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The Western Sahara issue, a timeline

– By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

HRWF (08.08.2020) – The Western Sahara dispute, dating back to 1975, has become one of the longest running regional conflicts in the world. Since the ceasefire of 1991, Morocco and the Polisario Front have maintained a stalemate in a conflict which is at the center of a complex set of regional and foreign interests encouraging its prolongation. Twenty-seven years have passed since the guns fell silent and there is still no political solution in sight.

 

The UN and the international community recognise the dangerous potential of this conflict to destabilise North Africa and Southern Europe, and seek ways forward. While its roots are intertwined with the competition between Algeria and Morocco for regional hegemony, other forces have contributed to the conflict’s persistence or are trying to get involved.

 

This study first sets the scene with a timeline running from the Spanish colonisation in the mid-1880s until the cease-fire brokered by the UN in 1991.

 

Since the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco in 1975, the Southern Regions of the Kingdom have experienced a significant demographic growth and an impressive economic development.

 

Over the last four decades, the Polisario has faced serious internal and external challenges. The lack of accountability with regard to its human rights violations, the lack of internal democracy and freedom of political thought, defections of high officials, cases of corruption and embezzlement of humanitarian aid from the UN, US, EU and its member states are all sources of concern. The Polisario youth are now growing impatient, leaving the Tindouf camps and creating their own political space in the diaspora.

 

For forty years, the UN and the MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) have been powerless in carving out a political solution that could be accepted by all parties in the conflict. The question is also raised about whether the UN decolonisation instruments are still appropriate to solve territorial and sovereignty issues inherited from the last century.

 

On the one hand, the Kingdom of Morocco has proposed an autonomy plan inside its current territorial boundaries, keeping a minimum of powers at the national level and granting many political competences to the regional level. On the other hand, the Polisario along with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) claim self-determination, independence and possession of a territory that was an undeveloped desert forty years ago.

 

For years, the European Union along with its member states have been involved in joint projects with the Kingdom of Morocco aiming at the economic and human development of Western Sahara and its maritime zone in the framework of its Southern Neighbourhood Policy. This report aims at shedding some light on the historical roots and developments of the conflict, various human aspects of it, its political and economic dimensions, some human rights issues and the dynamics at work between the parties. May this report contribute to a better understanding of the issue by the EU and its member states.

 

Western Sahara : A timeline

 

Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the northwest coast of Africa.

 

A 2700 km long buffer strip, or “berm” (sand wall) with landmines and fortifications, stretches the length of the disputed territory and separates the Moroccan-ruled western portion from the eastern area controlled by the Polisario.

 

November 1884 – December 1885: At the Berlin conference (a.k.a. Congo Conference or West Africa Conference), the European colonial powers agreed on the division of their spheres of influence in Africa. The conference ushered in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, which eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance. Spain seized control of the Western Sahara, an area formerly populated by Berber tribes, and was recognised on her request as the colonial power of the territory. In the previous centuries, it had already used that region as a port for the slave trade and by the 1700s for economic and commercial activities.

 

1901: On 30 March, France and Spain signed the first treaty for the delimitation of borders of Guinea and Western Sahara. It was completed by other treaties between both countries in 1904 and 1920.

 

1912: The Spanish protectorate in Morocco was established on 27 November 1912 by a treaty between France and Spain that converted the Spanish sphere of influence in Morocco into a formal protectorate.

 

1934: Western Sahara became a Spanish province known as Spanish Sahara. After 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, this area was administered by Spanish Morocco.

 

20 July 1946 – 10 January 1958: Establishment and duration of Spanish West Africa (which included Western Sahara, Spanish Southern Moroccan Protectorate and Sidi Ifni).

 

1956: On 7 April 1956, Morocco became independent after the departure of France. In the same year, Morocco regained a part of the Rif from Spain.[1]

 

1957: Newly-independent Morocco laid centuries-old claim to Western Sahara.

 

1958: Morocco recovered Tarfaya (Atlantic coast) from Spain.

 

1963: UN Special Committee on Decolonisation declared Western Sahara a “non-selfgoverning territory to be decolonised” in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 Dec. 1960.

 

December 1965: The UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, requesting Spain decolonise the Territory (General Assembly resolution 2072 (XX) of 17 Dec. 1965).

 

December 1966: The UN General Assembly requested Spain organise, under UN supervision, a referendum on self-determination (General Assembly resolution 2229 (XXI) of 20 Dec. 1966). The demand was repeated each year from 1967 to 1973 but with no effect.

1969: Morocco regained Sidi Ifni from Spain.

 

29 April 1973: The Frente Para la Liberación de Saguia Al Hamra y Rio de Oro (Polisario) was founded in Zouerate (Mauritania) with the purpose of obtaining independence for Western Sahara.

 

10 May 1973: First military action of Polisario against Spanish forces.

 

20 May 1973: Creation of the Polisario Front, the indigenous Saharawi independence movement.

 

December 1974: The Spanish census, a prerequisite for the self-determination referendum, registered 73,497 local inhabitants in Western Sahara.

 

October 1975: The Decolonization Committee issued a report requesting the UN General Assembly to enable the local population to choose their future in free and fair circumstances.

 

16 October 1975: The International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an opinion on the matter, stating that ties between the Moroccan sultan and some tribes in then-Spanish Sahara had existed, but that these ties were notsufficient to abrogate Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. A similar ruling was issued with regard to Mauritania.  Thus, the court recommended the UN continue to pursue self-determination for the Sahrawis, enabling them to choose for themselves whether they wanted Spanish Sahara to turn into an independent state, or to be annexed to Morocco or Mauritania.

 

6 November 1975: The Green March: With General Franco on his deathbed in Spain, the then-colonial power agreed to withdraw from Western Sahara and on 6 November 1975, Morocco’s King Hassan II immediately organised the so-called “Green March”, which saw 350,000 unarmed Moroccan civilians cross the border in Tarfaya into Western Sahara to seize control of the territory. Morocco annexed two-thirds of the region. This move generated armed resistance by the Polisario Front movement of the local Sahrawi people, who wanted independence. Their guerrilla war against Morocco would last until the cease-fire in 1991.

 

14 November 1975: Spain established a tripartite administration in Western Sahara with Morocco (Saguia el Hamra) and Mauritania (Rio de Oro) after the signature of the Madrid Accord, but it never entered into effect.

 

28 November 1975: 67 of the 102 members of the ‘djemaa’ (an assembly of notables appointed by the Spanish Government representing the Saharan tribes) dissolved the assembly in the so-called ‘Proclamation of Guelta Zemmour’.

 

11 December 1975: The first Moroccan troops arrived in Laayoune. Fighting erupted between Frente Polisario and Moroccan forces.

 

20 December 1975: Mauritanian troops took over the cities of Tichla and La Güera.

 

27-29 January 1976: Battle of Amgala between Moroccan and Polisario forces. Rabat denounced the presence of Algerian units alongside the Polisario. Algeria denied the allegations.

 

26 February 1976: Last Spanish troops withdrew from Villa Cisneros/Dakhla.

 

27 February 1976: The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR): The Polisario announced the creation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a one-party self-proclaimed state with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees fled to western Algeria to set up camps near the town of Tindouf. In Laayoune, a newly constituted ‘djemaa’ votes for the integration of the Western Sahara into Morocco.

 

October-November 1977: French air and special forces launched an operation in support of Mauritania against Polisario (Operation ‘Lamantine’). French troops remained in Mauritania until 1980.

 

17-20 July 1979: At a Summit in Monrovia, Liberia, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now AU (African Union), launched a mediation initiative for a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara conflict by calling for a cease-fire and a referendum. The proposal is rejected by Morocco.

 

15 August 1979: With the signature of the Algiers Treaty, Mauritania renounced to its all claims on Western Sahara leaving Morocco to annex its share of the territory.

 

16 July 1980: The SADR formally applied for membership in the OAU.

 

1981: Morocco began the construction of the first of a series of defensive sand walls, or ‘berms’.

 

24-27 June 1981: At the 18th OAU Summit in Nairobi, King Hassan II expresses his willingness to hold a referendum, taking into account Morocco’s historical claims to the Territory.

 

1982: The ‘Saharan Arab Democratic Republic’ (SADR) was admitted to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Morocco suspended its participation to the OAU.

 

1984: Morocco withdrew from the OAU to protest against the membership of SADR and the presence of the Polisario at the summit of the organisation.

 

1 July 1985 – 11 August 1988: A joint effort of UN-OAU led to the presentation to Morocco and the Polisario of the ‘Settlement Proposals’ for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. These proposals were reiterated in the Secretary-General’s Report S/22464, of 9 April 1991, and were adopted by Security Council Resolution 690 of 19 April 1991. It would be known as the ‘Settlement Plan’.

 

16 April 1987: End of the construction of 6th defensive line (‘berm’) by the Moroccan Armed Forces.

 

1991: The United Nations brokered a ceasefire between the two parties. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established by Security Council resolution 690 of 29 April 1991[2] in accordance with settlement proposals accepted on 30 August 1988 by Morocco and the Polisario.

 

Sources: MINURSO and BBC Country Profiles

[1] http://www.europemaroc.com/polisario.html

[2] http://www.un.org/fr/documents/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/690(1991)





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Polisario: Spanish justice continues investigation into Brahim Ghali’s crimes

North Africa Post (29.07.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Dt30mn – The Spanish prosecutors are building cases against the Polisario chief Brahim Ghali and his close aides for the crimes, abuses and human rights violations committed against sequestered Sahrawis in the Tindouf Camps, Southern Algeria.

Several complaints have been filed in Spain by associations and a young Sahrawi girl for human rights violations against the separatist thugs protected by the Algerian regime.

 

A total 29 members of the Polisario, including Bashir Mustapha Sayed, Jandoud Mohamed and Sid Ahmed Batal and four Algerian intelligence officers are accused of terrorism, genocide, torture, sexual assault, rape…

The Spanish Public prosecutors are weighing the charges against these villains who will not escape justice as Spain’s top criminal court has decided lately to keep their case open until Aug.5, 2021.

 

They must be held accountable for the crimes committed in the Tindouf Camps under the watch of the Algerian authorities, which continue to shelter and protect these criminals, refusing their extradition.





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MOROCCO: Polisario: Spanish justice continues investigation into Brahim Ghali’s crimes

North Africa Post (29.07.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Dt30mn – The Spanish prosecutors are building cases against the Polisario chief Brahim Ghali and his close aides for the crimes, abuses and human rights violations committed against sequestered Sahrawis in the Tindouf Camps, Southern Algeria.

 

Several complaints have been filed in Spain by associations and a young Sahrawi girl for human rights violations against the separatists thugs protected by the Algerian regime.

 

A total 29 members of the Polisario, including Bashir Mustapha Sayed, Jandoud Mohamed and Sid Ahmed Batal and four Algerian intelligence officers are accused of terrorism, genocide, torture, sexual assault, rape…

The Spanish Public prosecutors are weighing the charges against these villains who will not escape justice as Spain’s top criminal court has decided lately to keep their case open until Aug.5, 2021.

 

They must be held accountable for the crimes committed in the Tindouf Camps under the watch of the Algerian authorities, which continue to shelter and protect these criminals, refusing their extradition.





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MOROCCO: Could this be the end for Polisario Chief Brahim Ghali?

International sympathy with the breakaway group is losing traction as the Polisario Front continues to block UN-led efforts to resolve the conflict.

By Madeleine Handaji

 

Morocco World News (30.07.2020) – https://bit.ly/2PAEUIZ – The Spanish Criminal Court of the National Assembly has ruled in favor of pursuing a criminal case against the Polisario Front leadership. The case, and rumors of Algiers losing patience with the current head of the breakaway group, could spell the end for Polisario chief Brahim Ghali.

 

Ghali is facing an in-depth investigation into allegations of human rights breaches, including false imprisonment and torture, that the Spanish court has authorized until August 2021. Spanish prosecutors, having won the right to investigate further in the criminal court, are now beginning to compile evidence against Ghali and a number of other key Polisario figures.

 

Brahim Ghali is not alone in facing criminal charges but, as the pseudo-president of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario leader, many of the more serious charges are hanging over his head. The 29 Polisario leaders facing investigation and prosecution include Bachir Mustapha Sayed, Jandoud Mohamed, and Sid Ahmed Batal.

 

In 2019, Mustapha Sayed admitted to committing human rights breaches in a social media voice recording. The Polisario member said “serious crimes and overruns were committed against Moroccan Sahrawis and other former leaders of the Polisario, and that the officials involved in these abuses today regret their misdeeds, ask to open a new page and forget the past.”

 

While Spanish prosecutors have already compiled significant evidence against Ghali and his fellow Polisario leaders and will continue to consolidate the block of proof against the group, the challenge will be in following through on the prosecution while Ghali and company remain under the protection of Algeria.

 

Recent rumors in Algiers, however, suggest that Ghali’s time in the spotlight may be coming to an end and the Algerian powers that be are hoping to replace him with a younger, more malleable candidate in the near future, meaning that Ghali may end up as the Polisario’s sacrificial lamb as they “open a new page.”

 

Is it all over for Brahim Ghali?

 

Brahim Ghali became the leader of the Polisario Front on July 9, 2016 after a snap election sparked by the death of the former incumbent Mohamed Abdelaziz, who held the position for 40 years. For Ghali, however, it appears the Polisario leadership seat, and the special relationship with Algeria that comes with it, may come to an end after a mere four years.

 

And, as the demons close in on Ghali, the younger, more dynamic Abdelkader Taleb Oumar is jostling for the top position, seemingly with the full weight of the Algiers behind him. Currently serving as the Polisario Front’s representative in Algiers, Taleb Oumar challenged Ghali for the top spot in 2019 only to be slapped down by the current “president” for his lack of military experience.

 

Experts and observers have speculated that Algeria, as it undergoes its own mid-Hirak facelift under the presidency of Abdelmajid Tebboune, wants a fresher, more modern face at the head of the Polisario Front to put the rumors of aid embezzlement and human rights violations to bed once and for all.

 

Taleb Oumar’s reputation as having a more liberal worldview, as well as his vocal support for the UN-led peace process in Western Sahara, known as MINRUSO, consolidate his position as an attractive candidate who would lend gravitas to the Algerian president’s efforts to promote the “new Algeria.”

 

Brahim Ghali, born in 1949, has been at the forefront of the Polisario Front’s claims of independence since the group was born in 1973, consolidating his position as leader of the movement through his experience with the Polisario’s military wing. However, his military experience and alleged involvement in torture, illegal detention, and genocide that raised him to power, may be the source of his demise.

 

Both the European Union and the United Nations have been monitoring the situation in the Tindouf Camps, makeshift communities in Algeria that house 90,000 people under the control of the Polisario Front. Concern is rising over aid embezzlement, inhumane conditions, and crackdowns on opposing voices.

 

A group of 925 Sahrawi human rights NGOs recently released a statement to condemn the situation in Tindouf. The population living in the Tindouf camps “are left at the mercy of a non-governmental entity that exercises its control over these people with impunity, through armed militias,” the NGOs said.

 

Meanwhile, the Taxpayers’ Association of Europe, a federation of 29 national taxpayers’ associations, last month urged the European Commission to respond to Algeria and the Polisario’s ongoing embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Tindouf camps.

 

“We urge the Commission to ensure that the Algerian or Sahrawi individuals incriminated by the OLAF report no longer have access to aid funded by [EU] taxpayers,” head of the association’s Brussels office Walter Grupp told the EU.

 

Desperate tactics

 

As scrutiny over human rights breaches in Tindouf and the Polisario Front’s reticence to engage in the UN-led peace negotiations increases, Brahim Ghali has grown more desperate. Recent statements from the Polisario Front and Ghali himself expose panic, as Ghali loses his grip.

 

In mid-July, Ghali released a bizarre tirade, calling on Spain to take responsibility for its former colony. The statement said Polisario “holds Spain responsible for the suffering and tragedies caused to the Saharawi people” and claimed that Spain remains the “administrative power” in Western Sahara and therefore responsible for the “decolonization” of the region.

 

In the same erratic statement, the Polisario Front leader lashed out at France for supporting Morocco and accused the UN of not taking its role in the peacekeeping process seriously enough. The statement accused the Security Council of neglecting their duties in Western Sahara and called on the UN to “play their role effectively in this conflict in order to maintain international peace and security.”

 

Not for the first time, Ghali threatened to withdraw from the UN-led process unless his demands were met.

 

The statement included renewed calls for a referendum, an idea that the international community gave up on decades ago due to the impossibility of monitoring voter registration and the lack of clarity on who would be eligible to vote, suggesting that Ghali really is grasping at straws.

 

Ghali’s critics are circling as Spain’s criminal case against the Polisario Front’s leadership looms in the background: The cracks are beginning to show. It remains to be seen whether Ghali’s hand on the reins of power will survive the latest blow or whether Taleb Oumar will, indeed, rest his legs in Ghali’s still-warm chair, however, it is clear that the winds of change are blowing for the Polisario Front.





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Dozens of gay men are outed in Morocco as photos are spread online

The idea was to show the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing how many gay men are living quietly in straight society. It backfired badly.

 

By Aida Alami

 

The New York Times (26.04.2020) – https://nyti.ms/3aLsKVr – At least 50 to 100 gay men were outed in Morocco over the last two weeks, rights activists say, after the men were identified on location-based meeting apps while sheltering at home amid a coronavirus lockdown.

 

In at least three cases, men were kicked out of their houses, L.G.B.T.Q. activists said. In interviews, many others in the country said they had been blackmailed and threatened, and thousands fear that their photos will be spread on social media.

 

“Here I am just waiting for my death sentence,” said a young man whose photos were leaked online and who spoke anonymously for fear of being attacked. “I’m frustrated and scared.”

 

In Morocco, a North African kingdom where homosexuality and sex outside marriage are crimes, gay people are painfully accustomed to the feelings of peril and rejection, and many keep their sexual identities under wraps.

 

Now, their cover has been blown in a way that would be criminal in most Western societies, rights advocates say. Yet they have no legal recourse.

 

“Forcibly outing people is not just an obvious violation of their right to privacy,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the communications director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “When wrapped in incitement to hate and calls to violence based on sexual orientation, it’s also a crime.”

 

“A legal system respectful of universal rights would empower victims to press charges,” he said. “But in Morocco, same-sex behavior is also criminalized, so victims could find themselves trapped in a tragic catch-22 situation.”

 

What makes this episode particularly painful, gay leaders say, is that it was ignited by someone who had also been singled out.

 

On April 13, a Moroccan transgender Instagram personality based in Istanbul, Naoufal Moussa or Sofia Talouni, was insulted about her sexual orientation. In a rage, she released a profanity-laced video encouraging women to download the location-based meeting apps, like Grindr and Planet Romeo, which are usually used by gay men.

 

In subsequent videos, she said her aim was to reveal the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing her attackers how many gay men were living in their vicinity, perhaps even in their own homes.

 

Many people followed Ms. Moussa’s lead and created fake accounts on the apps to gather photos of gay men, which they then posted on private and public Facebook pages, setting off the homophobic attacks.

 

The attacks ignited a firestorm of criticism, both of Ms. Moussa and of Morocco’s discriminatory laws.

 

Adam Eli, the founder of the New York-based activist group Voices4, worked in coordination with Moroccan L.G.B.T.Q. rights activists to get Ms. Moussa’s Instagram account deleted.

 

“For now the account has been suspended, and already a new one has popped up,” he said. “We did not solve the issue of queer-phobia in Morocco. However, we showed a bunch of young queer people, who are scared and in quarantine, that they are not alone, that they have the force of the international queer community behind them.”

 

A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, confirmed that Ms. Moussa’s account had been suspended. “We don’t allow people to out members of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community because it puts them at risk,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “We’ve disabled Naoufal Moussa’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, and we’re taking proactive steps to find and remove other content like this.”

 

What seems to have set Ms. Moussa off was a late-night conversation with a little-known Instagram user, who in an interview asked to be identified only as Yassine, for fear for his safety.

 

Ms. Moussa has attained a measure of fame in recent months, using her platform to talk crudely about sex and to entertain her followers in an insolent and confrontational manner in vulgar Moroccan Arabic. That has made her an object of fascination and horror to her more than half-million followers.

 

And she is known to despise L.G.B.T.Q. people who do not make their sexual orientation known.

 

Yassine, a 22-year-old, said he was initially delighted to be picked to go live on Instagram with Ms. Moussa. But what felt like an honor rapidly turned into embarrassment and shock as Ms. Moussa compelled him to acknowledge that he was gay, threatening to post revealing photos showing him with another gay man. It is unclear how she obtained the photos.

 

“I was shocked and then very scared,” Yassine said. “She destroyed my life.”

 

He has since been forced to move out of the house of a family member and to use his savings to rent a small apartment in Tangier.

 

“Everybody is sending the video and saying bad things about me,” he said. “My mom, also, she’s very sad. She’s not talking to me anymore. My friends at the gym, friends I went to school with — they all blocked me.”

 

Many who saw the outing of Yassine were outraged and attacked Ms. Moussa, flagging her account to Instagram. That’s when she got angry and suggested downloading gay meeting apps, which led to the outburst of anti-gay violence.

 

“My dating life in Morocco was somehow OK as long as my partner and I were being super discreet and cautious,” said one gay man who asked to be identified only by his initials, N.A., and says his family hasn’t seen the photos. He has been staying with his grandmother and waiting in fear for something bad to happen.

 

Abdellah Taia, a prominent gay author and one of few to publicly declare his sexual orientation in Morocco, says that the state keeps people in a gray area, making them vulnerable to abuse and discrimination and forcing many into hiding.

 

“This is a great and bitter Moroccan comedy,” he said, adding of the pandemic that is exacerbating the situation: “Corona reveals every day a little more how the weakest on this Earth are even weaker and more ostracized than we thought. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It’s revolting.”

 

Morocco’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

 

The outing episode is seen by many as destroying a fragile balance that the country’s underground gay culture has built laboriously over the years, made even worse in a time of uncertainty and economic hardship. But they do have some support at home.

 

Nadia Bezad, the president of the Pan-African Organization for the Fight Against AIDS, said that while Morocco’s laws were unlikely to change, its health ministry encourages associations like hers to help vulnerable populations, including gay people.

 

“They can come to us without any danger or apprehension,” she said. “The reality is that they are tolerated but expected to remain invisible.”


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