1- The organization experience in the examination in Sahara region:
The Moroccan Organization for Human Rights was concerned, since first found, about the condition of human rights in the region. A report was made about Laayoune events in 1999, followed by another one about Smara events in 2002. Many statements were released by the organization among which the one concerning the closing of the Moroccan Forum for Truth and Justice branch in the region, and one about the Algerian position calling for the apportionment of the Sahara, and a third one about the detainees in Tindouf. The organization sent a correspondence to the President of the High Commission for Refugees urging him to initiate an investigation about the torturing of some Moroccan citizens in Tindouf.
2- Objectives of the examination committee:
On the 1st of June 2005, the national office of the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights decided to send an examination committee to investigate about the events that occurred in Laayoune, Sahara in May 2005. News released by the Moroccan and international media about the magnitude, the motives and the outcomes of these events were incompatible.
The committee's assignments were defined as follows:
Then, the committee was formed of members of the national office:
Abdellah Eloualladi (committee president), Amina Bouayach, Youssef Elbhiri, Said Elbakri.
The committee defined its mission and means of fulfilling it in the following:
The examination committee carried out its works in an ordinary atmosphere, noticing the presence of the security forces in some areas of the city. The committee couldn't visit the prisoners due to the refusal of the application given by the organization to the ministry of justice pretending that the visit is not in compliance with the provisions of chapter 84 of the Prisons Law. The committee could get in touch with the president of the Appeal Court, the Wali (governor), some local TV channels officials, a number of residents from Hay Maatallah where the events happened, and some of the civil society actors, and some the Resistance and the Liberation Army personalities.
3- Laayoune Region:
Laayoune is situated in the heart of the Sahara region known for its weather characteristics that makes it of moderate temperature degrees throughout the year, with sand cyclones from time to time. The region suffers from the rarity of drinkable water and the absence of a continuous free flowing waters, and feebleness of the rain rates which makes the flora of the lands good only for pastures and migrant birds.
The population of Laayoune region is completely stable and urban for the most. It counts about 184.000 person.
Most of the active population works in the Services Sector due to the non-diversity of economic activities which results in a high unemployment rate of 21% for males, and 30% for females.
Due to its location, Laayoune has an important infrastructure for intercommunication and interconnection and economic activities.
The existing sewers network is anarchic because of the fast non-controlled expansion of the urban buildings. Healthcare sector is very developed in the region, but the distribution of the healthcare facilities is unequal since most of them are located in the city.
The most important social and economic indicators can be resumed in the following:
The region is distinguished by a rooted cultural, linguistic, historical and literary particularity that was a little affected by the change in the living style. The committee met some of the residents concerned about this issue. The political condition of the region is unstable awaiting a final solution.
II Description of the events:
Since December 2004, many peaceful demonstrations and marches organized by the local population took place in the streets of Laayoune for different occasions, e.g. Celebration of the International Day for Human Rights on 10/12/2004, International Day for Women Rights on 08/03/2005 that took the form of a protestation in front of Laayoune prison to prevent the moving of one of the common law prisoners.
On the 1st of May 2005, a syndic march organized by the Democratic Labour Union was aborted the public authorities claiming that some individuals not belonging to the union have infiltrated the march holding slogans calling for separation.
Another demonstration took place on the 5th of May in Dcheira Square in the centre of Laayoune where slogans relative to self determination principle were brandished, microphones used, and on the air phone calls from people from some European countries and from Laayoune prison were diffused.
On the 21st of May 2005, a demonstration was organized in front of the Civil Prison of Laayoune to protest on moving Ahmad Mahmoud Haddi, also called Alkaynane, a common law prisoner, sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for international drug trafficking and organizing of illegal immigration.
According to different sources, all the above mentioned demonstrations were led without any violent intervention from the security forces present during any gathering.
On the 23rd of May 2005, a gathering was held in front of the above mentioned prisoner's house in Maatallah District where demonstrators were chanting slogans calling for separation. Security forces interfered violently to disperse the participants with no effects on the safety of the residents.
Starting from 6 p.m on Wednesday 24th of May 2005, Maatallah District was the scene for new demonstrations held in the intersection of two streets. The number of participants was estimated to be 300 to 500 people. During the demonstration, separation and hostility to Morocco slogans were brandished, a gas bottle was lit, the Moroccan flag was burnt, and stones were thrown on the security forces. Things got worse when those forces violently interfered using tear gas, and started beating whoever was present without distinction. A big confrontation ensued resulted in chasing the runaways to the surrounding houses that were entered by force in order to keep on the chase. Some locked doors were broken into, and the furniture of some houses was destroyed. All this lasted until the demonstrations was finally controlled.
On Thursday 25th of May 2005, security forces broke into 5 houses in Maatallah District and led a search without warrant or permission of the occupants.
On Friday 26th of May 2005, 300 people from Maatallah District protested against the acts of security forces by organizing a two hour sit-in to show their denial for such acts.
On the 27th of May, national and international media, coming to the city to explore and examine, were surrounded by some residents who gathered in Dcheira Square to protest against the above mentioned infractions brandishing slogans of hostility towards Morocco. This made another group of residents gather spontaneously holding Moroccan flags and pictures of King Mohammed VI, thing that almost led to a confrontation between the two groups.
12 members of the security forces were injured during the events, and 33 persons were arrested. Some were jailed, and others were not. They have all been prosecuted on the following allegations:
The sentences were up to 20 years imprisonment, reduced to the quarter after appeal.
Other cases are still under investigation. Some residents submitted lawsuits to the General Prosecution after being subjected to criminal acts by members of the security forces:
III Background of the events:
May 2005 events are a continuation to previous events during which the population expressed their problems and daily preoccupations (unemployment, the discrimination with which the governmental administrations deal with them, the tyranny of the security forces ). The same demands were expressed during these events in addition to the population opposition to moving the above mentioned prisoner, but some of the demonstrators were separatists.
Based on testimonies given by individuals from different social and cultural ranks, the committee of examination was informed that the security force did not interfere.
1- However, the events of the 24th of May were very violent because of the security forces interposition after the Moroccan flag has been burnt, a gas bottle has been used, and stones have been thrown on them.
2- May 24th events were linked to the decision made by the administration of prisons to move the prisoner called Alkaynane to Ait Melloul prison. This decision coincided with the anniversary of the foundation of the Polisario Front.
3- This time, the security forces reacted with an inappropriate violence and an unusual ardour worsening the situation during and after the events.
4- All the interlocutors of the committee of examination impress upon the existence of some contributory general causes in the events:
IV Observation of the infractions:
It was confirmed to the committee of examination the committal of the following violations:
1- The non consideration of measures of the use of violence as per the law:
During the 24th of May demonstration, security forces attacked the demonstrators violently and aimlessly. They didn't apply to the law procedures relative to public gatherings, issued in Public Liberties Act, decree of 15 November 1958, especially chapters 19 and 20 specifying how to disperse a gathering, where a security forces agent in uniform heading to the area of gathering should announce his arrival using a loud speaker, then order the demonstrators to call off the gathering and leave, and read the sanctions:
One to three months Imprisonment and a 1000 to 5000 Dirham fine, or one of the two penalties. If there is no response to three warnings ending always by: "we will use the force to disperse the gathering", and if the demonstrators refuse to obey and show their disapproval, the security forces proceed to disperse them by force.
Indeed, the authorities resorted to intensely beating, insulting and humiliating the demonstrators which led to causing damages to the surrounding houses and their inhabitants. One of the lawyers said that he almost became a victim to this violence unless he was recognized by one of the authorities' agents when they broke into his house.
The committee received testimonies related to the same subject, and many individuals presented cases directly to the General Prosecution against some of the security forces members who tortured them during the demonstrations. These cases are still under investigation as per chapter 92 of the Penal Law.
Many defendants complained about being tortured by the security forces. Their defence asked for a medical expertise to be carried out, and submitted medical certificates proving the use of violence against them. Therefore, the defence of Hassan Elhairach, sentenced to 20 years effective imprisonment reduced to 6 years after appeal for burning the Moroccan flag, declared that his client was tortured when arrested which caused a long unconsciousness condition spent in Hassan 1st hospital, but the court didn't take this fact into consideration violating the provisions of chapter 194 of the Penal Law.
Some victims presented abduction cases to the General Prosecution. These cases were filed in Laayoune Court, and they are still being investigated as per the provisions of chapter 84 of the Penal Law.
V- Conditions of the trials:
1- Openness of the hearings:
At the opening of the hearing sessions of the 28th of June and the 5th of July 2005, at the Appeal Court in Laayoune, a massive presence of security forces surrounding the building was observed. No one was allowed into the court room before being searched and ID checked and supervisor approval granted. Some of the concerned representatives of human rights associations were only let inside after negotiation. Some journalists and foreign human rights activists in addition to some of the defendants' families could be present at the hearings. The court room door was open with security forces on each side.
In the hearing of 28th of June 2005, the defense of some of the accused complained about the violation of the conditions of keeping into custody by the police, as well as not informing the family of Hassan El Hairach about his arrest, and the non respect of the maximum period of keeping into custody limited to 48 hours to be extended to 72 hours as per the provisions of chapter 80 of the Penal Law.
3- Right of defense:
All the defendants had lawyers to represent them and those lawyers were allowed to present all their pleas and remarks. But the fact that the hearing of the 5th of July was not open led them to retreat from representing the defendants without altering their right to be defended as per chapter 298 of the Penal Law.
4- Severity of the verdicts:
The defendants were subjected to severe sentences starting from 1 year to 20 years effective imprisonment.
According to the defense, those verdicts were not appropriate to the acts observed during the demonstrations that were no more than a limited gathering of people, in a relatively populated district, during which no dangerous actions threatened the residents or the general discipline. They based their argument on a strong principle in the penal field which requires that a verdict must be adequate to the severity of the social disturbance caused by the crime to the extent that the victims are satisfied and revenge is avoided.
The defense also argued that the allegations were not proved with certainty regardless of the police reports that are legally considered no more than a familiarization tool. Therefore, the Court of Appeal endorsed the non adequacy of the verdicts to the acts, and sentences were reduced to nearly the quarter of the imprisonment period.
VI Freedom of establishing associations:
Some of the testimonies received by the committee confirmed that there is a restriction on some political activities and some of the activities of the civil society which always leads to a tense and on the edge situation manifested by:
Based on the committee's observations and meetings with the population and different concerned parties, the following recommendations were concluded:
1. Necessity of respecting human rights and safeguarding the fundamental liberties of the population by enforcing the law in dealing with the difficult issues in the region.
2. Ensuring conditions of impartial trials in conformity with the related international standards.
3. Fair investigations in the torture cases presented by some families.
4. Seriousness and objectivity in dealing with the urgent issues in the region.
5. Management of the public affairs with equity and no discrimination especially recruitments, licenses issue and different administrative services.
6. Review of the existing approach concerning the management of local affairs, and giving up the favoritism for the benefit of the "rich and notables" of the region to ensure the right to development.
7. Taking interest in the social sector in order to establish an effective relationship between different populations of the region based on the principle of partnership.
8. Seriously considering the local culture to preserve the cultural rights of the region.
9. Elimination of all restrictions to which the civil society is subjected to guarantee its freedom and right to participate in the public matters in the region.
Source: Al Ittihad Al Ichtiraki newspaper