PUSL .- 13 years ago today, a small group of Saharawi citizens from the occupied territories of Western Sahara pitched their tents in the desert about 13 kilometres from El Aaiun, the capital of Western Sahara, in a place called Gdeim Izik.
Today, 13 years after this cry for help and warning to the international community, nothing has changed. Guterres, the UN Secretary General, who likes to be seen as one of the driving forces behind East Timor’s independence, does nothing for the Saharawis, ignoring the more than five dozen UN resolutions that have never been implemented and which call for the self-determination of the Saharawi people, as is their legitimate right.
After 13 years we are still witnessing a siege and ferocious persecution of the Saharawi population by the illegal Moroccan occupier.
Enough of the occupation, murders, forced disappearances, torture, theft of natural resources, forced impoverishment, wilful medical neglect, theft of cultural identity, imposition of Moroccan nationality. Enough of the slow genocide of the Saharawi people. Enough of the complicity of the United Nations and the European Union.
Today, 13 years later, despite the decisions of the CAT (United Nations Committee against Torture), Morocco continues to torture political prisoners, continues to hold sham trials, persecuting all those who fight and defend their right enshrined in international law in a non-violent way.
Today, 13 years later, we are just a few days away from another meeting of the Security Council (SC) which will once again discuss the extension of MINURSO’s mandate, a mandate that has not been fulfilled since its creation in 1991 due to obstacles imposed by Morocco and the unconditional support of France, a permanent member of the SC.
Today, 13 years later, the Saharawis no longer believe anything the UN says:
“How can we believe in an organisation that sends a peace mission that doesn’t protect us and that spends its time on the beach, in hotels, bars and cafés? UN officials who see our suffering and do nothing, how can we believe countries like France who claim to be the homeland of human rights but who oppose the inclusion of human rights in MINURSO’s mandate, how can they be against the protection of a defenceless population? What are their arguments? What are they afraid of? The Moroccans will never let us hold the referendum, they’re afraid! But don’t think we’ll give up! Every day we are more united and we will be free with or without international help.” International! Maryam S., a young Saharawi woman from El Aaiun.
Since 13 November 2020, the war has resumed after more ceasefire violations by Morocco and attacks on civilians under the silence of the UN.
What was Gdeim Izik?
On 8 October 2010, a small group of Saharawi citizens from the occupied territories of Western Sahara set up their tents in the desert about 13 km from El Aaiun, the capital of Western Sahara, in a place called Gdeim Izik.
This action, which was a sign of protest, had a clear message: enough is enough!
Enough of the brutal occupation, the economic, social and political apartheid that translates into forced impoverishment, unemployment, racism, lack of basic freedoms and respect for human rights on the part of the Moroccan occupation.
This handful of tents and men was quickly joined by thousands of men, women, children and the elderly, all keen to protest non-violently and, at the same time, to live together in their jaimas as the Saharawis have done for centuries. The tent is one of the maximum expressions of their identity and is forbidden by the Moroccan occupation authorities.
The huge camp was filled with Saharawis from all over occupied Western Sahara.
Gdeim Izik’s camp was their way of crying out to the world for help, demanding respect for their most basic human, social and economic rights. A cry addressed to the same world that has deliberately ignored the situation of the Saharawi people since 1975 and that watches in silence the slow genocide of this people.
But nobody moved. MINURSO (the United Nations Peace Mission in Western Sahara) remained motionless without lifting a finger to protect tens of thousands of Saharawis.
On 12 October, armed trucks, helicopters and military vehicles began to circulate in the camp area and to build roadblocks and checkpoints around the camp (videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bryRbZLZD08 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL91Dh6TT34).
Later, a sand wall was built around the camp, putting the Sahrawis back under control and total siege.
The Moroccan armed forces increasingly tightened their siege on the camp and the humanitarian situation of the Saharawi demonstrators became increasingly worrying, the food supply to the Saharawi cars was cut off several times by the Moroccan army and there were several violent interventions by the Moroccan security forces.
On 24 October, the Moroccan army opened fire on a vehicle that was trying to enter the camp with food. Nayem Elgarhi, a 14-year-old Saharawi boy, died on the spot. To this day, the place where Nayem was buried is unknown. Nayem was buried in secret by the Moroccan authorities, who did not allow the boy’s family to see the body or attend the funeral. No autopsy has been carried out on any of the hundreds of thousands of Saharawi dead murdered by Moroccan forces since the beginning of the occupation. The UN took no action, the world remained silent.
The Saharawi demonstrators did not move and remained in Gdeim Izik, although tensions were high. The Gdeim Izik dialogue committee continued negotiations with the Moroccan occupation authorities.
On 26 October, the two sides agreed to carry out a census of the demonstrators as a starting point for the subsequent allocation of some housing and employment-related subsidies.
On 6 November, tents were set up next to the camp to start the census the following Monday, 8 November. But once again, Morocco betrayed what it had promised to do.
In the early hours of 8 November 2010, the Moroccan army invaded the large Saharawi protest camp. The camp was destroyed, hundreds of people were arrested and tortured. The Saharawi demonstrators were shot at with rubber bullets, gas, batons, water cannons, etc. They had no means of defence. They had no means of defence. They had no means of defence.
The demonstrators were forced to leave the camp on foot, by car or, in some cases, by a small number of buses ordered the day before by the Moroccan army from OCP (a phosphate company). At the same time, riots broke out in the streets of several towns in Western Sahara. The demonstrators directed their anger at Moroccan symbols. The Saharawis began building barricades in the streets with cement blocks, stones and burning rubber tyres. Clashes began with the security forces and Moroccan settlers (videos from El Aaiun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOWTgR4lAyI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nSVCovYSwI).
Moroccan forces began raiding homes, destroying property, torturing indiscriminately and arresting hundreds of people. Saharawi schoolchildren were mistreated and persecuted.
In the weeks leading up to the collapse on 8 November, Morocco had already prevented foreign politicians, NGOs and the media from accessing the camp, creating a total news blackout. However, the videos were taken by Saharawis and by Antonio Velasquez (Mexican) and Isabel Terraza (Spanish), who hid inside the camp and then for several weeks in El Aaiun, fearing for their lives (video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z034H97gvN8).
During and after 8 November 2010, many Sahrawis were arrested and detained for much longer than the maximum time a person can be detained without being charged, according to the Moroccan penal code. They were eventually paroled over time, often after spending months in prison without any official charges against them and suffering horrific torture. However, a group of 24 men remained in prison and were transferred to Rabat to be investigated by a military court, their first trial in 2013.
The trial was considered annulled by the international community and, due to pressure, Morocco held a second trial in a civilian court in 2016/2017. 19 of these men remain in prison, with sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment (see report here: https://es.scribd.com/document/366418567/The-Gdeim-Izik-Case).
Throughout the period, MINURSO, the UN Mission on the ground, passed through the camp on a daily basis, saw what was happening, saw the siege and threat to the civilian population and the attack by Moroccan forces. All this constitutes a clear violation of the 1991 ceasefire agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Front. MINURSO, however, remained silent and inactive.
Thirteen years on, the prisoners of Gdeim Izik are still being tortured and imprisoned. Their families suffer reprisals. The situation in occupied Western Sahara is as bad or worse than before.