(2012-06-08) The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) and the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) are deeply concerned by the failure of the Moroccan government to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Sahrawi national Said Dambar (26) and by their refusal to inform his family of his whereabouts. Under Article 2 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Moroccan government has an obligation to investigate Mr. Dambar's death. Moreover, the right to know the fate and the whereabouts of relatives is widely recognized in international law and Morocco is a signatory on the International Convention on Disappeared Persons.
Mr. Dambar was allegedly shot and killed by a Moroccan police officer on December 22, 2010. That day, the police came to Mr. Dambar's house in the middle of the night to tell his family that he had been beaten by a police officer and that they needed to see his documentation. At the time, the police claimed Mr. Dambar had a minor arm injury and was at the hospital for treatment. The Dambar family waited at the hospital for several hours without knowing whether Said was alive or dead. On December 23, he was officially declared dead, but his family was allowed to see only his head, which had clearly sustained a bullet wound.
An RFK Center delegation met with Mr. Dambar's family in January 2011. The family reported that they were not told of his death or whereabouts at the time of the incident. Afterwards the family received conflicting reports of what really occurred, and to this day, no autopsy was performed and the family has not been granted access to his medical records. After an incomplete investigation, the court ruled that the murder was an accident and as a result, the convicted police officer was sentenced to only 15 years in prison.
Despite the Muslim tradition of burying a body as soon as possible after a death, the Dambar family has steadfastly refused to bury Said's body insisting that an autopsy be performed and that they be given access to the information surrounding his death. The Moroccan government still refuses to investigate the causes of Mr. Dambar's murder, conduct an autopsy, or acknowledge any wrongdoing. Moreover, Moroccan law enforcement has regularly harassed members of the Dambar family, demanding that they bury the body. Mr. Dambar's brother, for example, was turned down for a government position and told by the Ministry of the Interior that he would obtain the position once he buried his brother.
On June 4, 2012, at 8:30 am Moroccan authorities presented Mr. Dambar’s family with a court order requiring that his body be buried at 9 am that day, but his mother refused to sign the court order. Mr. Dambar’s sister and a member of CODESA arrived at the cemetery just after 9 am where he was supposed to be buried, but there was nothing there. One hour later, the cemetery and the neighborhood where Mr. Dambar's family live were surrounded by Moroccan military forces. The Dambar family continues to call for an autopsy and demands to know the whereabouts of the body.
The RFK Center and CODESA stand in solidarity with the Dambar family and call on the Moroccan Government to comply with its obligations before national and international law. The RFK Center and CODESA urge the Moroccan Government to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Dambar, by performing DNA testing on his remains and releasing the autopsy report to his family. Moroccan Government should also respect the Dambar family right to the truth and release the information of his whereabouts.
Western Sahara is known as "Africa"s last colony." There has been an ongoing conflict since 1975, when Morocco occupied Western Sahara despite an International Court of Justice ruling that Morocco did not have a legitimate claim to the territory. The invasion has led to a decades-old conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, a national movement committed to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. With the war and Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, its native people—the Sahrawi—were divided in two, those living under Moroccan Occupation and those living in refugee camps in Algeria. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara (MINURSO) was created in 1991 to provide an international presence to oversee a cease-fire. The mission was also tasked with helping to administer a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara, but the referendum never took place.
Instead, Morocco consistently violates the basic human rights of the Sahrawi people, particularly those who advocate for change in Western Sahara. In its attempt to stop dissenting opinions concerning Western Sahara and the Sahrawi people, Morocco has demonstrated intolerance for political dissent. Moroccan authorities routinely prevents non-violent assembly; interferes with the formation and functioning of NGOs; persecutes those who publicly express dissenting viewpoints; and tortures, harasses, arbitrarily detains, and disappears Sahrawi civilians and human rights defenders that support the self-determination of Western Sahara.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights was established in 1968 to carry on the legacy of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In 2008, the president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), Aminatou Haidar, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her undaunted non-violent work, promoting the civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights of the people of Western Sahara. Through the RFK Human Rights Award, the RFK Center joins CODESA and Ms. Haidar in their struggle to increase visibility and dialogue about ongoing rights violations in Western Sahara and to promote the protection of human rights in the territory.
The Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) is a grassroots collective of Saharawi human defenders distributed throughout occupied Western Sahara who operates under severe risk and constant surveillance. They are deemed illegal by Morocco and unable to register as an associationhttp://codesaso.com/.