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The Tindouf Camps are a Lawless Zone, Said Morocco’s UN Ambassador

Exclusive Interview with Amb Omar Hilale Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Morocco to the UN_

An Exclusive Interview with The Moroccan Ambassador to the UN.

In many of his statements and press conferences, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations has focused on the human rights situation in the Tindouf camps on Algerian soil. While doing so, the Moroccan diplomat cited pictures showing the recruitment of children by the separatist Polisario group, which the Moroccan diplomat considered a very important matter. It is dangerous and violates the provisions of international law.

Regarding these and other accusations, we had a long interview with Mr. Omar Hilale, who is considered a senior member of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There, he held several sensitive positions, the most important of which was the Secretary-General of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations in Geneva before he assumed his current position at the head of Moroccan diplomacy in New York.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for accepting our invitation

Mr. Omar Hilale the Ambassador of Morocco to the UN
Q: The Polisario group often raises the slogan of human rights to pass its anti-Moroccan theses. We would like you to put us in the true picture about the human rights situation in Morocco in general and in the southern Moroccan provinces in particular.

A: The separatist armed group “Polisario” is used to spread its baseless allegations and fake news, so as to mislead the international community about the situation in the Moroccan Sahara. The Kingdom of Morocco is firmly attached to the promotion and protection of human rights throughout its national territory, including in the Moroccan Sahara.

Over the past two decades, His Majesty King Mohamed VI’s far-reaching reforms allowed for noteworthy achievements aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of every person, on all Morocco’s territory, without any distinction of any kind. Today, more than any country in our region, Morocco has put in place the legal and institutional guarantees for a full, effective and irreversible respect of human rights.

 Human rights are the backbone of Morocco’s Constitution, the highest law of the land, which affirms the attachment of the Kingdom to human rights as they are universally recognized. The Constitution of Morocco gives primacy of the international Conventions duly ratified by it, over internal law. This is fundamental knowing that Morocco has acceded to all international human rights instruments.

As I said, the situation of full enjoyment of Human rights in the Moroccan Sahara is no different from other regions in the Country. The latest example is the holding of the general elections, last September 2021 in Morocco, including in the Moroccan Sahara, in a climate of serenity, calm, and in accordance with international democratic standards, as confirmed by foreign and domestic observers. Indeed, the high level of participation of the populations of the Moroccan Sahara in these elections -reaching 63%, the highest at national level- is a testament to their attachment to their morocanness and their desire to contribute to the socio-economic development of Morocco and of their region, through the implementation of the New Development Model of the southern provinces, launched by His Majesty King Mohamed VI in 2015, with a budget of more than 8 billion dollars.

In 1975, when Morocco recovered its Southern Provinces, they were a complete desert. Now, thanks to the achievements by Morocco, the Sahara region, with its huge infrastructure, recognized by the United Nations Secretary General, including ports, airports, Olympic sport facilities, universities, roads, to name a few, is one of the most advanced regions not only in Morocco, but in the whole region.

At the international level, Morocco is engaged in a constructive, voluntary and sustained interaction with the UN human rights system, in all its components. As an example, Morocco has received more than 13 visits, including to the Sahara, of UN human rights mandate holders in the past few years. This is by far the highest number of visits to any country in the region. Furthermore, Morocco extended an open invitation to all UN mechanisms.

Above all, the best answer to the falseness of the allegations by “Polisario” is the UN Security Council resolutions on the Moroccan Sahara, including 2602 adopted on 29 October 2021, which welcome Morocco’s interaction with the Special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as the role played by the Regional Commissions of the National Human Rights Council in Dakhla and Laâyoune. They also praise the steps and initiatives taken by Morocco aimed at enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights in the Moroccan Sahara.

Q: You have on several occasions denounced the miserable situation experienced by the Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps, and you focused in particular on the Polisario group's recruitment of children. Can you explain to our readers more about these crimes?

A: The Tindouf camps are a lawless zone, with systematic violations of the most fundamental human rights. This is the reason why Algeria prohibits any visits by human rights mechanisms and NGOs that do not sympathize with its theses.

However, under international law, the responsibility for these violations lies primarily with the host country, Algeria. This country stepped down from its international responsibilities of the protection of refugees, in favor of an armed group “Polisario”, who also bares full responsibility. This is unique in the annals of refugee camps all around the world.

Regarding the recruitment of children in Tindouf camps by the “Polisario”, this is considered as a war crime, which the international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and the Refugee Convention, prohibits and condemns.

For your information, the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 and its additional Protocol of 2000, call on eliminating the recruitment of children and their use in armed conflict, as a matter of urgency.

Furthermore, just recently, the Security Council adopted, on 29 October 2021, a unique resolution (S/RES/2601) that strongly condemns all violations of applicable international law involving the recruitment and use of children by parties to arm conflict as well as their re-recruitment and demands that all relevant parties immediately put an end to such practices and take special measures to protect children.

Moreover, and on the occasion of the World Children’s Day, on 20 November 2021, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the Director-General of the International Labor Organization, made a Call for Action and Renewed International Commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children once and for all by 2025.

Despite all this international legal framework and calls for action, the children of the Tindouf camps continue to be forced to take part in military trainings, subjugated to all forms of exploitation and abuse by the “Polisario” militia, under the indifferent eyes of the host country, Algeria, and in total defiance to the International Community.

The place of the Tindouf camps’ children is not in military training camps, but in schools. They need to access to knowledge and learn peace, not hatred, war and terror. They deserve to go to school and get the qualifications and skills needed to build a successful and brighter future. They deserve a peaceful and prosperous future.

The International Community must prevent “Polisario” and the host country, Algeria, from making of the Tindouf camps’ children of today, the terrorists of tomorrow, as is currently doing Boko haram in Nigeria, Daesh in Afghanistan and in the Sahel, and Al Shabab in Somalia.

Women in the Tindouf camps also are subjected to the worst forms of violence, including sexual violence and rape. You are certainly aware, that the head of “polisario’s” militia, brahim ghali, is on trial by the highest jurisdiction in Spain, for crimes against humanity and rape.

The egregious situation in the Tindouf camps poses a question: how can a country, Algeria, which violates the human rights of its own population, protect the human rights of refugees?

Q: Do you think that the Algerian government is aware of these abuses against innocent children?

A: Of course, Algeria, the host country, is fully aware of the human rights violations and abuses committed against all the populations on its territory, including the population in the Tindouf camps.

Algeria is not only aware, but it also encourages and participates in these violations. It has done nothing to end them. Two persons from the Tindouf camps were killed by Algerian security forces in October 2020. Two other persons from the same camps were killed on 21 November 2021 by Algerian forces. Unfortunately, this is neither the first nor will it be the last time. Indeed, Algeria is responsible and directly involved in all the egregious violations in the Tindouf camps.

It is worth recalling that the UN Human Rights Committee stated, two years ago, that “Algeria is responsible, as a host country, for human rights violations that are perpetrated on its territory”.

Q: What are the impressions left by your exposure of these humanitarian crimes within the corridors of the United Nations?

A: Such findings have left the international community in shock and astonishment that a UN member States is not fulfilling its legal obligations and allowing such crimes to be perpetrated on its territory.

The revelations and exposure certainly allowed to shed light on the grave human rights violations in the Tindouf camps. The situation in these camps poses a real legal, political and moral problems due to Algeria’s resignation from its international responsibility, by ceding its sovereignty over a part of its territory where these camps are to “Polisario”.

The United Nations have been made aware of these humanitarian crimes for some time by Morocco, and other member States, as well as petitioners from NGO’s and Think tanks, who have been reporting on the dire situation in the Tindouf camps. Moreover, many member States, express their concerns over these human rights violations in their interventions before the UN fourth Committee and C24. They regularly request the conduct of investigations for the identification of those responsible of these atrocities, which are not only committed by elements of the armed group “Polisario” but also by the security services of the host country, Algeria.

Fortunately, the UN and other organizations are now reporting regularly, even though not enough, on these violations. In 2018, for example, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed its concern over the de facto devolution of authority by Algeria to Polisario, especially jurisdictional authority; as such, a situation is inconsistent with Algeria’s obligation with regard to International law

These same concerns were reiterated by the UN SG in his reports to the Security Council, in 2018 and 2021 and by the UN Working Group on Enforced disappearances in 2020.

Q: According to international humanitarian law, the countries hosting refugees bear full responsibility towards them. Why, in your opinion, the international community did not move to investigate Algeria's responsibility for these crimes and put an end to it?

A: It is certainly not because of lack of trying by the international Community. You have to know that the Tindouf camps are the most guarded and militarized camps in the world. No one can access or leave them without the permission of Algeria and its armed militia “Polisario”.

Therefore the international Community, particularly, the United Nations human rights mechanisms, cannot access the camps, because Algeria categorically refuses to allow visits of the OHCHR, nor the special rapporteurs on human rights to the camps or to Algeria in general. The host country refuses to cooperate with human rights mechanisms and has one of the lowest rates in the world, in terms of answering their communications and requests for information.

This obstructionist stance by Algeria has only one explanation: it is meant to hide the egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law and to keep the Tindouf camps as a symbol of the problem of the Sahara.

Can you imagine that Algeria does not respect the 3 solutions provided for by International Law to the Tindouf camps population: it refuses to let them return to the motherland, it opposes their integration locally and it rejects their installation in a third State, namely in Europe.

The only solution that Algeria leaves to these sequestered populations is to flee the camps at the risk of their lives. This is how thousands of people managed to reach Morocco, to be able to voice their concerns and denounce the lawless situation in Tindouf camps. Only God knows how many have perished in the desert during their escape.

Q: Some experts believe that the Algerian escalation against Morocco may conceal its intentions to ignite a war in the region. Do you think this prediction is correct?

A: I sincerely hope this will never happen. However, it is sadly obvious that this approach betrays Algiers’ attempts to evade and conceal its critical economic and social situation. Instead of realizing its mistakes, Algeria vehemently tries to blame Morocco for all its troubles, even if fortunately the Algerian people does not follow this daily smear campaign.

Despite all the spurious accusations and escalation of Algiers, Morocco has opted for a responsible and considered attitude, because it is not a warmonger country. The Kingdom of Morocco is a peace-loving country. His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God assist Him, in His speech on the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the Throne Day, once again extended his hand to Algeria, inviting it, and I quote: ” to work together, without conditions, for the development of bilateral relations based on trust, dialogue and good neighborliness.” Unfortunately, this Royal gesture remained without answer.

Q: In light of the recent Security Council resolution and the presence of a new envoy of the UN Secretary-General? Do you expect a return soon to the dialogue tables? And why does Algeria refuse to sit with the rest of the parties?

A: Algeria’s primary responsibility for the creation and maintenance of this conflict is internationally known. It has even been enshrined in successive Security Council resolutions that also mention Algeria, each time, for the resumption of the political process, along with Morocco, Mauritania and “Polisario”.

Algeria’s refusal to resume the round tables is a headlong rush that Member States do not understand, neither here, in New York, nor in the capitals. It even goes so far as to ask how can the only country that arms, finances and leads the diplomatic campaign of a separatist armed group shirk its obligations when it comes to the roundtable process in order to reach a mutually acceptable political solution. If Algeria decides not to participate in this process, it would have to assume its responsibility vis-à-vis the Security Council, the UN Secretary General and his Personal Envoy and the International Community as a whole.

For its part, Morocco is convinced that there is no alternative to resolving this problem without the effective and responsible participation of Algeria. Morocco, which has expressed through the Highest Authority of the country its support to the Secretary General of the United Nations and his Personal Envoy Mr. Staffan de Mistura, remains committed to the political process. It is the only way to the resumption of the Maghreb region integration and to bring peace, unity and prosperity to the region as wished by His Majesty the King, May God Assist Him, in His speech on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the Glorious Green March.

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