Human Rights Watch denounced the Algeria-backed separatist Polisario Front for referring civilians to its military court for investigation and trial, a practice, it said, that goes against widely accepted international norms of human rights.
In a 94-page report that was presented on Saturday in Algiers, the human rights defense organization criticized military courts for their lack of accountability, independence and impartiality. “The Polisario has recently broadened the jurisdiction of its military court to include drug-related crimes, thereby increasing the powers of military judicial authorities to detain, investigate, and sentence civilians,” it said.
The NGO also called the separatist movement that claims the independence of Western Sahara, a territory in Southern Morocco that was formerly under Spanish rule, to end the practices of slavery that still persist in the Tindouf camps.
HRW said it found some forms of slavery, including enforced domestic servitude, whose victims tend to be dark-skinned Sahrawis, and documented a case in which a brother and sister were abducted by a family and forced to work in their household for up to 18 years.
For the NGO, the persistence of certain forms of slavery highlights the need for continuous, on-the-ground human rights monitoring, as well as the need for SADR authorities to redouble efforts to eradicate this phenomenon.
HRW on the other hand called Algeria which is hosting on its territory the Tindouf camps to acknowledge its responsibility regarding the respect for human rights in these camps and make sure that the perpetrators of abuses are held responsible.
“Algeria should publicly acknowledge its legal responsibility for ensuring respect for the rights of everyone on its territory, including residents of the Polisario-run refugee camps,” stated the report, underlining that this responsibility “includes intervening if and when human rights violations are taking place and ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible.”
The report also urged Algeria to “change its apparent posture of ceding to the Polisario Front entire responsibility for the protection of the human rights of the population of the Tindouf refugee camps” and “ensure that Sahrawi refugees residing in Algeria are free to enjoy full rights as refugees to freedom of movement within Algerian territory and across Algerian borders.”
The report listed other human rights violations such as physical abuse by security forces and torture or physical mistreatment of people in custody, and restrictions to the freedom of speech and movement of people as well as to political activism.
In this respect the NGO said “the Polisario monopolizes political discourse in the camps” and opposition to its fundamental goal of political self-determination for Western Sahara is rarely heard.
The Polisario, with the support of Algeria, is claiming self-determination for the disputed territory while Morocco has proposed an autonomy plan under its sovereignty. The UN is sponsoring a settlement process through indirect negotiations between the conflicting parties but these negotiations have been at a standstill for a while, which means that the refugees are not about to return to their homeland any time soon.