The NGO has presented a report with various points concerning the abuses committed by the Polisario entity and Algeria against dissident Saharawis

Africa Watch denounces rights violations against Saharawis in the Tindouf camps at the hands of the Polisario Front

PHOTO/FILE - Tindouf

The NGO Africa Watch, in connection with the visit of the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Joshua Harris, to the Tindouf region in Algeria to revive the negotiation process on Western Sahara, has denounced the plight of Saharawi refugees in the area controlled by the Algerian country and the Polisario Front. 

In a recently presented report, the NGO focused on monitoring democracy and human rights issues and advocating for the protection and rights of all in relation to the role of the United States also in this regard, has denounced the abuses against the Saharawi population in Tindouf and the "various violations" suffered by the Saharawis in the camps in this Algerian region outside any international protection, due to their lack of legal refugee status due to the lack of counting and registration since the creation of the settlements in 1975. 

Africa Watch highlighted "the serious violations committed in and around the camps by Polisario Front leaders and members of the Algerian army stationed in the Tindouf region, as well as the oppression, harassment and manifestations of slavery to which women are subjected, and attempts to silence human rights defenders and activists in the camps".

PHOTO/REUTERS - Campamento de refugiados de Boudjdour en Tinduf, en el sur de Argelia
PHOTO/REUTERS - Boudjdour refugee camp in Tindouf in southern Algeria

The NGO also noted that the Algerian security services and the Polisario Front have committed serious human rights violations since the establishment of the Tindouf camps in south-western Algeria as a result of the dispute over Western Sahara.

Furthermore, it has been noted that the situation of rights and freedoms in the Tindouf camps cannot be separated from the general context in the host state, where Polisario has continued to commit extrajudicial executions on ethnic or identity grounds since the establishment of these camps on Algerian territory.

As reported by Africa Watch, under the protection of the host country, the Polisario Front continues to refer to the victims of prolonged detention in its secret prisons as traitors and agents of foreign parties, claiming that their detention is nothing more than the detention of those involved in crimes or suspects. "Despite the intersection of testimonies, the identification of the names of the executioners, the location of the secret detention centres, as well as the testimonies of the surviving victims, the Algerian state still refuses to provide any information on the extrajudicial executions committed by the Algerian security services or the Polisario Front against isolated Saharawis, who were merely criticising the Polisario's ideas and the way the camps are governed or who were claiming their rights under the relevant international conventions", as noted in the report published by Africa Watch.

AFP/FADEL SENNA - El norte de África es testigo de los peligrosos movimientos iraníes que pueden hacer estallar la situación en la región, especialmente con la Guardia Revolucionaria que continúa brindando marchas avanzadas al Frente Polisario, lo que amenaza la estabilidad en torno al Sáhara marroquí
AFP/FADEL SENNA - North Africa is witnessing dangerous Iranian moves that could blow up the situation in the region, especially with the Revolutionary Guards continuing to provide advance marches to the Polisario Front, threatening stability around the Moroccan Sahara

In addition, it noted that there were many human tragedies, including repeated enforced disappearances, abductions, extrajudicial killings, summary executions, identity-related killings and torture in detention centres and other cruel, inhuman and degrading acts in detention centres and "other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment".

The report has highlighted that several young Saharawi were shot by elements of the Algerian army on the Algerian-Mauritanian borders and near the Tindouf camps. 

For Africa Watch, the systematic nature of the killings committed by the Algerian army and gendarmerie against Sahrawi refugees is clearly demonstrated by the frequency of such cases during close periods without any punitive action being taken against those who committed such violations.

AFP/FADEL SENNA - El personal de la Misión de las Naciones Unidas para el Referéndum del Sáhara Occidental (MINURSO)
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Staff of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)

Algerian security services and Polisario elements have interrogated and tortured Saharawi dissidents and activists in their headquarters or in detention centres close to the camps for thinking differently from the Polisario Front and offering other points of view to resolve the Saharawi dispute, as reported by the NGO. 

Human rights defenders in Western Sahara conclude that the killing of young Sahrawis in the camps is clear evidence of a systematic policy of assassinating Sahrawis. "This policy also aims to silence critics and exploit the suffering of the inhabitants of the camps in numerous international fora. These victims were unable to criticise their inhumane situation or demand international protection against the encroachment of the Algerian security services and Polisario forces", as Africa Watch has pointed out. 

The assassinations of young Saharawis who refuse to be silenced and who demand a better life and more freedoms, including freedom of expression and the rejection of the single thought policy, which represents the positions and orientations of the Polisario Front leadership, are frequent. This is a strong indicator of a systematic policy to eliminate any reform initiative or any voice that is not compatible with the position of the host country or the orientations of the Polisario organisation, as reported by the NGO. 

In this regard, it should be noted, as Africa Watch points out in the report, that the host country is responsible for the actions carried out by the Polisario Front, since the Algerian government has delegated part of its share of its powers to the Polisario, particularly with regard to the control of security in the camps. According to this, the Algerian state is directly responsible for any violation of international legal obligations by the Polisario Front. These obligations are an extension of the responsibility of the host and receiving country under the provisions of international law, according to which the host country has the primary responsibility to respect and guarantee the human rights of its citizens and of all persons living on its territory, as laid down in the relevant provisions of international law.

AFP/FADEL SENNA – Entorno del Sáhara Occidental
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Around Western Sahara

The importance of an entrenched problem

The issue of Western Sahara is highly relevant and has been entrenched for more than four decades since Spain's departure from the area as a colonial power. Morocco considers this area to be part of the Kingdom, integrating what are known as the southern provinces. The North African country proposes a formula of broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, respecting the postulates of the United Nations (UN), which seeks to develop the region administratively, socially, politically and economically to the maximum. Under this formula, Western Sahara would have a great capacity for self-management and Morocco would be responsible for foreign policy and security and defence issues. 

AFP/FADEL SENNA - Puesto fronterizo entre Marruecos y Mauritania en Guerguerat, situado en el Sáhara Occidental
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Moroccan-Mauritanian border post at Guerguerat, Western Sahara

This proposal enjoys strong international support from relevant nations such as the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and even Spain, which see the initiative as the most serious, credible and realistic way of resolving the Saharawi dispute.

On the other hand, there is the Polisario Front's alternative, defended by Algeria, which advocates holding a referendum on independence for the Sahrawi people, which has less support on the international stage and is difficult to achieve, according to various experts. All of this taking into account the regional confrontation in the Maghreb between Algeria and Morocco, especially after the decision taken a couple of years ago by the Algerian state to break off relations with the Moroccan kingdom, which it accused of "hostile acts". This situation persists despite the outstretched hand that King Mohammed VI of Morocco has extended on several occasions to restore relations between the two neighbouring countries.

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