Washington criticizes Morocco’s human rights violations in occupied Western Sahara

Washington, Feb 28, 2014 (SPS) – The United States has criticized once again the violations of human rights committed by Morocco in Western Sahara, highlighting that Moroccan government imposes restrictions on the civil liberties and political rights of the Saharawi advocates for independence.
In its report on human rights practices in the world, published Thursday, the U.S. Department of State recorded serious problems with regard to the situation of human rights in Western Sahara including limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association; the use of arbitrary and prolonged detention to quell dissent; and physical and verbal abuse of detainees during arrest and imprisonment.
The report also pointed out that Moroccan authorities also continued to deny recognition of pro-independence Saharawi associations.
Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The Saharawi local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that between 53 and 71 Saharawis died in Moroccan detention from torture between 1975 and 2013. No investigations into these alleged abuses were ever opened.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The U.S. State Department said that there are credible reports indicated that security forces engaged in torture, beatings, and other mistreatment of Saharawi detainees in both political cases and ordinary criminal cases.
“In his February 28 report on a September 2012 visit to the territory, Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture, stated that torture and mistreatment were used to extract confessions, including at the time of arrest, in police stations, and at the Laayoune Prison,” stated the report, noting that there are credible testimonies relating to rape, severe beating, and isolation of up to several weeks, particularly of Saharawi inmates accused of participating in proindependence activities.
The report also underlined that both international and Saharawi NGOs continued to report abuses, especially of Sahrawi independence advocates, adding that the Saharawi ctivists who were detained and subsequently released, as well as family members of many of those still in custody, made similar accusations.
Torture typically occurred in pretrial detention, as reported in the September 2012 joint submission of 10 Western Saharan human rights groups to Juan Mendez. The document named 10 men who claimed to have been raped during detention. The men were part of the group of 25 Sahrawis arrested during Gdeim Izik events.
The report highlighted that families of Gdeim Izik detainees filed accusations of abuse with the military court in Rabat, but authorities took no action on the claims before or after February 17, when court sentenced the defendants.
Other types of abuse security forces were claimed to have employed included beating with electric cables, near suffocation with wet cloths soaked in urine or chemicals, cigarette burns, and hanging by the arms or as a “trussed chicken” for prolonged periods.
The report noted that most incidents of degrading treatment occurred during or following proindependence demonstrations or protests calling for the release of Saharawi political prisoners who were in detention, mentioning in this respect the case of 6 young Saharawi protesters, including a 17-year-old boy, who were arrested during a proindependence demonstration on May 9.
El Hussein Bah, the 17-year-old, stated that he was beaten and threatened with rape during detention, said the report.
According to the Association of Sahrawi Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations (ASVDH), family members of Saharawi inmates regularly complained of physical abuse and occasional torture of inmates in Laayoune Prison, and access to inmates was highly restricted, and there was no independent verification of family-member complaints.
Saharawi human rights and proindependence activists claimed that authorities falsely charged them with criminal offenses, adding that Moroccan courts often refused to order medical examinations or to consider medical examination results in such cases.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The UN special rapporteur for torture considered Morocco’s prison and detention center harsh for death row inmates.
The U.S. Department of State pointed out that a variety of sources, including NGOs and the UN special rapporteur for torture, continued to report a persistence of substandard prison conditions, especially overcrowding, physical abuse and a lack of access to health care.
In the Moroccan local prison in El Aaiun, the UN special rapporteur observed extreme overcrowding with attendant impacts on hygiene, nutrition, and health.
Families of detainees charged that prison conditions were unusually harsh, family visitation rights were limited, and detainees had little access to health care, proper food, and clean clothes.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The report, therefore, stated that Moroccan police impunity remained a problem, noting that during the year alleged victims of human rights abuses made frequent complaints against police and auxiliary forces, according to several international, domestic, and Sahrawi NGOs. International and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed nearly all complaints and relied only on the police version of events.
Human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers who remained in leadership positions or were transferred to other positions. According to the ASVDH in its September 2012 presentation to the UN special rapporteur for torture, 54 prison guards and officials committed abuse amounting to torture in recent years.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The report pointed out that NGOs reported several cases of arbitrary arrest. The UN special rapporteur for torture found that authorities used the threat of kidnappings and abandonment in the desert in order to intimidate protesters during demonstrations for the independence of Western Sahara.
It underlined that pretrial detention was a problem throughout Morocco and the territory, as evidenced by the 23 Gdeim Izik detainees held in the maximum-security Sale Prison near Rabat for more than two years prior to their February 17 sentencing.
Denial of a Fair Public Trial
The U.S. State Department said that Moroccan authorities moved the most prominent human rights case during the year from the Western Sahara to a military court in Rabat.
On February 17, the Rabat Military Court handed down sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment to 23 civilians, including several Saharawi human rights and proindependence advocates arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune. The court released two prisoners on time served, after 27 months of pretrial detention, and at year’s end there were 21 still detained in Sale Prison.
According to an April 1 report by the international NGO Human Rights Watch, the court failed to look into allegations that authorities extracted confessions under torture or other forms of abuse and relied primarily on confessions rather than on material evidence or witnesses.
Juan Mendez added that the court refused to order medical examinations related to the allegations of rape and that it did not issue a written judgment recording the fact the allegations of torture during almost two years of pretrial detention were not investigated. He also pointed out that the trial of civilians before a military court contributed to a lack of transparency, according to the report.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Saharawi human rights and proindependence groups alleged, however, that there were up to 74 Sahrawis incarcerated in Moroccan prisons, whom they considered political prisoners. This number included the 21 Gdeim Izik detainees.
The Moroccan government enforced strict procedures governing NGO representatives and political activists meeting with journalists. Foreign journalists needed, and did not always receive, approval from the Moroccan Ministry of Communication before meeting with Saharawi political activists.
On March 6, Moroccan authorities at the Casablanca airport refused entry to a group of European parliamentarians who planned to travel to the territory of Western Sahara. On September 30, a delegation of Spanish parliamentarians entered the territory without prior authorization. The group traveled to Laayoune and met with Sahrawi proindependence activist Aminatou Haidar.
Freedom of Assembly:
The Moroccan government used administrative delay and other methods to suppress or discourage Saharawi demonstrations with political overtones. It prohibited or failed to accept requests from Saharawi groups associated with human rights activism or proindependence opinions.
Several residents of Laayoune, capital of Western Sahara, claimed that police tended to disperse large gatherings of all kinds, even reunions held to celebrate the return of family members from the Saharawi refugee camps.
Following his visit to the region, the UN special rapporteur for torture stated that law enforcement officials subjected protesters to excessive use of force and found a corresponding increase in acts of torture and mistreatment during the detention and arrest process during “large demonstrations.”
Reports also suggested that abuse might have occurred as plainclothes police forcibly dispersed small protest groups several times a week. Saharawi Proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them.
Moroccan authorities violently dispersed protests throughout the year, resulting in dozens of injuries that required medical attention. For example, on October 19, during a visit by Christopher Ross, the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy, security forces violently suppressed proindependence demonstrations in Laayoune. Some injured protesters claimed that authorities were slow to respond to formal complaints of the use of excessive force and contended that they had been unable since 2011 to track the status of their complaints.
Freedom of Association
As in previous years, the Moroccan government did not allow the Sahrawi Collective of Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) or the ASVDH to register as NGOs, limiting their ability to raise funds or to hold public meetings.
With regard to Moroccan government’s attitude regarding international and nongovernmental investigation of human rights violations, the U.S. Department of State indicated that a small number of international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. (SPS)
To read the full paragraphs of the Report on Western Sahara Click on this link: 

2013 Human Rights Reports: Western Sahara Executive Summary