Even in Spain, where Polisario is supported by many civil society organizations, growing accusations of human rights violations in Tindouf stain the separatists’ legitimacy claims.
Rabat – The Sahrawi Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADEDH) has denounced the presence of a senior Polisario official in Spain, pointing out the war crimes and other human rights exactions associated with a number of separatist leaders.
Bachir Mustapha Sayed, a senior Polisario official and brother of the co-founder of the Polisario Front, El Ouali Mustapha Sayed, recently spoke at a conference in Madrid on self-determination in Western Sahara.
In a statement in reaction to the invitation of Sayed as a conference speaker, ASADEDH expressed its “disappointment” with the move, arguing that the separatist official is one of the primary suspects in an ongoing investigation into wide-ranging human rights violations in the Tindouf camps between 1979 and 1988.
At the conference, Sayed, addressing the controversial topic of human rights violations and war crimes in Western Sahara, vaguely referred to the obscure 1979-1988 years in the Tindouf camps, when a contingent of Polisario militia and a number of Algerian army officers are believed to have committed kidnappings, torture and other exactions to win the separatist front the unanimous support it sought from Tindouf refugees.
Sayed preached “forgiveness,” saying that Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps should transcend their internal divisions and “wounds of war survivors” to focus on the lager goal of attaining self-determination. “We have all made sacrifices,” he said.
In its statement, however, ASADEDH was categorical. The group suggested Sayed be prosecuted for his association with one of the darkest episodes of the Western Sahara conflict rather than be given a platform as a panelist.
“We denounce the presence in the capital of Spain, Madrid, of Bachir Mustafa Sayed, one of the main accused or investigated by the Spanish National Court in the serious violations of human rights, such as kidnapping, torture, murder, etc. committed in the Sahrawi between 1974 and 1988,” said ASSADEDH’s statement.
At a moment when the Western Sahara question is gathering steam in the international community—the UN Security Council will discuss the topic at the end of this month, and there is hope for a compromise-based solution to the conflict—the condemnatory statement is yet another blow to the separatist front’s claim of being the sole legitimate representative of Sahrawi interests.
Even in Spain, where the Polisario Front has the backing of a number of—mostly leftist—civil society organizations, human rights violations and war crimes have traditionally stained the front’s rehearsed claims of Moroccan “occupation” and “human rights violations” in Western Sahara.
In recent years, in addition to increasingly emerging accusations of embezzlement and mismanagement of the humanitarian aid to Tindouf refugees, the 1979-1988 exactions have constituted the most serious blow to pro-Polisario support in Spain.
In 2012, the Spanish National Court opened an investigation into the 1979-1988 events to shed light into the allegations hovering over a number of Polisario officers and Algerian military commanders said to have committed “genocide” in the Tindouf camps to wipe out “Sahrawi elites of Spanish origin” who might have opposed the separatist front’s agenda for Western Sahara.
The investigation was launched after ASADEDH filed a complaint with the Spanish court. In the complaint, ASADEDH provided the testimonies of three victims of the events, pointing out that “the leadership of the Polisario Front has been the subject of numerous accusations of torture over Sahrawi populations for years.”
Most critical, perhaps, the complaint added that the “genocide” was carried out in for the Polisario to “eliminate” dissenting Sahrawi elites and preempt a potential opposition to its legitimacy claims. The separatist front sought to “obtain a more direct and effective domain on the entire Sahrawi population… in their camps,” according to the complaint.