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Open Letter to Members of European Parliament On The Systematic Human Rights Violations in Tindouf Camps in South Western Alegria

Tinduf

Dear Honorable Member of European Parliament 

We Moroccan parliamentarians, members of the Morocco/EU Joint Parliamentary Commission, express hereby our attachment to universal human rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, the right of refugees to be registered, enjoy free movement, and engage in gainful payment, and the rights of children, including the right to be protected from exploitation, worst forms of labor, and from recruitment into military action. 

We regard human rights in a global and undivided manner and cannot accept when some want to talk about human rights in one region while closing their eyes when it comes to other contexts out of pure political and ideological reasons. 

We know for sure that as Members of Parliament, you believe in and cherish the same values regarding human rights as ourselves and that you look at human rights in an integrated manner with no politically motivated selectiveness. 

While we would like to engage with you regarding human rights in Morocco, especially the achievements realized so far in this field as well as the challenges that need to be dealt with, we would like, at the same time, and in the spirit of the “non-selective” nature of human rights, to draw your attention to the dire situation of human rights in the Tindouf Camps, in South-Western Algeria, wherein so-called “refugees” are warehoused for decades. This situation is of concern to us as Moroccan deputies since a good part of the populations sequestrated in the Tindouf Camps are Moroccan Sahrawis.

Algeria considers the Moroccan Sahrawis (as well as others coming from the Sahel region) on its soil “refugees”. Morocco, however, considers them “sequestrated populations” detained against their will in the camps.  Despite considering them “refugees,” Algeria does not apply the 1951 Geneva Convention nor the 1967 relevant Protocol to them. In addition to the fact that they are “warehoused”, their free movement is monitored and they are not allowed to go to third countries nor engage in gainful employment. “Warehousing” is contrary to the spirit and letter of international law on refugees. 

Despite regular calls from the UN Security Council and the UNHCR for Algeria to count and register the Sahrawi “refugees” as stipulated by international law, the identity and number of these alleged refugees remains a mystery. In its 28 September 2018 note, UNHCR confirmed the official planning figure of the “Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps in Algeria” is “90, 000.” “Since 2006, this figure has been supplemented by an additional 35, 000 rations.” “However, UNHCR will continue to rely on these figures until a full-fledged registration exercise is carried out.” The additional 35, 000 rations were added to deal with the impact of floods on the most vulnerable and has been kept to deal with natural disasters such as floods or severe droughts.  Algeria and Polisario claim that a higher number of refugees live in the camps and receive humanitarian aid in the light of those exaggerated estimations. But they continuously refuse to count and register the “refugees” despite constant calls from UNHCR and the UN Security council. Anecdotal evidence shows that part of humanitarian aid is sold by Polisario officials on the black market in Southern Algeria and the Sahel region.

The European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office found out in 2015 that EU humanitarian aid, which totaled € 105 million over the years, has been regularly misappropriated by the Polisario for activities such as the purchase of arms. The same issue was subject to a Motion of Resolution fielded by European Parliamentarians on July 24, 2020.  

On the other hand, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed, on the occasion of the fourth periodic report of Algeria on July 20, 2018, its deep concern that “the de facto devolution of authority” over the Tindouf Camps by Algeria “to the Frente Polisario, especially jurisdictional authority,” …”is inconsistent with Algeria’s obligation to respect and guarantee all Covenant rights for all persons within its territory. It is also concerned by the reports that, as a result of the foregoing, victims of violations of Covenant provisions in the camps at Tindouf do not have access to an effective remedy in the State party’s courts.” 

We, therefore, urge all European deputies to take the necessary steps to urge Algeria to end this illegal situation and have it assume its full responsibility in running the camps and allowing the population free movement and free access to the Algerian justice system.  

The Polisario brags about using children in armed struggles. Its propaganda media regularly post videos of children in fatigues being trained and indoctrinated to fight. When the United Nations Secretary General Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, visited the Tindouf Camps on January 15, 2022, he was greeted by a child solider, a photo that shocked the international community. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), also known as the child soldier treaty, is a multilateral treaty whereby states agree to: 1) prohibit the conscription into the military of children under the age of 18; 2) ensure that military recruits are no younger than 16; and 3) prevent recruits aged 16 or 17 from taking a direct part in hostilities. The treaty also forbids non-state armed groups from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. 

Human rights law declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities. Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. 

The International Community, the UN Human Rights Council, UNICEF, the European Parliament and NGOs like Child Soldiers, World Vision and others should hold Algeria accountable for the flagrant violation of the above-mentioned protocol which the Government of Algeria had ratified in 2016. 

We urge the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) to carry out a full investigation of the illegal use of child soldiers by the Polisario, an entity that administers EU Humanitarian Aid as received by the Algerian Government. 

It is our moral and political responsibility as MPs to denounce the dire situation of human rights in the Tindouf Camps. It is also the same for Members of the European Parliament, an institution that is supposed to be a protector and promoter of rights, to be a voice for those Sahrawis languishing in Tindouf Camps without a voice and with no rights. This is a call of conscience to all of Europe, the beacon of rights and freedom, to act and alleviate the suffering of the sequestrated populations in the Tindouf Camps, in Western Algeria.  

Lahcen Haddad, PhD and Co-President of the joint parliamentary Morocco-European Commission.