Today, Wednesday, January 10, Morocco was elected as the new president of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
It was previously clear that the presidency for 2024 would go to a country in the so-called Africa Group in the UN. The choice was between Morocco and South Africa. Morocco received 17 out of 30 votes and was thus awarded the presidency.
The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights believes that the election is deeply problematic. In a situation where the entire UN system is criticized for a lack of implementation on the ground in Gaza, this election is not the right way to regain trust.
Widespread human rights violations
Leading up to the presidential election in the Human Rights Council, the Rafto Foundation and nine other Norwegian organizations sent a public letter to norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Bart Eide.
In the letter, we expressed our clear concern about Morocco's candidacy. We joined the call that had also come from the International Service for Human Rights and Saharawi Civil Society.
Even though Morocco did not meet essential criteria, the country succeeded in becoming a member of the prestigious Human Rights Council in 2022. Despite its membership, the country's authorities have continued to engage in systematic human rights violations.
This includes harassment and unfair trials against dissidents, journalists, bloggers, and human rights advocates, as thoroughly documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Morocco's internationally unlawful occupation of Western Sahara has also been ongoing for almost 50 years. The Sahrawi people have been subjected to repeated gross human rights violations, including forced displacement, surveillance, arbitrary detention and disappearances, severe torture, censorship, and a lack of freedom of organization.
Symbolic and practical power
The presidency awarded to Morocco now holds significant symbolic and practical power. The president proposes candidates for UN expert bodies, appoints experts to investigative bodies, and is responsible for building awareness and trust in the UN Human Rights Council.
Assigning the presidency to Morocco contributes to undermining the credibility of the UN. It may provide Morocco favorable conditions to prevent investigations into its own abuses in the occupation of Western Sahara.
"The area is under siege"
Twenty-two years ago, in 2002, the Rafto Prize was awarded to Sidi Mohammed Daddach (pictured at the top of the article). Daddach, referred to by some as the "Mandela of Western Sahara," is a significant symbol in Western Sahara's struggle for self-determination.
He received the Rafto Prize for his peaceful advocacy for self-governance and fundamental human rights for the Sahrawi people. His ongoing struggle has cost him 24 years in Moroccan prison.
Daddach tells the Rafto Foundation about the still highly challenging situation in Western Sahara:
"Many homes have been besieged and raided to prevent any activity, whether cultural, human rights, or otherwise. The area is under siege, and no foreigners are allowed to enter," says Daddach.
A significant number of Sahrawi political prisoners are currently held in Moroccan prisons.
"They are sentenced to prison terms ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment. They are subjected to the strictest treatment. The majority of Sahrawis live in a state of poverty and constant surveillance. For these reasons, I urge the Rafto Foundation to oppose Morocco's candidacy as president of the UN Human Rights Council," said Daddach ahead of today's vote.
"A sad day for human rights"
Erik Hagen, the managing director of the Support Committee for Western Sahara, is upset about the presidential election.
"We now have a situation where a country actively opposing the UN Human Rights Council has been appointed to lead it. It is a sad day for human rights. It contributes to undermining the credibility of the UN system - and in a time when we more than ever need a strong and clear UN", says Hagen.
Ingrid Breisteinslien RoslandSenior Advisor
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