We have reached a critical moment in the recent history of the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara. The Moroccan government faces a dilemma: abandon the Saharawis in the Occupied Territories to be victim to a wave of brutal repression at the hands of the Moroccan settlers or take urgent action to demonstrate their commitment to protecting human rights and equality is more than just an empty promise.
This new wave of repression against the Saharawis living in the Occupied Territories began at the beginning of March in reaction to the speech made by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following his visit to the Saharawi Refugee Camps in Tindouf (Algeria). In response, the government in Rabat organised protests in El Aaiún, the capital of the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara, against the Secretary General. The Moroccan government has accused the UN Secretary General of losing his neutrality following his visit to the camps. The Moroccan government expressed thir outrage at Ban for referring to ‘Occupied Western Sahara’ and has taken his visit as an insult. The government has since unilaterally ordered members of MINURSO to leave Western Sahara.
Thousands of settlers took part in the protests in El Aaiún, shouting racist slogans in the streets against the Saharawi population. The government took no action against this racist abuse which violates their international obligations. The protests were accompanied by a wave of social media posts by Morrocans against the Saharawi population, calling them “traitors against Morocco: against king and country”. The settlers who took part in the demonstrations called for the departure of MINURSO. Chants included: “Death to the Saharawi Enemy – the King has his kingdom” and “Death to the Saharawi Polisario”. This caused violent clashes between the Saharawis and the Moroccan occupation forces and the settlers in various areas of the city, including Colomina, a principal district in the capital of Western Sahara. Occupation forcer and settlers violently attacked indigenous Saharawis as they came out of their houses to demonstrate for their right to self-determination. Many were injured, including Ikhalil Shayn, who was badly hurt. He explained that he was hit by a group of settlers and Moroccan occupation forces. Adala UK members confirmed that he had serious injuries all over his body consistent with having been beaten with a blunt instrument.
This reflects an increase in the involvement of the Moroccan settlers in the government’s occupation of Western Sahara. In addition to calling for the expulsion of MINURSO, they have threatened to return to armed struggle and are using that as currency with the international community should they opt to organise a referendum of self-determination for the Saharawis. Many Moroccan settlers are willing to take up arms against the Saharawi population and against Algeria for their position in the international debate regarding the situation. Together with a Moroccan propaganda campaign, hatred against the Saharawi population is being fuelled amongst Moroccans and the defence of the Moroccan conquest in Western Sahara.
On 16th March, the Moroccan occupation forces brutally dispered a peaceful protest by a group of Saharawis in solidarity with the Gdeim Izik prisoners who were entering their 20th day of hunger strike. Amongst activists who were injured were former political prisoners and journalists and also a member of Adala UK, Salha Boutanguiza, who said: “I wanted to attend and witness the peaceful demonstrations. All the roads were full of Moroccan uniformed and plain clothes police officers, insulting people and violently attacking everyone. Several officers surrounded me and started hitting me. One hit me in the face and my nose began to bleed and a fell on the ground.” (see video)
Adala UK condemns the Moroccan threats towards the UN and the attacks made against the Secretary General which seek to undermine the international community and its efforts to find a solution to the conflict which will guarantee the right to self-determination for the Saharawi people. We urge the international community broadly, and the Moroccan government in particular, to respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to a referendum of self-determination where the people can decide on their own government and freely pursue their own economic, social and cultural development without external control or intervention, as outlined in so many UN resolutions. This is an intrinsic human right of the Saharawi people and it must be respected.