Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Questions (154)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

154. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will make representations to the Moroccan authorities to use civilian courts to ensure fair retrials for those Sahrawi people given long prison sentences by the military court; if he will support the call by Amnesty International and others for the Moroccan authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the human rights abuses committed in connection with the 8 November 2010 events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9644/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am aware of the case to which the Deputy refers and I refer the Deputy to my answer to Parliamentary Question 8843/13 on the 20th February.

On 8th November 2010, violence broke out when Moroccan security forces tried to remove people from Gdim Izik, a camp on the outskirts of Laayoune in the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara region. The camp had been set up by Sahrawi people protesting against their perceived marginalisation, and demanding jobs and adequate housing. According to reports, eleven members of the security forces and two Sahrawis were killed during the violence.

Over 200 Sahrawis were subsequently arrested by Moroccan security forces, of whom most were released but 25 were put on trial before the military court in Rabat as a result of their involvement. On Sunday 17th February, the military court handed down nine life sentences and sentenced 14 other defendants to between 20-30 years imprisonment each. Two other defendants were released. It is believed the verdicts will now be appealed to the Moroccan Court of Cassation.

The accused have already spent two years in pre-trial detention prison and there have been allegations of torture during their imprisonment. Concerns have also been expressed regarding the fact that the defendants have been tried in a military rather than a civilian court. The UN Committee against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has sought to investigate and report on the situation. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns over the case.

I share the Deputy’s concern regarding this case and my officials will continue to closely monitor the situation and the process regarding the appeal of the sentences. The Government will continue to raise concerns about human rights abuses in Western Sahara, in particular reports of the arbitrary arrest, detention and mistreatment of human rights defenders, with Morocco in our ongoing bilateral dialogue. Ireland has consistently called for the mandate of MINURSO, the United Nations Mission in Western Sahara monitoring the ceasefire with Western Sahara, to include a human rights monitoring element. We believe this would provide invaluable independent and impartial information on the status of human rights in Western Sahara.