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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human Rights Threatened, Self-Determination Deferred: The Status of Western Sahara

Date: 
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:00am
Location: 
1334 Longworth House Office Building

Announcement 

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on Western Sahara’s human rights situation.

The conflict over the Western Sahara has defied resolution for over forty years. While the United Nations continues to consider Western Sahara a Non-Sovereign Territory, awaiting formal decolonization, Morocco continues to occupy most of the territory, though neither the General Assembly nor any other UN body has ever recognized this as constituting sovereignty.  The objective of this hearing is to examine the current human rights situation in Western Sahara and to inquire as to progress being made by the Polisario, Morocco and other international entities -- pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 690 -- toward the resolution of self-determination and sovereignty issues.

Human rights observers have consistently expressed concerns over Moroccan-administered Western Sahara, including in regard to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  The State Department’s latest human rights report notes that the principal concerns for the territory include, “government restrictions on the civil liberties and political rights of pro-independence advocates; limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, and the use of arbitrary and prolonged detention to quell dissent.”  The report also referenced the existence of widespread impunity as evidenced in the non-prosecution of human rights abusers. 

Independent human rights monitors have also denounced instances of abuse and torture by Moroccan police and security services against prisoners.  Other observers have expressed concerns about the lack of freedom of expression and movement in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, as well as insecurity in the greater Maghreb and its effects on the stalemate.  

This hearing will examine the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and efforts thus far by MINURSO and UN Security Council Members, including the United States, to protect human rights and bring about a free and fair referendum on Western Sahara’s political status. The hearing will further examine the impact of incremental reforms within Western Sahara made by the Moroccan-led administration. Finally, the hearing will examine what other mechanisms may be used, including stronger engagement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in providing human rights monitoring to the territory. 

This hearing will be open to members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public and the media. For any questions, please contact Isaac Six (for Rep. Pitts) at 202-225-2411 or Isaac.Six@mail.house.gov, Daniel Aum (for Rep. McGovern) at 202-225-3599 or Daniel.Aum@mail.house.gov, or Keenan Keller (for Rep. Conyers) at 202-225-6906 or Keenan.Keller@mail.house.gov

Hosted by: 

Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.
Co-Chair, TLHRC
John Conyers, Jr., M.C.,
Member, TLHRC
James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Witnesses 

Panel I

  • Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  • Eric Goldstein, Deputy Director MENA Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Erik Hagen, Board Member, Western Sahara Resource Watch
  • Francesco Bastagli, Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, United Nations

Bios [PDF] 

Opening Remarks

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts  [PDF] 
Rep. James P. McGovern [PDF]
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. [PDF]  

Testimonies

Kerry Kennedy [PDF]
Eric Goldstein [PDF]
Erik Hagen [PDF]
Francesco Bastagli [PDF]

Transcript

Video

114th Congress