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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Western Sahara

Country Profile

The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the estimated 75 percent of that territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. The United Nations convened an initial roundtable meeting on December 5-6, which UN Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General Horst Koehler labeled a step towards a renewed political process on the future of Western Sahara.

Morocco administers the territories in Western Sahara by the same laws and structures governing the exercise of civil liberties and political and economic rights as in internationally recognized Morocco. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and local observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections, held in both internationally recognized Morocco and Western Sahara, credible and relatively free from irregularities.

Moroccan civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues were predominantly the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco, including allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made substantial efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of certain content that criticized the monarchy and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; and corruption.

The lack of reports of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by Moroccan officials in Western Sahara, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, contributed to a widespread perception of impunity.

For Further Reference

Full U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Report
U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Country Report
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review
Human Rights Watch World Report Country Chapter
Amnesty International Annual Report Country Chapter
Freedom House Freedom in the World Country Report


Mohamed al-Bambary