A United Nations human rights expert has blasted Morocco for ongoing human rights abuses in Western Sahara, the disputed land that remains mostly occupied by the African country.
Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said that human rights activists in #Morocco and the disputed North African territory are being harassed by the authorities.
“Not only do human rights defenders working on issues related to human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be wrongfully criminalised for their legitimate activities, they receive disproportionately long prison sentences,” said #Lawlor in a press release. “And whilst imprisoned, they are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture.”
To the United Nations, Western #Sahara is a non-self-governing territory. However, Morocco secured control over most of the territory following the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.
The land is also claimed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a self-proclaimed state that only controls part of Western Sahara. Morocco’s neighbor Algeria backs this claim. There is also a large Sahrawi refugee population in the country.
In 2020, the United States under President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, but his successor, Joe Biden, says he has yet to decide whether the decision should be withdrawn or not. The move by Trump marked a U-turn for years of US policy in favor of the opposition to Morocco’s claim.
Lawlor spoke of a “systematic and relentless targeting” of people working to highlight human rights issues in Western Sahara, including some who engage with the UN.
She named the case of Sultana Khaya, a rights activist who has been prevented from leaving her home in the Western Saharan city Laayoune since November of last year. Khaya is president of the League for the Defense of Human Rights and Protection of Natural Resources, which works for Western Saharan self-determination.
“For the last seven months, police and security vehicles have blocked access to the house, preventing the family from leaving, and relatives have frequently been unable to deliver vital provisions,” said Lawlor.
The rapporteur added that Khaya and her sister Luara were sexually assaulted by Moroccan officers during a raid in May, among other transgressions.
According to her, the Moroccan authorities have subjected members of the Saharawi Organ against the Moroccan Occupation organization, founded in September 2020, to violent arrests and torture.
Human Rights Watch has also reported a crackdown on dissent in Western Sahara.
The Moroccan government is determined in its position that the territory is theirs so much so thatit recalled its ambassador from Germany in May due to the European country’s “negative stance” on Western Sahara.