"Buying our resources means buying our pain, suffering and tears"
During the past week, Saharawi victims of severe human rights violations have taken to the streets of El-Aaiún, demanding more respect for their socio-economic rights. Protesters carried slogans calling attention to the ongoing plunder of Saharawi natural resources, perpetrated by Morocco and complicit foreign interests.
“Morocco has made us suffer unimaginable pains, because we are Saharawi”, sighs Ahmed (whose last name was not asked for, to protect him from any reprisal). “We were promised compensation, but we’ve never received anything. And what’s worse: our homeland’s natural resources should in theory suffice to alleviate our burden, but they’re being sold-off to fill Morocco’s treasury - adding insult to injury.”
For several days, Saharawi have been demonstrating in front of the local office of the National Council for Human Rights - previously dubbed the Advisory Council for Human Rights - in El Aaiún, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Nearly all protesters are victims of severe human rights abuses, and demand their social and economic rights be respected.
“We cannot understand how the European Union could grant Morocco a special status”, says another protester who asked to remain anonymous. Several demonstrators were carrying banners denouncing the EU’s decision to award Morocco the status of a privileged partner. “Morocco continues to occupy our land, treat us like animals, and they get rewarded for it? I don’t understand...”
“I lost my livestock while I was being kept in the secret prison of Pecicimi (El-Aaiún)”, says L.B. “Due to the beatings and privation, I’ve lost my ability to work. I can barely survive”.
Most of the protesters have similar stories: they are victims of enforced disappearance, abduction, arbitrary detention, torture and other inhumane treatment, who’ve had great difficulty picking up their lives after their ordeal. Their claims regarding social and economic reparation were never answered, nor did they obtain any financial or administrative compensation for their plight.
The claims of hundreds of Saharawi were acknowleged by the Commission for Equity and Reconciliation (IER), set-up in 2004 in order to reconcile victims of human rights abuses committed by the Moroccan state during the reign of former king Hassan II. The Saharawi, having suffered immensely during the war and under subsequent Moroccan occupation, have maintained for years that the IER has failed them completely. While dozens of Saharawi were summoned to appear in front of the Commission’s El-Aaiún office, none of them have received any compensation for the heavy losses and inhumane treatment they’ve suffered.
WSRW has received a list of hundreds of Saharawi whose right to compensation has been recognised by the IER. But for years, that list has been sitting on the prime minister’s desk, awaiting endorsement.
Protesters say they will continue to demonstrate as long as the Moroccan authorities refuse to meet their legitimate demands. “We want fair compensation for the physical and psychological damage we’ve endured. A fair share of the exploitation of our land’s natural endowments would go a long way, but even that is taken from us”, they say.
"Buying our natural resources means buying our pain, suffering and tears"
"Our natural resources are sufficient to give us jobs"
"Ex-prisoners of conscience demand justice and rights, and denounce EU-Moroccan advanced status"
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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