Call for UN Peacekeeping Force in Western Sahara to Monitor Human Rights

The UN Security Council is due to extend the Mandate UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) at the end of April 2014. It is currently the only modern UN peacekeeping operation that does not contain a human rights component. MINURSO was established in 1991 in the territory annexed by Morroco in 1975 as well Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in south-western Algeria. Its mandate has been to monitor a ceasefire between the Moroccan armed forces and the Polisario Front, as well as to implement a referendum to determine Western Sahara’s final status.

In a report sent to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for independent, impartial human rights monitoring in the territory and Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria due to clampdowns on peaceful protests and reports of activists tortured in custody. This call is strongly supported by Amnesty International. In stated that in the year since the mandate was last renewed, the Moroccan authorities have continued to stifle dissent, placing restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful protests and civil society. The international non-government organization also has documented cases activists and protesters being tortured or otherwise ill-treated while in the custody of the police following demonstrations calling for MINURSO to adopt a human rights mandate in 2014.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General expressed that, “[e]xtending the peacekeeping force’s mandate to include human rights would shed much-needed light on violations and abuses that would otherwise go unreported and provide an independent and impartial account on disputed allegations of human rights violations.” An expansion of MINURSO to include monitoring of human rights would immensely help in the investigation of cases such as the death of 11 Sahrawis forcibly disappeared. It could also help the Polisario Front and the Moroccan authorities overcome their mutual mistrust fuelled by allegations of human rights abuses and help build an environment conducive to fruitful political negotiations.

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