Liberté, egalité, fraternité, génocide

November 18, 2010

News that the UN Security Council “deplores” the recent violence in the Moroccan-occupied territories of Western Sahara will be small comfort to the Sahrawi who are suffering death, beatings and disappearances in the disputed territory. While some members of the Security Council have proposed sending a UN investigative team to Western Sahara to assess the situation and the claims and counter-claims, the Council as a whole has decided to do nothing. It is likely to the point of certainty that France, Morocco’s long-time ally, played a key role in ensuring that Morocco was left to get on with its oppression. The United States is also apparently not keen on any action to address the violence. The UK, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, doesn’t come out looking good either.

The accounts coming out of Western Sahara talk of mass graves, thousands of people “disappeared”, bodies thrown out of helicopters, Moroccan settlers being armed and set on indigenous Sahrawi, and Moroccan forces stationed at hospitals beating Sahrawi seeking medical attention, and Moroccan taxi drivers taking them for treatment (apparently not all Moroccans are allowing themselves to be whipped up into a frenzy of bloody imperialism). These accounts will remain “officially” unsubstantiated as long as the lock-down in the occupied territories continues and journalists and other investigators are denied access to the areas concerned. Of course this it presumably the idea in the heads of the French and the US representatives on the Security Council – if nothing can be proved then nothing can be done, and their friends in Rabat can get away with perpetrating the worst violence seen in Western Sahara since the ceasefire in 1991.

This apathy, or rather protection of Morocco to ensure it can occupy, oppress and kill with impunity, is short sighted. If the above reports are correct, what is currently occurring in the occupied territories of Western Sahara could easily spill over into genocide. The G-word is often used liberally and emotionally, in a way that devalues its meaning. However, what we are seeing (or rather not seeing, and only hearing about via reports that remain unverified by independent sources because of the lack of journalists and observers on the ground) appears to be the orchestrated and bloody persecution of a particular ethnic group by an occupying power and its settlers. If the reports coming out of the occupied territories are accurate, the orchestrated persecution has progressed to mass murder. This certainly looks like the early stages of a genocide, and if the situation continues or escalates then use of the term will be fully justified.

France for one really should know better, after its complicity in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As a result of its support for the Hutu government, and by extension for the pro-government Interahamwe militias, France has effectively been kicked out of Rwanda, which has transformed iteslt from a Francophone country into an Anglophone one. By supporting a murderous regime in the name of retaining its post-colonial (some would say neo-colonial) influence in Africa, France became a pariah in Rwanda and ended up being excluded. France might always be able to count on Moroccan support, but it will not do itself any favours in the wider region by supporting a second African genocide in as many decades.


Note 1: Apparently it’s not just me that sees the hallmarks of genocide here. More authoritative foreign voices on the ground think so too.