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Special envoy visits the occupied territories to identify cases of torture
Viernes, 21 de Septiembre de 2012 11:02
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The streets of Laayoune have not changed much since the visit of Argentine jurist Juan Mendez, who recently visited the Alawite kingdom and the non-self-governing territory to the south of it, Western Sahara, as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other penalties, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Mr. Mendez knows the ropes and what it means to work in an organization that defends human rights, since he has 15 years of experience in HRW (Human Rights Watch), and is well aware of the resources needed to evaluate the situation of any given population that suffers and is being tortured and subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment in prisons and detention centers. A case in point is the Sahrawi people. Mr. Mendez knows what the work entails, as he was a victim of torture during Argentina's military dictatorship (NDA: 1976-1983) for acting as political prisoners´ defense attorney.

Unfortunately, the visit lasted only a week, of which he spent two days and two nights in the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Mr Mendez visited the Black Prison in Laayoune and was able to witness the mechanisms of repression practiced in the streets of the capital from his arrival until his departure from the territory to other prisons in Rabat and other Moroccan cities. Yet, the demonstrations for the right to self-determination and freedom of expression and association still go on as usual in the occupied territory. In the neighbourhoods of Maatala and Raha and in Smara street, things have not changed much.



On September 20th Mr. Mendez visited the Gdeim Izik prisoners, who have been waiting more than two years for a trial which is expected to take place on October 24th, 2012. The main reason for his visits to these centers is that not only organizations[1], but also a number of states[2], came to the conclusion during the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights held last May 2012 that besides the lack of freedom of press, speech and association, there is "black hole" regarding human rights of the Saharawi population. They therefore recommend that especially in prisons, there is a necessity to officially monitor and evaluate the current situation.

In any case, there is plenty of evidence to show the unfair situation of the Saharawi people waiting for their legitimate right to participate in a referendum on self-determination. Instances of this include the violent dismantling of Gdeim Izik protest camp and censorship of information during this, the numerous hunger strikes undertaken by Aminetu Haidar as well as many other political prisoners who have resorted to this form of nonviolent protest, the lack of investigation of Said Dambar’s murder, the largest minefield in the world that also divides Sahrawi families, the exile of over 200,000 people in the Algerian desert, approximately 4,500 forcibly disappeared Saharawis of which 500 are still missing, the murder of 14-year old El Garhi for participating in the peaceful protest of Gdeim izik, and constant censorship of all media persons and entities that seek to clarify the reality of the Saharawi people.

During his trip, Juan Mendez also met with associations[3] lacking legal recognition by the occupying state, as well as activists, mostly ex political prisoners, who shared with him their testimonies about the tortures, rapes, beatings, arbitrary arrests and repression to which they have been subjected, in addition to all the data they gave him regarding the situation and mistreatment of the Saharawi population in general for years.

All in all, many of the facts and experiences that the Special Rapporteur on torture collected during his trip makes eyes turn to the Western world. The number of injustices suffered by these people is overwhelming, but what is even more frustrating is that the measures taken by the United Nations are reduced to only one, namely that of sending an investigator to assess during a few days something that has been happening for years. For many Sahrawis the visit came too late, for others it was just one more glimpse into the routine of their lives, but for some it was also a ray of hope, or light at the end of the tunnel. As the Sahrawis told him, and tell all those who have been privileged to know the city of Laayoune and the fighters, what they want is to be able to exercise their right. This is the reason why it’s necessary to establish a Human Rights monitoring system.

On October 6th 2010, Juan Mendez was appointed by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, for a term of three years. The term is effective from November 1st 2010. On June 26th 2012, in an interview with, he said: What do you expect to accomplish within the term of your mandate?

JEM: "We want these countries to meet the universal standard. All arrests must be registered. All detention facilities must be known and subject to periodic inspections. These measures are common sense."

This is precisely what we want, to put common sense above impunity. Human rights must be respected and constantly monitored by agencies and organisms relevant to governments and international law. The respect of human rights in prisons, in detention centers, on the streets, in the homes, in trials, in schools and especially, according us in Thawra, the respect of the rights of the Sahrawi population and the self-determination they deserve.


[1] Amnesty International, Boston University, Roger F. Kennedy center and CODESA, etc.

[2] Sweden, Ireland, United States, Costa Rica and Denmark