transfer Sahrawi cases out of military jurisdiction
February 20, 2013
(Washington, DC – Feb. 20, 2013) The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is deeply disturbed by the mistreatment and the military trial of 25 Sahrawi in Morocco. The RFK Center calls for a full investigation into the alleged torture of the prisoners and calls into question Morocco's use of military courts in trying civilians.
On February 17, after more than two years of detention and a politically charged trial, a Moroccan Military Court in Rabat convicted 25 Sahrawi, including several well-known human rights activists, of offenses relating to violence during the dismantling of the Gdeim Izik protest camp by Moroccan security forces in 2010. The military court handed down sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison to 23 of the Sahrawi. Today, those prisoners were beaten with batons and some of them put in isolation once they arrived in Salé prison where they will be serving out their sentences.
Two defendants were sentenced to two years prison -- the time already served in pretrial detention -- and released. Those Sahrawi whom local organizations identify as human rights defenders received the harshest sentences, including a life sentence for one defendant in absentia who was previously tried and acquitted of the same crime by another tribunal.
"Morocco's failure to earnestly and impartially investigate claims that the defendants were subjected to torture and its refusal to transfer the trial to a civilian court capable of handling the matter are violations of fundamental fair trial standards and of Morocco's obligations under international law," said Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. "International law prohibits military courts from prosecuting civilians for ordinary crimes, as they present serious problems for due process and the independent administration of justice."
In November 2010, the government of Morocco violently dismantled the Gdeim Izik protest camp leaving 13 dead, including 11 Moroccan security agents. The Gdeim Izik camp was erected in October 2010 by thousands of Sahrawi on the outskirts of Laayoune, in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. Considered as the precursor of the "Arab Spring," the camp was set up in protest against the poor economic and social conditions faced by the Sahrawi community. Moroccan authorities have yet to investigate credible claims that the accused were subject to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at the time of their arrest and throughout their detention.
Contact: Cate Urban Web Communications & Social Media Manager RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights Email: firstname.lastname@example.org