RFK Center observes grave human rights violations in Western Sahara, (03/09/2012)
(Washington--Sept. 3, 2012) Following a human rights delegation to Western Sahara, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) is issuing a statement with preliminary observations evaluating the human rights situation in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. The report details the delegation's preliminary findings and observations, which include police brutality against Sahrawi people.
In Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, the delegation witnessed the overwhelming presence of security forces and violations of the rights to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association. More generally, the delegation observed intimidation and state sponsored violence against critics of the regime that violates the rule of law and respect for human rights and provides impunity for perpetrators. Human rights defenders are targeted in particular.
During the mission, the RFK delegation was followed by secret police, physically prevented from observing an attack on peaceful protesters, verbally abused, and subjected to a widely disseminated disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the credibility of the delegation.
"The international community has stood by passively for too long, while the Sahrawi people subsist in abject poverty in extremely isolated refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara desert while their brethren in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, who advocate for justice or criticize the regime, are subject to police state tactics of harassment, intimidation, torture, and more with near absolute impunity," said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center. "The oppression of government critics of Sahrawi decent is unworthy of the Kingdom of Morocco, which has made impressive gains in guaranteeing human rights to its people over the past decade."
In the refugee camps, the delegation found the living standards to be insufficient. Basic living standards may be adequate in refugee camps as part of a temporary solution, but after nearly four decades these standards are no longer acceptable and are seriously affecting the lives, dreams, and aspirations of more than 100,000 people.
"The RFK Center is committed to continuing the dialogue with the Moroccan government to address the human rights situation in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara," said Santiago A. Canton, Director of the RFK Partners for Human Rights. "An international permanent mechanism to protect the human rights of the Sahrawi people must be immediately implemented by the international community."
The delegation included Kerry Kennedy (United States), President, RFK Center; Santiago A. Canton (Argentina), Director, RFK Partners for Human Rights, RFK Center; Marselha Gonçalves Margerin (Brazil), Advocacy Director, RFK Center; Mary Lawlor (Ireland), Director, Front Line Defenders; Margarette May Macaulay (Jamaica), Judge, Inter American Court of Human Rights; Marialina Marcucci (Italy), President, RFK Center–Europe; Stephanie Postar (United States), Advocacy Assistant, RFK Center; María del Río (Spain), Board of Trustees, José Saramago Foundation and Eric Sottas (Switzerland), former Secretary-General, World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). Accompanying the delegation was Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo, granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
A comprehensive report with recommendations for resolving the human rights issues in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria is forthcoming.