The United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published its second Opinion regarding the Gdeim Izik group confirming the findings of its opinion from 2014 ( A/HRC/27/48/Add.5) requesting immedite release of the Saharawi Political prisoners of the Gdeim Izik Group after concluding again that they were all illegally detained. The group includes journalists and human rights defenders from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, a territory pending decolonisation.
The UN Working Group noted serious violations committed by Morocco including denial of the right to access to legal defence, confessions obtained under torture and the lack of impartiality and independence of the court that tried them, all pointing to an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty since they were arrested in 2010. The UN Working Group also called on Morocco to ensure compensation and urged the Kingdom to investigate the facts leading to the arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to take action against those responsible. The decision can be found here.
Professor and former Chairperson-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group, Mads Andenas, who is one of the persons legally assisting the group of prisoners, welcomed the decision: “This is an important confirmation of the observations already made by numerous trial observers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, various UN mandate holders and by the UN Committee against Torture. Knowing Morocco’s malicious tendency to refuse to participate, to reject serious violations and to subject victims and their families to reprisals, we urge all states and others to press Morocco to implement this decision and release the prisoners”.
In addition to considering the detention of these activists as arbitrary, the UN Working Group expressed its deep concern about the number of alleged cases of arbitrary detention in Western Sahara. The UN Working Group also echoed concerns already expressed by the UN Committee against Torture and several UN Special Procedures mandate holders on the case of the Gdeim Izik prisoners. The UN Committee against Torture has issued and published five decisions concerning Gdeim Izik prisoners Mohammed Bani, Abdeljalil Laaroussi, Naama Asfari, Mohammed Bourial and Sidi Abdallahi Abbahah, denouncing torture and the use of signed confessions under torture as a basis for their continued imprisonment. Four of this complaints have been presented by Maitre Olfa Ouled, who has been their defense lawyer since the civil trial in 2017.
Although the opinions of the WGAD are not binding nor do they have any legal value they are without a doubt important in order to reinforce the public opinion and to pressure Morocco.
The CAT decision on the other hand have an added value and are publidhed as jurisprudence, yet the Moroccan government has so far ignored its obligations.
It is up to governments and international community and specially the European Union to pressure Morocco to respect the conventions it has signed, international law and the human rights clause of the partnership agreement with the EU and that fuels millions of euros into the safes of the Kingdom.
The families welcomed the decision of the UN Working Group confirming the illegal detention of the prisoners and demanded that Morocco releases them immediately”