Annual Report: Morocco/Western Sahara 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Morocco/Western Sahara 2011

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Head of state: King Mohamed VI
Head of government: Abbas El Fassi
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 32.4 million
Life expectancy: 71.8 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 43/29 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 56.4 per cent

Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly continued, particularly on issues considered politically sensitive such as the status of Western Sahara. Human rights activists, journalists, members of the unauthorized political group Al-Adl wal-Ihsan, and Sahrawi activists continued to face harassment and politically motivated charges. Dozens of people were detained on suspicion of security-related offences; some were held incommunicado and allegedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Security forces forcibly removed thousands of Sahrawis from a protest camp amid clashes resulting in deaths and injuries. Arrests and collective expulsions of foreign nationals continued. Death sentences were passed; no executions were carried out. No steps were taken to bring perpetrators of past gross human rights violations to justice, and little progress was made in introducing long-promised judicial and institutional reforms.


The stalemate over the status of Western Sahara continued between Morocco, which annexed the territory in 1975, and the Polisario Front, which calls for its independence and runs a self-proclaimed government in exile. In April, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara without including a human rights monitoring component.

In October and December, the UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for the Western Sahara visited and subsequently convened informal talks between Morocco, the Polisario Front and the governments of Algeria and Mauritania.

Also in October, thousands of Sahrawis set up a camp in Gdim Izik, a few kilometres from Laayoune, to protest against their perceived marginalization and lack of jobs and housing. On 8 November, security forces dismantled the camp and forcibly removed several thousand Sahrawis, sparking violence in the camp. Many protesters were beaten and had their property destroyed. Shortly after, communal violence broke out in Laayoune, resulting in injuries and damage to property. A total of 13 people, including 11 members of the security forces, died in connection with the events. The authorities arrested around 200 people, many of whom alleged they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. At least 145 were facing trial on public order and other charges, including 20 civilians who were transferred to the Military Court in the capital, Rabat.

In July, the Salé Court of Appeal upheld the convictions in the so-called Belliraj Affair, a highly politicized case marred by allegations of torture and procedural irregularities, but reduced some of the sentences.

Transitional justice

The Advisory Council for Human Rights, mandated to follow up on the recommendations of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, published a report in January. The report covered the period since the Commission, which had investigated enforced disappearances and other human rights violations between 1956 and 1999, ended its work in 2005. The report failed to provide a comprehensive list of those who had disappeared or any detailed findings on individual cases or whether they had been referred for further investigation. The overdue list of 938 victims of enforced disappearance and other human rights violations was published on 14 December as an annexe to the initial report. Little and vague information, if any, was added on individual cases. Six pending cases were listed and referred for further investigation.

Victims and survivors continued to have no effective access to justice, and none of those who perpetrated the gross violations were investigated or brought to account.