Human Rights in Western Sahara & the Refugee Camps: Report

Human Rights Watch has released a 216 page report on human rights in Western Sahara (focusing on the Moroccan-occupied areas) and in the Polisario-run Sahrawi refugee camps around the Algerian town of Tindouf. You can download it from this page:

Even without having read it, I’m confident it will make more reliable reading than the claims of partisans from either side of the conflict, which can be found on a variety of web-based discussion forums, as some of us know only too well. If I have time to read and digest it I may comment on it, but no promises. And it is probably best to let the report speak for itself, unless there is anything specific in it to take issue with or discuss at greater length.


18 Responses to Human Rights in Western Sahara & the Refugee Camps: Report

  1. jilliancyork says:

    Thank you for adding more blog links! I will certainly check out the couple that I hadn’t seen before. I’m still trying to sort out an aggregator for W. Sahara blogs; I bought the domain name awhile back but am at a loss when it comes to building web sites!

  2. Nikolaj says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for all this great information. I recently returned from the occupied territories and met with numerous human rights activists. I’ve profiled quite a few and added their testimonies onto my site which you may find of interest at the Human Rights blog (Foreign Policy Association).


  3. I am living 300 days a year in Laayoune and I know more than you at least what is really happening. 20 or 30 separatists can’t be serious enough to change the world. More than 280.000 people are living in Laayoune city in peace and harmony.

    The 20 or 30 separatists are free to express themselves. They are free to move. Aminatou Haidar is moving abroad with her moroccan passport. What’s the hell are you looking for?

    Do you really believe on the non spontanous picture of the “black prison” of Laayoune where all people are shown as political imprisonners or the blody picture of Aminatou? Do you really believe these 2 pictures are spontanous?? You can’t be serious

  4. Van Kaas says:

    At the occasion of the installation of the Royal Advisery Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) his excellency Mohommed VI said: “I urge you to propose initiatives for the return and integration of your fellow citizens held captive in the Tindouf camps, so that they may come back to their merciful, forgiving homeland.”
    The HRW report makes it very clear this was a very silly statement of his excellency.
    The CORCAS can be dismantled now for it’s mission is impossible: the Saharawi refugees are not Moroccan nationals held captive.

  5. CORCAS is more credible for the sahraouis than Polisario leaders. CORCAS is unifying families. CORCAS is working on the progress of the region. CORCAS is defending the interests of every sahraoui. CORCAS is concrete and real. CORCAS is advising the king in the region. CORCAS isn’t promising unrealistic matters.
    Polisario leaders have been killing all who are against them. Polisario leaders are separating families. Polisario leaders are lying since 1976 on the situation on the ground. Polisario leaders are uncompetents and ignorants. Polisario leaders are representing themselves and only themselves. They are not the voice of the unionist sahraouis nor the ones living in Tindouf camps. It’s pity they can’t express their will in a free vote : staying in the camps or returning in the Western Sahara region!!

  6. nickbrooks says:

    “It’s pity they can’t express their will in a free vote : staying in the camps or returning in the Western Sahara region!!”

    …or voting freely for self-determination through independence in a sovereign, self-governing Western Sahara. Of course Morocco continues to block any referendum that includes this option, calling it (as has Ahmed Salem on many occasions) “unrealistic”. The Polisario has accepted the idea of a referendum that includes options of independence, limited autonomy within Morocco, or full integration of Western Sahara into Morocco. They are even (apparently) prepared to extend the vote to Moroccan settlers. But still Morocco says no. Evidently Morocco is scared that the Sahrawi (and even the Moroccan settlers) will vote to be independent, rejecting inclusion into Morocco. That speaks volumes about the situation in Western Sahara and about the propaganda that insists that the people in the camps are really Moroccans who want to return to the motherland.

    Ahmed Salem loves CORCAS, and I suspect it is part of his job to promote this body of tame royal appointees on behalf of the Moroccan government. CORCAS is a body that claims to represent the Sahrawi people, but which steadfastly adheres to the line of the occupying Moroccan government that the Sahrawi should not be allowed to vote on independence. It makes CORCAS sound like a crock, a rubber stamp for the aggressive and illegal actions of the Moroccan state, as far as I’m concerned.

    As for the Polisario killing all who are against, them, the answers to these allegations are contained in the HRW report. But then Morocco has apparently claimed that the Algerian government is behind this report. I heard it was actually a conspiracy involving the Knights Templar, international freemasonry, Elvis and some aliens, which would be just as credible.

  7. I am supporting CORCAS because CORCAS is talking on behalf of the unionist sahraouis and I am an unionist sahraoui.
    Nick, you are wrong on saying that Polisario Front accepted the vote of people coming from the north of the country. They have never accepted it. If Polisario Front accepted this point the referendum would have been concrete when M. Backer was the personal envoy of the SG.
    People living in Tindouf camps south Algeria want to live better but they are not allowed to expres their view point on their life. As the HRW report mentions, there is no mean to make opposition to the actual leaders. If any, people are oppressed and tortured. HRW representaive spent 3 days in Tindouf camps. Do you think 3 days are enough to make conclusions on a sensitive subject?
    You may know that everything is under control in Tindouf camps. Visits of international people are under control. Depending on the context of the visits, international people are conducted to one of the 5 camps. You can’t make a visit by surprise. People living in the camps can’t move freely from a camp to another!!!
    Again, CORCAS is doing a very good job to ensure reconciliation between the sahraouis.
    FYI, the term “unrealistic” associated to independence belongs to M. Walsum the previous personal envoy of the SG of the UN.
    Algeria is behind everything in this issue. Every action to support separatismn Western Sahara is sponsored by Algeria in different manners. It could be a cultural event, it could be a scientific research like your Western Sahara project…etc. The shadow of Algeria is everywhere like for the “African Oil Company” sponsoring your project. I am not blaming you to play a certain role in this machination but you should resign from this financial dependency to be more credible.

    Sorry I forgot : Happy New Year 2009. I wish this year will be the year of the great reconciliation of the sahraouis, the unionists and the separatists.

    Ahmed Salem

  8. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed S

    I’m not defending the Polisario’s democratic credentials. I’m not their apologist. Some of your criticisms are valid, although I think the allegation that they torture their opponents is questionable these days. The impression given in the HRW report is that people are free to criticise the Polisario, but not to really organise in opposition to them. Opponents are marginalised and some of them finally just get up and leave. I’ve not heard of any credible recent individual cases of people being persecuted by the Polisario (although their past record has not always been so good).

    In contrast I hear of lots of people being arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured and some of them killed by Moroccan occupation forces west and north of the berm. Not all of this is from the Polisario propaganda machine. There are plenty of reports emanating from the occupied territories themselves, and some of the bodies monitoring this are local Sahrawi groups in the occupied areas that are independent of the Polisario. I’ve heard a number of testimonies from Sahrawi who have left the occupied areas as well as from foreigners who have spent time there that indicate that the situation is far from good for the Sahrawi. For example, I recently spoke to some Norwegians who had some very unpleasant stories from their time in the occupied territories. Just turning up and expressing an interest in the area was enough to get one arrested. Anyone who follows the situation knows that disagreeing with the Moroccan government line in the occupied Western Sahara gets you into serious trouble, and that the Sahrawi are treated pretty badly by the Moroccan occupation forces, and also by the police and sometimes also by the general citizenry if they live or study in Morocco itself. Given a choice between your online claims and the claims of people I’ve actually met who have lived or travelled in the occupied areas, I am inclined to give more credence to the latter.

    Polisario may control access to the camps, but by all accounts it is pretty much impossible to turn up in the occupied territories by surprise and move and talk freely to local people without arousing interest from the security apparatus there. You’re making a lot of accusation about life in the camps that don’t stand up to scrutiny, and claiming that life in occupied Western Sahara is some sort of paradise when we all know the reality is very different. Anyone can make assertions, and most of yours just aren’t credible, if only because of your refusal to admit that there are political problems related to Morocco’s occupation, and your unrealistic claims about conditions in the Moroccan-controlled area. These claims look just like the propaganda they are – no reality is as bipolar as the black and white world you seem to live in. You may claim to speak for the unionist Sahrawi, but I wonder how many of these people actually exist? I suspect the number is very small. By defending a government that abuses the people you claim to represent and which refuses to allow them to determine their own fate you lose credibility.

    A much more convincing approach would be for you to acknowledge the excesses of the Moroccan regime, stop pretending that the Polisario are evil incarnate, and argue that the best route to necessary reform is through continued political resistance and organisation within the occupied territories. This way you could argue for the inclusion of Western Sahara in Morocco without looking like a royal sycophant, and be a more credible representative of the Sahrawi (and I still am not convinced you are Sahrawi). There would be an argument here that would be more reasonable and convincing than the childish good-versus-evil story you insist on recycling. Of course even this argument would have to address the issues of partition and the refugees, but a nuanced approach addressing the real problems would be more credible and constructive than a pretence that everything is perfect, or would be if only those wicked Algerians and their Polisario puppets would just disappear. They’re not going to disappear, and the situation is more complex than you pretend.

    A final word about Algeria – of course it has a huge influence over what goes with the Polisario. But to view the Polisario as its creation is disingenuous and – again – childishly simplistic. I don’t know what the stake of Algeria in Ophir is – do you have a figure for the proportion of share value held by the Algerian regime? You must do, as you are so keen on this line of argument, and it must be based on quantitative evidence by its very nature. So I look forward to your telling me precisely what this figure is and pointing me to independent verification of this claim. What I do know is that the majority stake in Ophir is South African (an individual who is old comrade of Mandela’s from the anti-apartied struggle from what I hear). South Africa likes the Polisario because it sees their struggle as one against colonialism. This is the real force behind Ophir’s interest in Western Sahara, in conjunction with the historical links between its board (all British) and the territory. Maybe you disapprove of the ANC link, and would prefer that South Africa was still ruled under apartied? This would be compatible with you colonialist mindset.

  9. glennanderson says:

    Thanks for bringing your website on my radar, I appreciate your comments on my post which I, as I confessed, were naive and wrong. I would quite enjoy talking you more about Western Sahara and your experiences.

    Consider yourself on my RSS reader!

    Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad, I would be more than willing to meet you anywhere in Morocco to discuss your views and interview you. My French and Darija Arabic are not great, but I manage to get around. Hell, I can even confirm if your Sahwri much to Brooks skepticism. As a supporter of CORCAS here is your chance to get your views out there, aside from dueling with Mr. Brooks on his site.

  10. nickbrooks says:

    Glenn – thanks for the comment. I think I recall your post – about the integration of Western Sahara within Morocco. I hope I was diplomatic in my response to it!

    You know there could be an argument for that if it wasn’t for the de facto partition of the territory and the refusal of Morocco to acknowledge, let alone address this, as well as its less than constructive approach to the issue of refugees and return. At the end of the day Morocco is in conflict with the International Court of Justice, the UN and its various resolutions on the conflict, and – in the view of many of us – basic ethics.

    I think you should definitely try and interview Ahmed Salem. I’d love to know if he really is a Sahrawi. There are certainly Sahrawi in CORCAS and Sahrawi who support the idea of integration into Morocco. There are Sahrawi who have left the camps to live in the Moroccan-controlled zone. My question is how many there area, and how representative their views are of the Sahrawi in general. In the camps I think the number of people who would favour integration into Morocco is minimal – most people seem to hold quite the opposite view even to the extent of favouring renewing the military conflict (and are thus more radical than the Polisario leadership in this respect). I also think that any Sahrawi supporting integration with Morocco is most likely to do so from a practical perspective that leads them to believe that, while this may not be ideal, at least it represents a way of breaking the existing deadlock and moving forward constructively, based on a view that improvements for the Sahrawi are more likely to come (eventually) through political activity within the framework of a greater Morocco than through a continuation of the status quo under which the positions of the parties are irreconcilable.

    Issues of refugees and partition notwithstanding (and these are highly problematic), this would be a reasonable and understandable view (at least to me). But it is miles away from the slavish parrotting of the Moroccan government line that we hear from Ahmed Salem and his ilk. It is this simpistic, polarising propaganda that makes me think he may not be who he claims, but rather a government propagandist peddling crude nonsense about the wonderful Moroccan monarchy and the evil Polisario. But then Morocco will seize on any opportunity to push its position (so will the Polisario of course), and any Sahrawi who gives any time to the idea of integration is likely to be exploited by the Moroccan regime and coached in a particular line of argument that reflects state propaganda. So who knows.

    Ahmed Salem, I’d urge you to meet Glenn and give him an interview. Maybe he can convince me that you are really a Sahrawi, if you can convince him.

  11. glennanderson says:

    Since Mr. Ahmed Salem has been relatively quiet since my offer was extended. The offer still stands, and I’ll be willing to travel anywhere in Morocco to meet you. No charge except your time.

    I have no financial or malicious intent. I’m just a simple student who wants to know what you think.

    Here is my Moroccan cellphone:

    My email:

    The ball is on your side good sir.

  12. Sorry Glenn, I have more to do for my livelihood and I haven’t much time to play ping-pong with Nick on a subject he doesn’t master in depth. FYI, we had a lot of give and take ideas before this chat about human rights in the Western Sahara region and the role of the unionist sahraouis in supporting reconciliation instead of a sterile status quo who desserves of course Nick activities in the region ;-). Glenn, you are in connection with Nick for some reasons. I don’t care of that but the thing I am aware about is that you are living in Ifrane in a very nice place inside of Morocco and you seem to be under the spell of Polisario. What I want to say is that you can say whatever you want about the Western Sahara issue in Morocco. The sole thing you need to respect is to avoid violence. Same as people living in the Western Sahara region, people can be on strike wherever they want, they can say whatever they want but when it comes to violence police forces react. It happens everywhere in the world. The most democratic countries are concerned of violence on strikes.

    I have no complex to say I am talking on behalf of the unionist sahraouis. 75% of sahraouis listed by the Minurso are living in the Western Sahara region. The other 25% of sahraouis eligible to vote are living in Tindouf camps south Algeria. Nick has some problems to differenciate between people on strike and people eligible to vote. People on strike have nothing to do with the referendum. People on strike are in the majority from the north of the disputed region. Nick is in general making confusion on talking about the Western Sahara issue. The advocacy of Nick is motivated somehow by a sponsorship. I have some difficulties to master the intellectual motivation of Nick. I am asking him to illuminate me and us right now about this. I didn’t get any credible reason on his political activism on a subject he doesn’t know and will never know in depth.

    As Nick is far from the region and as he is only reading and looking at what he got in his mailbox. He can’t get the right figures of the issue. I believe giving and taking ideas with Nick is simply a waste because his arguments are biases far from the reality on the ground.

    Regarding your proposition for an interview, I am not a STAR or a special man, I am just a businessman who reacts against propagation and allegations on Internet about the Western Sahara issue.

    I personnally have income bonds which are more important to me. I have no time or will to talk/meet anyone to talk about this issue. It’s not my job. I am not politician, I am not working for any body as Nick is trying to convey on his blog. I am just an unionist sahraoui and proud of it. I would like to show to internet readers that we represent the majority and that we support a happy end to this absurd cold war conflict. It appears that the autonomy initiative is the solution to end the running status quo. Having said that, we can echange ideas by email : I have no contraints with that.


    Ahmed Salem

  13. nickbrooks says:

    Glenn – I think that was a very long “no” from Ahmed Salem. No time to meet you, but lots of time to post pro-Rabat propaganda and belligerent assertions on the internet. In the interests of avoiding charges of hypocrisy, I should add that if you find yourself in the UK I’ll be happy to meet you to talk about Western Sahara. AS sees anything that doesn’t agree with Morocco’s line as propaganda, so I’ll just have to live with those accusations.

    AS – I didn’t approve your other comment which consisted almost entirely of slander about my motivations and piffle about “Algerian contracts”. There was nothing in it apart from your usual assertions and personal attacks. No use, no purpose, no point. Sorry. I won’t approve that sort of comment as it’s just meaningless crap and doesn’t illuminate anything. It’s easy to make accusations. You work for the Moroccan government and your job is to push propaganda. This is what you are paid for. See – it’s easy. What I’ve said may or may not be true – I have my suspicious but I don’t know. So there’s not much point in my boldly stating it as fact (except in this illustrative capacity). The debate needs to be more mature than that – I’m running a blog not a playground for five year olds.

  14. Nick,

    You point out something very interesting for the debate. You said ‘you are running a blog’. OK no problem but you are running a blog to attack Morocco. If someone reads your blog, he will get ONE and ONLY ONDE VIEW of the issue. Is that fair? I believe no. You are free to say whatever you want in your blog but you can’t make it biases. You have no right to lie, to exaggerate some facts, to make some wrong information established facts. You have no right to do so. You come from the West and the reputation of the West is democracy and righteousness but you are not. Do you really think a man working for the moroccan securities will have this freedom of expression to discuss a sensitive problem. You simply dream about it. I am a free mind and I will remain a free mind and I hate injustice, intolerance and bad faith. I can’t let you say that the unionist sahraoui are persecuted 24h a day and 365 days a year. Sorry but I can’t. TBC

  15. I can’t let you spread words and expression propagated by Polisario leaders and Algeria. I am not looking for your trust because your idea is done and looks irrevocable. What I am saying is that you are desserving the cause. You aren’t looking for a happy end to this absurd conflict. We, the unionist sahraouis, are looking for a happy end. We want to join our families from both sides. We are fed up of people like you who are far from the region and its social/historical specifities and who are working on maintaining the status quo. We really don’t need your help or the help of anyone who want to maintain the conflict as it is. Our region needs more development/social economy than this political conflict. So please be honest and credible if you really look to help the sahraouis. We don’t want communism (Algeria), we don’t darkness (Al Qaida) and we don’t want oppression and incompetence (Polisario).

  16. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem

    Here are a few succinct responses.

    The point of the blog is to comment on the situation in Western Sahara, among other things. Most, but by no means all posts to date have been about Western Sahara, and of those that have, not all have been concerned with Morocco’s actions there. The material on the blog includes criticism of Morocco’s stance and actions on the specific issue of Western Sahara. I’m not spending my time simply attacking Morocco. I’m generally not covering incidents in Morocco that I could certainly use to portray the kingdom in a bad light – there are plenty of these and if I just wanted to attack Morocco I’d focus on the numerous abuses of human rights, killings, beatings and torture of Sahrawi, prosecutions of people critical of the Monarchy, etc etc. So you’re being over-sensitive here.

    I have no obligation to counter every critical story with one that tells “the other side”, any more than all those CORCAS websites you love so much have an obligation to balance their reporting with the Polisario side of the story or the views of those critical of CORCAS and the Moroccan state it serves. You’re exercising double standards and hypocrisy in demanding what you see as balance. I believe in fairness and accuracy, not balance for its own sake regardless of reality. Balance is not desirable when it involves balancing facts with fiction and truth with lies.

    You and your fellow propagandists are the ones lying and peddling fiction. I have no interest in making anything up. Like most representatives of oppressive regimes, you seem to think you have the right to say whatever you want about those you disapprove of and want to silence, but scream about how unfair it is when they have an opportunity to express their opinions and respond to your propaganda. You shouldn’t dish out criticism unless you can take it.

    You seem to be saying that I should accept that Moroccans are not allowed by the security services to discuss sensitive problems, and that I should act as if I was a Moroccan without the right to freedom of political expression. This seems to amount to a complaint that I am not subject to the authority of the Moroccan security services. This must make you feel very frustrated. But it is not my problem.

    I’m not arguing that “unionist Sahrawi” are constantly persecuted. It’s the independence-minded Sahrawi who seem to be bearing the brunt of the persecution.

    You say you’re looking for a “happy end” to the conflict in supporting the Moroccan autonomy plan. But this plan is unworkable because it ignores the fact that Western Sahara is partitioned, and because it fails to address the right of return of refugees. In fact Morocco pretends that Western Sahara is entirely under its control and downplays the number of refugees in the camps. So it is starting in bad faith, from a position designed to mislead. The autonomy plan can only sustain the status quo or lead to conflict. It is nothing but a PR exercise designed to make Morocco look as if it is acting constructively when all it is doing is entrenching its position and freezing the conflict. It is Morocco that has been vetoing the referendum in recent years, and it is this that has sustained the status quo.

    The only way to end the conflict successfully is to hold the referendum that Morocco signed up to and which the UN has been mandated to oversee. Let the Sahrawi (and even the settlers) vote on whether they want to be part of Morocco, have limited autonomy, or live within an independent Western Sahara. You always say the Sahrawi love Morocco and want to be part of it, so let them demonstrate it in a free and fair referendum. If the Sahrawi in the occupied areas and in the camps vote in a free and fair referendum for Western Sahara to become part of Morocco I’ll be happy to shut up. In the meantime I can only insist that you are against the referendum because all your claims about the wishes of the Sahrawi to be Moroccan, the evil nature of the Polisario and the tyranny in the camps, and the benign nature of the Moroccan administration of Western Sahara are simply propaganda with little or no basis in fact. If all you claim is true it’s easy to prove me wrong through action, so do it and hold the mandated referendum.

    I have a big sense of deja vu here – we have had this same set of arguments so many times before in other fora. I’m not going to approve more comments that just recycle the same tired old complaints and propaganda. If you have anything new to say then fine, but this is a waste of time for both of us. I’m not going to roll over and let you use my blog as a platform for baseless propaganda that turns reality on its head. Why would I do that? Neither CORCAS nor the Moroccan state would afford me the same right to reply that you have here – all you keep doing as a representative of Morocco is telling me to shut up and complaining that I am expressing my opinion. This may be acceptable behaviour for the Moroccan security services (of which I still suspect you are a representative), but the mandate of Rabat’s thought police does not extend outside of the areas under their physical control. Live with it.

    You can always set up another propaganda site to vent your spleen – maybe “Nick Brooks Confidential” or “Nick Brooks Think Twice” would be good names for a website on which you post lots of slander and bullshit (after the Moroccan-run “Polisario Confidential” and “Polisario Think Twice” websites which were set up to spread black propaganda about the Polisario and the conditions in the camps). This seems to be a favoured tactic of you and your colleagues. I’ll await the launch and keep an eye on Google.

  17. Nick, you are right. It’s a real waste to talk to you about a conflict you don’t know in depth and you will never know in depth.
    Your arguments are biases and I have no respect to you as a motivated propagandist.
    You give yourself the right to make judgments on Morocco and his king simply because you are from the north but what about the united kingdom and its social & economical challenges, I am sure there is so much to blog about your country. I am more polite than you are. I won’t insult your royalties even I am against royalties. I will insult your dodgy mind maybe but not people I don’t know and will never!
    You represent nothing for the sahraouis, the moroccans and their king as well.
    You are simply an old fashion mind with an old fashion spirit. I can tell you that your voice doesn’t hurt at all and will never hurt.

    Take care to your sponsorship! The Polisario game is coming over 😉

  18. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem

    We have a saying here that goes something like “give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself”. So in that spirit I’m approving your comment. I’m wondering how you think I’ve insulted your royalties, as you put it – I know the Monarchy is sensitive, and perhaps now I can see how easy it is for Moroccan citizens to get into hot water if they can insult the King without realising it. You can insult my royalties all you like – they’re just people who happen to hold some symbolic status as a result of history.

    You keep telling me to blog about the UK or the US. Why so? Plenty of people are doing so, but few are talking about the Western Sahara. And if people like me shut up we’ll just be left with unchallenged propaganda from Rabat and its cronies. So sorry, I’m going to have to disappoint you.

    I don’t understand how you can spend so much time talking to someone you don’t respect. And I have to say that your last comment is not very polite at all, not that such a fact surprises me.

    As for old fashioned, well I don’t object to that charge. Values such as fairness, truth, liberty and the right of people to determine their own future are often seen as old fashioned by the proponents of a belligerent, destructive modernity based on a muscular utiopianism that has its roots in misguidned western beliefs that some societies are superior to others and therefore have the right to take what they want in the name of spreading civilisation. It seems you’ve bought into this hook line and sinker. It’s a sad spectacle.

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