from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, requesting the immediate release of the Gdeim Izik prisoners, arrested back in 2010 in conjunction with the dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik camp.  

In the decision published October 2023, the UN Working Group pointed to egregious violations of international law including the Saharawi prisoners’ right to access lawyers, confessions exerted under torture and the court's lack of impartiality and independence. The UN Working Group also echoed the concerns of the UN Committee against Torture[1] and OHCHR[2] denouncing torture and demanding that Morocco ensures the dignity of the prisoners, including humane living conditions, medical care and contact with the outside world of prisoners. 

Morocco has not implemented the decisions of neither the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention nor the UN Torture Committee. At the same time, the prisoners continue to report acts of reprisals and intimidations, having entered various hunger strikes since the publication of the decision in October 2023.  

The Gdeim Izik prisoners relates to a group of prominent Saharawi human rights defenders, journalists, activists and protesters at the Gdeim Izik camp who was arrested and imprisoned in 2010 following the dismantlement of the peaceful protest camp Gdeim Izik by Morocco. The torture of the Gdeim Izik prisoners and their alarming prison conditions were witnessed and documented by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during their country visit in 2013[3]. This is the last international mission that was ever allowed to visit the Gdeim Izik prisoners.  

Whilst in Geneva, the team had meetings with OHCHR, ICRC and diplomatic missions, advocating for Morocco to comply with the decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to immediately release the Gdeim Izik prisoners.  

On March 1st, the delegation participated in a side event organized by Maloca International, relating to Resolution 75/173 from the UN General Assembly, calling for the Universal Realization of the right of peoples to self-determination. Since its invasion of 1975, Morocco has denied the people of Western Sahara their right to self-determination; openly defying UN Security Council resolutions that since the early 1990 called for a referendum for the people of Western Sahara in line with UN resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV). Moderator of the event was Tone Sørfonn Moe of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, explaining that, “with this side-event, we want to remind that the right to self-determination forms the very prerequisite and bedrock that all other human rights rest upon and that the violation of this fundamental human rights aggravates the violation of all other rights. As in Western Sahara, Saharawi civilians and activists alike are targeted simply in response to being Saharawi and if they would be so brave, is punished greatly if they echo their support for this right”.



[1] See cases: UN CAT, Naama Asfari v Government of Morocco, 18 April 2017, CAT/C/59/D/606/2014, UN CAT, Mohammed Bouryal v Government of Morocco, 28 January 2022, CAT/C/72/D/923/2019, UN CAT, Abdeljalil Laaroussi v Government of Morocco, 30 September 2022, CAT/C/74/D/891/2018, UN CAT, Sidi Abdallah Abahah v Government of Morocco, 28 January 2022, CAT/C/72/D/871/2018, UN CAT, Mohammed Bani v Government of Morocco, 3 February 2023, CAT/C/75/D/999/2020. 

[2] OHCHR, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Conc. Gdeim Izik prisoners to Government of Morocco, 20 July 2017, AL MAR 3/2017  

[3] Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Mission to Morocco (2013), A/HRC/27/48/Add.5 

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