Last updated: 9 February, 2013

Morocco rejects demand for civilian trial of Sahrawis

A Moroccan military court on Saturday rejected demands to grant a civilian trial to 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in the Western Sahara, judicial sources said.

Defence lawyers, echoing rights groups, have pressed for a civilian trial, arguing that the military court lacks “competence” and “respect for the principle of public process,” one source said.

But the court dismissed the request as legally unfounded, the official MAP news agency said.

The defendants are accused of “forming criminal gangs, and violence against the security forces leading to deaths and the mutilation of corpses” in 2010, when authorities dismantled a camp where thousands of Sahrawis were living.

Authorities say 11 people died in the violence, among them members of the security forces, and 70 were wounded.

The politically-charged trial opened on February 1 after repeated delays.

Observers and rights groups were allowed to attend the opening session and have expressed concern over claims by the accused that they were tortured in custody. They also insist that the trial should be held in a civilian court.

Amnesty International condemned the military trial as “flawed from the outset,” and said torture claims should be probed.

“The trial of civilians before a military court does not meet internationally recognised standards for a fair trial. The 24 accused must be brought before a civilian court,” Amnesty said.

At dawn on November 8, 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp near Laayoune, the main city in the disputed Western Sahara, which thousands of Sahrawis had set up in protest over their living conditions.

The intervention sparked clashes that spread to Laayoune, where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.

The Western Sahara issue is a highly sensitive subject in Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 in a move not recognised by the international community.

Morocco has proposed broad autonomy for the territory under its sovereignty, but this is rejected by Polisario Front separatists who insist on the right of the Sahrawi people to a referendum on self-determination.