July 25, 2021

UN expert calls on Morocco to stop targeting human rights defenders

Morocco must stop targeting activists and journalists defending human rights issues on Western Sahara issue, said Thursday 1is July, an independent expert commissioned by the UN.

In response, the Ambassador of Morocco to the United Nations in Geneva, Omar Zniber, expressed, in a letter, his “Great surprise and amazement” in response to the communication from Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. He called her so, “For the sake of impartiality”, to publish the elements transmitted “Categorically denying the allegations” cited in the press release.

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Mme Lawlor, who does not speak on behalf of the organization, recalled the cases of activists Naâma Asfari and Khatri Dadda, detained respectively since 2010 and 2019 and who are serving sentences of thirty and twenty years in prison. “Not only human rights defenders […] in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be unjustly imprisoned and criminalized for their legitimate activities, but they are also sentenced to disproportionate prison terms and, during their incarceration, they are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as to ‘to torture’, said Mme Lawlor.

She reported on reports that human rights defenders working on these issues in Western Sahara have been subjected to “Acts of intimidation, harassment, death threats, criminalization, prison terms, physical and sexual assault, threats of rape and surveillance”. For his part, Mr. Zniber recalled that some of the people concerned “Were condemned by the Moroccan courts for serious crimes, including the assassination of representatives of the police”.

Armed clashes

On Thursday, the UN-mandated expert also spoke of the case of Sultana Khaya and her family, victims of“Assaults” by police officers, in mid-May in Laâyoune, the main city of Western Sahara. According to the text, Sultana and Luara Khaya are members of the Sahrawi Instance against the Moroccan occupation (Isacom), an organization founded in 2020 to defend the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi population and which works for the release of prisoners.

M’s callme Lawlor is supported by Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, as well as members of the Group of work on discrimination against women and girls.

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Former Spanish colony, the vast desert territory of Western Sahara is mainly controlled by Morocco, which offers a statute of autonomy under its sovereignty. But the separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, continue to demand a self-determination referendum initially planned by the UN, which maintains a mission in the territory. A ceasefire concluded in 1991 was undermined last year during armed clashes. The United Nations mediation efforts have stalled for a long time.

The World with AFP