Bir Lehlou — The Frente POLISARIO has described the sentences issued against the Saharawi activists as "unacceptable affront" to human dignity and fundamental rights of the Saharawi people, in a letter sent by the Saharawi Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Mohamed Salem Ould Salek his counterpart in the world.
below the full text of the letter:
It gives me great pleasure to address to you this letter to express my best greetings and to bring to your attention an act of extreme gravity regarding the human rights situation in Western Sahara, a territory that is partly occupied militarily by the Kingdom of Morocco and awaiting a UN-supervised decolonisation.
I would like to draw your attention, Excellency, to the decision taken by a Moroccan military court, on early 17 February, against 25 Sahrawi civilians that have been sentenced to maximum sentences ranging from life imprisonment to 30, 25 and 20 years in prison on account of their participation in Gdeim Izik protest camp, in early October 2010 in the outskirts of Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, where over 30000 Sahrawi civilians gathered to demand peacefully their right to self-determination, among other demands.
Numerous international and independent observers that have closely followed the court proceedings have publically denounced numerous irregularities that prove the unjust and flawed character of the trial.
On 19 February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights through its spokesperson expressed its concern about the use of a military court to try Sahrawi civilians, as it raised serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice was concerned. The High Commissioner also expressed concern about the reports of torture to which the defendants were subjected during their pre-trial detention.
Amnesty International, for its part, has also denounced the gravity of the decision. In a statement released on 18 February, it regretted that "The Moroccan authorities have ignored calls to try the defendants in an independent, impartial civilian court. Instead they have opted for a military court where civilians can never receive a fair trial". Moreover, it pointed out that "it is disturbing that the authorities have also ignored the Sahrawi defendants' allegations of torture and coerced confessions." Amnesty International moreover underlined that this trial "casts a serious doubt on the Moroccan authorities' intention and whether they were more concerned with securing a guilty verdict than justice".
In this sense, Excellency, I would like to emphasise the fact that, under international law, a Moroccan military court lacks jurisdiction to prosecute acts and events taking place in Western Sahara, a self-governing territory, awaiting decolonisation and legally under the UN authority through its Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and where ultimately Morocco only has the status of an occupying power.
The SADR Government and the Frente POLISARIO who, for more than 20 years, have been giving full confidence in the United Nations and cooperating in a fair, patient and generous manner with the UN Mission in the territory (MINURSO), are deeply outraged by this move which represents a new and unacceptable affront to the human dignity and fundamental rights of our people.
I would like, Excellency, to urge your Government to take action at both bilateral and multilateral levels, especially within the UN framework, with a view to revoking the sentences and ensuring the immediate release of the Sahrawi political prisoners and human rights activists. I would also like to call on you to continue deploying your noble efforts and using the influence and moral authority of your Government to ensure that the Security Council give an explicit mandate to MINURSO for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, so that the mission will no longer be the exception in the UN peacekeeping missions.
The holding of the referendum on self-determination provided for in the settlement plan accepted by both parties and approved unanimously by the Security Council remains the only way for the just and peaceful solution to the problem of Western Sahara and for the consolidation of peace and stability in North Africa. We believe that the gravity of the situation calls for an urgent action by the international community to prevent the derailing of the peace process, which may exacerbate instability and insecurity in the region.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Mohamed Salem Ould Salek
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic."