UN: Amnesty Int'l tasks UN on human rights in Western Sahara refugee camps

New York, US (PANA) - International human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, said human rights monitoring by the UN must be at the forefront of discussions this week over the future of its presence in Western Sahara and Sahrawi refugee camps.

In a statement, made available to PANA in New York on Tuesday, Amnesty International said the call became imperative following increased restrictions on journalists, UN peacekeepers and peaceful activists.

PANA at the UN headquarters reports that the UN Security Council is due to vote on extending the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) on Thursday, 28 April.

The human rights watchdog noted that the UN mission there Is the only UN modern peacekeeping mission without a human rights mandate, yet human rights abuses have been committed by both sides.

The warring sides are the Moroccan authorities and pro-independence movement and the Polisario Front in the 40-year dispute over the territory.

In a report to the Security Council earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for independent and impartial human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, south-western Algeria.

It stated: "Impartial and sustained human rights monitoring by the UN would offer some protection to a population that lives with the daily threat of abuses by the Moroccan authorities and the Polisario Front."

"At a time when the Moroccan authorities are increasingly trying to shut the door to scrutiny by expelling foreign journalists and arresting peaceful activists, and as the human rights situation in the Tindouf camps remains opaque, this is more important than ever.

"The absence of human rights monitoring perpetuates the cycle of abuse and impunity,” said
Magdalena Mughrabi, Interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme
at Amnesty International.

She said that, in the year since the MINURSO mandate was last renewed, the Moroccan
authorities have continued to stifle dissent in Western Sahara, placing arbitrary restrictions
on freedom of expression, association and assembly.

She also said that peaceful demonstrations are routinely banned or forcibly dispersed by security forces and human rights organizations are rarely allowed to register.

"Last month, the UN was forced by the Moroccan authorities to withdraw dozens of civilian staff and close a military liaison office for the MINURSO mission after Ban Ki-moon referred to Morocco’s 'occupation' of Western Sahara during a visit to the Tindouf camps.

"Among those who had to leave were staff implementing programmes coordinated by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). UNMAS considers Western Sahara one of the most heavily mined territories in the world, with more than 2,500 casualties reported since 1975," the human rights watchdog stated.

It further said that sustained UN human rights monitoring is also needed in the Tindouf camps, where Sahrawi youth are reportedly increasingly frustrated with the 25-year impasse in resolving the Western Sahara dispute since the 1991 ceasefire.  

It, however, said that the absence of regular independent human rights monitoring leaves residents vulnerable to abuses.

"The Polisario Front has also failed to take any steps to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses committed in the 1970s and 1980s in camps under its control," Amnesty international added.

PANA reports that MINURSO was established in 1991 in the territory annexed by Morocco in 1975 as well as Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, in south-western Algeria.

It's mandate has been to monitor a ceasefire between the Moroccan armed forces and the Polisario Front, as well as to implement a referendum to determine Western Sahara’s final status.
-0- PANA AA/VAO 26April2016

26 april 2016 16:01:02

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