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TITLE:  WESTERN SAHARA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                         
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                      WESTERN SAHARA


The sovereignty of the Western Sahara remains the subject of 
diplomatic dispute.  Morocco assumed administration of the 
northern three provinces of the Western Sahara after the 
withdrawal of Spanish forces in 1975 and of the southernmost 
province of Oued ed Dahab in 1979 when Mauritania renounced its 
claim to the area.  Since unifying the territory, Morocco has 
undertaken a massive infrastructural and economic development 
program that has resulted in substantial growth in the region's 
cities. 

Since 1973 the Polisario Front, an organization which Algeria 
has supported and which seeks independence for the Western 
Sahara, has challenged successively the claims of Spain and 
Morocco to the territory.  Moroccan and Polisario forces have 
fought intermittently since 1975, although there have been no 
significant clashes since 1991.

At the request of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), 
the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion 
in 1975 regarding the status of the Western Sahara.  The Court 
held that Morocco was not entitled to exercise sovereignty over 
the territory.  Rather, according to the Court, the people of 
the Western Sahara were entitled to self-determination.  
Morocco agreed in principle in 1981 to hold a referendum to 
determine the wishes of the population of the Western Sahara.  
Efforts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to resolve 
the sovereignty question collapsed in 1984 when the Saharan 
Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the civilian arm of the 
Polisario, was recognized at an OAU summit, prompting Morocco 
to withdraw from the OAU in protest.

In 1986 Morocco asked the United Nations to administer a 
referendum, and it has attempted to do so since that time.  In 
1987 a U.N. technical team visited the territory in order to 
determine the practical arrangements necessary for a 
referendum.  On August 30, 1988, Morocco and the SADR accepted 
in principle the Secretary General's proposal for a referendum 
under U.N. and OAU auspices, and the Secretary General named a 
special representative to work out the details.

In 1991 the Secretary General presented a plan for a referendum 
in the Western Sahara in which the Sahrawis (Western Sahara 
natives) would decide between integration with Morocco and 
independence.  The plan called for a cease-fire supervised by a 
U.N. Monitoring Force (MINURSO) to be followed within 20 weeks 
by a referendum.  The United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees (UNHCR) was to assist Sahrawi refugees living in 
Algeria to voluntarily repatriate to the Western Sahara.  The 
1974 Spanish census of the region was to serve as the basis for 
the voting list.  Morocco challenged the accuracy and 
completeness of the list and presented to the United Nations a 
supplemental list containing more than 120,000 additional names.

On September 6, 1991, the cease-fire went into effect and 
initial MINURSO forces were deployed.  Simultaneously, the 
UNHCR sent an international team to assist with the 
repatriation of Sahrawi refugees.  The referendum, originally 
scheduled to take place in January 1992, was postponed pending 
attempts to resolve the contentious voter identification 
issue.  The outgoing Secretary General thereupon proposed five 
voter eligibility criteria to the U.N. Security Council.  The 
Security Council passed a resolution welcoming the proposal 
without endorsing it, and subsequent U.N. efforts have focused 
upon obtaining agreement by the parties to the criteria and 
their application.

In June 1993 the U.N. Secretary General proposed a compromise 
which would make more rigorous the documentation needed for a 
person to establish the residence or heredity required to 
qualify for voter eligibility under the earlier proposal.  
Neither the Moroccans nor the Polisario rejected the proposed 
compromise out of hand.  Direct talks took place between the 
two sides in the city of Laayounne during July but no agreement 
was reached.  The Moroccan Government favors broad-based 
criteria for the referendum which would include many whom they 
claim left the Western Sahara prior to being counted in the 
1974 Spanish census or were born after 1974 to those qualified 
under the census.  Claiming the risk of fraud, the Polisario 
favors more narrow criteria focused on those enumerated as in 
the territory during the 1974 census.  In his report to the 
United Nations Security Council of November 24, 1993, the 
Secretary General stated that "while expressing reservations 
about the provisions relating to tribal links with the 
territory, Morocco acquiesced in the compromise."  The 
Polisario is described by the Secretary General in that same 
report as having "... maintained its substantial reservations 
and proposals for amendments..." of the compromise. 

Since 1977 the northern provinces of Laayoune, Smara, and 
Boujdour have participated in Moroccan elections.  The 
southernmost province of Oued ed Dahab has also participated in 
the elections since 1983.  Sahrawis fill all 10 of the seats 
allotted to the Western Sahara in the new Parliament.  Three of 
the four governors of the region, who are appointed by the King 
of Morocco, are Sahrawis.

The civilian population in the approximately 85 percent of the 
Western Sahara under Moroccan control is subject to Moroccan 
law.  U.N. observers and foreign human rights groups have 
reported that Sahrawis supportive of the Polisario Front often 
have more difficulty obtaining passports, that their political 
views are more closely monitored than those of residents of 
Morocco proper, and that they are more likely to be treated 
harshly by police and paramilitary authorities.

A number of Sahrawis who have returned to Morocco from 
Polisario camps near Tindouf, Algeria have complained that they 
and other Sahrawi's were tortured and mistreated in the camps.  
Other non-Sahrawi observers who have visited the camps say, 
however, that they have found no evidence of torture.  Ibrahim 
Hakim, a former Polisario earlier who has defected to Morocco, 
alleges first-hand knowledge of such mistreatment.  The 
Government of Morocco's Consultative Council on Human Rights 
established a working group to investigate ongoing allegations 
of Polisario misconduct in the Tindouf camps.  For its part, 
the Polisario claims that the Moroccans have tortured suspected 
Polisario supporters.  

After years of denying that Sahrawis were imprisoned in Morocco 
for Polisario-related military or political activity, the 
Government of Morocco released 300 such prisoners in 1991.  
Among those released were entire families and Sahrawis who had 
"disappeared" in the mid-1970's.  The Moroccan Government has 
failed to conduct a public inquiry or to explain how and why 
these persons were held for up to 16 years in incommunicado 
detention without charge or trial.  The Polisario claims that 
Morocco continues to hold more than 800 Sahrawis as political 
prisoners.  The Government of Morocco formally denies that any 
Sahrawi noncombatants remain in Moroccan detention.  Amnesty 
International expressed concern, however, that hundreds of 
Sahrawis arrested by Moroccan security forces between 1975 and 
1988 remain "disappeared."  Credible sources estimate that 68 
Sahrawis remain in detention in Morocco and that between 2,500 
and 3,000 Moroccan prisoners are being held by the Polisario 
near Tindouf.  The Polisario has said it is prepared to release 
200 Moroccan prisoners unconditionally, but Morocco, believing 
that the offer is predicated upon it's according Polisario 
greater legitimacy, has declined to take up the matter directly 
with the Polisario Front.


The UNHCR, using figures provided by the Government of Algeria, 
estimates that approximately 165,000 refugees reside in camps 
near Tindouf, Algeria.  Sahrawis recently returned to Morocco 
from the camps estimate, however, that no more than 80,000 
refugees inhabit the camps.  They believe that 40,000 to 50,000 
of those are Sahrawis, the remainder coming from other 
countries in the region.  The Government of Morocco alleges 
that the Sahrawis are held in the Tindouf camps against their 
will.  The Polisario denies this allegation.

Freedom of movement within the Western Sahara is limited in 
militarily sensitive areas.  While travel is nominally 
unrestricted elsewhere, travelers inside and outside the cities 
are reportedly subjected to arbitrary questioning, detainment, 
and, at times, abuse by the security forces.

The same labor laws that apply in Morocco apply in the 
Moroccan-controlled areas of the Western Sahara, and 
enforcement is equivalent to that in Morocco proper.  Within 
the Western Sahara there is little organized labor activity.  
Since salaries in both the private and public sectors are 
significantly higher than those in Morocco, wage demands are 
not an issue.  Unemployment has also not been a problem because 
of the Government's investment in the region and a program of 
bringing young people voluntarily out of the region to work in 
Morocco.  Outside the territory controlled by Morocco, the 
Polisario established a labor wing called the Sario Federation 
of Labor (UGTSARIO), which in the past reportedly enjoyed close 
relations with a few Arab and African national labor centers.  
The UGTSARIO does not engage in customary trade union 
activities in the Polisario-controlled areas.



[end of document]

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