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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 85 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. Since 1991, UN-facilitated negotiations on the territory’s status have been inconclusive. The sides have not met face-to-face since 2012.

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. In 2011 Morocco adopted a constitution that it also applies to its administration of the territory. 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 domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections, held in both internationally recognized Morocco and the Western Sahara, credible and relatively free from irregularities. Moroccan civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights issues were predominantly the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco, including allegations that there were political prisoners; limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of certain political and religious content; 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 the 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