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TITLE:  WESTERN SAHARA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                         WESTERN SAHARA


The sovereignty of the Western Sahara remains the subject of a 
dispute between the Government of Morocco and the Polisario, an 
organization seeking independence for the region.  The Moroccan 
Government assumed administration of the Western Sahara's 
northern three provinces after Spain withdrew from the area in 
1975, and it extended its administration to the province of 
Oued ed Dahab in 1979 after Mauritania renounced its claim to 
it.  After unifying the Western Sahara, the Moroccan Government 
undertook a massive economic development program that has 
resulted in substantial growth in the region's towns.

Since 1973 the Polisario 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 a 1991 cease-fire and 
deployment to the area of a United Nations contingent, known by 
its French initials, MINURSO.

In 1975 the International Court of Justice issued an advisory 
opinion on the status of the Western Sahara.  The Court held 
that Morocco was not entitled to sovereignty over the 
territory.  According to the Court, the people of the Western 
Sahara, the Sahrawis, are entitled to self-determination.  
Efforts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to resolve 
the sovereignty question collapsed in 1984 when the OAU 
recognized the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic, the civilian 
arm of the Polisario.  Morocco withdrew from the OAU in protest.

In 1988 Morocco and the Polisario accepted the United Nations' 
plan for a referendum that would allow the Sahrawis to decide 
between integration with Morocco or independence for the 
region.  The referendum was scheduled for January 1992 but was 
postponed because the parties could not agree on a common list 
of eligible voters.  The United Nations continues to seek a 
compromise on the voter issue.  In August MINURSO personnel 
began to hold oral hearings for voter applicants in Laayoune 
and Tindouf, Algeria.  At such hearings, applicants may present 
evidence of identification and residence, as well as oral 
testimony from tribal elders on the bona fides of the 
applicant's claim to voter eligibility.

Since 1977 the Saharan provinces of Laayoune, Smara, and 
Boujdour have participated in Moroccan elections.  The southern 
province of Oued ed Dahab has participated in Moroccan elections since 1983.  Sahrawis fill all 10 seats allotted to 
the Western Sahara in the Moroccan Parliament.

The civilian population in the 85 percent of the Western Sahara 
under Moroccan administration is subject to Moroccan law.  U.N. 
observers and foreign human rights groups report that Sahrawis 
have difficulty obtaining Moroccan passports, that the 
Government monitors the political views of Sahrawis more 
closely than those of Moroccan citizens, and that the police 
and paramilitary authorities react especially harshly against 
those suspected of supporting the Polisario.

Sahrawis who returned to Morocco from refugee camps 
administered by the Polisario have presented strong 
circumstantial evidence that they were tortured by Polisario 
security officers in the camps.  However, there were no reports 
that camp residents were tortured in 1994.

After years of denying that Sahrawis were imprisoned in Morocco 
for Polisario-related military or political activity, the 
Government released 300 such prisoners in 1991.  Entire 
families and Sahrawis who had "disappeared" in the mid-1970's 
were among those released.  The Government has failed to 
conduct a public inquiry or to explain how and why those 
released were held for up to 16 years in incommunicado 
detention without charge or trial.  The Polisario claims that 
the Government continues to hold more than 800 Sahrawis as 
political prisoners.  The Government formally denies that any 
Sahrawi noncombatants remain in detention.  However, in 
announcing an amnesty for political prisoners in July, King 
Hassan declared that any prisoner who questions Morocco's 
sovereignty over the Western Sahara would not be eligible for 
amnesty.  Observers interpreted the King's remarks as implying 
that the Government still holds some Sahrawi nationalists in 
prison.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross 
(ICRC), Morocco holds 69 Sahrawi combatants as prisoners of war 
(POW's), and the Polisario holds betweem 2,500 and 3,000 
Moroccan POWs.  In 1994 ICRC representatives visited both 
groups of prisoners but had not released any reports at year's 
end.  The Polisario has separated out 200 Moroccan soldiers and 
offered them for repatriation along with another group of 25 
POW's reportedly in need of medical attention.  The Government 
of Morocco, believing that the offer is predicated on according the Polisario greater legitimacy, has not officially responded 
to them.

Freedom of movement within the Western Sahara is limited in 
militarily sensitive areas.  Elsewhere, security forces subject 
travelers to arbitrary questioning, detention, and abuse.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, using figures provided 
by the Government of Algeria, estimates that approximately 
165,000 refugees live in the camps near Tindouf, Algeria.  
However, the Moroccan Government maintains that no more than 
80,000 refugees inhabit the camps.  The Government alleges that 
the residents are held in the camps against their will, an 
allegation denied by the Polisario.

There is little organized labor activity in the Western 
Sahara.  The same labor laws that apply in Morocco are applied 
in the Moroccan-controlled areas of the Western Sahara.  
Moroccan unions are present in the Moroccan-controlled Western 
Sahara but are relatively moribund.  The 15 percent of the 
territory outside Moroccan control does not have any  
population centers or economic activity beyond nomadic 
herding.  The Polisario-sponsored labor union, the Sario 
Federation of Labor (UGTSARIO), does not have any activities in 
the Western Sahara.

There were no strikes, other job actions, or collective 
bargaining agreements in 1994.  Most union members are 
employees of the Government or state-owned organizations.  They 
are paid 85 percent more than their counterparts outside the 
Western Sahara.  Workers in the Western Sahara are exempt from 
income and value-added taxes and receive subsidies on such 
commodities as flour, oil, sugar, fuels, and utilities.

Moroccan law prohibits forced labor, which does not appear to 
exist in the Western Sahara.  Regulations on the minimum age of 
employment are the same as in Morocco.  Child labor appears to 
be less common in the Western Sahara than in Morocco, primarily 
because of the absence of industries most likely to employ 
children, such as rug knotting and garment making.  A 
government work program for adults, the Promotion Nationale, 
provides families with enough income so that children need not 
be hired out as domestic servants   Children in the few 
remaining nomadic groups presumably work as shepherds along 
with other group members.  Adult unemployment in the Western 
Sahara is below 5 percent.  The minimum wage and maximum hours 
for work are the same as in Morocco.  In practice, however, 
employees in some fish-processing plants may work as much as 12 
hours per day, 6 days per week, well beyond the 10-hour day, 
48-hour week maximum allowed by Moroccan law.  Occupational 
health and safety standards in Western Sahara are those 
enforced in Morocco.  They are rudimentary, except for a 
prohibition on the employment of women in dangerous occupations.

(###)

[end of document]

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