Morocco has told the UN Human Rights Council that it will not take the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people into account.
Photo: Elli Lorz
In November 2022, Morocco went through its fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the UN Human Rights Council. In this periodic review of its human rights slate by other UN Member States, the Moroccan government received 306 recommendations as to how it could improve the human rights situation in Morocco, and in the part of Western Sahara that it holds under illegal, military occupation.
Specifically, ten intervening States put forward recommendations on Western Sahara, including several appeals on Morocco to respect the Saharawi people's right to self-determination and to the land's resources.
Last week, on 24 March 2023, Morocco took to the floor of the UN Human Rights Council to respond to the recommendations received five months ago. It flat-out rejects all recommendations on Saharawi self-determination, adding that the issue is not in the domain of the Human Rights Council.
“The Kingdom of Morocco does not accept five recommendations related to territorial integrity in the context of the regional conflict brought before the Security Council, which does not fall within the mandate of the Human Rights Council”, states the Addendum containing the views of the Moroccan government. It concerns recommendations put forth by Namibia, East Timor, Venezuela and Algeria, essentially calling for the organisation of the self-determination referendum in Western Sahara (which Morocco agreed to in the 1988 UN's settlement proposal that ended the war in Western Sahara), and for ensuring that the people of Western Sahara consent to the taking of their resources. Read the full text of these recommendations further below (or find them here - recommendations 290, 291, 294, 302 and 305).
Paragraph 20 of the Addendum also reads that “The Kingdom of Morocco considers rejected the part regarding the cooperation with the Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations for the southern provinces of the Kingdom of Morocco, which was included in a recommendation, since this issue does not fall within the mandate of the Human Rights Council”.
In addition, there are 32 recommendations that the Moroccan government “rejected entirely”, the Addendum explains, which mostly call for the abolishment of the death penalty, decriminalising sexual relations outside of marriage or same-sex relationships, and combatting violence against women - but also for respecting the Geneva Convention and treating detainees in Western Sahara in humane conditions.
The report of the Working Group on Morocco's fourth UPR, issued in January this year, already included statements from the Moroccan government that indicated its adversity vis-à-vis recommendations on Saharawi self-determination.
“Regarding the issue of self-determination in the Saharan provinces, Morocco has supported the exercise of the right to self-determination of the peoples of many countries, including those of the delegations that raised the issue. Under international law, the right to self-determination is tied to the right to territorial integrity. In relation to certain claims about freedom of movement and freedom of expression in the southern provinces, the situation in these provinces is completely normal and many representatives of the international community have travelled there. There are more than 30 diplomatic and consular missions, and six special procedures of the Human Rights Council have visited the regions concerned. Morocco continues to invite many special procedure mandate holders to undertake visits", Morocco then stated.
It is worth noting that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted in his speech to the Human Rights Council on 7 March 2023 that "on Western Sahara, my Office continues remote monitoring of the human rights situation. Given that the most recent visit by the Office took place almost eight years ago, it is crucial for my Office to be able to undertake again meaningful missions to the region." The current UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, appointed in October 2021, has still not been allowed to visit the territory.
The 5 recommendations below were not accepted by Morocco, “related to territorial integrity in the framework of the regional dispute presented to the Security Council, which have nothing to do with the powers of the Human Rights Council”
290. Refrain from engaging in any economic activities or the exploitation of resources in the territory of Western Sahara without the formal consent of the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara, in line with international legal jurisprudence and relevant European and African judicial
291. Put an end to the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, which violates the human rights of the Sahrawi people, by holding a referendum for self-determination in accordance with United Nations documents, the settlement plan of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity, which was approved by the two parties and adopted by the Security Council in its resolutions 621 (1988) and 690 (1991) (Algeria);
294. Enable the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination through a free, fair and transparent referendum administered by the United Nations (Namibia);
302. Enable the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination through a democratic referendum (Timor-Leste);
305. Put an end to its denial of the right of free self-determination of the Sahrawi people, recognized by international law, by organizing a referendum that is the free and authentic expression of the will of the inhabitants of the territory (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);
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