A part of the Arab World, as desolate and forgotten as its lonely desert plains, is suffering the bloodiest of human rights abuses. Little is known about the Western Sahara Conflict, it’s rarely, if ever, broadcast in the Western Media due to its lack of political significance. Since the Spanish decolonisation in the 1970s, its international strategic importance has diminished. The Western Sahara, a large strip of land south of Morocco, neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania, now under Moroccan quasi-rule, has been waiting, silently so it seems, for its independence. However, despite external pressures from the UN, King Mohammad VI of Morocco opposes any referendum of the Sahrawi people, and has said Morocco will never agree to one; “we shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand.”
However, the main cause for concern is far from political, the Sahrawi people of the region have suffered aerial bombardments with Napalm and white phosphorous aimed at refugee camps. As we know from the Gaza Massacre of 2008, the use of white phosphorous in combat is illegal under international law. This has led to the displacement of thousands of civilians from the country, and the Moroccan government has been immensely scrutinised by organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Society for Threatened People and many other groups trying to draw light to what’s happening in the western province.
Other human rights abuses include the kidnapping, and possible murder, of Sahrawi people. In 2010 520 people remained “disappeared” by the Moroccan forces, however, the toll could be as high as 2,000. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International claim that many of these individuals are usually held in secret detention centres, and are usually detained due to alleged pro-independent affiliations. Moreover, and more disgustingly, many of these prisoners are elderly people and children, whose relatives have been involved in the liberation movement.
Many of these “disappeared” have eventually shown up – dead. In 2005, the remains of 43 Sahrawi’s who had been presumed missing, were found in a mass grave in the south of Morocco. Khelli Henna Ould Rachid, leader of the Sahrawi National Union Party, suspects that these people were even buried alive, not even for having any certain political affiliation, merely for being from the Western Sahara. Other mass graves have been found in the Sahara, notably in the towns of Semara and Bou Cra. These have not been the only crimes of the Moroccan forces, as reports in 2006 leaked out that demonstrations held in the region witnessed excessive police force against the protestors, some arrested and then even tortured before being handed over to a life behind bars, and possibly more brutal torturing.
The Sahrawis are not the only group that the Moroccan forces wish to clearly exterminate, in fact anyone in support of Sahrawi self-determination, is treated just as viciously. For example, in August 2010, Moroccan police arrested 11 Spanish activists who had joined in protests for independence in the disputed territory of El Ayoun. They claimed that the police had detained them and beat them whilst in custody, later releasing a photograph of one of the protestors wounded, indicating a sense of pride, and accomplishment of duty, that they had quashed those who wish to take the Sahara away from them.
More light has to be drawn upon the situation; violations of human rights, torture of innocent people and displacement are rampant in the region. Ould Rachid calls upon the international community to try the Moroccan Forces for war crimes, but first, the international community needs to wake up, and take a close look at what’s really happening in Africa’s forgotten sand dunes.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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