The Visit of the UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, Mr. Horst Khöler: The creation of a siege, a wave of arrests, police violence, demonstrations and a media blockade

The UN Special Envoy Horst Khöler has recently visited the region of Western Sahara in order to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict. The Special envoy, after having visited the Saharawi Refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, arrived in the capital of Western Sahara, Layoune, on 28 June 2018. He toured the region until Sunday, 1 July 2018. In relation to the visit of the Special Envoy, repression against the Saharawi population and demonstrators calling for the right to self-determination have been growing.

In direct relation to the visit of the Special Envoy, Adala UK witnessed an apparent growing repression on the Saharawi civil society and growing use of police violence towards demonstrators. Prior to the visit of UN Special Envoy Mr. Horst Khöler, the Kingdom of Morocco systematically intensified the grip of repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, with the transportation of thousands of police officers, auxiliary and gendarmerie forces to Western Sahara. Prior to the visit, more than 50 Sahrawis were arrested in the occupied territories in relation to the visit of the Special Envoy. Whilst many already have been arrested, others run the risk of being arrested and prosecuted, facing constant threats from the Moroccan authorities. Two children are amongst the protestors who have been arrested during the last days:  Hamza Aalbouchekra and Mansour Moussaoui. Both children reported to the court that they had been tortured and subjected to other kinds of inhumane treatment and harassments whilst held in custody.

Despite the siege imposed by the Moroccan regime and police, demonstrations were held in the biggest cities of Western Sahara on 28 June 2018 until 1 July 2018. Protesters were chanting slogans in favour of the right to self-determination, demanding justice after more than 40 years of Moroccan occupation and repression, and above all, to send a message to the UN Special Envoy. During the demonstrations held in the biggest cities of occupied Western Sahara on 28 June, over 120 Saharawi demonstrators were left with serious injuries, after being subjected to comprehensive police violence.

The case of Ayoub Rich is furthermore of grave concern. Ayoub Rich, an 18-year-old Sahrawi, was, according to eye witnesses and the family of the victim, deliberately hit by a police man driving a police car during the protests held in Layoune, Western Sahara, on 28 June 2018. After the car accident, the victim was taken to the local hospital in Layoune in a critical condition, and was deliberately held isolated from his family and friends. The family of the victim was not allowed to visit the victim, nor given information from the authorities, and was subjected to comprehensive police violence and arbitrary arrest.

In relation to the visit of the Special Envoy, and the creation of a siege, arbitrary arrest of more than 50 Saharawi activists and comprehensive police violence in the streets of Western Sahara, Adala UK is deeply concerned by the ongoing repression on the freedom of the press in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. In relation to the urgent need of human rights monitoring, we note that the “media blockade” in the occupied territories of Western Sahara is tightening, and that self-censorship is the norm. According to witnesses, 

"The Moroccan authorities instruct the local and national media channels not to cover the events or interview people who could criticize the political situation in Western Sahara in general."

According to members of Adala UK, at least seven Saharawi journalists have been injured since the demonstrations began and at least three have had their equipment stolen, while the transmission of several websites and Facebook accounts and independent local news blogs that covered the demonstrations have been blocked or censored. Simultaneously, the Moroccan media is subjected to strict repression, and self-censorship is the norm. In the Moroccan media, demonstrators have been proclaimed as “traitors and saboteurs”, who received money from foreign powers, and cases of police violence have been denied.

Adala UK urges that due to the current “media blockade” in the occupied territories, with the expulsion of international observers and journalists, monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Western Sahara have become an almost impossible task.

Adala UK calls on the United Nations and the Security Council to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to include a mechanism to monitor the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, to ensure that human rights violations are reported and documented, and to end the current climate of impunity. (SPS)