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.