HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN WESTERN SAHARA:
THE TESTIMONY OF MOHAMED BOUYA
Mohamed Bouya spent more than ten years in Moroccan prisons and forced labour camps. First as a prisoner of war and then as a civilian. He never once had the opportunity of a fair trial and was tortured under appalling conditions.
He was freed by the Moroccan authorities in 1991, but was deprived of housing and work and had to live under constant surveillance. He eventually decided to escape to the Saharawi refugee camps in South West Algeria.
His harrowing testimony, reproduced below gives an indication of the systematic human rights abuses which are perpetrated by Morocco against the Saharawi people.
PRISONER OF WAR
I am a Saharawi citizen, born in 1940 in Tindouf. I was first captured on the 8th June, 1977 at Oued Nasser (Farsia, Western Sahara) during a battle with the Moroccan army (Forces Armées Royales). It was about 11.30 in the morning, and the main contingent of Saharawi fighters had retreated. I was ordered to carry out reconnaissance of the enemy along with 4 companions. Out of nowhere, two Moroccan jets (F5 s) appeared on the horizon. They started to chase us. A bomb hit our Land Rover. There was a huge explosion and my companions were killed instantaneously.
I was thrown thirty feet out of my vehicle and burned on my limbs and head. One of my legs was paralysed and has subsequently never recovered.
I was unconscious for some time. When I awoke, a Moroccan soldier was training his gun on me and was about to fire saying, This bastard is still alive ! But not for long. I heard another soldier shout, Don't kill him!
I was then surrounded by about twenty soldiers. One advanced slowly towards to me and took away my ammunition belt and water bottle. He ordered another soldier to search my pockets and then told two others to carry me to a vehicle. One took a hand and the other a foot, and they dragged me all the way to their car.
I was taken to the battle field where there were many dead and wounded. Here, they took photos of me. An officer noticed that the nurses were not paying any attention to me and said, If you don't take care of this one, he will die. He is bleeding too much. The nurses bandaged me. Several hours later two helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded. I was put into one. The soldier accompanying me put his foot on my face. I tried to resist, but the co-pilot retorted, Let your master put his boot into your stinking face.
Two hours later, we arrived at what must have been Zak (in the south of Morocco). Two soldiers started firing questions at me.
What is your name? How many of you were there during the battle? I gestured to them that I was incapable of answering because I needed some water. I was taken straight back to the helicopter again.
Two hours later we arrived at Agadir military airport, and from there they took me on by van to a military barracks. They took me into an office and put me on the floor. A sergeant-major started to interrogate me. Another officer was also present in the room, but he just stood watching.
What is your name? How many of you were there during the battle? repeated the sergeant-major. Getting no reply, he asked me, Do you speak Spanish or French ? I motioned to him that I could not speak and needed water.
The sergeant-major brought cotton wool soaked in water and ran it over my lips. As I still did not say anything, he plunged his biro into my eye, shouting: Speak, you dog! If you don't speak, we will make you speak ! He repeated this operation many times and as I still said nothing they locked me in a cell without any treatment for my wounds.
The next day I was in a critical condition. My head was swollen and so was the rest of my body. When the guards opened my cell door, the officer panicked so much that he called a doctor. He told me that only a specialist could help me now.
FACING GENERAL DLIMI
A few hours later a delegation of Moroccan officers led by General Dlimi came in and spoke to the officer who had observed my interrogation the night before. The General then came up to me and said, Do you want to live or die ? I pointed up to the sky with my finger. He continued, You will get medical treatment, but you have to tell us the truth.
I was transferred to a military hospital where there were several wounded Moroccans. I was in a separate room and permanently guarded. For the first time I received some medical attention. Two nurses removed the bandages, the clothes which had stuck to my wounds and the shrapnel in my flesh.
Every two hours a doctor visited me. A nurse stayed in my room and checked my blood pressure every hour. I stayed like this for five days. I often lost consciousness and had nightmares. I did not think I would survive.
On the fifth day my blood pressure started to go down, and almost immediately a captain started to question me. He was called Ben Slimane and I think he came from Khmeissat.
The first questions he asked me were about my personal life. He started with my childhood and continued up until I joined Polisario.
He wanted to know about the structure of the Polisario Front; the composition of our arsenal; our war tactics; how we prepared for battle, the identity of foreigners who were supposed to be fighting with us.
Captain Slimane said that the Saharawis could not use a sophisticated weapon properly. I told him that the Saharawis had a long experience of resistance. They had fought against Spain, against France and now against Morocco and Mauritania.
He also asked me some odd questions, Do the Saharawis use magic during battle ? How is it then that battles are often accompanied by sand-storms ? I replied that in the Sahara there certainly were some good stories, but that I didn't think we used magic.
What do you hope to obtain with this war ? he asked. The independence of my country , I replied. But the Sahara is already independent, said Slimane. No, it is not yet independent , I continued, All that has happened is that you have taken the place of the Spanish occupation. We will continue our struggle until the Saharawi people can take charge of our own destiny.
Is that the opinion of all the Saharawis in the refugee camps ? Are they in favour of war ?, Slimane asked. "Everyone wants peace , I said, War has been imposed upon us. We are fighting to regain our freedom and our independence.
How do you treat your Moroccan prisoners? he asked. Those which I have been able to see are treated with humanity and respect , I replied.
HELD IN BONDAGE FOR SIX MONTHS
After forty days Captain Ben Slimane finished his interrogation. From that point on, nobody took any interest in me. I no longer received regular medical attention. The guards changed their attitude towards me. They often threw insults at me and one of them tortured me by pressing on my wounds.
After I protested at my treatment at the hands of the guards, I received further punishment throughout the remainder of my time in the hospital. My hands were tied to a bar above my head. For one week my mouth was covered with adhesive tape. They only took it off at meal times and this was very painful because I had not been allowed to shave since being taken prisoner.
After six months I received a visit from a major (a doctor). I told him I had been held like this for six months and that I did not know whether I could still walk. He told me he would see what he could do, but he could do nothing about my hands being tied, as the orders came from above. After an examination, the doctor diagnosed permanent paralysis in one leg. He ordered the guards to tie my hands to the bed rather than the bar.
CLANDESTINE MILITARY PRISON
A few days after the visit from the doctor, two policemen came into my room. Where are your clothes? one asked. They were burned, I replied. One went out and came back with a shirt and trousers. He ordered me to get out of bed, but I could not because of my leg. They helped me stand up and walk and led me into a covered Land Rover. They handcuffed my left hand to my right foot and blindfolded me. The posture I had to adopt was extremely painful.
Some hours later they made me get out, and someone questioned me about my identity. Two hands grabbed me and someone ordered me to walk forward. They made me go down some steps and into a room. My blindfold was removed and I found myself in a cell which measured about six feet by nine. I saw that I was with four other Saharawis, one of whom was very old with a long beard. They were in a terrible state; they were filthy and the smell made me gag.
In this secret military prison there were about fifty Saharawis. The cells were underground with no link to the outside world. The room we were in was surrounded by electrified wire netting. When it rained, you could not touch the wall for fear of electrocution.
We each had a thin blanket and every twenty-four hours or so we were given a piece of bread and some badly cooked chick pea or lentil soup. We were allowed to go to the toilet for two minutes twice every day. When it was my turn two fellow prisoners helped me to walk there. As soon as I got to the toilet, the guards would yell out that it was time to return to the cell.
One Saharawi prisoner was kept in solitary confinement because he had tried to escape. He was called Hamdi Ould Back. Another Saharawi prisoner, Lahbib Ould Lemnassir, died in our cell, probably from malnutrition. His body remained a whole day in the cell because the guards said they had to be really sure he was dead.
After three months in this horrible prison we were transferred to the military prison in Agadir. We only stayed there about twenty-four hours, as we were transferred to El Ayoun on 18th February 1978. We were held there in a military barrack belonging to the Spanish Tercio in the north of the town.
There were about a hundred detainees there - prisoners of war and Saharawi civilians. On arrival, we were visited by Said Ouassou who was Governor of El Ayoun at the time, and his personal secretary Ouchein who is the Governor now.
On the 24th February we were transferred to the police station in El Ayoun. For the first time, our families were able to come to visit us.
Some time later, the Moroccan authorities announced that we were free to go, on condition that we join the Moroccan army. Many accepted, as they had no choice: it was either that or death. About fifteen of us remained, unable to lake advantage of this so-called pardon on health grounds.
After nine months, nine of our companions were forced to join up, which left only six Saharawi prisoners in the Tercio barracks. The Moroccans then decided that they would allow those of us which remained to visit our families by night and to return to the barracks to work by day.
FURTHER ARREST AND TORTURE
On the 4th November 1979, I left the barracks as usual to go home for dinner with my family.
Then, at about one o'clock in the morning, five individuals smashed down the door of my bedroom, searched the house and ordered me to get dressed. They took me to the Mobile Intervention Company (CMI) barracks in El Ayoun near the "Las Dunes" cinema.
They questioned me about my relationship with Bachir Lekhfaouni and Sid Ahmed Bahamou whom I met in prison and whom I visited from time to time.
The police accused me of having contacts with the exterior. As I refused to admit to their accusations, they tied me to a bench and proceeded to torture me by whipping the soles of my feet with a rope (falaka). I still refused to admit to anything. They then brought in Bachir who admitted in my presence that he had contacted me to pass on information to the Polisario Front. I continued to deny being involved.
This time they took a rag soaked in waste and chemicals, put it over my nose and mouth and continued to torture me with the falaka. Next they brought Sid Ahmed in and he made the same confession as Bachir. I could no longer bear the torture and I told them that both Sid Ahmed and Bachir had asked me to pass on information to the Polisario Front. They asked me to whom I had given the information. To save the rest of my comrades, I told them that I had given the information to certain Saharawi prisoners who had enlisted in the Moroccan army. But I knew that these former prisoners had escaped and rejoined Polisario.
At the same time as my arrest, around fifty Saharawis had also been arrested, some thirty women and twenty men. The commissioner in charge of the interrogations was called Benzekri.
After about a month of interrogation and torture at the CMI headquarters, I and five other detainees were transferred to Derb Moulay Cherif prison in Casablanca. Here we were tortured daily, handcuffed, blindfolded day and night, and kept under dazzling lights twenty-four hours a day.
We were kept for a month like this. Then we were taken to El Ayoun and we were all released except for Bachir and Sid Ahmed.
On my release from prison, the Governor threatened me with further reprisals if I attempted any activities against the motherland. The police commissioner tried to bribe me to collaborate with him. Because I refused, I was again arrested and interrogated several times. I was confined to El Ayoun and the Moroccan authorities kept me under constant surveillance to see who would get in touch with me. They wanted to use me as bait. In order to discourage innocent Saharawis from getting in touch with me, I opened a shop opposite the police station.
On the 19 January, 1981, I was again arrested in the middle of the night at my home. I was tortured and interrogated at the CMI headquarters in El Ayoun for twelve days. This time, there were thirty Saharawi detainees. On the 1st February, 1981 we were once again transferred to Derb Moulay Cherif prison where we were further subjected to various methods of torture.
On the 2nd July, 1981, we were piled into covered trucks to be transferred to Agdz, which is about fifteen miles from Ouarzazate.
Here, we faced human machines, who knew nothing else but torture. They beat us on all parts of our bodies giving out the same treatment to the elderly, children and men and women. It was summer and very hot. Insects were everywhere as were snakes and scorpions. They gave us one glass of water a day and relentlessly carried out torture.
THE FORCED LABOUR CAMP OF KAALAT M'GOUNA
On the 4th April, 1982, we were transferred to the desolate forced labour camp at Kaalat M'Gouna, opposite the Dades Hotel which is popular with European tourists.
Tortured, under-nourished, sick, and with no sanitation, our situation stayed eternally the same. Fortunately, humanitarian organisations had not forgotten us and human rights organisations stepped up pressure on our behalf. However, during the period between Agdz and Kaalat M'Gouna forty-three Saharawi prisoners died.
On the 16th June, 1991, it was announced that we were shortly to be released. Thirty-five of us were driven to Rabat. A delegation led by Ben Hachem and made up of several Governors including Rachid Douihi and Ghailani Cherif, members of the Moroccan security service and some Saharawi deserters, asked us to write to King Hassan to ask for our pardon.
We said that we were Saharawis and that we were determined to stay so. They were faced with the choice of either letting us go or putting us back in prison. They chose to free us, but on their own harsh terms: we were not allowed to work, had no housing and health care, and were under constant surveillance. Faced with this unbearable situation, I decided to escape to the liberated territory of Western Sahara and the Saharawi refugee camps.
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