Institute for International
Cooperation and Development Studies

Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara

Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara

Hegoa has been conducting an exhaustive study on Human Rights violations in Western Sahara since 2010, with the collaboration of Euskal Fondoa and the supervision of Carlos Martín Beristain, a close collaborator of the Institute.

Since the occupation of the territory by Morocco in 1975, the Sahrawi population has been sistematically suffering human rights violations, social segregation and political margination. Currently, part of the Sahrawi population lives in the territory occupied by Morocco, whilst other parts have been living for decades in other refugee camps in Tindouf (Argelia). Hegoa Institute accompanies Sahrawi human rights organisations in their intent at covering the lack of information on those violations carried out against the population, as well as the population's situation in a complex context characterised by civil and political repression and exile of part of a part of the civil population. 


Documentación, sistematización, incidencia y denuncia de casos de desaparición forzada y detención arbitraria: Guía metodológica para organizaciones saharauis
Rodríguez-Bronchú Carceller, Helena; Citroni, Gabriella (Hegoa, 2019)

This methodological guide is aimed at offering practical advice to Sahrawi organisations on how to carry out processes of documentation, systematisation, advocacy and denouncing in relation to cases of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detentions, on an international level.

Whilst the methodological guide is centred on those two types of human rights violations, numerous parts of the guide can be useful for other serious violations, such as torture or arbitrary executions. 

El fuego escondido: Las víctimas de minas en el Sáhara Occidental
Martín Beristain, Carlos; Sepúlveda Aparicio, Gisela; Escobar Casas, Edi (Hegoa, 2017)

This report is structured around four sections. The first one describes the problematic of mines and other not detonated artifacts in Western Sahara and the most important data from this study carried out in the two areas that the Sahara has been divided into by the wall built by Morocco. The second section looks at the level of risk that affects the Sahrawi civil population. Consequently, the consequences of the explosions of mines and other articifacts against the direct victims and survivors are described. The fourth part focuses on the problem of the wall built by Morocco, which constitutes one of the most important mined zones in the world. The section deals with the issue of mining, as well as the role of the UN Mission, MINURSO and international and Sahrawi organisations in the tasks of demining and attention.

The summaries of the analysed cases can be found in the appendix of this study. The research is based on 154 testimonies of victims, survivors and key informants.  

Memoria histórica de las mujeres en el Sáhara Occidental
Mendia Azkue, Irantzu; Guzmán Orellana, Gloria (Hegoa, 2016)

This didactic guide is oriented towards working on the historical memory of the Sahrawi conflict from the analyses and experiences of women and can be utilised as a reference to facilitate work sessions to direct a recuperation process of historical memory from a gender perspective. It follows the collection started by the Basque Network in support of the National Union of Sahrawi Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Saharauis, UNMS) of training material for the women participating in the Houses of Women (Casas de las mujeres) of the Tindouf and Western Sahara camps. 

En tierra ocupada: memoria y resistencia de las mujeres en el Sáhara Occidental
Mendia Azkue, Irantzu; Guzmán Orellana, Gloria (Hegoa, 2016)

This work is product of an initiative of female political activists and human rights defenders in the Wester Sahara occupied territories. Its objective is to reconstruct their collective memory as women that have been victims of serious human rights violations and also as political subjects of a prolonged history of resistance of the Sahrawi population against the occupation and for independence. 

Their testimonies are the common thread of this work, that gathers the content of their activism, the distinct forms of violence against them, the impacts of that violence and some of the mechanisms to overcome them. On this base, the book is completed with the description of various unaccomplished international commitments in matters of the protection of women's rights, as well as the reflection on the factors to be taken into account in terms of the pushing a human rights agenda that ensures that women have equal access to truth, justice and reparation in the Western Sahara. 

Memorias nómadas. Historias de dolor y resistencia en el Sáhara Occidenta
Martín Beristain, Carlos; Gil, Alonso; Guzmán, Federico (Icaria, 2014)

Literary accounts written/drawn during the process of gathering testimonies of human rights violations compiled in the report "The Oasis of Memory". These are stories that talk about the resistance of a people, of strategies for the survival of pain, to rebuild memory. The book editing has counted with the financial support of the Gasteiz Town Hall through the assistance of the Asociation of Friends of the RASD of Alava (Asociación de Amigos y Amigas de la RASD de Álava). 

Meheris. La esperanza posible
Martín Beristain, Carlos; Etxeberria Gabilondo, Francisco (Hegoa y Aranzadi, 2013)

In February 2013, a shepherd found human remains scattered on the sand of the Fadret Leguiaa zone, in the región of Smara. This zone is found near the wall built by Morocco in 1982, under the supervision of the MINURSO ceasefire. Facing the evidence of what seemed to be the burial of extrajudiciary executions and under petition of the Association of Sahrawi Relatives and Prisoners (Asociación de Familiares y Presos Saharauis, Afapredesa), a research team from Hegoa Institute, Foundation Aranzadi and the University of the Basque Country travelled there and conducted the research and exhumation of two mass graves. They counted on financial support from Eusla Fondoa, the Regional Government of Gipuzkoa and the Donostia/San Sebastián Town Hall.

This process was preceded by the reconstruction of the case based on the testimonies of the missing people’s relatives and an eyewitness that accounted for the facts that took place on the 12th and 13th of February 1976. Those graves contain the remains of eight people, two of them, teenagers, with fractures produced by the projectiles of fire arms, especially in the skull and other bones, denoting mortal wounds. In addition, numerous personal objects, identity documents (Spanish ID) and bullet casing were also found. The following anthropological, forensic and genetic studies conducted by a team with the maximum professional capacity, confirmed the identification of the victims and the causes of violent death, following the international standards of these types of studies. The confirmed data and analysed evidence confirm in duly form the veracity of the facts and suppose a determining support to the relatives’ demands for the victims’ recognition, justice and reparation. 

The report contains the followed process, based on the international standards applied in these types of cases (both technical and legal). 

El Oasis de la Memoria. Memoria histórica y violaciones de Derechos Humanos en el Sáhara Occidental
Martín Beristain, Carlos; González Hidalgo, Eloísa (Hegoa, 2012)

This report looks at the serious human rights violations against the Sahrawi population, from 1975 until now. It is based on a study of 261 cases and in-depth interviews with Sahrawi victims and in a field-work methodology similar to the one followed by Truth Commissions in different parts of the world and through a psychosocial perspective. 

The report contains analyses of human rights violations, through individual and collective cases, in different historical periods. In addition, it looks at the impact of these human rights violations on the victims, from an individual and family point of view, including the perspective of children, as well as the impacts on women and sexual violence. 

Furthermore, the study gathers the forms of resistance against that violence, and addresses the demands of truth, justice and reparation of the actual victims in relation to international standards, compared international experience and the answers given by the state of Morocco up until now. 

“El Oasis de la Memoria”, Tomo I y II.Complete report in PDF.

Resumen El Oasis de la Memoria. Summary in Spanish and English. PDF.


Testigos de la memoria (Witnesses of memory)

25'02''. Documentary. Edition: Eztizen Miranda; Coordnation: UPV/EHU and Aranzadi. 2013.

This documentary follows "La semilla de la verdad (The seed of truth)” and deals with how in November 2013, five months after finding the graves of eight missing Bedouins, the team composed of the University of the Basque Country, Hegoa Institute and Society of Science Aranzadi went back to Western Sahara to exhume and return the remains to their relatives. The documentary was presented at the XIII Festival de Cine y Derechos Humanos (XIII Cinema and Human Rights Festival) in Donostia.

La semilla de la verdad (The seed of truth)

27'25''. Documentary. Edition: Eztizen Miranda; Coordination: UPV/EHU and Aranzadi. 2013.

It gathers the process followed during the identification and exhumation of the graves found in the region of Smara, in the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and the testimonies of the families of the missing people and an eyewitness of the executions, that have allowed for a reconstruction of the case. The thorough and professional work of the technical staff from Hegoa, Aranzadi and the University of the Basque Country, is conducted in extremely precarious conditions due to the closeness to the Moroccan wall (guarded by militaries) and the presence of anti-personnel mines in the area. Still, the recuperation of the remains and personal objects, in the presence of the relatives, is a success. The later genetic analysis in the UPV/EHU labs allows to confirm all the identities that coincide perfectly with the cited testimonies.

It was presented oficially in FiSahara 2013, with a positive reception from the public, the press and the Festival organisers.


2014. Voces del desierto: la resistencia frente al olvido (Voices from the desert: resistance against oblivion) Truth, justice and reparation in the Western Sahara

The exhibition is formed of twenty big panels that inform of the human rights situation of the Sahrawi population resident both in the occupied territories as well as in the Tindouf camps. The exhibition deals with issues such as the bombarding of civil population, enforced disappearance, Gdem Izk, anti-personnel mines or the right to self-determination.

The exhibition tries to highlight the value of resistance of the victims and the Sahrawi population as a whole to come up against these violations. More specifically, it centres on the collective efforts and the struggle led by the women. The visual proposal is supported by photography and illustrations. The exhibition counts with other resources such as the recreation of a mass grave, a gigantic panel of the “wall of shame” and a room with audiovisuals where the documentaries “The seed of truth” and “Testimonies of memory” are projected.

The exhibition was managed by Euskal Fondoa.