Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Morocco assumed administration of the northern three provinces
of the Western Sahara after the withdrawal of Spanish forces
in 1975, and of the southernmost province in 1979 when
Mauritania renounced its claim to the area. Since 1973 the
Polisario, an organization which Algeria has supported and
which seeks independence for the Western Sahara, has
challenged first Spain's and later Morocco's claim to the
territory. During 1989 sporadic fighting between Polisario
and Moroccan forces continued until October, when the
Polisario resumed heavy attacks.
Sovereignty over the territory remains a subject of
international dispute. At the request of the General
Assembly, the International Court of Justice issued an
advisory opinion in 1975 which concluded that the people of
the Western Sahara were entitled to self-determination and
that Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania were not entitled to
exercise sovereignty over the territory. The Organization of
African Unity (OAU) has attempted to mediate a solution. In
1981 Morocco agreed to the holding of a referendum to
determine the population's wishes regarding independence or
integration with Morocco. These efforts collapsed in 1984
when the Saharan Democratic Arab Republic (SOAR), the civilian
arm of the Polisario, was seated at the OAU summit, and
Morocco withdrew from the OAU in protest. Morocco also
rejected an OAU resolution calling for direct negotiations
between Morocco and the Polisario.
Morocco called upon the United Nations to administer the
referendum, and in 1986 U.N. Secretary General Perez de
Cuellar lent his good offices to efforts to arrange it. In
November and December 1987, a U.N. technical team visited the
territory to explore the practical modalities of a
referendum. On August 30, 1988, Morocco and the SDAR accepted
in principle the Secretary General's proposal to conduct the
referendum under U.N. and OAU auspices, and the Secretary
General named a special representative to work out the
practical details.
In 1989 some progress was made towards holding the
referendum. In early January, King Hassan II received a
high-ranking delegation of Polisario leaders for the first
time, and in mid-January the U.N. Special Representative
visited the region to discuss the modalities of the
referendum. Secretary General Perez de Cuellar's June visit
to the region, including to Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, and
Algeria, resulted in the establishment of a technical
commission to implement the "peace plan" in the Western
Sahara. The first meeting of this commission took place at
the U.N. in July between representatives of Morocco and the
Polisario as well as representatives of the U.N. and the OAU.
Despite this progress, disagreement continues over conditions
for the referendum, and no date for it has yet been set. In
November, however. King Hassan made clear his expectation that
the Western Sahara referendum should be accomplished before
the next parliamentary and municipal council elections take
place in September 1992.
The civilian population in the approximately 85 percent of
the Western Sahara under effective Moroccan control is subject
to Moroccan political institutions and laws. In general, they
experience the same human rights and worker rights practices
as Moroccans in areas of undisputed Moroccan sovereignty.
There are reports that some Saharans often have more
difficulty obtaining passports, that their political views are
more closely monitored than those of residents of Morocco
proper, and that police and paramilitary authorities react
especially harshly against those suspected of supporting the
Polisario. The Moroccan Government denies such charges and
counters with allegations of Polisario human rights abuses.
Since there has been no opportunity to evaluate the human
rights practices of the Polisario in areas of the Western
Sahara outside of the Berm, the Moroccan earthwork defense
line, these allegations cannot be confirmed or ruled out.
During 1989 Moroccan officials reported several defections to
Morocco of former Polisario members from Polisario-controlled
territory. These included two high-level Polisario leaders,
as well as lower ranking officials. Moroccan officials and
the defectors claim that the Polisario prohibits persons
wishing to return to Morocco from leaving the Polisario camps
at Tindouf. The Polisario has responded that these defections
were the result of attempts by Morocco to create divisions
within Polisario ranks. The defectors appeared to reintegrate
into Moroccan society without difficulty or harassment from
Moroccan officials. On numerous occasions in 1989, King
Hassan publicly welcomed the "return to Morocco of all
Saharans .
Within the Western Sahara, there is little organized labor
activity (outside the area under Moroccan control, there is
virtually no modern economic activity). Since all salaries in
both the private and public sectors are at least twice those
in Morocco, wage demands are not an issue. For example, the
phosphate industry, the only indigenous industry and largest
employer, employs about 2,000 persons who work in harsh desert
conditions, but workers accept the jobs because of the
attractive pay. Unemployment is not a problem owing to the
investment in the region by the Moroccan Government. A
program announced in July 1988 to employ 2,000 Saharan youth
in jobs outside the territory has apparently eliminated most
youth unemployment.
The same labor laws that apply in Morocco apply in the
Moroccan-controlled areas of the Western Sahara, and
enforcement is equivalent to that in Morocco proper.
The Polisario has established an embryonic labor wing called
the Sario Federation of Labor (UGTSARIO) , which reportedly
enjoys close relations with the Communist-controlled World
Federation of Trade Unions and with a few Arab and African
national labor centers; however, UGTSARIO does not engage in
customary trade union activities in the Polisario-controlled