Brussels — In a letter addressed to Human Rights Watch's Brussels office, the Frente POLISARIO Representation to the EU expresses its deep concern about the appalling situation afflicting the Sahrawi political prisoners held illegally in Morocco jails amidst the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
¨ These are trying times for all of us, but none more so than those languishing in arbitrary detention. As you are aware, dozens of innocent Sahrawi civilians are currently being held illegally in Moroccan jails. Victims of ill treatment, torture and intentional medical neglect, these prisoners are not only at high risk for falling gravely ill due to COVID-19, they are also easy targets for the Moroccan regime. It is therefore imperative that Morocco allow immediate access to these prisoners by independent human rights monitors¨. The letter reads.
The statement outlined the urgent call of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on 25 March 2020 on all governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other closed facilities, as part of overall efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The High Commissioner stressed that "Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting view. Under international human rights law, States have an obligation to take steps to prevent foreseeable threats to public health and have a duty to ensure that all who need vital medical care can receive it".
The Frente POLISARIO Representation´s letter calls upon HRW to ¨urge the European Council and the Commission to intervene immediately to guarantee the safety of all Sahrawi political prisoners in Moroccan jails. Beyond their immediate release, these prisoners need urgent protection from the COVID-19 virus¨. Referring to the responsibilities of the EU towards the long-standing conflict in Western Sahara ¨ The EU for too long has played a second-tier role in finding a political solution to the Western Sahara conflict. But this is a context that can change given the levers the EU has at its disposal, including the opportunity of a 'fresh start' with the new leadership at the Commission.
While the challenge in securing a just political settlement remains difficult, there are steps that can be taken now to deter retribution against those most vulnerable to COVID-19. Moroccan authorities should be sent a clear and strong message that they cannot use the current health emergency to retaliate against political detainees and further curtail the rights and dignity of the Sahrawi people¨. Concludes the letter.
It´s against this backdrop in particular that on 22nd last month, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, the Saharawi President and Frente POLISARIO Secretary General Mr. Brahim Ghali sent a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General outlining the appalling situation afflicting the Sahrawi political prisoners held illegally in Morocco jails. He warned that the "outbreak of this dangerous virus and the urgent measures required, in particular relating to avoiding large gatherings and overcrowding, totally contradicts the situation in which these civilian prisoners are held in overpopulated Moroccan prisons."