Over one hundred eyewitness videos show systematic human rights violations by Morocco in Western Sahara

April 26. — An international team of expert video curators has reviewed over one hundred eyewitness videos filmed clandestinely by activists under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara and found a pattern of systematic human rights violations committed by Morocco against the Sahrawi indigenous population.

These violations include police brutality and violent interventions against peaceful demonstrations calling for rights such as education, employment, free speech, freedom of assembly and a long-promised vote on self-determination to end Morocco’s 41-year occupation.

Just ahead of the April 27 UN Security Council vote to renew its peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, the team at Watching Western Sahara has released its first annual report summarizing the social movements and patterns of human rights violations that are seen in collected videos from Sahrawi citizen journalists.

“In a place where foreign journalists are frequently expelled, international advocates and investigators banned, and local media censored, at-risk Sahrawi journalists provide practically the only source of on-the-ground reporting from Western Sahara,” said Madeleine Bair, Managing Editor of Watching Western Sahara.

For the past year, Watching Western Sahara, an initiative of the Western Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara) and the WITNESS Media Lab, has curated and shared on its online platform over one hundred eyewitness videos from Western Sahara. The videos provide a unique and extraordinary window into a little-known, resources-rich territory that is referred to by many as “Africa’s last colony”.

“Given the current absence of UN human rights monitoring in the Western Sahara, the control of the press by Morocco, the banning of international human rights organizations, and the frequent expulsion of journalists and international observers, there is very little documentation to scrutinize to understand the state of human rights under Moroccan occupation” the report states. “And it may be one reason the Security Council continues, each April, to decline calls by Sahrawis and international human rights groups to implement its own human rights monitoring system by for its mission.”

“Out of sight, out of mind,” it concludes.

Background:

In 1975 Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara as Spain, the former colonial power, was withdrawing. Over one hundred thousands Sahrawis fled the occupation and settled in refugee camps in Southwestern Algeria, while others stayed in their homeland and now live under occupation. A protracted 16-year war followed between the Sahrawis, represented by the Polisario Front, and Morocco and Mauritania, which withdrew. In 1991 the United Nations brokered a cease-fire and promised a referendum on self-determination that is yet to be held.