Morocco/Western Sahara


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Morocco and W. Sahara Human Rights

The hopes and aspirations that emerged with the Arab Spring ten years ago have steadily faded with the ever-increasing clamping down on freedom of expression. Journalists, citizen journalists, bloggers and anyone posting on media and social media can be subjected to arrest, arbitrary detention, harassment, threats, torture, imprisonment — all too often based on a gross distortion of the criminal code — just for posting an opinion not to the liking of the regime. If Moroccan citizens cannot express themselves freely and peacefully, how can Morocco tackle its many social issues? Change, transformation and reform must be based on accurate information and transparency that a free press can provide.

Two key issues are driving the clampdown: the aftermath of the Rif protests in 2017 and the still unresolved Western Sahara issue. Following the protests that took place in Morocco’s northern Rif region in 2017 that resulted in sentences that violate Morocco’s basic tenets of the rule of law and equal justice, there has been a wave of pushback from the media. Multiple journalists who criticized the harsh sentences themselves became targets of the criminal justice system and sentenced to harsh sentences for their criticisms. The Moroccan government often resorts to the Penal Code to stir up bogus charges of money laundering or sexual crimes- with scant evidence to prove the charges.

One recent case involved human rights defender and historian, Maati Monjib, who was sentenced to a year in prison in January 2021 on trumped-up charges of money laundering. Dr. was released (after a 20-day hunger strike) on March 23, 2021.

In Western Sahara, human rights monitoring is needed more than ever. For the past decade, the UN Security Council has been ignoring calls by Amnesty International and others to add a human rights component to MINURSO, which would allow for monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses, as is done by the vast majority of comparable UN missions around the world.

This is in addition to the fact that in recent years, access to the region has grown increasingly difficult for external monitors as the human rights situation has continued to deteriorate. In 2020, Moroccan authorities prevented at least nine lawyers, activists, and politicians from access to Western Sahara. Journalists have also been denied access.

As confrontations between Morocco and the Polisario escalate, both local human rights activists and supporters of Sahrawi self-determination are coming under increased pressure. Meanwhile, international human rights organizations are very rarely allowed to monitor and report from the ground, whether in Western Sahara or in the refugee camps in Tindouf.

This has to change, especially in the context of what seems to be a new phase of conflict in the long-term dispute over the territory, with the possibility of renewed fighting endangering civilians and intensified repression of dissent by both sides.

Given Morocco’s efforts to enhance its diplomatic standing by rejoining the African Union in 2017, by being a viable candidate to join ECOWAS, and by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, it is time for Morocco to rectify its human rights record — something that has consistently deteriorated over the last decade.

Morocco/Western Sahara News



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