Serious human rights violations committed during protests in Occupied Western Sahara

The Moroccan authorities have committed human rights violations on a massive scale in response to protests organised by several Saharawi organisations on 21 November ahead of the visit by US publication ‘Democracy Now’ who were to visit the Occupied Territories to report on the information blockade placed upon the territory. Protesters who should be allowed to exert their rights to peacefully protest suffered torture and other maltreatment at the hands of the security forces in a large-scale response to the protests.

Despite a police blockade, the protesting Saharawi population managed to fill the main street in the capital and extend their protest into the neighbourhoods of Matalaa and Skaikima, which is the hotel area, where the Democracy Now group were staying.

The Moroccan authorities used sticks, batons and stones, and beat protesters in an attempt to disperse the demonstration. More than nine people were seriously injured as a direct result of police brutality. Adala UK activists observed the demonstrations and interviewed dozens of protesters who were injured at the hands of the police. They reported being punched and assaulted and women reported being sexually harassed by law enforcement officers.

Sexual Aggression: Hasna Mohamed was beaten and sexually molested by police officers near to where the demonstration was taking place in the Dadach district of the capital. Salka Amar reported being sexually harassed by police officers in the Skaikima district. Both complaints have been registered with the police.

Physical abuse: Adala UK received dozens of accounts of maltreatment by officers whilst the protest was being broken up. Ali Ahmed received a brutal beating which left him with serious injuries. His assault was captured on video. Mahfouda Lafkir, a mother of two, was hit by the police near her house in the Dadach district whilst the protest was continuing in Smara Street. She suffered injuries to her nose, forehead and chin. Sultana Khaya received injuries all over her body from punches. Aziza Biza has been left with serious injuries and resulting nerve damage. Amina Abaala had bruises all over her feet and the rest of her body. Two journalists working for RASD TV were beaten for reporting the scenes. They have lodged complaints with the public prosecutor but such complaints never receive a response from the Moroccan authorities.

The level of violence used by the police during the demonstrations clearly shows what happens when ill-trained and unsupervised officers receive instructions to use force to break up a demonstration. They seem to take pleasure in showing no restraint as they know they will never be identified or brought to justice for the abuses they commit against the Saharawi population.

Police abuse continues with impunity, whilst anyone who organises a protest or participates in one is prosecuted, receiving extremely harsh and unjust sentences and suffering abuse. Doctors are instructed not to support victims by giving medical certificates related to their injuries. This prevents victims from being able to prove the abuse and excessive force used against them by the authorities. Journalists are also threatened if they cover these stories.

The determination with which the Moroccan Occupation authorities break up demonstrations and dissuade people from demonstrating is very clear. The tactics used are ones of physical and verbal abuse, intimidation and the threat of unjust and disproportionate sentencing.
The Moroccan government must learn to accept dissenting opinion regarding the occupation of Western Sahara, expressed through public protests, and should guarantee that the police are properly equipped and trained to deal legally with such protests. They must commit to allowing immediate, impartial and independent investigations into complaints of police brutality and demonstrate a commitment to using evidence of such actions in line with international law. In order for the Moroccan government to take legal action to ensure torture and maltreatment is prevented, Adala UK urges it to take the following measures:

Guarantee that the police and other security forces avoid the use of violence against peaceful protests which call for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, working in partnership with those organising the protests to come to a mutual understanding, thus reducing tensions between the parties;

Guarantee that any forces responding to protests and helping to control them respect international standards to protect human rights;

Guarantee that all actions taken to disperse a peaceful protest are done based on principles of necessity and proportionality and done in such a way as to clearly explain the situation to the demonstrators, giving sufficient time to protestors to be able to disperse peacefully;

Guarantee that the police and other security forces are equipped to effectively deal with public demonstrations, including training on how to use non-violent methods and the use of measured force as established by international norms on the use of force.

The following names have been changed in order to protect identities: Hasna Mohamed, Salka Amar, Ali Ahmed.

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