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04 March 2013, OR Tambo Building, Pretoria


Ladies and gentlemen of the media,

In our briefing today, we will focus on the situation concerning Saharawi prisoners in Morocco,


The situation concerning Saharawi prisoners

The Government of the Republic of South Africa condemns the sentencing of the 25 Saharawi human rights activists on 17 February 2013 by a Moroccan military tribunal following 27 months of detention.

The activists had participated in a protest camp in the Western Sahara town of Gdeim Izik in November 2010 against the continued systematic repression of the Saharawi people by the Moroccan regime. This protest camp was brutally dismantled by the Moroccan security forces resulting in the deaths of several Saharawi people and leaving scores injured.

In terms of international law, a Moroccan military court does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute acts and events taking place in Western Sahara, which is regarded as a non-self governing territory by the United Nations.

We also urge the Kingdom of Morocco to release all political and prisoners of conscience as a means to begin meaningful negotiations with the POLISARIO Front.

The continuous gross human rights violations by Morocco in the Western Sahara occupied territories necessitate that the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara (MINURSO) be expanded to incorporate a human rights monitoring mechanism. To date, MINURSO remains one of the few United Nations Missions without a human rights monitoring component.

It is our view that these acts of repression in the illegally occupied territories are a direct consequence of the non-resolution of the issue of Western Sahara, which we regard as the last case of decolonization on the African continent. The continued non-resolution of the question of Western Sahara serves as an extension of the difficulties experienced by the Saharawi people, the majority of whom have been in the refugee camps for over three decades.

South Africa calls on the UN to expedite the resolution of the issue of Western Sahara, by taking all the necessary measures for the organization of a referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in accordance with the relevant African Union decisions and United Nations Resolutions.

In his recent State of the Nation Address, delivered on 14 February 2013, President Jacob Zuma reiterated that “the right of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara has to be realised”. The right to self-determination was the basis upon which a democratic South Africa was founded. Accordingly, South Africa will continue to stand side by side with the sister people of Western Sahara until this inalienable right is achieved.