Report: Acting With Impunity

Torture, imprisonments, violence. SAIH's report Acting With Impunity documents 256 human rights violations in the occupied Western Sahara.


Click here to read the entire annex with all documented human rights violations from April 1, 2014, until March 1, 2015.

The report Acting With Impunity: Morocco's Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara and the Silence of the International Community examines the human rights abuses committed in Western Sahara since April 1 2014 until March 1 2015.

Based on 163 documented cases, 256 different human rights violations have been reported, involving 283 named victims.

Download the full report here, and read the extended annex here.

Since 1991, the UN has had a peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara known as the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). It is a very unusual peacekeeping mission in that it has no mandate to monitor human rights. Therefore, Morocco is able to commit human rights abuses with impunity. Each April, the UN votes on the renewal of MINURSO's mandate. It has so far failed to vote in favour of incorporating human rights monitoring into MINURSO's competencies. With this background, the report has looked at the abuses in the occupied territories since the mandate was last debated in the UN.

MINURSO was tasked with holding a self-determination referendum for the people of the territory, the Saharawis. Today, the report argues, MINURSO has not only failed to conduct the referendum but it has also, quite literally, stood by and watched whilst Saharawis are harassed, beaten, raped, tortured, disappeared and even murdered for their pro-independence opinions, or work fighting for the respect of human rights.

The findings in the report shows that

  • 55 Saharawis have complained of torture since April 2014, including seven children. Torture is used systematically to extract confessions, and judges not only fail to investigate allegations that statements have been extracted under torture, but also habitually accept said statements in court.
  • Several political prisoners reportedly remain behind bars living in degrading and inhumane conditions, whilst the fates of hundreds of disappeared Saharawis remain unaccounted for.
  • 3 Saharawis have died in detention under suspicious circumstances. A fourth Saharawi died six days after he was released from detention.
  • Landmines continue to endanger the lives of shepherds, with 2 Saharawi deaths since April 2014.
  • The Saharawi population is experiencing repression of their culture as well as discrimination in the education and employment fields. In July 2014, the main mosque used by Saharawis was closed down by Moroccan authorities.
  • Unscrupulous multinationals and foreign governments are taking advantage of the dire situation to enter into agreements with the Moroccan government to plunder the vast natural resources of the territory. Two such companies are British Cairn Energy and US Kosmos Energy, who began exploratory oil drilling off the coast of Western Sahara in December 2014. Saharawis protesting peacefully against these companies have suffered police brutality.
  • There have been 51 reports of Moroccan authorities using violence against Saharawis since April 2014.

In the period covered by this report, Saharawis that have expressed pro-independence views, who work on human rights activities, or who defend the territory's natural resources against plunder continue to face a particular pattern of harassment, political imprisonment and judicial abuse. They are arrested, often violently and without explanation as to the reason for their arrest, held incommunicado in secret detention centres or police stations, or taken to rural areasand tortured and often raped.

The report concludes that the continued gross human rights violations committed in occupied Western Sahara illustrate the total inadequacy of Morocco's national human rights framework. Whilst UN Special Procedures, which involve short and infrequent visits by UN rights experts to Western Sahara, are important, they are insufficient. A renewed mandate for MINURSO, the UN Mission to the territory, to provide independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained human rights monitoring is vital if the abuses suffered by the Saharawi people are to be curbed.

The report is written by Joanna Christian Allan and Hamza Lakhal, commisioned by SAIH. It is important to stress that the numbers in the report are all allegations. The documented human rights violations have been cross-checked as much as possible, but they remain allegations. And this is the entire point. Only an independent and permanent mechanism can seriously assess the veracity of these claims.

Download the full report here.