Ms El Haouassi was one of the six Saharawi students prevented from boarding a plane to England on 5th August by Moroccan authorities. The students, dubbed the Oxford Six due to the fact that they were on their way to a conflict resolution workshop in Oxford, staged a protest at the airport and were beaten and arrested by police. The swift action of campaigners including Amnesty International helped secure their swift release however concerns for their future safety remained. These fears have proved to be well founded after Nguia El Haouassi was picked up by police on Friday evening in the district of Matallah, El Aaiun. According to her testimony she was blindfolded, beaten, stripped naked and threatened with rape. After five hours torture, the torturers kicked Nguia out of the car naked and shaken on the outskirts of town.
According to human rights organisations over 500 indigenous Saharawi who have challenged the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara have ‘disappeared’. This is highlighted in a report by Amnesty International published today.
The conflict in Western Sahara is one of the longest running and most forgotten in the world. Know as Africa’s last colony, Western Sahara was sold to Morocco and Mauritania by the Spanish when they withdrew in 1976. The Mauritanians pulled out soon after and the Moroccans annexed much of the remaining territory in defiance of a ruling from the International Court of Justice. A sixteen-year war ensued between the Moroccans and the Saharawi independence movement, the Polisario Front. Under the terms of a 1991 UN ceasefire agreement, a referendum for self determination was promised, but has been blocked by Morocco.
An estimated 165,000 refugees have lived to live the camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert for over three decades and serious concerns about human rights violations against the Saharawi’s who have remained in Western Sahara have been raised by UN High Commissioner for Human rights and numerous human rights organisations. A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found that Morocco violated the rights to expression, association, and assembly in Western Sahara. An Amnesty International report of the same year found that “politically motivated administrative impediments have been used to prevent human rights groups obtaining legal registration and curtailing their scope of activities.” There is also widespread evidence of the use of torture.
Stefan Simanowitz, chair of the global campaigning initiative, the Free Western Sahara Network, said today:
“Today is a day of dignified remembrance, a day of profound pain, and a day of justified anger. Today we remember the disappeared of Western Sahara and we demand justice for the victims and their families. We also call on the Moroccan authorities to ensure that the Oxford Six students remain free from all forms of harassment and discrimination.”
As signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Morocco should, according to campaigners, reveal the truth about the hundreds of disappeared Saharawis. Once the Convention comes into force, families of the disappeared ought to be entitled to find out what happened to their loved ones, punish the perpetrators and claim reparations. Campaigners are also urging the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to assume their responsibilities regarding monitoring human rights violations in the occupied territories.
Yahiaoui Lamine, POLISARIO representative UK and Ireland, said
“Since 1975 Saharawi people have been the victims of the disappearances at the hands of the Moroccan authorities. The latest victim, a young Saharawi girl who dared to challenge discrimination, shows that disappearances are a reality for the people of Western Sahara.”
To find out more about the situation in Western Sahara or to join the network visit www.freesahara.ning.com
Free Western Sahara Network