Western Sahara: The peaceful revolution that, against all odds, pines to independence

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Photo: Aminatou Haidar, the peaceful revolution pioneer in Western Sahara

May 17th; 2013   by:   Khalil Asmar

Again Amnesty International asks for an investigation into alleged torture of six detained Saharawis in Morocco occupied Western Sahara days after the UN released its resolution 2099 that called the parties to abide by international norms in dealing with human rights engagements.

Just before this UN annual resolution, serious tensions have erupted between Morocco and the US after this latter put on table a proposal calling for the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara known as “MINURSO” to monitor and report on human rights situation in its 2013 mandate. Ironically, Morocco had to race against time to avoid the passing of such a decision; the king summoned up some pro-Makhzen political party leaders for consultancy and immediately sent a palace delegation in shuttling trips to the major world capitals in an attempt to defend Morocco position, and to show indignation, it also called off joint military trainings with the US. Clearly enough, Morocco is trying by all means to hide, before the international community, its responsibility for the repression against the Saharawi people and wants to pursue impunit on its grave human rights abuses which have been reported by the major international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNCHR , Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Frontline for Human Rights Defenders.

However, it’s not the first time a Security Council member has attempted to include a human rights component in Minurso mission; Costra Rica in 2009  and South Africa in 2010 called to adopt a human rights monitoring but came to naught in front of Morocco’s ex-colonial master France opposition. But this time it came from the US, a historical ally to Morocco and a permanent Security Council member. To such a surprising decision, France found itself in an embarrassing situation, and after discussing it by the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, US, UK and Spain), it seemed that they decided that this issue should be worked out between Morocco and US in the hope to reach a compromise. The draft resolution the US presented later to the Group of Friends got amended but still includes language encouraging the parties to continue in their respective efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and Tindouf refugee camps.

In light of this sudden US proposal change, different arguments speculated from ambassadors inside the UNSC and from Morocco press. In her response to Inner City Press’s question on the secret behind US sudden changing attitude, US ambassador to the UN Suzan Rice replied, “the story’s done, we have a resolution.”

A diplomat from the Security  Council commented “The Moroccans have been put on notice that there is heightened international scrutiny and attention being paid to Western Sahara” while the Polisario representative at UN pointed out that the “US position remains on the radar today and tomorrow and will never disappear in the Security Council follow up of the situation of human rights violated in a systematic and cruel way by Morocco” Many observers, as well, reckon that the US position was meant  as a warning to the flagrant human rights abuses in Morocco’s controlled Western Sahara zone.

The UN Security Council’s failure to add human rights monitoring to the mandate of its Western Sahara peacekeeping force – despite ongoing reports of abuses in the region – is a “missed opportunity”, Amnesty International said

Notwithstanding, The UN resolution 2099 that came stressing on the respect of human rights in occupied Western Sahara  and Tindouf camps brewed unprecedented demonstrations and protests in the streets of the occupied cities. On May 4th, simultaneous with a visit of a high press delegation from the United States and Britain to the capital Laayone, thousands of Saharawis took to the streets lifting SADR (Sahrawi Republic) flags together with those of US and UK as an expression of gratitude to their fervent support within the UNSC to the respect of human rights in occupied Western Sahara and chanting pro-independence slogans, calling for their inalienable right for self-determination. Being the biggest ever, the demonstration marked a watershed in the history of the people of occupied Western Sahara.

Fictitious scenarios made by Morocco special propaganda apparatus displaying photos of veiled people committing acts of vandalism, the momentum of its police brutality crackdown against the peaceful demonstrations has been extremely horrible. In the night of the same day, abductions, torture and incarcerations of the Saharawi activists and protestors spread at a never-before-seen pace marking the return of Morocco state to the “leaden years” when Saharawis were subject to forced disappearance into unknown destinies. In the very early morning of May 9th, starting from 5 o’clock am, and as Saharawis called via social media outlets for a peaceful demonstration simultaneous with a delegation representing “the German Association of Friends of the United Nations”, Morocco forces lead a campaign of mass house raiding  and abductions spreading an atmosphere of fear among the Saharawi population in an attempt to hamper them from their usual afternoon marches in Smara street nicknamed Tahrir street. The expulsion of a Norwegian group and most recently an Italian journalist is also another message of Morocco total refusal to open the occupied territories to foreign journalists sticking to its usual persistence in media blackout.

Within the same stream of events, the icon the Saharawi peaceful revolution Mrs.Aminatou Haidar, Ghandi of Sahara, warned in her interview with the Russian online paper (anbamoscow) that things might go violent in front of morocco craziness. The scale of concern at the escalation of repression against the Saharawis has also been expressed by Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Amnesty international and even the “Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

On the other hand, Christopher Ross, the UN special envoy to Western Sahara, pointed out in his last tour to the region that Mali crisis in the region of the Sahel is making Western Sahara stalemate more and more a matter of urgent resolving.  To that end, Ban Ki Moon warned that the ongoing conflict in Mali, where France deployed troops and air power to oust Islamist rebels, threatens to spill over into the Western Sahara, whereby there is a possibility of infiltration by foreign militant groups in this region.

But Mali crisis can’t be respectively interconnected to Western Sahara given the fact that the two issues are totally different, Mali crisis is an issue of internal conflict and with  the proliferation of Gaddafi weaponry in the region , and a weak Bamako government, the Islamist fundamentalists  occupied big parts of Northern Mali, while Western Sahara remains an issue of decolonization and the Saharawi youth living in the refugee camps as shown by ground reports have had more than enough of the asphyxiating status quo and pushing hard for resuming the military struggle against Morocco occupation.

Yet, as said by Aminatou Haidar before the Pan African Parliament “Morocco commits all kinds of “violence and torture against Sahrawis in the silence of the international community” maintaining that Saharawis in the occupied territories “will not commit any violence and continue to rely on international law,” adding that the Saharawi people want “a clean fight like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.”

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