Middle East

Morocco accused of systematic abuses in W. Sahara

Kerry Kennedy (R), the president of the Robert Kennedy Foundation arrives with a delegation at the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights in Rabat, on August 28, 2012. (AFP PHOTO / ABDELHAK SENNA)

RABAT: A US human rights group on Monday accused Morocco of systematic human rights violations in Western Sahara, after visiting the disputed territory last week, saying its people live in a "state of fear."

The RFK Centre for Justice and Human Rights, in a preliminary report on its four-day visit, said it recognised positive changes to the Moroccan constitution, including "the criminalisation of torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances."

The Washington-based group also highlighted greater gender equality and freedom of expression in the North African kingdom.

But it deplored the heavy military and police presence in the Moroccan-held territory, reporting widespread intimidation of the Sahrawi people, and saying it heard of "many cases of police brutality" against non-violent protesters.

It said the delegation itself was constantly followed by plain-clothes security officers, but still witnessed a uniformed policeman and three individuals attacking a woman who was peacefully protesting.

"The overwhelming presence of security forces, the violations of the right to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association creates a state of fear and intimidation that violates the rule of law and respect for human rights of the Sahrawi people," the group said.

It is not the first time the RFK Centre has visited the region, and Moroccan officials have already accused the group of siding with the Polisario Front, which has been campaigning for Western Sahara's independence since before its annexation in 1975.

The group also travelled to Tindouf, in western Algeria, where tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees live in extreme conditions, and where the delegates met Polisario leaders, families of the conflict's victims, UN agencies and NGOs.

The RFK Centre described living conditions for the refugees as "very harsh" but praised the organisation and administration of the camps, which it said "have brought a sense of stability and normalcy."

Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community.

The rebel Polisario Front, supported by Algeria controls a small part the desert interior and has bases in Tindouf.





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