- North Africa
- Western Sahara
- Demonstration - Colonisation - Human rights - Governance
Western Saharan hunger strikers and Morocco’s human rights violations
Worldwide appeals have been launched in support of thirty-six Saharawi hunger strikers reaching their 29th day of protests. The wave of hunger strikes, which have spread across seven Moroccan jails, began on 18 March with the political prisoners of conscience now experiencing desperately critical symptoms of medical deterioration.
International observers and local NGOs monitoring the hunger strikes in the Moroccan Occupied Territory of Western Sahara, are warning of the risk of an imminent humanitarian tragedy and an urgent need to intervene for the immediate release of the Saharawi prisoners. Fears about their critical medical conditions suggest they are nearing irreversible deterioration that could result in death, exacerbated by chronic illnesses resulting from previous years of incarceration and beatings in these Moroccan prisons.
The thirty-six Saharawi human rights advocates are on hunger strike in protest against Morocco’s illegal invasion and occupation of Western Sahara, as well as grave human rights and judicial violations such as arbitrary arrest, ‘disappearance’, false imprisonment, unfair trials and torture.
These Sahrawi political prisoners of conscious are well-known human rights campaigners, many of whom are recipients of prestigious international peace prizes. Yet they are subjected to various forms of repression by Moroccan authorities such as arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel; denial of the right to peaceful assembly, association, and expression; and detention without trail in Moroccan prisons for many months at a time.
For thirty-five years, Morocco has persistently ignored the International Court of Justice’s 1975 legal opinion, which rejected Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara, and reaffirmed indigenous Sahrawi rights to decolonization and self-determination. 1 Since its 1975 invasion, Morocco has subverted the decolonisation process by moving Moroccan settlers into the Occupied Territory, and defied more than 100 UN resolutions on the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination. Still today, Morocco continues to refuse independence and self-determination to the indigenous Saharawi population despite the fact that a growing group of international campaigners, lawyers, NGO’s and analysts question Morocco’s bending of international rules.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center), Western Sahara Resource Watch, the United Kingdom Parliamentary Human Rights Group on Western Sahara, War on Want, Western Sahara Campaign and Free Western Sahara Network have published statements (some directly to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon), demanding that the United Nations extends a mandate to monitor Morocco’s human rights violations, and halts Morocco’s illegal territorial violations that exploit the Western Sahara’s natural resources.2
International pressure is escalating to resolve the crisis and save the lives of the Saharawi human rights advocates by putting pressure on the Moroccan authorities to meet their human rights obligations. In a letter to the Guardian newspaper in December 2009, British filmmakers Paul Laverty and Ken Loach suggested that ‘the king and his government respect international law and join the civilised world’.3 Morocco’s persistent failure to do so generates an ever-increasing groundswell of condemnation by governments, civil society groups and human rights organisations around the world. Campaigners taking these urgent measures to save the lives of the Saharawi human rights advocates state that they are defending freedom, human dignity, and international law.
The Saharawi hunger strikers
Six of the Salé-imprisoned ‘Casablanca 7’ began their hunger strikes from 18 March 2010 in protest of their indefinite imprisonment and lack of clear charges. These are Ali Salem Tamek, Brahim Dahane, Yehdih Ettarrouzi, Ahmed Naciri, Saleh Labaihi and Rachid Sghayer.
The hunger strikers issued this statement on 18 March:
‘Our detention has been condemned by governments and parliaments around the world as well as human rights organisations, trade unions and civil society groups. We are being persecuted for exercising our right to express political opinion and engage in legitimate activities to protect the human the rights of our people. In protest at our detention we are today beginning an open hunger strike in order to expedite our claim to a fair trial and our release without condition. We call on democratic forces in the world to support our fight for our release and that of all Saharawi political prisoners held in Moroccan jails.’
Another 19 hunger strikers are in Tiznit prison and their hungerstrikes started from 20 March. These are Moustapha Abd-Dayem, Hreish Hassan, Mohamed Berkaoui, Bachir Isamïli, Mohamed Taghioullah Fekallah, Brahim Khalil Meghimiah, Khalihenna Abouhassan, Moulay Ali Bouamoud, Fadli Binhau, Mahmud Aboughassem, Sheiahu Hamza, Fathi Sid Ahmed, Daihani Abdallah, Mohamed Salami, Sawakh Djamal, Mahdjub Ailal, Hassan Mohamed Lehassen, Nourdinne Taher, Lehmam Salama.
And there are a further 3 hunger strikers in Boulmharez prison in Marrakech (El Waaban Said, Brahim Bariaz, Ali Salem Ablag), 3 in Layouune prison4 (Bachri Bentaleb, Ameidan Chej and Mohamed Berkan), 2 in Taroudant prison (Louali Amaidan and Jalad Hasan), 2 in Kenitra prison (Laaseiri Salec and Amaidan Saleh) and 1 in Bensliman prison (Hasan Abdelahi).5
Detailed medical information from the hunger strike monitoring groups draw attention to the dangerous symptoms the prisoners are experiencing at this stage of 29 days. These are listed variously among the prisoners as loss of consciousness, fatigue, migraines, asthma, acute cardiac and intestinal pain, asthma, vomiting and diarrhoea. Blood pressure and sugar levels are reported as decreasing alarmingly, with growing kidney, liver and gallbladder complications.6
The Saharawi Lawyers Association has also reported cases of neglect by Moroccan prison administrations, lack of proper medical assistance from prison clinics and staff, and Saharawi prisoner Hassan Abdullah in Bin Sliman is said to have been severely beaten by Moroccan prisoners at the incitement of prison staff.
To join the Urgent Campaign Action worldwide appeal and receive up-to-date and accurate Western Sahara news, please join the following campaign groups for further detailed information:
Free Western Sahara Network
Konstantina Isidoros is a doctoral researcher in anthropology at University of Oxford. Her field of study is the Sahara desert with special interest in the hassaniya-speaking populations of the western Sahara. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author. This document is an original transcript and copyrighted property of the author. Changes to this original transcript are not permitted without prior approval from the author.