Note: This report was updated 3/29/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.
The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the estimated 85 percent that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when the Spanish Government relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. Since 1991, UN-facilitated negotiations on the territory’s status have been inconclusive. The sides have not met face-to-face since 2009.
Morocco administers the territories in Western Sahara by the same laws and structures governing the exercise of civil liberties and political and economic rights as internationally recognized Morocco. In 2011 Morocco adopted a constitution that also applies to its administration of the territory. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king may dismiss ministers, dissolve parliament, and call for new elections or rule by decree. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister), whom he must appoint from the political party with the most seats in parliament, and approves members of the government nominated by the prime minister. International and domestic observers judged the October 7 parliamentary elections, held in both internationally recognized Morocco and the territory of Western Sahara, as credible and relatively free from irregularities. During the year Morocco continued to implement its “advanced regionalization” plan, allowing local bodies elected in 2015 to exercise certain budgetary and decision-making powers, including in the provinces of Western Sahara.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. For more details, see the 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.
The most significant human rights problems in the territory were government restrictions on the civil liberties and political rights of proindependence advocates, including limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association that restricted dissent.
Other significant human rights problems were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco, including corruption, discrimination against women, and disregard for the rule of law by security forces. A variety of sources reported other human rights problems. These included security forces occasionally committing human rights abuses, including reports of mistreatment in detention. While prison and detention center conditions improved during the year, in some instances, they still did not meet international standards. Pretrial detention conditions were especially a concern due to overcrowding, and detention periods were often prolonged. The judiciary lacked full independence and sometimes denied defendants the right to a fair public trial. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted there were political prisoners, although the government stated that these individuals were charged with criminal offenses. The government placed restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues. Trafficking in persons and child labor continued to occur, particularly in the informal sector.
The lack of reports of investigations or punishment of abuse or corruption in Western Sahara contributed to the widespread perception of impunity. Sahrawi human rights organizations claimed that the majority of police and other officials accused of abuse remained in positions of authority.