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Abuse, Torture, And Arbitrary Imprisonment In Western Sahara

The RFK Center Finds Evidence Of Escalating Abuse, Torture, And Arbitrary Imprisonment In Western Sahara

1/19/2011

Washington (January 18, 2011)

Torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, failure to follow criminal procedures, and repression of civilians by Moroccan government forces are all too common in Western Sahara, according to the findings of a recent visit to El Aaiun by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Western Sahara human rights leader Aminatou Haidar, recipient of the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, hosted the staff delegation from January 11 to 14 to examine human rights violations allegedly committed by Moroccan security forces against Sahrawis. The delegation included RFK Center Executive Director Lynn Delaney, Director of the Center for Human Rights Monika Kalra Varma, and Advocacy Officer Mary Beth Gallagher. Although the delegation's ability to work or move freely was not impeded, the staff was under constant surveillance by both uniformed and undercover police.

Indications of repression, limitations on freedom of expression, and economic and social marginalization of Sahrawis, as well as state-sponsored violence, are emblematic of the human rights situation there. This context, in concert with the violence that broke out on November 8, 2010, when Moroccan security forces dismantled a camp set up by residents of Western Sahara to protest social and economic discrimination, reinforces the need for impartial international human rights monitoring. The RFK Center strongly condemns the violence committed on both sides surrounding the dismantling of the protest camps in November.

The RFK Center mission met with more than two dozen victims of abuse, torture, and imprisonment and their families during the trip, in addition to Moroccan government officials and representatives of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). "Human rights abuses have been ongoing, and the spike in violence resulting from the dismantling of the Gdyam Izik camp is alarming," said Varma. "There are overwhelming indications of abuse, harassment, or torture both before and after the violence, and Aminatou Haidar and her fellow human rights defenders work at great personal risk in these conditions."

"The fact that there is no international human rights monitoring mechanism as the situation worsens in Western Sahara is unacceptable," stated Varma. The RFK Center has long called on the United Nations Security Council to add a human rights component to MINURSO to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the camps in Tindouf, Algeria.

"I hope that after the visit of the RFK Center to Western Sahara, the delegation will be able to shine a spotlight on the alarming human rights situation in the territory of Western Sahara, which is under Moroccan control," said Haidar. "Strong support from the United States and the international community is needed to end the suffering of the Sahrawi people."

Aminatou Haidar, 2008 RFK Human Rights Award Laureate

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights engages in long-term partnerships with RFK Human Rights Award Laureates to support sustainable social justice movements. As one of Western Sahara's most prominent human rights defenders, and president of the Collectif des defenseurs saharaouis des droits de l'homme (CODESA), Aminatou Haidar promotes the civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights of the people of Western Sahara, including the rights to freedom of speech and association and to self-determination. Ms. Haidar works through non-violent means to organize peaceful demonstrations to denounce the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Moroccan government. Despite years of illegal imprisonment, torture, and abuse under Moroccan authorities, Ms. Haidar continues to encourage Sahrawis to seek, through non-violent means, the realization of their fundamental human rights.

ENDS

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