30 April 2013

Western Sahara: UN Renews Western Sahara Mandate - Still Lacks Human Rights Component

On Thursday, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2099, extending the peacekeeping mandate in Western Sahara for another year, until April 30, 2014.

However, a United States proposal for human rights monitoring and a reporting element for MINURSO was blocked by Morocco, leaving the mandate without a human rights component.

During a dialogue on human rights in Western Sahara at United Nations headquarters last month, speaker Ambassador António Gumende, the Republic of Mozambique's permanent representative to the UN, appealed for the urgent emancipation of the Sahrawi people from the illegal occupation of their territory by the Kingdom of Morocco.

According to Gumende, Sahrawi people are living in appalling socio-economic conditions and the panel unanimously called for an end to the impunity for the crimes committed against Sahrawi people, including state-sponsored intimidation and violence against critics of the regime.

The talk, organized by the Permanent Mission of South Africa and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, included President of the RFK Center Kerry Kennedy; Mozambique Ambassador António Gumende; actor and director Javier Bardem; and President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders Aminatou Haidar.

"This is the moment that the UN has to make a decision about how to move forward in a way that is positive and in which they have to decide: are we going to do things that will enhance human rights, or maintain the status quo?" Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, told MediaGlobal News.

After the withdrawal of Spain from Western Sahara in 1976, neighboring Morocco seized control of the region that has since seen continuous fighting between the Algeria-supported Frente Polisario and Morocco.

Western journalists and human rights organizations are rarely allowed into the region and there is little documentation on the situation, according to Kennedy.

The Security Council established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991, brokering a ceasefire and deploying a monitoring force of approximately 200 persons to the territory.

However, according to Kennedy, the force lacks an independent human rights monitoring power and a referendum has yet to be held.

Juan E. Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture for the Human Rights Council (HRC), visited Western Sahara in September 2012 and reported that there was "evidence of excessive use of force and a tendency to use torture in interrogation when national security is involved, both in Morocco and Western Sahara."

As one of the RFK Center international human rights delegates who traveled to Western Sahara and the refugee camps in southern Algeria, Kennedy said she met hundreds of activists who were victims of intimidation, threats, detention, police brutality, torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial executions.

She explained that nearly all those cases were in retaliation against Sahrawi activists who dared to peacefully exercise their rights to free expression and association.

Kennedy called for an end to impunity for crimes against the Sahrawi people. The RFK Center delegation interviewed several lawyers who had taken more than 500 cases of nonviolent protesters who were beaten or murdered and always accused of a crime.

Of these 500 cases, only three of their clients have been acquitted since 1999 and only one state agent has been prosecuted in the last five years for perpetrating human rights abuses.

Emphasizing the importance of encouraging the Polisario front and the Kingdom of Morocco to continue negotiations for a mutually acceptable solution for the people of Western Sahara, Gumende asked the international community to continue supporting political parties to commit to and implement Security Council Resolution 2044.

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