The sequence of events during the Gdeim Izig incident and the way the PF has been using the concept of self determination suggest that the fact of the matter may be elsewhere.
The Moroccan military court case against 23 allegedly Sahrawi activists is to commence on February 1, 2013. The 23 Saharawis have been on remand since Moroccan security forces dismantled the Gdeim Izik camp, which was set up to express socio-economic grievances, in November 2010. Following a non-armed military intervention led by Moroccan authorities, the official death toll stood at 13 dead including 11 belonging to security forces. According to the Moroccan Code of Military Justice “are…amenable to the military court…all persons…authors of an act, considered as a crime, committed to the detriment of members of the royal armed forces and personnel treated as such”. The President of the Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic (SADR), Secretary General of the Polisario Front (PF) Mohamed Abdelaziz told heads of States in Addis Ababa at 20th summit of the African Union (AU) that the trial of Saharawi prisoners in the Gdeim Izik case was similar to apartheid in South Africa. This claim needs more evidence to be vindicated. The sequence of events during the Gdeim Izig incident and the way the PF has been using the concept of self determination suggest that the fact of the matter may be elsewhere.
The United Nations (UN) has been involved in mediation to find a resolution to the Western Sahara Conflict since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the movement known as the PF, following the end of Spanish colonial administration of the territory.
In October 2010, a group of Sahrawi protesters set up an encampment at Gdeim Izik, 15 kilometres south-east of Laâyoune, with the intention of making socio-economic demands. The camp expanded to comprise 6,610 tents, according to an estimate, based on satellite imagery, of the UN Institute for Training and Research’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme. The number of protesters varied significantly over time.
Morocco held meetings with representatives of the protesters to address their demands. However, Morocco asserted that some elements were obstructing the implementation of solutions in accordance with what it considered a political and security agenda distinct from the protesters’ social demands.
On November 8, 2010, Morocco launched a security operation at Gdeim Izik. In the early morning hours, Moroccan auxiliary forces and police officers dispersed the protesters and dismantled the camp. According to the UN, “no evidence showed that live ammunition or other lethal means were used”.
Violence immediately erupted in the city of Laâyoune, with groups taking to the streets to protest against the dismantling intervention, amid rumours of a high death toll, throwing improvised explosives and stones against Moroccan forces and attacking buildings. The unrest resulted in significant casualties and property damage.
For the purpose of transparency and information, a camera-equipped helicopter of the Moroccan Gendarmerie, filmed the operation. In the recordings, one can see a scene of rare violence where security agents were coldly executed. Simultaneously, the Spanish official news agency EFE presented pictures of Palestinian children in Gaza martyred by the Israeli army in 2008. El Pais, a Spanish daily with large circulation claimed that the pictures “showed two children who fell victims of Moroccan security repression”. Other photos exhibiting a family which members fell victims of a crime were presented as being indicative of the Gdeim Izig incident. The Moroccan family decided to sue Antenna 3 which used their tragedy, in deliberate and bad faith.
On 29 November, following the violence in Laâyoune, Mohamed Jelmous, the Governor of the city, was replaced with Khalil Dkhil, the first Sahrawi to hold the position. Morocco replaced the head of its gendarmerie in Laâyoune as well, and conducted a parliamentary inquiry which concluded that the protesters’ “purely social demands” had been “instrumentalized by terrorists and former criminals as part of a plan supported by Algeria and targeting Morocco’s unity and stability”.
Self determination with no population
The UN reiterated, every now an then, its call for a census in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria. The reluctance of the PF and Algeria, to allow the registration and the census of the populations of the Tindouf creates a weird situation, one in which there is a claim of self determination but no population that articulates the claim. Instead, the International Community deals with the Polisario Front (PF). Since 1979, the PF has been recognized by the UN as the sole representative of the Sahrawi people. In other worlds, the legitimacy of the claim finds root not in the will of the people but rather in international recognition. This being said, one can talk, for accuracy concerns, about a proclaimed right to self government.
Taken From the angle of self government, there are central issues that need clarification. There is a subtle link between the continuation of the Western Sahara Conflict and the perpetuation of a monolithic domination structure in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Mohamed Abdelaziz, the President of SADR, has been in power, under emergency law, since 1976. The PF, however, has never experienced a crisis that could threaten its existence. The constitution of the SADR, proclaimed manu military in 1976 and last amended in 1996, specify that the election system at work is an emergency mechanism that will be in place as long as the Western Sahara is a disputed territory. Following self determination, a transitional period defined in the constitution will take place, ending with the adoption of pluralism of pluralism. The PF will then be dissolved or transformed into a political party.
The PF thus uses self determination in two conflicting ways. On the one hand, it is articulated as a claim expressed through manifestations within the territorial confines of Morocco and at the international level. On the other hand, it is manipulated, at the internal level, as a justification that allows for maintaining an emergency law that does neither guarantee change in the political leadership nor freedom of expression and movement. As the Human Rights Watch 2008 report for Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps rightly put it “a disquieting trait of the human rights situation in the Tindouf camps is the isolation of the population and the lack of regular, on-the-ground human rights monitoring”.
This gives insight into how problematic it is to weight the saliency of the apartheid thesis with respect to the Gdeim Izig trial during which justice needs to be done for all the dead; the victims include a majority of Moroccan security elements and a minority of demonstrators.