Security Council under pressure over human rights in Western Sahara

When will the international community take up the cause of the Saharawi people, oppressed, tortured and imprisoned by a Moroccan regime which invaded the territory, attempted to repopulate it and refuses to abide by international law and hold a free and fair referendum on the status of Western Sahara? As prominent Western Saharan hunger strikers edge closer to death, UN Director-General Ban Ki-Moon voices strong concern over human rights in the territory

As discussions on the role of the UN in Western Sahara intensify early this week, Security Council member states are coming under increased pressure to ensure international monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara – the only country in Africa still awaiting the completion of its process of decolonisation.

Six prominent Sahrawi political prisoners are now in their fifth week of a hunger strike protesting their illegal detention without charge, sparking a wave of hunger strikes amongst other political prisoners in jails across Morocco.

The UN’s mission in Western Sahara, known as ‘MINURSO’, is the only contemporary UN peacekeeping mission operating without a human rights monitoring capacity. Morocco, which has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975, objects to human rights monitoring, and has recently stepped up attacks on Sahrawi human rights defenders who advocate for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. Last year, France - Morocco’s key ally on the Security Council blocked a strong push by Council members to establish UN human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.

After meeting on Friday with Mohamed Abdelaziz, leader of the Frente POLISARIO, Western Sahara’s independence movement, UN boss Ban Ki-Moon said he was “very concerned” about human rights violations in Western Sahara, and that his staff and personal envoy for Western Sahara, former US Ambassador Christopher Ross, “will continue to work to promote the human rights of Saharawis.” A showdown is expected later this week when the Security Council meets again to consider the mandate of the UN presence, including a possible human rights mechanism. Following recent Moroccan escalations, a growing number of Security Council members have expressed concern over human rights in Western Sahara, but will need to overcome the prospect of a French veto on the issue.

Security Council diplomats have received letters from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and over 100 NGOs, parliamentarians and celebrities, all calling for UN human rights monitoring in Western Sahara. The UN’s own High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended such monitoring in a yet-to-be-published report in 2006.

Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. International law and all previous UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions recognise the right to self determination for the people of Western Sahara, but the UN has failed to fulfil its mandate to organize, supervise and proclaim the results of a referendum on independence for Western Sahara.

Text: Western Sahara Resource Watch

Introduction by Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY


Contacts: Western Sahara Campaign + 44(0)7931260420

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey