21/01/2014: Moroccan security forces intervened violently against a peaceful demonstration organised by “OCP”, “SKILLS”, “NAHDA” and “ALAMAL”, groups of unemployed Saharawi students, in El Aiun. The demonstrators were chanting slogans such as “Our natural resources can employ us”, “Stop human rights violations”; “Half of the native inhabitants of Western Sahara are in prison, the other half unemployed” or “Stop the robbery of our natural resources”.
Several people were injured as a result of the violent intervention and had to be transferred to the emergency department of Ben Lmahdi hospital in El Aiun.
Members of Adala UK ascertained that several police and military vehicles were present in the area where the protests took place. Police officers pursued demonstrators through the streets using stones and batons to restrain them. Citizens who happened to be in the area were insulted and told to leave bus stops and other public spaces. Adala UK members also observed that the hospital was surrounded by civilian-clothes and uniformed police who took photos of injured protesters. Police cars with cameras were also seen inside the hospital compound.
It is important to remember that after Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, Morocco became the world’s third largest exporter of phosphate. The annual production in Bou Craa in Western Sahara is approximately 2.4 million tonnes.
In 1968, when Western Sahara was under Spanish colonial rule, 1,600 Saharawis were working in the phosphate industry. The majority was replaced with Moroccans and today only 200 of 1,900 workers in the phosphate industry are Saharawis. Moreover, these Saharawi workers are discriminated against by their Moroccan colleagues. Very few Saharawis have been promoted since 1975, the majority has been made redundant.
A similar situation exists in the fisheries sector, which Saharawis do not benefit from either. In the last fisheries contract between the EU and Morocco, the EU paid Morocco for the rights to fish in the waters belonging to Western Sahara, despite several UN resolutions which make the exploration of the Western Sahara’s natural resources illegal in the eyes of international law.