Full text here. No news, so no comment.
This blog is no longer active, but I continue to post at the group blog MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW.
Oct 31, 2007
Full text here. No news, so no comment.
A leading Spanish anti-terrorism judge is to open an inquest into suspected atrocities committed against North African Saharawi people, a court statement said Tuesday.
The offenses, which include genocide, assassination, injury and torture, are believed to have taken place in the mid-1970s, when Spain withdrew from its former colony of Western Sahara, a statement by National Court judge Baltasar Garzon said.
Spain abandoned the territory following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and Morocco then invaded.
"An attempt at genocide did happen and this inquest is important because the Saharawi people ask for justice," said Mohamed Sidati, Polisario Front Minister-Delegate for Europe. The Polisario Front supports self-determination for the Saharawi people.
Garzon is to probe whether sufficient evidence exists to prosecute 13 Moroccan citizens suspected of having carried out crimes during and after the territorial annexation.
"It's time the Saharawi people's fate was finally talked about," said Jose Taboada, a support group spokesman.
Spain's so-called universal justice principle — established by the National Court in 1998 — allows courts here the legal right to prosecute crimes alleged to have been committed in other countries.
Garzon used it in a vain attempt to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for genocide and other crimes in his country. Britain, which had arrested Pinochet in London on a Spanish warrant, declined to extradite Pinochet, citing his poor health.
The principle, part of a growing body of international law, also underpinned a trial in Madrid that convicted Imad Yarkas, a suspected al-Qaida cell leader.
Yarkas was sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy and heading a terrorist organization linked with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Garzon has called witnesses to begin giving evidence on Dec. 11-12, the statement said.
Several previous inquests into suspected crimes against the Saharawi people have been shelved for lack of evidence said Maria Jose Fisac, a lawyer linked to Saharawi legal cases.
And there you go. A few comments. First, the most spectacular charge, that of genocide, probably will not stick. Even in the unlikely event that one found evidence of genocide (or more likely, attempted genocide) in some part of Western Sahara during the invasion, the court will still need to prove intent on the part of the responsible authorities, as well as establish a chain of command that links the accused with the soldiers doing the actual bombing, kidnapping and shooting. None of that is realistically possible as long as the Moroccan government side refuses to testify, which it will do whether guilty or not. (This is precisely why was so difficult to convict extradited Serbian war criminals, even after it had been established that genocide did take place in Srebrenica: the prosecutors found it exceedingly hard to prove that an order for mass killings had been communicated and understood from top to bottom.)
However, the less newsworthy charges of murder, torture and kidnappings are not at all as hard to prove. There's tons of evidence of atrocities in the Western Sahara -- thanks to Sahrawi activists, as well as Amnesty International and other human rights groups -- and there are plenty of witnesses and victims who are already abroad, in Spain, France and of course Algeria and Mauritania, and so can't be prevented to come to testify. That makes these seemingly less important charges even more troubling for the accused and their regime in Morocco. After all, a single murder is quite enough to convict a single murderer, and even if the court would convict only one minor figure, say a local police commander, the Moroccan government will be in a very delicate position. If it ignores the case and refuses to extradite him, it goes on record as protecting a murderer, and may face a protracted battle with Spanish justice. But if it complies, even worse: that would be taken as acknowledgement in principle that its rule in Western Sahara was installed and perpetuated through atrocious methods, and also that its officials and employees are accessible to foreign justice in the future. But of course, that's provided the investigations go as far as to trial, and nothing seems less certain right now.
On a side note, this is turning out to be general Hosni Benslimane's worst week in quite some time. Here he is, the highest-ranking general in the Moroccan army and a true pillar of the Makhzen ruling class, with his name smeared by an international genocide investigation. Then, adding injury to insult, a French judge decided just the other day to demand his arrest and extradition via Interpol, claiming he was involved in the kidnap and murder of opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka, a JFK-style national trauma in Morocco that has been unsolved since 1965. These foreigners just don't have the proper respect for a man in uniform. (Full details and legal analysis of the Ben Barka case at Ibn Kafka's, in French.)
UPDATE: If you needed any further proof that this is a sensitive area for the gentlemen in charge in Morocco, here's plenty. The Moroccan government has publicly denounced Spain for crossing the "red lines" in their most brotherly relationship, and just recalled its ambassador from Madrid for "consultations". In addition to that, it suddenly remembered the country's old claims on Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish city-enclaves on the Moroccan coast, which were quietly and conveniently forgotten when Spain lined up behind Morocco's autonomy plan.
Oct 28, 2007
Below is an interesting, unusually good though not flawless, report on the upcoming Security Council resolution, scheduled for October 31. Not much new, it seems, but the very fact that the Council nations are set to repeat their last battle is interesting. The US, France and the UK line up against -- well, basically the Third World, headed by South Africa, possibly including Russia, and with China on the sidelines. The big prize: some pointless marginal wording, with no legal meaning.
West, nonaligned states disagree over Sahara plansWell, Polisario and every single approved and signed peace plan, plus the latest Security Council-sponsored peace initiative (the Baker Plan), plus the entire mandate for the UN's peace-keeping mission -- but yes, Polisario. Carry on.
Fri 26 Oct 2007, 19:01 GMT By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Western and non-aligned countries disagreed on Friday over rival plans for Western Sahara as the U.N. Security Council sought to spur Morocco and the territory's independence movement to negotiate seriously.
Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony of 260,000 people after Madrid's troops pulled out in 1975, has offered it autonomy but the Polisario Front movement is calling for a referendum with full independence as one option.
As the Security Council began discussions on renewing the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers in phosphate-rich Sahara, South Africa protested that a U.S. draft resolution openly favored Rabat's proposals over those of Algeria-based Polisario. A copy of the draft obtained by Reuters welcomes the "serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward" but merely "takes note of" Polisario's proposal.If this is accurate, it is interesting and a bit puzzling that they won't push for a more meaningful change in the text. The Secretary-General just recently interpreted exactly this sort of wording (which was already there in the last resolution) as meaning that both plans must necessarily be discussed, however unequally they are described. That they would still spend their efforts fighting for exactly the same kind of for-show-endorsement seems more psychological warfare than actual politics. Why would the US involve itself in such petty battles, when it presumably can throw some weight around in the Council to effect real changes?
What this effectively leads to, is that South Africa and other fans of international law are spurred to fight a risk-free battle: either they manage to change the text after the US went public about it, inflicting some notable credibility loss on Morocco's great-power allies, or they don't, in which case nothing at all changes. If anyone can explain the logic to me, the comment section is all yours.
Both plans were submitted in April to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, prompting the Security Council to call on the two sides to hold talks. Two rounds were held near New York in June and August, with little progress.Much-needed momentum, too, after Morocco torpedoed two successive Security Council-sponsored peace plans, wasting 16 years of the UN's efforts ... but that's for another story, apparently.
"Unfortunately there's still a desperate attempt by some of the countries that support Morocco to try and make it sound like the Moroccan proposal is the answer," South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters.
"We have made it very clear that ... we want the parties to negotiate based on the two plans that were presented," he added, describing favoring the Moroccan plan as a "waste of time" that jeopardized the negotiations.
Morocco's main allies on the council are the United States and France, but Kumalo said a majority of the 15 council members called for balance in the resolution.
Western countries argue, however, that Morocco has moved from demanding that Sahara be fully integrated into its territory to agreeing to wide-ranging autonomy, while Polisario has continued to insist on an independence option.
"We have to recognize that the fact that the Moroccans came forward with this plan -- it was a new plan whereas the Polisario plan was basically their old plan -- in a sense that injected at least a momentum," one Western diplomat said.
WALL OF SANDNot to mention that a couple of hundred million dollars of Moroccan lobbying efforts in Washington have succeeded in completely turning the tables on Polisario, which still doesn't enjoy any serious Algerian backing where it matters -- on Capitol Hill. Right now, Morocco is pocketing an ever-increasing number of Congress members simply because there is no countervailing force: no big money to challenge them (despite the Algerian oil jackpot), and no media scrutiny whatever position they take.
No country recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, where a 1,500-km (940-mile) wall of sand separates Moroccan and Polisario forces.
While France is a long-standing ally of Morocco, the United States has taken Rabat's side more recently. Analysts say it wants the Sahara dispute resolved soon to aid its fight against Islamic militancy in North Africa and believes the autonomy plan offers the best solution.
And nothing wrong with that. It is how the game is played, and Morocco is simply a better player than Algeria, while Polisario are way to small & poor to compete on their own.
The council's resolution is expected to renew the mandate of some 200 U.N. military observers in the desert territory, when it expires on Wednesday, for another six months.Again, this last suggestion is the only new element since April, when the plans were presented and the resolution adopted. Not much, but that's what they're pinning their hopes on, or claiming to pin their hopes on. Absent the public optimism, at least one side is perfectly happy with having this drag on until the end of time; the other side is equally content with having the talks continue until they see who succeeds the chimp in charge in the White House, and will decide on further action then.
It is also expected to call on Morocco and the Polisario to make fresh efforts to resolve their dispute through "substantive negotiations."
A recent report by Ban said the talks so far had been disappointing, with each side sticking to "rigid positions." "It cannot really be maintained that the parties have entered into negotiations," it said.
Ban's report said each side should accept that it could at least discuss the other's proposal without that implying that it was abandoning its own.
No date or venue has been announced for the next round of talks. Diplomats said Polisario had agreed to a proposal by U.N. mediator Peter van Walsum for the second week in November but that Morocco wanted to wait until its new government, unveiled on Oct. 15, was endorsed by parliament. They said late November or early December now looked more likely.I thought they had agreed on Geneva? Apparently not.
Oct 26, 2007
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has released a new report on the situtation in Western Sahara, and it's even lamer than what Kofi Annan used to produce. The short version is, as usual, that there has been absolutely no progress. He admits that there is virtually no hope of a voluntary mutual agreement, but, lacking the will to confront either party, argues that they should be given more time to squander. The only moderately interesting paragraphs are these:
[A]s these fundamental positions [of Morocco and Polisario] were mutually exclusive, they prevented each party from seriously discussing the other party’s proposal. As a result, the parties did, indeed, express their views and even interacted with one another, but they mainly did so by rejecting the views of the other party, and there was hardly any exchange that could in earnest be characterized as negotiations.Oh, no really? We are shocked, shocked. And perplexed, because who could conceivably want negotiations to drag on forever?
Although the fact that two meetings have taken place is a cause for satisfaction, my Personal Envoy is concerned at the deficient implementation of a unanimously adopted Security Council resolution that at the time of its adoption was hailed as a breakthrough in dealing with the question of Western Sahara. In the above-mentioned communiqué issued after the second meeting, the parties acknowledged that the current status quo was unacceptable, but while up to now that qualification always referred to the dilemma of either negotiations or status quo, we now risk entering a protracted stage of negotiations and status quo.
It is true that the resolution is more elaborate about the Moroccan proposal than about that ofThis would seem a veiled rebuke of Morocco's position, which has increasingly moved towards claiming that their proposal is the only one meriting discussion. On the other hand, it doesn't mean much as long as there is "no exchange that could in earnest be characterized as negotiations".
the Frente Polisario, but what matters in the end is that the Security Council has taken note of both proposals in the same resolution in which it has called upon parties to enter into negotiations. Consequently, both proposals are on the agenda and must be discussed.
In a half-hearted attempt to adress that point -- the core problem -- Ban Ki-moon further suggests that Morocco and Polisario should start off discussing their respective proposals under the understanding that they have accepted nothing (i.e, a variant of van Walsum's old approach, which was last stated in the curious affair of the magical mystery report). This means that Polisario should give constructive opinions on the Moroccan autonomy proposal even while remaining committed to a self-determination referendum, and that Morocco should also constructively discuss post-independence arrangements for Western Sahara, even while remaining opposed to anything but autonomy. The hope is that this would help unlock the psychological blocks, and entice Polisario into thinking seriously about autonomy. (And, theoretically, Morocco about independence; but that part is mostly for formal symmetry.)
Also, he is unusually elaborate on human rights, referring to the beatings of Sahrawi students in Morocco; complains that the funding for family visits between the camps hasn't been provided and that the program risks being cut off; and that the next step in confidence-building measures can now start, involving a non-political seminar on Hassaniyya culture between Sahrawis from the two sides.
- No .eh for the Sahrawis: ICANN decided to not decide anything.
- Sparring at the UN human rights council, over its politically inspired refusal to release the 2006 report on Western Sahara. (Leaked version here.) [correction. see comments.]
- Continued Koalagate madness at Will's.
- A French judge requests the extradition of five Moroccans in the 1965 Ben Barka disappearance, including Makhzen mainstay and top-ranking army general Hosni Benslimane.
- French PM Sarkozy visits Morocco, restates Chirac's position and supports autonomy for Western Sahara.
- An interesting Global Voices interview with Bouba, the Moroccan-Sahrawi-Amazigh blogger.
- ASVDH leaders acquitted of new charges, but still in jail.
- Morocco again demands a full census of Sahrawis in Tindouf.
- More Sahrawi-whacking in the territories, now of a particularly distasteful kind.
- Awaiting the full RSF reports, the Algerian government keeps hounding journalists.
Oct 21, 2007
The Security Council Report has published an analysis of the prospects for October 31st, when the Security Council will convene to decide on the extension of Minurso. I'm sure you can guess the result, but read it anyway. Here's the meat, but there are a couple of links and interesting comments in the rest of it:
Council options include:
- remaining silent on the negotiations when it renews MINURSO;
- encouraging the next round of negotiations in general terms; and
- addressing more specifically the desirability of additional confidence-building measures.
It could also consider:
- a call on member states to contribute financially to the confidence building measures (especially since UNHCR in September signaled financial difficulties for this programme); and
- expressing concern for the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, and perhaps including a human rights mandate for MINUSRO.
At this stage, the main issue is whether the Council should actively comment on the substantive issues. A related issue is whether it would be productive or unproductive to apply further pressure to the parties to start negotiating the substance of how to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
To clarify, the part about additional confidence-building measures was supported by Polisario last time around, but opposed by Morocco. Morocco also wants to move to substance on negotiations, interpreting this to be a step towards discussing (only) its autonomy plan, while Polisario will do that only on condition that all proposals remain on the table for discussion, including most particularly, of course, their own.
The human rights mandate for Minurso is a longstanding Polisario demand, the point of which is to give Minurso the right and duty to station human rights monitors both in the refugee camps and in the Moroccan-controlled zones, and let them publicize what they find. This is anathema for Morocco (take a wild guess why), and was duly slapped down by France on the kingdom's behalf when it entered Council discussions last. Even the US, which is otherwise firmly in the king's camp these days, apparently felt uneasy about what's going down in the territories, but Le Quai d'Orsay showed no such squeamishness, and single-handedly stopped the proposal by threatening to veto it.
So, the best guess is that it won't happen this time either. And on the negotiations front, same thing there -- same thing as always, barring actual political developments, or a show of force somewhere. The next round of Morocco-Polisario talks is expected soon in Geneva, instead of Manhasset, NY, but apart from the venue, don't expect much else to change.
Over at Will's place, however, there's all the action you could wish for. Think Koalas, slavery, shady lobbyist fronts, and Libyan Green Book-fanatics, and you haven't heard the half of it. In less than 48 hours, the Western Sahara boy wonder has all but imploded one of the Rabat-Washington lobby's ubiquitous "human rights groups" by making all four members of its advisory board flee in horror, one by one, when they realized what they'd put their names on.
Oct 18, 2007
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its 2007 edition of their Press Freedom Index. These rankings may not always be the most scientific way to describe politics, but they sure are fun. While the full reports are not out yet, the Maghreb ranking is as follows:
- Mauritania: 50 (up 27)
- Morocco: 106 (down 9)
- Algeria: 123 (up 3)
- Tunisia: 145 (up 3)
- Libya: 155 (down 3)
Annoyingly, Western Sahara remains fully included in the Moroccan score. Moroccans may like it that way, but it contrasts sharply with how Israel and the USA are treated. In those cases, both are awarded separate categories for their actions outside of recognized national territory, even when they (like Morocco) argue that it in fact is national territory, as does Israel in annexed East Jerusalem. Apart from the potential political implications, treating Morocco differently creates a double distortion of the score table: it pulls down a Moroccan result that should be better (consider how many of Morocco's recent press abuses have stemmed from Western Sahara), and at the same time fails to accurately depict the difficulties in reporting from Western Sahara (which are libyanesque).
Why the RSF treats extra-territorial press abuse differently for different countries is a mystery in itself: until recently, it would not even draw a line between Western Sahara and Morocco on its map (now they have paintbrushed one in, somewhat north of where it should be), but not for not being aware of the conflict. I've been told that even a few national (non-French) RSF branches have reacted and asked for this to be corrected -- or if not, explained -- but to no avail. Readers are free to speculate on why this is so.
Anyway, Morocco, alone among Maghreb countries, gets special mention in the report summary this year. Echoing earlier criticisms, the RSF decries the press freedom backslide in the country this last year:
. . . Morocco’s journalists have in the past 12 months been the target of repeated attacks for which they were not prepared. Confiscation of newspaper issues, temporary closures of newspapers, summonses for questioning, imprisonment and severe sentences will leave lasting scars on the journalistic community, which is now very mistrustful of the government’s promises of reform.Still, Mauritania's press freedom improvements seem more interesting to me, considering that the country was stuck at a miserable 138th place just two years ago. See what a little military coup can do?
[picture: solomonic justice à la RSF: morocco gets a slice of the sahara, and the sahara gets a slice of morocco]
2007 really was election year. First Mauritania, then Algeria, then Morocco, and now last and quite possibly least, Polisario and the Sahrawi Republic. The XII General Popular Congress is approaching fast, but not everyone is happy with the situation inside Polisario, or visavi Morocco. In fact, it seems no one is happy, but all are split over what to do about it.
To help release some of the steam, ARSO's opinion section has now expanded into a new blog, Sahara Opinions, where Sahrawis can air their views in the run-up to the congress. Most posts in the forum are in Spanish, some in French; some are pro-Abdelaziz and some are anti-Abdelaziz, but all are pro-independence. The fact that these debates have to be carried out through the Internet, however, is a sad testament to the lack of effective internal dialogue in the movement.
Sahara. The King wants to reassure
The upcoming week, Mohammed VI will undertake his fourth official tour of the South after his enthronement, to inaugurate new touristic projects. According to local sources, the Sovereign will use his visit to make a detour to Tata and Assa Zag, towns located less than 50 kilometers from the Wall, where the King has never officially set foot before. "Mohammed VI wants to reassure foreign investors, in response to repeated Polisario provocations, by proving to them through his physical presence, that this region is as secure as it could possibly be", says a source knowledgeable of Saharan affairs.A coincidence, now that preparations are underway for a Polisario Congress just across the Berm? Maybe or maybe not. But since all sides insist that they are just going about their daily business in their proper territory, we'll leave it at that.
Oh, right, and there's a new government.
Oct 12, 2007
Amnesty International is concerned that two Sahrawi human rights defenders, Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai, may be sentenced to further prison terms after they appeared in court on 8 October 2007 charged with “offending magistrates.” Both men are already serving prison terms imposed after they were convicted at a previous trial of “belonging to an unauthorized organisation” and “inciting violent protests.” Amnesty International considers them possible prisoners of conscience, held on account of their peaceful activities as human rights defenders and advocates of the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination. [...]Read the whole statement.
According to reports, the five defendants were insulted and spat at by police officers in a police van after their expulsion from the court. [...]
Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai are both members of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State, which monitors and documents current allegations of human rights violations by the Moroccan authorities and demands justice for the Sahrawis who were victims of enforced disappearance in previous decades. Brahim Sabbar was himself subjected to enforced disappearance from 1981 until his release in 1991. The Association has been unable to register officially due to politically-motivated administrative obstacles. [like CODESA - WSI]
I've posted earlier about Morocco's attempts to purchase French Rafale fighter jets. This followed on the heels of Algeria's oil-fuelled $7 billion acquisition of Russian weaponry last year -- a mammoth buy that included a variety of tanks, radars and anti-air material, but most notably an entire modern air force to add to the the 70s-era MiG:s that are now in use, which were already thought to outweigh the Moroccan force. (And then they asked for seconds.) All in all, a delicate little arms race at a point where both states really ought to spend their money more wisely -- at least Morocco, since Algeria's is now making so much oil & gas money it doesn't even fit in the generals' pockets anymore.
Now it seems that Morocco is eyeing an American offer of F-16:s instead, mainly, and understandably so, because they are cheaper. (There are important financial needs to attend to, you recall.) However, large arms purchases also tend to mix with political considerations, and there could very well be an element of courtship for the US arms industry involved here -- especially since that is an industry not so far removed from the Bush dynasty and its supporters. We'll see what happens.
Oct 8, 2007
The El Aaiún-based human rights organization CODESA, led by Sahrawi pro-independence luminaries such as Ali Salem Tamek and Aminatou Haidar, has announced the holding of a constitutive congress, to formally legitimize the organization in accordance with Moroccan law. As could have been expected, this was frustrated by the authorities, who refused to receive their documents and then threatened the owner of the venue for the congress to kick them out. The meeting is therefore temporarily adjourned, but count on another attempt soon enough: finding a suitable congress hall will presumably not prove a huge problem for a people so proud of their traditional tents and vast, uninhabited deserts.
This emerging Sahrawi leadership in the Moroccan-held territories is a generation lost to Rabat: their experience of Morocco is certainly not that of brotherhood and national unity, but of violence, marginalization and destruction, and they view their Sahrawiness not in light of the official discourse of multicultural Morocco, but as forged in resistance and repression. And the youth aren't all that different. Popular Sahrawi history and national pride has been carried on the shoulders of those who fought and died for it, not by Khellihenna Ould Errachid and the other Sahrawi middlemen of what remains and will remain undiluted royal and army rule, regardless of the chatter about autonomy. It is certainly no coincidence that CODESA holds its congress in memory of one of these "national martyrs" -- El Hafez Hamma Mbarek, a tradesman from Smara who was "disappeared" by the Royal Gendarmerie in 1976.**
(*) A Moroccan exception is the tiny far-left Nahdj Dimouqrati party, which has made support of Sahrawis a point of doctrine. While they may or may not be enthousiastic about the possibility of Western Sahara's independence, they vocally support self-determination as part of international law, and were treated to an unbelieavable amount of state violence for that in the 1970s and 80s (then in their previous, illegal incarnation, as Ilal Amam). The leadership is today dominated by scarred veterans of Moroccan prisons and exile, with plenty of martyr mourning for those who never made it out alive.
As for Sahrawi protesters, the record holder is of course Polisario's secretary-general Mohamed Abdelaziz, who has probably sent more protest letters to his UN homologue than any other now living person.
(**) In total, according to FIDH, up to 1,500 Sahrawi civilians were still "disappeared" in the year 2000, while the Sahrawi rights group AFAPREDESA sticks to a list of some 450 documented still-missing cases, even if they admit that many more probably exist. Most of them were taken in the early years of the occupation, but the practice continued into the 1990s. Some were eventually released (like Aminatou Haidar or Brahim Sabbar), others declared dead after a few decades, and still others quietly left to exile after escaping prison. Several thousands more were arrested for shorter periods of time; Polisario claims even higher figures, while Morocco says no one is still disappeared, and is believed by exactly as many.
Considering how the Sahrawi population in Western Sahara and southern Morocco around 1980 can not have been far higher than 40-50,000 or so (and the male population, which took the brunt of the onslaught, half of that), the proportions that these numbers add up to are truly staggering. Include the war dead and the still unaccounted for Sahrawi POWs, as well as the fact that Sahrawi families are very large, and you will realize that virtually every Sahrawi family was decimated by the violence, just as they all have family members in the Tindouf camps. Sahrawi society remains profoundly shellshocked by the brutality of those years, and this goes a long way towards explaining why Polisario remains insistent that what happened in 1975 was not merely an occupation, it was genocide. It also, heartbreakingly, means that many Sahrawis remain convinced that their relatives are still lingering in some underground jail somewhere, reason be damned, and fight this battle not first for independence, but to free or at least learn the fate of their loved ones.
Oct 7, 2007
Western Sahara may remain under Moroccan control for a while more, and the cease-fire looks robust enough, but in the war of symbolic attrition, Polisario just opened a new front. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, their government-in-exile, has made a bid for control over the .eh Internet top level domain reserved for Western Sahara on the grounds that they are the only interested party: if Western Sahara some day becomes part of Morocco, it will also share Morocco's own web domain, .ma. But, as expected, Morocco has lobbied back with a counter-claim of its own, to prevent this from happening. This has led to the embarrassing situation that .eh is the only geographic domain still without an owner. At stake is of course more than the two letters: the battle for the domain is also a way of courting an important, but often overlooked PR asset -- the nerds. Or, more to the point, people who'll be ruling the world in a couple of years.
(More on the Internet presences of Morocco and Polisario, respectively, here and here.)
Oct 2, 2007
Moving on from Western Sahara, here's a short overview of Freedom House's scores for the rest of the Maghreb governments. As before, 1 is best, 7 is worst, and the first figure is Political Rights, second is Civil Rights. And as before, my oh my, they're a sorry bunch of autocrats.
- Mauritania: 5 / 4
- Western Sahara: 7 / 6
- Morocco: 5 / 4
- Algeria: 6 / 5
- Tunisia: 6 / 5
- Libya: 7 / 7
countries at the crossroads reports mentioned
are new, but the general scores are from freedom
in the world, which was issued earlier this year]
Moroccan authorities organize local elections and ensure that leaders of the Sahrawi independence movement are excluded from both local leadership and representation in the Moroccan parliament.
Morocco’s constitution guarantees press freedom but, in practice, little exists in Western Sahara. Although there were fewer reported instances of government interference with press access to Western Sahara in 2006, Moroccan authorities continue to exercise control over who enters and reports on the region. The restrictions are particularly evident when there are local riots or demonstrations against Moroccan rule. Moroccan and international reporters are subject to expulsion or detention if the government objects to their work or they enter the region without permission. [...]
Moroccan officials restrict the ability of Sahrawis to form political organizations or assemble in public places. Demonstrations and riots are a regular occurrence in Western Sahara’s towns and villages, and Moroccan authorities often arrest those involved. In October 2006, the Moroccan government disbanded the Groupements Urbains de la Surete (GUS), a security force formed in 2004 that was accused of human rights violations during riots and demonstrations in Laayoune in 2005. The force’s 5,000 members would be reassigned to other security units. [...]
Particularly during the 1961–99 reign of Morocco’s King Hassan II, the current king’s father, Sahrawis who opposed the regime were summarily detained, killed, tortured, and “disappeared.” While thousands of Moroccan dissidents suffered under Hassan’s rule, Sahrawis who defied him faced even harsher scrutiny. While the political situation is different today, Sahrawis who oppose Morocco’s sovereignty are still detained, and torture has not ceased under King Muhammad.
International human rights groups have for decades criticized the behavior of Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara. A September 2006 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was highly critical of Morocco’s record in the territory. The report was intended to be distributed only to Algeria, Morocco, and the Polisario, but was leaked to the press in October. Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission, founded in 2004 to examine government abuses under Hassan, did not hold scheduled public hearings in Western Sahara. Few Sahrawis had the opportunity to testify publicly before the commission.
[correction: a slight misunderstanding here. the
countries at the crossroads reports mentioned
in the next post are new, but the quote here comes
from freedom in the world, issued earlier this year]