The Human Rights Sub Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade met on Tuesday 23 September in the Australian Parliament in Canberra to look into the question of human rights for Saharawi people living under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara.
A delegation from the Australian Western Sahara Association accompanied by the Polisario Front representative to Australia, Kamal Fadel presented a paper and answered questions from Sub-Committee members. The sub-committee decided to investigate further the issues raised and to report to the parliament in the near future.
One of the delegates, Georgia Vlassopoulos, chair of AWSA Victoria said: “AWSA is delighted that the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Australian Parliament wanted to look into the issue of Morocco’s violation of the human rights of Saharawis given the deteriorating situation in occupied Western Sahara”. She added, “We hope the Human Rights Sub-Committee will take action on the issues we raised and do something to alleviate the suffering of the Saharawi people”.
The grave violations of human rights were raised. The delegation highlighted in particular that in the occupied areas of Western Sahara the Saharawi people endure a premeditated campaign of human rights abuses, including murder, torture, disappearance as well as harassment and intimidation.
There are numerous and well-documented reports, by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, on human rights abuses by the Moroccan police and military forces in the occupied areas despite UN presence in the Territory. The US based human rights organisation Freedom House included Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in its Annual report “The Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies 2008” released on 6 May 2008.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report on 8 September 2006 following a visit to the region. The report was transmitted to the parties but unfortunately it has not been made public yet.
The conclusion of the report stated that “overall, the human rights situation is of serious concern, particularly in the Moroccan-administered territory of Western Sahara. Currently, the Sahrawi people are not only denied their right to self-determination, but equally are severely restricted from exercising a series of other rights.”
The recommendations of the report underline that “as has been stated in various UN fora, the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara must be ensured and implemented without any further delay.”
The recommendations of the OHCHR to ensure adequate and continuous monitoring of the human rights situation in the region have not been implemented.
Indeed, human rights abuses continue. Morocco uses intimidation and harassment to silence the Saharawis in the occupied areas. Hundreds of Saharawis continue to languish in prison while the fate of about 500 Saharawi civilians and 151 Saharawi prisoners of war is still unknown. Morocco continues to restrict the access of journalists and independent observers to Western Sahara.
On 17 September, the Robert F Kennedy Memorial announced the 2008 winner of its award for human rights: Aminatou Haidar, a Saharawi human rights defender from El Aaiun, capital of Western Sahara. Aminatou has campaigned since her late teens for Saharawi rights, paying the price with imprisonment, torture and becoming a disappeared person for 4 years from the age of 20. Again in 2005 she spent 7 months in prison, 178 members of the European Parliament, among many others, signed a petition for her release. Since then she has been on speaking tours in many countries in Europe also South Africa and the United States to raise awareness about the dire human rights situation in her country. A fearless advocate for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Western Sahara, she has received other prizes including the Silver Rose award in 2007 from Solidar, a group of some 60 NGOs in 20 countries.
The delegation’s submission concluded that:
Morocco has been undertaking a campaign of human rights abuses in Western Sahara since its invasion and occupation of the territory in 1975. The human rights violations can be summarised in the following:
Denial of the right to self-determination
Denial of civil and political rights
Refusal to allow peaceful demonstrations
Arbitrary arrest and detention
Torture, degrading treatment and death
Illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the Saharawi people
Australia Western Sahara Association (Victoria)
inc no: A0047692T
post: P O Box 164, Clifton Hill 3068
tel: 0425 702 975