The Sahra Question and the Struggle for Human Rights in Tindouf

The Sahra Question and the Struggle for Human Rights in Tindouf

By Jamal Laoudi

Morocco World News

Washington, June 25, 2013

A Sahraoui delegation from Morocco was in a visit to Washington to meet with US official and human rights organization to discuss human rights issues in Tindouf Camps.  Among them was Mohamed Shaikh Ismaeli, president of the council and brother of Mustapha Salem Ould Sidi Mouloud.   To shed some light on this visit and to discuss the Sahra question, I sat down with Mohamed Shaikh:

What is the purpose of the visit of your delegation?

We are human rights activists from the southern Moroccan territories. We are here to discuss issues relating to Morocco including its territorial integrity and human rights.  The main case for us is that of  Mustapha Salem Ould Sidi Mouloud who has been hospitalized recently.  He had gone to teh city of Smara, Morocco from Tindouf Camps to visit his father. Upon his return to the camps, where he had been at high level position in the police, he spoke very favorably of  the living condition in the southern territories of Morocco and the country as a whole, and expressed his satisfaction with the Moroccan autonomy  proposal to resolve the Sahra issue that has been dragging for about 40 years.  For his stance since, he had been tortured and kidnapped for 72 days, and finally expelled from Tindouf to Mauritania.  His family is still in Tindouf, and he has been calling for his basic right to reunite with them since 2010.

We are here to ask the American civil society and the Congress to help us resolve this case of basic human rights of a decent human being.  After all, America is a leader in defending human rights and freedom of speech, and is host to many great human rights and freedom of speech-defending organization.   All Mustapha wants is to be reunited with his family.  Mind you, he had been a refugee at Tindouf since the age of 11.  Some American organizations tend to be sympathetic to Polisarion and we want them to be aware of such cases.

You speak of human violations in Tindouf, give me some examples?

I am going to speak as a human rights activist and from my experience in Tindouf since I have lived there for over 20 years.  There is luring of people from the southern Moroccan territories into Tindouf.  What Polisarion enages in is brainwashing  Refugees in Tindouf Camps are told that living condtions in the southern Moroccan territories are miserable.  Furthermore, residents of these camps are deprived of some very basic rights including the possession of a passport, census, no freedom of movement nor ownership of property.  One cannot leave Tindouf unless they pay bribes or are in a mission that supports the Polisario.  People are isolated; there is no media allowed in.  If you cannot pay up, you are stuck.

These are very serious allegations that are not common knowledge:

I stand 100% behind my statement and and I take full responsibility for it.  There is not a single person in Tindouf who gets a passport and is allowed to leave unless the engage in bribery or they are in a mission for the Polisario.

For some one who has lived there for over 20 years, what do u have to say to people in Tindouf?

People in Tindouf have very little recourse. The world is responsible for them.  I want the world to pay attention to them, to see to it that their basic human rights are respected.  I think many in Tindouf are more and more aware.   I tell them to let us unite, resolve our problems, and build. Let us continue building Morocco, a nation that promotes democracy and respect for human rights.  I tell them and the world, come take a look for yourself, if you don’t like what you see, you could go back; you would have all guarantees to do so.

What do yo u have to say to American decision makers and human rights organizations?

Morocco is on the forward path in human rights and democratic reforms.  There is a new constitution, a government led by a party that was at the extreme opposition at some point. I want the US to assit Morocco in continuing in this path and to help it build more human rights organizations, and monitor and protect freedom of speech.  We want them to us grow and spread this culture. We are not looking for impositions that contradict our traditions and way of life.  We need and are ready and willing to acctep any positive assistance as we want to learn and advance more, and we welcome any help that would steer us in that direction.  The US and Morocco have been allies for centuries and we call on them to help assist us in the endeavor.

There is a persisting problem that many in of the Moroccan face when it comes to the Sahara question, and that is it is not well equipped or informed to defend its position.  Your comments: 

Let me start by stating that I saw with my own eyes how fierce of fighters the Moroccan diaspora is when it comes to the Sahara.  Yes indeed there is a shortage of education in how to defend the Sahara, and not just the Moroccan diaspora but in Morocco itself.  There is a need for a campaign of education on a the subject so that we can properly and adequately defend our cause.

Can you give me some arguments for the Sahara that everyone should use?

There is a long common history between sahraouis and Morocco that we are not going to cover in an hour or a day or even a week; it is that deep.  The sahraoui come from many tribes the biggest of which is Roqaybat that comprise 52% of the population according to a census administered by Spain.  Its founder is Moulay Abdesslam Lamshishi who’s grand father is none other than Sultan Moulay Idriss who’s berried in fez. This family cannot be separated from Morocco and has ruled during the Abbasi era under Haourn Arrachid.  My father himself was a freedom fighetr against the French in the Royal Liberation Army and not under Polisarion or Algeria but under Mohamed V.  Other tribes include Ittouss, Ait Lahcen who have roots in north Morocco.  Many of Polisarion leadership are descendents of these tribe.   I challenge any Sahraoui who says that his ancestors did not come from north of Morocco.  Part of the problem is that Spanich occuaption caused some rift between some tribes but that does not a justification to get to the status quo.

Thank you very much for your time and your invaluable input. Last words:

Thank you for your time as well and for giving me a platform to to discuss the Sahra question. and to present the case for Mustapha Salem Ould Sidi Mouloud who’s fighting for his basic human rights.

This article first appeared in Jamal Laoudi’s blog and was published with the author’s consent

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