Right Livelihood Advocacy Officer Fédora Bernard

Right Livelihood demands action from Morocco on Sahrawi self-determination in joint UN statement

News 27.03.2023

In a joint UN statement, Right Livelihood, ISACOM and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights raised concern about Morocco’s refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Sahrawi people as recommended during the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

You can read the full statement here.

The UPR is a peer-review process of the UN Human Rights Council that assesses the human rights records of all UN Member States every four and a half years. It involves an interactive dialogue where other Member States and stakeholders can give feedback on a country’s human rights situation.

The UPR process is important because it can act as a catalyst for positive change and reform. Morocco began its fourth UPR in November 2022. Now, during the 52nd UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, it had the chance to respond to the recommendations made by other countries and listen to comments from civil society organisations.

One of the recommendation areas that Morocco largely rejected was the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. The Sahrawi are an ethnic group primarily residing in the Western Sahara region of North Africa who have been denied control over their land since the late 1800s.

Morocco has been illegally occupying Western Sahara Morocco since 1975, shortly after Spain relinquished control over the territory. During the UPR, Morocco denied responsibility for its abuses against the Sahrawi. And yet, there is clear evidence that activists are brutally silenced, surveilled, tortured, and imprisoned arbitrarily by the regime.

2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar is a leading nonviolent activist from Western Sahara. She has organised demonstrations, documented cases of torture and carried out several hunger strikes to raise awareness about the violations suffered by her people. 

Together with Haidar’s organisation ISACOM, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Right Livelihood submitted a report last year to inform Member States about the human rights situation in Morocco ahead of the UPR.

Morocco’s abuses against the Sahrawi are not only deplorable, but they violate international law, we told the Council. In the few instances that the state agreed to address human rights violations in Western Sahara, it did so on the basis that the territory is a province of Morocco. 

This is problematic because the UN categorises Western Sahara as a disputed territory, not a part of Morocco. Therefore, the state’s claim that Western Sahara is part of Morocco violates international law.

What’s more, in the regime’s response to the UPR, it denied that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Sahrawi’s situation.

This convention provides legal protections for occupied peoples during armed conflict. As Western Sahara is a disputed territory, with Morocco subjecting the local Sahrawi population to its rule, the convention should apply.

For these reasons, we concluded the statement by urging Morocco to reconsider its stance on crucial recommendations relating to the Sahrawi’s rights. The country’s dismissal of UPR recommendations threatens to undermine the process’s power to improve human rights conditions.

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