Main Issues Documented in Eyewitness Footage

Videos from Western Sahara document a range of human rights issues. The right to self-determination is one that Sahrawis have fought for since 1975 and continue to call for today. But their protests and videos document additional grievances against Moroccan authorities, including the right to free assembly and expression, access to education and employment, the treatment of detainees, and control of natural resources. We’ve compiled a brief background on the main topics that are addressed in eyewitness videos curated on Watching Western Sahara, along with links to see videos and learn more. (To search video reports by tags, go to the Search page and click on Tags.)

Many of these issues are closely linked to the right to self-determination and the political dispute over the territory. For a brief background on the armed conflict and political dispute over Western Sahara, see The Conflict.

Self-Determination & Political Rights

The United Nations considers Western Sahara to be a “non-self-governing territory.” There are no free elections within the territory and Morocco excludes candidates who support independence from municipal elections. The UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO) was created in 1991 to implement the terms of a UN-brokered ceasefire agreed to by Morocco and the Polisario Front, including a referendum which would allow Sahrawis to vote on independence or integration with Morocco. That referendum has yet to take place. Independent observers have reported Morocco repeatedly blocking, thwarting, or stalling the process, as well as settling tens of thousands of Moroccans in the disputed territory.

According to Freedom House, “Moroccan law bars the media and individuals from challenging Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.” Many videos document Sahrawis calling for self-determination by raising a Sahrawi flag, painting graffiti of one, holding signs, or chanting for Sahrawi independence. These messages appear to result in greater repression by Moroccan authorities than protests on other issues. Protest videos also document activists calling upon the UN to implement the referendum on Sahrawi independence.

Watch videos: Search under the tag self-determination

Example

Said Laayoune Rasd | Facebook added by sidahmedtfeil
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Freedom of Expression & Assembly

While demonstrations in Western Sahara address a range of issues, the one thing they have in common is frequent intervention by security forces. Sometimes authorities will intervene at the start of a protest, before it grows beyond a handful of people. For larger protests, videos show large contingents of officers amass to break them up. Aggressive force, sometimes resulting in injuries, is often used to break up peaceful demonstrations, both by uniformed police and by plainclothes officers. Videos often show ambulances on the scene of demonstrations, ready to remove injured activists. In some cases, authorities are seen taking activists away individually, but what happens to the activists is unclear.

Videos also show officers filming the protests. It is unclear if this is a tactic intended only to intimidate activists or if the video is used by authorities. This 2014 dispatch by Human Rights Watch describes how Moroccan authorities attempt to block public demonstrations and block visitors from documenting them.

Watch videos: Search under the tags police intervention, police brutality, protest, nonviolent resistance, injury

Examples

التدخل على وقفة التي نظمتها تنسقية الفعاليات الحقوقية بالعيون المحتلة Equipemedia Sahara added by madeleine

مجزرة يوم 12 دجنبر في حق التنسيق الميداني للمعطلين الصحراويين والفئات الإجتماعية المهمشة crcssch2015 dchs added by madeleine
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Freedom of Expression & Information

Morocco’s repression of independent Sahrawi media and control of foreign visitors to the territory has resulted in an effective control of the flow of information from Western Sahara to the outside world.

Moroccan authorities not only punish Sahrawis for calling into question Morocco’s “territorial integrity” by referring to the situation in Western Sahara as an occupation; Moroccan citizens, including journalists, have been arrested, tried and imprisoned for this as well.

Independent media activists work under great risk, which is why most of their videos are taken from afar or by hidden cameras. Many have experienced arrest, torture, harassment, and the loss of employment due to their work.

Visits to Western Sahara from foreigners are tightly controlled. Human Rights Watch described an international delegation to Laayoune, during which police confiscated the cameras of visitors who attempted to photograph a demonstration and deleted photos before returning them. Since then, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been banned or expelled. Foreign correspondents are regularly expelled, and when they are granted permission to visit, their movement is tightly controlled. In January, 2016, several dozen individuals from Europe, the U.S., and Canada attempting to visit Western Sahara were detained and expelled if not denied entry upon arrival.

Watch videos: Search under the tag right to record

Example

قمع الوقفة السلمية التي دعت لها تنسيقية الفعاليات الحقوقية بالعيون المحتلة يوم 23/01/2016 SAHARAWI CMC added by madeleine
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Access to Employment & Education

A large social movement that has persisted for several years addresses the lack of jobs for Sahrawis and discrimination in higher education access and hiring practices. Activists have organized in cities throughout the occupied territory and southern Morocco, and in several economic sectors, including fisheries and phosphates. In many demonstrations, activists wear coordinated vests signifying the organizing industry and city they belong to. In their demonstrations and open letters, they claim that discriminatory educational placement and hiring practices favor Moroccan settlers over native Sahrawi people. Western Sahara Resource Watch, which tracks corporate investment in Western Sahara, has written about these protests and access to jobs for Sahrawis.

Watch videos: Search under the tags employment, economic rights

Examples

This report is no longer available. It could have been deleted by the user or host service.

‫كواليس صحراوية | Facebook‬ كواليس صحراوية added by sidahmedtfeil
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Control of Natural Resources

Closely related to the issue of jobs for Sahrawis is the dispute over control of Western Sahara’s natural resources. Western Sahara has one of the world’s largest reserve of phosphates, used primarily to produce fertilizers. Its coastline, which has one of the world’s richest fishing reserves, is exploited by Morocco-controlled fisheries, and its waters are being explored for offshore oil deposits by foreign energy companies under deals signed with Moroccan authorities. Its economy also includes agricultural production that activists say is exported without proper labelling.

In 2002, the UN issued a legal opinion stating that exploration or exploitation would be in violation of international law if it proceeded "in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara." In December of 2015, the European Court of Justice annulled a EU agricultural trade deal with Morocco, which also included fish byproducts. Other deals are being contested due to the alleged violation of the rights of Sahrawi people. However, the exploitation of Sahrawi resources continues. Morocco’s state phosphate company, OCP, extracts and sells phosphates to buyers around the world. Kosmos Energy is a U.S. oil company that signed a deal with Morocco to drill for oil off the coast of Western Sahara. Western Sahara Resource Watch tracks these and other entities involved in resource extraction in the territory.

Watch videos: Search under the tags employment, economic rights, and natural resources. Protests are also tagged by the name of the industry and company (such as OCP, the acronym for the Moroccan state-controlled phosphate company)

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Twitter / Khalil Asmar: Security and police ... Khalil Asmar added by madeleine
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Disappearances

According to human rights groups, hundreds of Sahrawis have been forcibly disappeared. Some of these date back to the 1970s, while others are more recent, such as 15 young activists who disappeared in 2005, and the disappearance of activists who took part in the Gdeim Izik protest camp in 2010, which was violently dismantled by Moroccan security forces. In the past few years, forensic experts have begun to investigate and exhume mass graves in Western Sahara.

Watch videos: Search under the tags disappeared

Example

التدخل الذي طال أمهات المختطفين الصحراويين 15بمناسبة الذكري العاشرة بالعيون المحتلة 25/12/2015 SAHARAWI CENTER FOR MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION added by admin
Flagged for Evidentiary Value by WITNESS

Political Prisoners, Detention & Torture

The UN Special Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, noted in his 2013 report indications of a pattern of excessive use of force, of the abandonment of detainees in rural areas, and credible testimony about the use of torture, rape, and other inhumane treatment against Sahrawi activists.

Sahrawi prisoners have at times launched hunger strikes to protest their detention, treatment, and/or conditions, including those arrested for their alleged involvement in the Gdeim Izik protest camp, and the Sahrawi employment activist Brahim Saika, who died in a Moroccan hospital in April, 2016 after he began a hunger strike while in detention.

Videos related to the treatment of prisoners include protests in solidarity with hunger strikers, or calling for justice for political detainees. Occasionally, footage is also taken in hospitals or courtrooms.

Watch videos: Search under the tags political prisoner, death in custody, torture

Examples

Rahali Mohamed, brother of the victim, accused the Moroccan authorities of murdering his brother Adala Uk added by Arianna
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Activists and family members call the Brahim Saika case a 'crime against humanity' Adala Uk added by Arianna
Completed by WITNESS

Refugees

The invasion and armed conflict in the 1970s and 80s caused thousands of casualties and the displacement of tens of thousands of Sahrawis, who fled to the heart of the Sahara Desert, in southwestern Algeria. Many of the fleeing civilians were bombed by the Moroccan air force with napalm and cluster bombs. Some 200,000 people live in camps near Tindouf, Algeria, which are administered by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD), a government-in-exile recognized by the African Union and many governments.

Living conditions in the camps are harsh. There are few employment opportunities, and the population depends on international humanitarian aid for survival. Refugees endure extreme temperatures, arid terrain, and strong desert winds. Occasional torrential rains pose a threat to the vulnerable infrastructure, as happened during flash flooding of October, 2015, which destroyed homes and other structures.

The wall Morocco built dividing the occupied territory from an area controlled by the Polisario Front has divided many Sahrawi families, who have members on both sides. Forty years after the invasion, most refugees have never seen their homeland.

Millions of landmines planted along the wall has made it one of the most heavily contaminated areas in the world. Despite anti-mining efforts, landmines continue to pose a threat, mostly affecting children who come across them when playing in the open desert.

Because the refugee camps are in Algerian territory and administered by the Sahrawi government in exile, foreign visitors do not face the same challenges visiting the camps as they do in attempting to visit the occupied territory. Videos about life in the camp are often produced by UN agencies, international NGOs, and Sahrawi Voice--a media collective of Sahrawis in the camps.

Watch videos: Search under the tags refugees, landmine

Example

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visit to Saharawi refugee camps SAHARAWIVOICE added by madeleine