terça-feira, 23 de dezembro de 2008

Official reactions to the HRW report

Having now skimmed the new HRW report, it seems to me to be a very thorough piece of work. It presents a nuanced picture of repression on all sides in Western Sahara, and gives the most complete picture I have seen so far of the present human rights situation. (It does not deal with past violations.)

For example, police repression in Moroccan-held Western Sahara is portrayed in all its unpleasantness, with several political trials examined in detail. But the report also notes significant improvements since the 1990s: "Despite the persistent enforcement of laws repressing advocacy of Sahrawi
independence, Morocco has gradually and unevenly opened the door to wider debate on this issue." And "[i]n contrast to twenty years ago, Sahrawi activists conduct [pro-independence] activities and return home most nights without being disturbed. However, sooner or later most of them encounter various forms of harassment that can include travel restrictions, arbitrary arrest, beatings, or trial and imprisonment on trumped-up charges. In recent years, courts have generally imposed on Sahrawi activists sentences of three years or less, sentences generally much shorter than those imposed during the earlier period." This nuanced but critical view, of course, shatters both the stalinesque propaganda of official Morocco, according to which All Is Well In The Southern Provinces, but also pokes a hole in POLISARIO's claims that nothing has changed -- or can change -- for the better under Moroccan rule.

HRW also notes that power remains centralized to a small core of decision-makers in POLISARIO's Tindouf camps, with the refugee community dependent on their political leadership for jobs and provision, rather than the other way around; a situation which naturally encourages corruption and abuse. However, the report also points out that the political climate has been much liberalized since the ceasefire in 1991, and that "[t]oday, political detentions are rare or nonexistent in the refugee camps." It provides the first serious investigation of the slavery allegations, noting that "vestiges of slavery" and traditional racist social stratification remains in the camps, primarily in such a way as to affect marriage customs; but also, that POLISARIO has tried to fight these phenomena, and that they are present throughout Sahrawi/Moorish society, including on the Moroccan side. It clarifies that refugees aren't "forcibly held" or "sequestered", as Morocco claims, and that they are quite able to leave the camps -- but also that people fear POLISARIO's reaction if they were to announce a willingness to resettle in Moroccan-held territory. These descriptions run totally counter to POLISARIO's fantastical claims of a blossoming little refugee democracy, but also undermine Rabat's equally absurd depiction of the Tindouf camps as a sort of desert GULAG archipelago for kidnapped Moroccans.

Finally, HRW points out the anomaly that there is no party formally responsible to the international community for human rights protection in Tindouf: Algeria has abdicated rule over the area to the Sahrawi Republic, which in turn is not internationally recognized, and the UN mission, MINURSO, has no human rights-monitoring component. The report argues that Algeria's responsibility should be defined and recognized (something Algeria wants to hear nothing of, preferring its ambiguous role on the sidelines), and also demands that MINURSO get the same right and duty as other UN missions to monitor human rights in all of its areas of responsibility, i.e. all of Western Sahara and the POLISARIO-administered territories in Algeria (something which Morocco is rigidly opposed to, and which its ally France blocks in the Security Council).

All in all, this report is the best I've read so far, by far, on Western Sahara's human rights issues. So how was it received by its intended recipients, the ruling circles in Rabat, Rabouni and Algiers? Quite predictably, by a barrage of shrill and one-sided propaganda:

In Morocco, some officials denounce the report, which is harshest on Morocco (for the simple reason that Morocco has on the whole been much more abusive to Sahrawis). For example, Istiqlali parliamentarian Hamid Shibat explained to al-Jazira that the report is a product of, you guessed it, Algerian intelligence.* And the palace mouthpiece Le Matin is shocked to its very core after reading this "perfidious" document: "One falls backwards, one must be dreaming, one thinks that one is hearing an Algerian delegate in front of an assembly". However, the paper then catches its breath again, to summarize the report in another article in quite different tones. Now it suddenly states that "Polisario and Algeria are responsible for human rights violations in the Tindouf camps."

This is also the line taken by the official news agency, MAP, which spews out a steady stream of articles on the report, like one headlined "HRW urges Algeria to assume responsibility for Polisario barbaric acts in Tindouf" or its sister piece, which claims that "HRW's assessment is almost a scathing denial of the vain allegations that the polisario and its mentor Algeria throw out whenever a handful of separatists strive to disrupt public order and whenever Moroccan authorities exercise their right to restore order and reprimand violent rioting demonstrators and thieves." Almost!

Algerian and Sahrawi media is no better. The Sahrawi news agency, SPS, somehow twists HRW criticisms of POLISARIO rule in Tindouf into "HRW welcomes the role of the Polisario Front for the protection of human rights" and the writers' union UPES obediently follows suit: "Human Rights Watch accused Morocco on Friday of beating and torturing independence campaigners in Western Sahara and said U.N. peacekeepers should start monitoring human rights in the territory." And APS, the Algerian state news agency, sums up the report as "Morocco is in the eye of the storm because of its repression in Western Sahara." Meanwhile, the Algerian state newspaper El Moudjahid sums up the situation in Tindouf as simply one of "freedom of movement, no political prisoners, and where criticism against the management of Front Polisario is permitted," and the other state newspaper, ech-Chaab, headlines with "Morocco violates rights of free expression in Western Sahara," and that's about it.

The expression "dialogue of the deaf" doesn't capture the scope of the problem here. It's more like a drooling, spitting, eye-rolling rant of the mentally retarded. All the peoples involved deserve so much better than these pitiful governments.