First EU-Morocco summit: Don’t forget human rights in Western Sahara
Amnesty International Press Release, Brussels 5 March - In a letter to the Spanish EU presidency, Amnesty International is urging for the inclusion of a specific human rights item on the agenda for the first EU-Morocco summit in Grenada on 7 March. Amnesty International wants that EU leaders at the summit to address the growing intolerance of Sahrawi human rights defenders and others in Morocco who are favouring the self-determination of Western Sahara.
“The EU has a real opportunity to make human rights central to their relationship with Morocco. But this means discussing the situation in Western Sahara during the summit in Granada. Moroccan authorities have been increasingly repressive towards the Sahrawis and their right to express their views, this is something that no EU representative can tolerate,” says Nicolas Beger, the director of Amnesty International’s EU office.
Six Sahrawis are currently facing military trial on charges of undermining Morocco’s internal and external security. Amnesty International has also noted increased reports of harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders such as verbal intimidation, prevention of activists meeting with foreign observers and the confiscation of travel documents. Another concern is the suggestion by Moroccan King Mohamed VI that Sahwaris who call for West Saharan self-determination may be stripped of their Moroccan citizenship.
Independent media have also felt the increasingly repressive approach of the Moroccan authorities against those deemed to criticize the monarchy. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the detention of the journalist Idriss Chahtane at the Salé Civil Prison since 15 October 2009. Chatane was sentenced to one year in prison after publishing an article on the health of King Mohamed VI in the September edition of Almichaal.
In recent years, several other journalists and human right defenders in the country have been prosecuted and sometimes sentenced to prison after peacefully expressing criticisms of the monarchy, which the royal family has deemed offensive. Amnesty International therefore urges the EU to request the immediate and unconditional release by the Moroccan government of Idriss Chahtane as well as the six Sahwari humanrights defenders Ahmed Alnasiri, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek,.
The plight of Sahwaris human right defenders and other Moroccans citizens criticizing the regime must be taken into account in EU’s relationship with Morocco both in Grenada and beyond. In the revision of the EU-Morocco ENP Action Plan, which will be ready later this year, Amnesty International urges the EU to include a strong human rights chapter with measurable benchmarks and a realistic timescale for their accomplishments.
“The European Union can set a precedent for the future direction of the whole European Neighbourhood Policy by negotiating an Action plan with Morocco where human rights form a basis of the relationship,” concludes Beger.
For further comment/background and interviews: Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels): Tel: 32-2-5021499/32 -2 – 548 2773 Email: AmnestyIntl@aieu.be
Africa's last colony
Since 1975, three quarters of the Western Sahara territory has been illegally occupied by Morocco. The original population lives divided between those suffering human rights abuses under the Moroccan occupation and those living in exile in Algerian refugee camps. For more than 40 years, the Saharawi await the fulfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.