By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
RABAT, Morocco – Human Rights Watch on Friday urged the Moroccan Ministry of Justice to investigate the police beating and intimidation of two human rights activists in Western Sahara. More importantly, the New York-based rights organization expressed “concern that the action is part of a broader attack on human rights monitoring by the authorities in the Western Sahara region.”
Police allegedly detained Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim Alansari, members of two nongovernmental human rights organizations in El-Ayoun, on December 14 and beat them while in custody. Two days later, the authorities released both without charge, but threatened to use statements they were compelled to sign if they continued their activities. Rahmouni is a member of unrecognized organization based in El-Ayoun called the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations. Alansari is a member of the legally recognized Moroccan Association of Human Rights.
Rahmouni and Alansari are known as sympathizers of the independence movement Polisario Front in Western Sahara. In 1976, Morocco annexed the northwest African territory of 260,000 people after Spain withdrew from what is known as “Spanish Sahara.” Although the Moroccan government has offered it autonomy, Polisario Front movement is calling for full independence.
Currently, talks between the two sides are at stalemate. Two rounds of talks to resolve the 32-year-old dispute were held in June and August this year, but each side had stuck to “rigid position.” January 7 negotiation is impending, but many believe the outcome is not hopeful based on past history.
Human Rights Watch said “the Moroccan authorities tightly restrict independent human rights activities in the contested Western Sahara region on the pretext that several rights organizations there violate Moroccan law by espousing independence for Western Sahara,” and added that “authorities frequently keep activists in these organizations under police surveillance and subject them to various forms of harassment.”
The Morrocan government denies all allegations of mistreating independence activists.
For more information, please see:
The Washington Times – Endless conflict in West Sahara – 30 December 2007
Reuters – Morocco urged to probe beating of rights activists – 29 December 2007
Human Rights Watch – Investigate police beating of rights activists in Western Sahara – 28 December 2007