19 February 2013 – The United Nations human rights office today expressed concern over the conviction of 25 Sahrawi civilians by a military court after they clashed with security forces in a protest camp near Laayoune, Western Sahara.
On 8 November 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik protest camp, which was set up by Sahrawis to protest their living conditions. The clashes resulted in the death of 11 members of the Moroccan security forces and two Sahrawis.
This weekend, the 25 civilians were given sentences that range from two years to life imprisonment by the Permanent Military Tribunal of the Royal Armed Forces in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
“As noted by the Human Rights Committee, the use of military or special courts to try civilians raises serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice is concerned,” said the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville.
Mr. Colville told reporters in Geneva that the agency was also concerned by reports that most of the accused said they were tortured or ill-treated during their pre-trial detention, but no investigations have been made following these allegations.
“This was a very serious event, involving substantial loss of life, and it is important that justice is done, but it is also important that the judicial processes scrupulously abide by international fair trial standards,” he stated.
The UN has been involved in mediation efforts to find a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the movement known as Frente Polisario, after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.
A UN peacekeeping force, known as the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), has also been in place since 1991.