February 13th, 2014
10:55 AM ET

Forgotten human rights tragedy: A response

By Mustapha Khalfi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mustapha Khalfi is minister of communication and spokesman of the government of the Kingdom of Morocco. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Kerry Kennedy’s ‘A forgotten human rights tragedy’ article last month reproduces old, doubtful and distorted allegations and accusations on the human rights situation in the Moroccan Sahara. The article also omits to discuss the serious violations of human rights in Tindouf camps that have been confirmed by many international organizations.

First, regarding human rights protection in the Sahara Province, Morocco is making significant progress. In 2011, the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH), an independent national human rights body with enhanced investigative powers, established two regional commissions in the Moroccan Sahara, in Dakhla and Laayoune, which independently monitor the human rights situation, investigate complaints, and issues special reports.

In this regard, the U.N. Security Council welcomed, through its resolution 2044 of 2012, the installation of these regional commissions and did not see it appropriate to establish any other mechanism for human rights monitoring because it has recognized the strides made by Morocco with the Council, as well as other human development initiatives and concrete reforms undertaken on many levels. The election of Morocco at the U.N. Human Rights Council last November, after a vote of the 163 states members of the General Assembly of the United Nations, is another international recognition of the efforts made by Morocco in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Second, stating that MINURSO is the only mission of peacekeeping that doesn't have a control mandate for human rights is a false assertion. Besides MINURSO, five out of 14 other U.N. missions don't have a human rights mandate – UNMOGIP, installed between India and Pakistan, UNFICYP in Cyprus, UNDOF in the Golan Heights, UNIFIL in Lebanon, and UNISFA in Abyei, Sudan.

Editor’s note: Kennedy’s article points to “modern” peacekeeping missions, specifically calling for the U.N. to extend to the mission in Western Sahara “the same international human rights standards it has applied to every other peace-keeping operation since 1991.” UNMOGIP, UNFICYP, UNDOF and UNIFIL predate 1991. UNISFA was established late, although U.N. Security Council Resolution 2104 (2013) stresses “the need for effective human rights monitoring.”

The article also claims the Moroccan Sahara is closed to journalists and human rights organizations. Facts refute this allegation, as since 2000, 14 U.N. delegations came to Morocco, four in 2012 and 2013, including a delegation of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2013, as well as the special rapporteur on torture in 2012. In his report he stated that Morocco is witnessing “an emergence of a human rights culture,” and IWMF organized two trips for women journalists to the region.

Editor’s note: The commentary did not say that Moroccan Sahara is closed to journalists and human rights organizations. It said the area is “routinely closed” to them. That would mean that it is sometimes open.

The article fails to highlight human rights violations in the Tindouf camps. In a report published in 2008, Human Rights Watch criticized the persistence of slavery practices, the prohibition of freedom of expression, association and assembly and of the right to return for the Polisario dissidents. The case of Mustapha Ould Salma, former head of the Polisario Front, is still deprived from the right to return to his children and family in the camps. There is also the case of Sahraoui artist Allal Najem El Gareh, who was tortured and prevented from meeting the U.N. Secretary General’s personal envoy, Christopher Ross. These are just two examples that the R.F. Kennedy Center never defended.

We also mention the case of the alleged death of four young people from the southern provinces between May and September 2013, in the Aït Melloul prison. In fact, the deaths concern two young Sahrawi, which occurred in the hospital Hassan II in Agadir, and not in the prison. They were caused by health complications, contrary to Kennedy article. In addition, these two cases were unrelated. Kennedy also mentioned the discovery of the remains of eight disappeared people in the Sahara region. In fact, CNDH declared in September 2013 that these cases had already been processed by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER), which conducted numerous public hearings and conducted field investigations about them. The CNDH also indicated that the eight cases mentioned have been the subject of an ongoing exchange between the Moroccan government and several international organizations, including the ICRC, which has made eight trips to Morocco. It was during this work that burial sites were identified. The families of the victims were compensated. The IER, established in 2004, has received and processed approximately 5,000 demands from victims of past human rights violations (1956-1999), and allocated $72 million to the claimants and for social programs for victims.

The article misrepresents the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, dated October 16, 1975, which confirmed that “the materials and information presented to the court show the existence, at the time of Spanish colonization, of legal ties of allegiance between the Sultan of Morocco and some of the tribes living in the territory of Western Sahara.”

Editor’s note: The opinion also states that: “Spain suggested in the second place that the questions submitted to the Court were academic and devoid of purpose or practical effect, in that the United Nations had already settled the method to be followed for the decolonization of Western Sahara, namely a consultation of the indigenous population by means of a referendum to be conducted by Spain under United Nations auspices. The Court examines the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly on the subject…[and] concludes that the decolonization process envisaged by the General Assembly is one which will respect the right of the population of Western Sahara to determine their future political status by their own freely expressed will.”

Finally, The Moroccan plan for large autonomy within the Moroccan Sovereignty, as political solution to this conflict, has gained an increasing support as credible, serious and realistic solution.

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Topics: Africa

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Moroccan and sahrawi

    the region called western sahara beginning from 1970 ( spanish sahara just before that )was moroccan under the idrissid dynasty almoravid dynasty almohad dynasty marinid dynasty saadian dynasty and alaouite dynasty until 1884 when it was occupied by spain.
    The ¨” western sahara”is a colonial creation , some french and spanish guys sat on a table and cut the region with a pen
    Finally if the region called western sahara today wasnt moroccan why did the european powers wait all these centuries ;until 1884; to occcuy it with its long coasts while they occupied most of the world hundreads of years before???? Were they afraid of 900 camel nomads all these years ???? WELL MY DEAR MOROCCO WAS A SOVEREIGN NATION AND IT WAS A PART OF ITS TERRITORY , try to find any world map of before 1884 ANY and you will find the borders of morocco with the sahara and other regions included ,

    February 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  2. Moroccan and sahrawi

    when spain wanted to leave ( after un and morocco put pressure not because they wanted) they first wanted to create a proxy state that would be only a post colonial slave of spain , however morocco is not some new created country you could fool , we recovered our territory by force just like we recovered sidi ifni from spain in 1968 , tarfaya in 1959 , and just like we will recover ceuta and mellila in the very next decades
    Before spain left , morocco had a border war of algeria ( 1963) because of lands cut by france to include them in french algeria , president of algeria boumediene took his army to western sahara in 1976 ( google battle of amgala) with soviet missiles and all ( it was all filmed) , 200 algerian sldiers in west sahara ( thousands of miles from their country ) were killed , 100 captured, algerian weapons shown to the press , the biggest proof algeria is the problem is that in the year 1990 a civil war began algeria , one year later the polisario front ( algeria proxy) asked for ceasefire , algeria dont eve allow a census in the tinduf camps , because most of the inhabitants are from south algeria mali or mauritania and were nomads not sedentaries , eventhough morocco allow them to return , but algeria wants the conflict to remain because thy want an independant state , they can wait for centuries , because algeria itself was created by france 50 years ago

    February 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  3. SaharaMarocainB

    Morocco will reject any attempt, orchestrated by Algeria, to expand the mission of MINURSO by including monitoring human Rights in Western Sahara, the Reports prepared in advance, use as a pretext some isolated incidents to accuse Morocco,
    Algeria is far from being an example in human rights. While all international organizations of human rights work freely in Morocco, they are forbidden to access on Algerian soil including the Saharawi camps Tindouf.
    http://t.co/Kv81MyRT4a

    February 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  4. SaharaMarocainB

    The issue of Western Sahara has been unresolved for too long, it’s time for serious negotiations on the only credible solution Autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
    To those in the camps who do want a realistic solution based on true local autonomy, now we must move the negotiations on this formula, US has supported this solution through tree presidential Administrations : Bill Clinton,W. Bush and Obama.

    February 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  5. Mohammed Lebbadi

    I find all the "Editor's notes" interesting. Was the Minister's response submitted to Ms Kennedy for corrections or what? "Kennedy’s article points to “modern” peacekeeping missions; the commentary said the area is “routinely closed” to them, that would mean that it is sometimes open!" And then the restating of the Court's opinion! Funny "Editor's notes" indeed! Why can't people be honest, balanced, what is it that makes Ms Kennedy so anti-Moroccan?

    February 14, 2014 at 3:18 am | Reply
    • Moroccan and sahrawi

      exactly if only the article of kennedy was submitted to , there would be lots of notes with sources , guess being a kennedy makes you have privileges in every domain in the usa , SHAME IN A DEMOCRACY

      February 18, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Jason Miks had my comment deleted, just because I didn't agree with what the author wrote!

    February 14, 2014 at 10:40 am | Reply
  7. rachrafi

    The Polisario are nothing but a relic of the Cold War and are being kept on Life Support by Algeria as a way to undermine Morocco. Morocco is the most stable and open of all North African nations and is a leading example for all African nations to follow.

    February 14, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  8. Julio

    It is unbelievable how somebody can defend what is undefedeble!!! Mr. Minister the only truth and fact is that Polisario had opened the camps and called for the UN mission to monitor human rights there while your government (and it's agents commenting here) get really nervous anytime somebody calls for a human rights monitoring in the are your county occupy from Western Sahara.
    In spite of the rethoric and empty words spread by millions of dollars in DC lobbying your king shoud stop the beatings of defenseless women and children and accept and human rights monitoring. Kerry Kennedy is not the only one who denounce this tragedy. AI, HRW, State Department and freedom house calls your regime on of the "worst of the worst" human rights violators worldwide.
    The saharawis deserve freedom and dignity and this tragedy caused by a feudal king who wants to have more subjects by
    force will have an end as all injustices and oppression come to an end.

    February 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
    • Moroccan and sahrawi

      Listen Mr the spanish whose country occupied the sahara in 1884 and refused to go out until morocco sent thousands of civilians , listen my dear , there was no state in the sahara , never in the history , it was always a moroccan territory or an empty territory with nomads , CEUTA IS MOROCCAN MELLILA IS MOROCCAN AND GIBRALTAR IS ENGLISH. AND YOUR LOSER COUNTRY SURVIVED THE CRISIS ONLY BECAUSE OF EUROPEAN HELP

      February 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  9. Brahim.Sahrawi.

    Minister of Communications: Ms. Kennedy daughter of democracy and she does not lie.

    February 15, 2014 at 6:22 am | Reply
  10. Bart

    Why deleting my comment Miks,because I criticised your edits??
    congratulate CNN for your north korean spirit

    February 16, 2014 at 9:31 am | Reply
  11. Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

    My posts were deleted ad many others where unionism is mentionned!!! Is it a problem to say that unionism represent the large majority in the Western Sahara Territory? Is it a problem to say that the international community should support the monitoring of Human Rights by MINURSO BUT in the 5 tindouf gulags in algeria and not only in one gulag, the one where everything is under control? Is it a crime to say that on behalf of the unionist western saharawi, we are fed up of the interfering of algeria in our local affairs? Is it a crime to say that retaining people in gulags to justify a state claim doesn't make sense!!! Is it a crime to say the truth finally?

    Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
    Unionist Western Saharawi – Internet Activist

    February 17, 2014 at 10:28 am | Reply
  12. A.BENDAOUD

    The Sahara is Moroccan and will remain Moroccan for ever.Mrs Kerry Kennedy as well as the editor have no clues what Morocco is up against.They seem to forget the murder by terror groups sent from Algeria of more than 20 members of authorities .The truth is Algeria wants to occupy the Sahara and strangle Morocco.Our borders with the rest of Africa will be closed and we will be held hostages by the military dictators of Algeria. Moroccans have to defend every inch of their land by any means necessary. People living in El Ayoune or Dakhla have a lot better quality of life than people living in Algiers or Oran .Open the borders for few days and you will see an invasion of Algerian tourists to those areas.

    February 23, 2014 at 7:41 am | Reply

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