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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: International | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
Children Drown Escaping Repression and Torture in Western Sahara
According to a Reuters news article dated November 28, 2006, the bodies of thirteen(13) children have been found washed up on a Western Sahara beach after their small boat sank in the Atlantic ocean. Another 20 children are still missing.
Moroccan officials in occupied Western Sahara have been encouraging young people to migrate to Spain where they are led to believe they will be well treated. A spokesman for the migrant advocacy group Alter Forum said that up to 40 boats carrying about 18 children each leave Boujdour, Western Sahara every month for Spanish shores. The children are attempting to escape from one of the worst human rights environments in the world (1).
The people of Western Sahara(the Sahrawi) have been fighting foreign occupation continuously since 1973, when the Polisario Front was formed to fight Spanish occupation. Western Sahara was a Spanish Colony until 1975. Spanish troops withdrew after a violent two-year conflict with the Polisario. In the process of “de-colonizing”, the Spanish conspired with Morocco and Mauritania to divide the country between them.
In November 1975 King Hassan II, Mohammed VI’s predecessor, ordered every able-bodied man in Morocco to join in the notorious “Green March” (2). More than 300,000 Moroccans joined the march, which forced most of the Sahrawi to leave their homes and seek refuge in the desert of Western Sahara. In an act of extreme maliciousness, the Moroccans bombed the refugee camps with napalm and phosphate, forcing the Sahrawi refugees into Algeria, where they have been ever since.
Mauritania renounced its claim over the southern third of Western Sahara in 1978 after defeat by the Polisario. Large scale French and US military aid to Morocco prevented the Polisario Front from completely liberating their country in the early 1980’s. The Polisario Front had liberated approximately 85% of the territory (3).
An estimated 160,000 refugees from Western Sahara have remained in camps in the Algerian desert for over 30 years. The desert is preferable to Moroccan prisons where inmates are put in wooden containers, sleep on top of each other on the floors and are subject to periodic torture (4). Moroccan trials make a mockery of “justice” by admitting testimony obtained under torture, not allowing the defense to present evidence and silencing attempts by the defense to question the actions of the court. Foreign journalists are expelled when they attempt to investigate, and human rights activists are routinely arrested and tortured in attempts to silence them. The Sahrawi refugees live in an extremely inhospitable environment. Temperatures exceed 120 degrees at times. Torrential rains periodically destroy their tents and decimate their supplies of food and water(most recently in February 2006). The refugees do not have any opportunities for employment either in the camps or in Algerian communities.
The Sahrawi refugees have been totally dependent on the charity of the international community to survive FOR over 30 YEARS!!! . On September 29,
2006, 23 members of the US Congress sent a letter expressing “concern” over the human rights violations by the Moroccan government in regards to Western Sahara. The human rights concerns expressed in the letter from Congress need to be addressed, but what about the refugees? The only public discussion of the Sahrawi refugees occurs when there is a desperate need for food, shelter and clothing, as there is now.
The current population of Western Sahara is estimated to be 273,000. Some are Moroccan citizens and/or military encouraged to live in Western Sahara by the Moroccan government. The resident Sahrawis are unable to help the refugees because they do not have control over their national resources.
The United Nations Security Council established the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) on April 29, 1991, when a cease-fire was initiated. More than 25 years later MINURSO has failed to make any progress toward achieving Mission mandates to repatriate the refugees, identify and register qualified voters, or organize and ensure a free and fair referendum (5).
The U.S. government has been supporting the Kingdom of Morocco in this dispute since 1975. Since 1956 when Morocco gained independence from France, Morocco has been the beneficiary of the majority of American aid to Africa, with more the $1 billion in military aid alone. In 2005, total aid to Morocco was nearly $58 million. Military aid exceeds $20 million for 2006(6). For a brief period time in the 1990s, the US adhered to the UN resolutions banning trade for the assets of an occupied country.
Recent events suggest a major shift in policy by the power brokers on the international scene that negatively effect Western Sahara and the refugees:
1. The “Baker Plan” for self determination for the Sahrawi has been effectively abandoned by the UN (7) in favor of direct talks between representatives of the Kingdom of Morocco and Western Sahara – an unlikely event since King Mohammed VI has openly stated that self determination for Western Sahara is not an option and people are arrested, tortured and disappeared in Morocco and Western Sahara for just talking about it.
2. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic(SADR), the Western Sahara government in exile has expressed displeasure at the UN’s lack of progress and abandonment of the Baker Plan. SADR has expressed a preference for continuing the impasse rather enter discussions with no hope for a referendum on independence for Western Sahara. The possibility of armed conflict is greater than it has been since the cease-fire went into effect.
3. On July 26, 2006, the European Union signed a Fisheries Accord with the Kingdom of Morocco that allows EU vessels to fish in the territorial waters off Morocco. The agreement does not exclude fishing in the waters off Western Sahara (8). This is a departure from trade restrictions previously practiced. The agreement may violate international law and certainly flies in the face of prior EU and UN resolutions relating to trading the resources of` occupied countries.
4. “[A]nalysts of US policy are coming to the conclusion that the United States is progressively abandoning its ‘liberty’ doctrine(9) which encouraged development of democracy. The Kingdom of Morocco is not, and it will not be a democracy as long as King Mohammed VI rules. He has made it clear that Western Sahara will remain under his rule regardless of international opinion and pressure. The large amounts of military aid, training and other aid by the US can only serve to further entrench his position and provide him with more tools of repression.
5. The US signed a Free-trade Agreement with the Kingdom of Morocco in 2004 that went into effect in January 2006.
6. In June 2006, the US accorded Morocco the status of “major non-NATO ally.”
The Bush Administration may well have changed policy in regards to the Kingdom of Morocco so that the US government could send prisoners to the “black prisons” in Casablanca and throughout Morocco where people are incarcerated during torture. Amnesty International annual reports for 2004, 2005 and 2006 indicate that their organization has uncovered corroborated evidence Americans bring prisoners to these facilities.
In a report not intended to be made public (10), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) reported abuses which occurred in May and June 2006. Some of the abuses of human rights in the Kingdom of Morocco have been committed under the guise of fighting “terrorism”. Anyone advocating for Western Saharan self-determination is a terrorist.
Stephen Zunes, associate professor of Politics and the chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco concluded that there will not be an honest referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara without the acquiescence of the Kingdom of Morocco(11). Professor Zunes also concluded that there will be no movement toward a free and fair referendum in Western Sahara until there is a groundswell of support. He referred to a campaign similar to the campaign waged by the East Timor Action Network and other groups against U.S. support for Indonesia. That campaign resulted in independence for East Timor.
Arming and giving aid to a King who prevents 160,000 refugees from going home is tacit approval of the denial of human rights. The Senate should reverse the favored nation status given to the Kingdom of Morocco. Senate and House resolutions should be passed supporting a referendum on Western Sahara and deploring the constant human rights violations by the government of the Kingdom of Morocco. The Kingdom of Morocco should always be referred to as “the Kingdom of Morocco”. Any pretense to democracy in the Kingdom is a sham that has successfully allowed the Bush Administration to manipulate congress.
International advocacy and human rights groups should coordinate demonstrations in elected officials’ offices and the embassies of the Kingdom of Morocco, France, and any other country that obstructs attempts to boycott or otherwise pressure King Mohammed VI into a referendum.
Any company doing business with the Kingdom of Morocco should be boycotted. The US Senate and House could help in this effort by passing resolutions initiating boycotts on all trade. US State department documents list the Kingdom of Morocco as impoverished. The King’s subjects are very poor. The King, his family and friends are living very well. Similarities to Hussien’s Iraq are apt. U.S. aid is used to prop up a dictator who is blatantly denying his subjects their basic human rights. It must stop. Support for the King of Morocco is one reason the U.S. is disliked in northern Africa.
It is an inescapable conclusion that US POLICY TOWARDS THE KINGDOM OF MOROCCO SENTENCES 160,000 REFUGEES TO SURVIVE IN THE DESERT WITHOUT ANY MEANS TO PROVIDE FOR THEMSELVES. There are also daily violations of human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara that need attention.