Sahrawi Activist Mustapha Salma Ignored by Human Rights Watch, Mishandled by Morocco

 Sitting listening to Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch (HRW) testifying in the U.S. Congress on human rights conditions in the Moroccan Sahara and the Tindouf camps, I could not help but to think of how Morocco with all its financial and human potentials is unable to get his message through in Washington. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearings, which were damaging to the Kingdom, are a clear sign of Morocco’s public relations shortcomings in the United States.

 

Once HRW Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa finished his presentation, delivered in March 24, I approached him and asked about the case of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud. His testimony was a bonus for Algeria, which was hardly mentioned, an addition to the Polisario and a debacle for Morocco.

 

Mr. Goldstein, who was accompanied with Mr. Ahmed Benchemsi of HRW, was reluctant to talk to me at first.  He must have thought I was going to complain  about his “bias” against Morocco as many officials do. But to his surprise, my comments were about the reasons he overlooked Polisario’ s persistent violations of  Mustapha Salma’s right to go back to the Tindouf camp and advocate for Morocco’s autonomy for Western Sahara.

 

Mr. Goldstein explained to me that he was aware of this “good” case. He stated that it is mentioned in HRW presentation that was submitted to the Commission for the Congressional record.

 

It is true that the American-based human rights organization briefly references the instance online, but the impact of Mr. Goldstein mentioning Mustapha Salma’s case during his oral appearance in front of three U.S. Congressmen and of the press would have been more poignant.

 

 As a seasoned advocate, Mr. Goldstein knows that the Algerian military have used Mustapha Salma’s reprimand as a warning shot to intimidate and restrict activities of human rights groups in Tindouf. In minimizing this case, HRW approves of Polisario’s trend of silencing descent.

 

It is unfortunate that Mr. Goldstein used this opportunity to testify in Congress to discuss the “Gdeim Izik group”, who are a band of convicted murders and criminals, instead of advocating for the rights of a forcibly exiled human right activist who has been on several hunger strikes to protest his conditions.

 

HRW remains shy in its support for this political campaigner. Mr. Mustapha Salma could have been allowed back to his family and friends in Tindouf if human rights organizations had raised their concerns with the Algerian authorities that control the Tindouf camps.

 

Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud is a former Polisario Police Chief. He was at one point a key figure in the inner circle of the Algeria-based militia fighting for the “independence” of the Western Sahara, until he decided to challenge the Algerian military’s iron grip on the leadership of his origination.

 

Mr. Ould Sidi Mouloud’s trouble began when he decided to break with his former comrades and asked the Polisario’s leadership to consider Morocco’s Autonomy Plan as a viable resolution to the Western Sahara.

 

For the Polisario and their masters in Algiers, calling for local autonomy is a “treason.” Therefore, Mustapha Salma was a “traitor” who was arrested and jailed before being expelled without his family to Mauritania where he remains in exile.

 

Given his military background and his political activism, observers expected Morocco to adopt and use the case to its favor. Inexplicably, Moroccan officials and NGO’s have been slow to react and disorganized to act in supporting an independent Sahrawi political militant fighting for the freedom of Sahrawis in Tindouf.

 

With his courage, Mustapha Salma gave the Moroccans a golden opportunity to expose Polisario’s campaign to crack down on the freedom of expression in Tindouf. Furthermore, Rabat timid response has encouraged an even harsher clampdown on pro-autonomy activists and emboldened Algeria’s campaign to spotlight Morocco’s alleged “abuses” in the Western Sahara.

 

This Sahrawi activist’s resolve to expose Algeria’s firm grip on the Polisario’s decision-making process cost him dearly at a time when Morocco’s support remains timid and disjointed.

 

If Morocco’s efforts to publicize this troubling case had been part of a clear and consistent campaign, the result could have been more successful; sending a message to other Polisario dissidents that the world community hears their cries to break free.

 

Neither Morocco, nor HRW have done enough to support Mr. Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud’s fight for free expression and association in the Tindouf camps.

 

Thankfully, it is not too late, an organized public relations campaign led by Moroccan NGOs and a HRW tougher stand denouncing Algeria’s crackdown on pro-Morocco Sahrawi  activists could lead to the return of Mustapha Salma to Tindouf.

Hassan Masiky
Born in Kenitra, Morocco and based in Washington, Hassan Masiky (Hassan.masiky@gmail.com) is a Blogger and freelance writer. Hassan is a former spokesman for Amnesty International USA and worked as a consultant for USAID funded democracy projects in Mexico, ...