Algeria's Campaign On Human Rights In Sahara

The Algerian authorities’ decision to prevent a group of Algerian civil rights activists from leaving the country to attend the World Social Forum in Tunis is drawing criticism from local and international human rights organizations. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Mr. Christopher Ross , should be concerned with the Algerian government actions.

The Bouteflika government, an advocate for adding a human right mandate to The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and an outspoken critic of Morocco’s human rights record, has, thus far, denied foreign NGO’s access to Algeria to investigate alleged abuses including mistreatments of Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps.

Algeria’s poor record on protecting civil liberties makes its concerns on this issue laughable. The Algerian’s military failure to respond to the widespread human rights violations committed against its own people during the civil war must not be tolerate, especially in light of Algiers camping to denounce abuses in the Western Sahara.

For years, the world community has gone mute on the face of specific allegations of human rights abuses in the Sahrawi camps run by the Algeria backed Western Sahara separatist Polisario Front. Algiers decision to deny 96 of its own citizens their rights to free movement should be used as an impetus for the MINURSO to investigate, without either delay or bias and in an efficient way, all reports of abuses in the Tindouf Camps.

Furthermore, the Algerian delegation that was allowed to travel to Tunis attacked a human rights gathering of Moroccan Sahrawi meeting to discuss the humanitarian conditions in Tindouf.  Such bullying tactics should not go unnoticed by Mr. Ross and his team.

On the issues of human rights in North Africa, the U.N. has adopted a more conciliatory posture toward Algeria than Morocco by allowing the Polisario to restrict access to the civilian population in Tindouf. With a meek Moroccan diplomacy fading in the background, Algeria has played the world community skillfully, focusing attention on the situation in the Moroccan controlled Sahara and pressuring the MINURSO to act on incidents in Laayoune but never address abuses in Tindouf.  

The Moroccan civil society must remind Mr. Ross that, as Amnesty international stated, "Algeria’s limit on the movement of it civil society activists stems from a blatant attempt to prevent them from meeting groups with a similar philosophy from around the world, and seems to be designed to isolate." The Algerian Military applies the same tactics on Sahrawi dissidents in Tindouf muffling opposition voices.

Up-until-now, Mr. Ross has done little in the face of increased human rights abuses in Tindouf. The United Nations envoy to the Western Sahara should seize this occasion to address with the Algerian President the harsh restrictions imposed on civil liberties in Tindouf. Mr. Ross must dispatch an independent party to collect, investigate and report on instances of human rights abuses in the refugee Camps.

Moroccan rights organizations have been complaining to no avails about the Algerian Military systematic policy of denying Sahrawis outside the Polisario leadership the rights of movement, speech and assembly. The Algerian authorities that prevented a delegation of 96 trade unionists to cross the border to go to Tunisia is likely to deny the refugees living on its territory the right to move freely to Morocco.