NEW YORK (AP) — A human rights delegation led by Robert F. Kennedy's daughter said it witnessed acts of intimidation and violence in the Western Sahara against critics of the Moroccan government's control of the disputed region.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights said in a statement circulated Tuesday that the delegation also witnessed "the overwhelming presence of security forces and violations of the rights to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association."
The delegation was led by Kerry Kennedy, the center's president and a daughter of the late U.S. senator and attorney general in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. It included representatives from six other countries including Margarette May Macaulay of Jamaica, a judge on the Inter American Court of Human Rights, and Eric Sottas of Switzerland, a former secretary-general of the World Organization Against Torture.
Morocco took over the mineral-rich former Spanish colony in 1976 and annexed it, fighting Polisario Front rebels until a truce in 1991. It has offered Western Sahara wide-ranging autonomy but the Polisario wants a referendum with independence as an option.
The Kennedy center said its delegation was followed by secret police, physically prevented from observing an attack on peaceful protesters, verbally abused, and subjected to a widely disseminated disinformation campaign aimed at undermining its credibility.
A call to Morocco's U.N. Mission seeking comment on the delegation's statement was not immediately returned.
Kerry Kennedy accused the international community of standing by passively for too long while the native Sahrawi people "subsist in abject poverty in extremely isolated refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara desert."
At the same time, she said, the Sahrawi's and their supporters in the Western Sahara who advocate for justice or criticize the Moroccan government "are subject to police state tactics of harassment, intimidation, torture, and more with near absolute impunity."
"The oppression of government critics of Sahrawi decent is unworthy of the Kingdom of Morocco, which has made impressive gains in guaranteeing human rights to its people over the past decade," Kennedy said.
She said the center is committed to continuing a dialogue with the Moroccan government to address the human rights situation in Western Sahara.