As protests against Morocco's denial of the Saharawis' social and economic human rights have become daily news in occupied Western Sahara, eye-witnesses report a police siege targeting the hunger striking Saharawi graduates.
Sources on the ground state that the Moroccan security forces have blocked the entrance to the El Aaiun flat where a group of more than a dozen unemployed Saharawi graduates are carrying out a hunger strike since 12 January 2016. Sympathizers are not allowed to enter the building. In addition, a convoy of military vehicles is reportedly stationed near the place, and there are rumours that the police is planning to remove the hunger strikers by force. The siege is said to have started in the early hours of Monday morning, 18 January.
For months, unemployed Saharawi graduates in El Aaiun have been staging peaceful protests against discriminatory employment practices by OCP, Morocco's state-owned phosphate company. They demand an end to the systematic marginalization of Saharawis in their own country. The group, operating under the name OCP Skills Sahara, calls for the right to work, particularly in view of Morocco's exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources. Without exception, the demonstrations, now occuring almost daily, are met with violence on the part of the Moroccan security forces.
Footage of yesterday's protest El Aaiun, the capital city of occupied Western Sahara, is included below.
What started as off as regular demonstrations accelerated into almost daily protests, triggered by OCP's promise last November that it would create of 500 new jobs in the phosphate plant in Western Sahara, Phosboucraa. It quickly became clear that most of these new positions would not be accessible to Saharawis, as the qualification criteria are simply out of reach to them. Saharawis today live as a marginalized minority in their own land and often cannot afford higher education. During the 40 years occupation, Morocco has not established a single university in Western Sahara.
Saharawis have long lamented that they've been systematically replaced by Moroccan settlers ever since OCP took over the phosphate mines following Morocco's violent annexation of the larger part of Western Sahara.
In October last year, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that the Saharawis are indeed particularly affected by poverty, and expressed its concern that the Saharawis right to dispose of their natural resources was still not respected. In particular, the Committee urged Morocco to respect the rights of the Saharawis to be informed and to give their prior consent to the exploitation of their resources.
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
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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