Aminatou Haidar and Sahrawi women in Western Sahara.

UN observers must urgently visit Western Sahara, Right Livelihood and ISACOM urge

News 15.09.2022

Incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk should urgently organise an observation mission to Western Sahara, which has been announced by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, but has not been carried out during her term, Right Livelihood and the Sahrawi Organ against the Moroccan Occupation (ISACOM) told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

Read our statement here.

Our joint statement with ISACOM, which was co-founded by 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar, was delivered during the 51st session of the Council, drawing attention to the worsening situation in Western Sahara.

In the territory occupied by Morocco for almost 50 years now, Sahrawi people claiming their right to self-determination face violent and systematic repression, the statement warned.

In light of the ever-worsening human rights situation, we urged the incoming UN human rights chief to prioritise visiting the region.

“During her mandate, [former UN High Commission for Human Rights] Ms Bachelet committed herself to organise a technical mission to Western Sahara, which unfortunately has not yet taken place,” the statement said. “In view of the extremely concerning situation, its organisation is now crucial. We, therefore, ask that her successor, Volker Turk, make this visit a priority.”

During such a visit, the High Commissioner’s office would gather information on the human rights situation on the ground and provide recommendations.

Last month, Mohammed VI of Morocco called on countries to “unequivocally” support the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

“However, supporting Morocco is tantamount to ‘unequivocal’ support for persistent human rights violations,” our statement warned.

It is high time for states to stop being complicit in Morocco’s violations and for the UN to take its mandate to decolonise Western Sahara seriously, including by addressing the human rights situation in the region, we told the Council.

The people of Western Sahara, a territory often called “Africa’s last colony,” have endured decades of conflict and repression by Morocco. Spain, the former colonial power, left the disputed territory of Western Sahara in 1975.

However, instead of a referendum on self-determination as promised by the United Nations, the region was illegally occupied by Morocco. During the past four decades, the territory has remained under dispute with no referendum in sight, as the international community looked on with indifference or even abetted the occupation.

Haidar is a nonviolent activist and human rights defender from Western Sahara. Over 30 years of peaceful campaigning for the independence of her homeland have earned her the recognition of being known as the “Sahrawi Gandhi.”

She received the Right Livelihood Award “for her steadfast nonviolent action, despite imprisonment and torture, in pursuit of justice and self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.”

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