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Court-martial in Rabat

The sentence passed on 24 Sahrawis for killing 11 policemen is based on suspect evidence

The protest camp of Gdeim Izik, on the outskirts of Laâyoune in the Western Sahara territory, was the greatest Sahrawi demonstration since Spain handed its former colony over to Morocco in 1975. Beginning in mid-October of 2010, some 20,000 members of the local population, known as Sahrawis, gathered there peacefully to call for a series of social demands. On the morning of November 8, the Moroccan police attacked the camp. In the operation, and in subsequent confrontations in the city of Laâyoune, 11 riot policemen were killed, as well as two Sahrawi civilians. A young man had previously died at a checkpoint, having been shot by a gendarme.

Twenty-seven months after these events, 24 Sahrawi activists, including intellectual Naama Asfari, have been convicted by a military court in Rabat. Apart from two cases, the convictions, for “violence against agents of the law resulting in death,” have resulted in harsh sentences: eight of life imprisonment, four of 30 years, and 10 of between 20 and 25 years.

Appearances may be deceptive. The defense lawyers and the defendants were able to say their piece before the court. The activists even used arguments and raised voices to defend the Sahara territory’s right to self-determination. There were international observers present in the room.

But procedural questions apart, the activists were tried by a military court, against which, in practice, there is no appeal. The court declined to investigate the accusations of torture made by the accused. The convictions are based on confessions made to the judicial police, which the activists say were invented or obtained under duress. The fingerprints of the accused do not appear on the weapons used against the police, nor can they be recognized in a video of the attack shown in the court at the behest of the prosecution.

Human rights

The course of the largest trial of Sahrawis since Rabat began to administer the territory shows that while human rights are still in rather short supply in Morocco, in the Sahara territory this is even more the case.

In April the Western Sahara conflict will be back on the agenda of the UN Security Council. To ensure greater respect for human rights in the territory, it is high time that Miniurso, the UN contingent deployed there, was entrusted with overseeing their application, as are many other peacekeeping forces.

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