”De uitspraak volgt op een eerder arrest van de hof over internationaal zelfbeschikkingsrecht van de Westelijke Sahara. Het gebied werd in 1975 ingelijfd door Marokko, maar dat wordt internationaal niet erkend”
EUROPA NUHANDELSVERDRAGEN EU EN MAROKKO ONGELDIGOM WESTELIJKE SAHARA29 SEPTEMBER 2021
LUXEMBURG (ANP) – De Europese Commissie moet namens de EU opnieuw gaan onderhandelen over een aantal handelsafspraken met Marokko en daarin de bevolking van de Westelijke Sahara betrekken. Het Gerecht van de EU, een onderdeel van het Europees Hof van Justitie, verklaart twee handelsovereenkomsten nietig. De uitspraak is een overwinning voor Polisario, de onafhankelijkheidsbeweging voor de Westelijke Sahara die de zaak had aangespannen.
De uitspraak volgt op een eerder arrest van de hof over internationaal zelfbeschikkingsrecht van de Westelijke Sahara. Het gebied werd in 1975 ingelijfd door Marokko, maar dat wordt internationaal niet erkend. Een deel ervan is in handen van Polisario, dat aanspraak maakt op het voormalige Spaanse gebied in Noord-Afrika. Het gebied is rijk aan fosfaten en visgronden.
De overeenkomsten waarover opnieuw moet worden onderhandeld betreffen gunstige tarieven voor landbouwproducten die Marokko in de EU mag invoeren, en een visserij-overeenkomst. Het hof heeft eerder al geoordeeld dat vrijhandelsafspraken tussen de EU en Marokko niet voor de Westelijke Sahara van toepassing zijn.
EU-buitenlandchef Josep Borrell en de Marokkaanse minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Nasser Bourita gaven direct na de uitspraak een gezamenlijke verklaring uit. “We zullen de nodige maatregelen treffen om voor een wettelijk kader te zorgen dat de voortgang en stabiliteit van de handelsrelatie tussen de EU en het koninkrijk Marokko garandeert.”
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHMOROCCO AND WESTERN SAHARAWORLD REPORT OF 2022EVENTS OF 2021
Morocco cracked down on journalists and critics, including via apparently politically motivated prosecutions for criminal offenses. Laws restricting individual freedoms remained in effect, including laws that discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. In Western Sahara, authorities continued to severely constrain activities and speech of independence activists.
Criminal Justice System
The Code of Penal Procedure gives a defendant the right to contact a lawyer after 24 hours in police custody, extendable to 36 hours. But detainees do not have the right to have a lawyer present when police interrogate or present them with their statements for signature. In recent years, police agents often coerced or tricked detainees into signing self-incriminating statements, which judges later relied on to convict even when the defendants repudiated those statements in court.
Freedom of Association and Assembly
Authorities continued to impede the work of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), the country’s largest independent human rights group. The AMDH said that, as of September 15, 2021, authorities had declined to process the administrative formalities for 84 of the 99 AMDH local branches, impeding the ability of these branches to carry out basic functions like opening new bank accounts or renting space. These obstructions persisted even when administrative courts ruled in favor of the AMDH.
Freedom of Expression
On July 30, several global media reported that Pegasus, a potent spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, might have been used to infiltrate the smartphones of many individuals in Morocco. Pegasus, which NSO Group claims is exclusively sold to governments, is capable of accessing contact lists, reading emails and text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, mobile phone tracking, and hijacking the target device’s microphone and video camera to turn it into a surveillance device. Journalists and Moroccan human rights activists and journalists were among the targets.
Morocco’s penal code punishes with prison and fines nonviolent speech offenses, including “causing harm” to Islam or the monarchy, and “inciting against” Morocco’s “territorial integrity,” a reference to its claim to Western Sahara. While the Press and Publication Code does not provide prison as a punishment, journalists and people who speak out on social media have been prosecuted under the penal code for their critical, nonviolent speech.
Those included Moroccan-American YouTube commentator Chafik Omerani and protester Noureddine Aouaj, sentenced to three months and two years in prison, respectively, for “defaming constitutional institutions” after they criticized King Mohammed VI. Omerani was freed on May 6 after completing his term. YouTube commentator Mustapha Semlali, also known as Allal Al-Qadous, was sentenced to two years for “undermining the monarchy” after he allegedly defamed Prince Moulay Rachid, the king’s brother; Moroccan-Italian student Ikram Nazih, was sentenced to three years for “harming the Islamic religion” after she shared a Facebook post deemed to be making light of a Quranic verse. She was freed on August 23 after an appeals court reduced her sentence to two months. YouTube commentator Jamila Saadane was sentenced to three months for “insulting organized institutions and distributing false allegations” after she claimed that authorities protected sexual tourism activities in Marrakech.
In other cases, Morocco has arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned several critics not overtly for what they said but instead for offenses related to sex or embezzlement, where the evidence was either scant or dubious, or the trial involved clear fair-trial violations.
On January 27, a Rabat Court of First Instance sentenced historian and free speech advocate Maati Monjib to one year in prison for “receiving funds from a foreign organization in order to undermine Morocco’s internal security.” The basis for the charge was that a nongovernmental organization (NGO) set up by Monjib to defend free speech received grants from European NGOs to organize trainings for local journalists in a way that “harmed Morocco’s internal security.”
The trial of Monjib took place on January 20 in his absence, even though he had been in the same tribunal that day to answer a prosecutor’s questions in another case, for which he was in pretrial detention. Monjib’s lawyers say the court notified neither Monjib nor them about the trial, which the authorities denied. Monjib was released on March 23, after hunger striking for 19 days. The case, in which three co-defendants were sentenced to one year in absentia, was pending at time of writing appeal.
On July 9, a court of first instance in Casablanca sentenced popular critical columnist Soulaiman Raissouni to five years in prison for “indecent assault.” Raissouni was placed in pretrial detention on May 2020, days after a man accused him in a Facebook post of sexually assaulting him two years earlier, while he was visiting Raissouni’s home. Raissouni spent a year in pretrial detention without the court ever providing a substantive basis for denying him bail for such an extended period. He was denied access to his own case file until late in the trial.
Raissouni, who waged a long hunger strike to protest the conditions of his trial, requested to be transported to the courtroom in an ambulance and attend the sessions in a wheelchair, under medical supervision. The judge denied his request, and thus Raissouni did not attend the last four sessions of his own trial. His defense withdrew from the trial in protest. After the verdict, Raissouni stopped his hunger strike, which had lasted 118 days. The case was pending appeal at time of writing.
Taoufik Bouachrine, the director of the now-defunct independent daily Akhbar al-Yaoum, where Raissouni worked as editor-in-chief, is serving a 15-year sentence for sexual assault on several women. The verdict was handed down by an appeals court in 2019 after a trial that the United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said was marred by due-process violations and part of a “judicial harassment attributable to nothing other than [Bouachrine’s] investigative journalism.”
On July 19, a court of first instance in Casablanca sentenced investigative journalist Omar Radi to six years in prison on multiple charges, including espionage and rape of a female co-worker, and his colleague, journalist Imad Stitou, to one year in prison, with six months suspended, for “participation” in the alleged rape because he “failed to intervene to stop it.” Radi testified that the sex with the complainant was consensual.
Radi, an outspoken critic who has long been subject to state harassment, has been in detention since his arrest on July 29, 2020. Stitou remained free pending appeal.
Examining the facts in the case on which the espionage charges against Radi are based, Human Rights Watch found that they consist of nothing but standard journalistic work, corporate due-diligence studies that Radi performed as a paid consultant, and his routine meetings with foreign diplomats. The case file, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, included no evidence that Radi had provided classified information to anyone or that he even had access to such information.
Several due process violations were recorded during the trial, which Human Rights Watch observed. The court never provided a substantive justification for holding Radi for one year in pretrial detention. The court refused to hear defense witnesses, and admitted a written statement by a prosecution witness but refused to summon him, thus denying the defense’s right to cross-examine him. While Radi had to fight in court for months to get his case file, websites closely tied with security services obtained leaked copies even before the trial started, and based on those leaks, published scores of articles affirming Radi’s guilt. The case was pending appeals at time of writing.
Monjib, Raissouni, Radi, and others were subjected to relentless character assassination efforts in scores of articles published in websites known locally as “slander media” because of their incessant and seemingly coordinated attacks against critics of the authorities. Known for their proximity to security services, these websites have published in past years thousands of articles including personal information on targeted individuals. The information included banking and property records, screenshots of private electronic conversations, allegations about sexual relationships, and intimate biographical details.
The United Nations-sponsored process of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the liberation movement that seeks self-determination for Western Sahara, remained stalled after the resignation in May 2019 of Horst Kohler, the envoy of the UN secretary-general. Staffan De Mistura was appointed as a new envoy on October 6.
Most of Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control since Spain, the territory’s former colonial administrator, withdrew in 1975. In 1991, both Morocco and the Polisario, the liberation movement for Western Sahara, agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire to prepare for a referendum on self-determination. That referendum never took place. Morocco considers Western Sahara to be an integral part of the kingdom and rejects demands for a vote on self-determination that would include independence as an option.
In November 2020, Moroccan security forces established a near-constant heavy presence outside the house of independence activist Sultana Khaya, in Boujdour, Western Sahara. They have provided no justification and have prevented several people, including family members, from visiting. According to Khaya, police forces raided her house several times, beating her and relatives, and smearing the house with a foul-smelling liquid. Khaya is locally known for her public displays of vehement opposition to Morocco’s control of Western Sahara. The arbitrary blockade of her house was still in place at time of writing.
Moroccan authorities systematically prevent gatherings supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights NGOs, including by blocking their legal registration, and on occasion beat activists and journalists in their custody and on the streets, or raid their houses and destroy or confiscate their belongings. Human Rights Watch documented some of these beatings and raids, including of the house of independence activist Hassana Duihi in May 2021.
In 2021, 19 Sahrawi men remained in prison after they were convicted in unfair trials in 2013 and 2017 for the killing of 11 security force members, during clashes that erupted after authorities forcibly dismantled a large protest encampment in Gdeim Izik, Western Sahara, in 2010. Both courts relied almost entirely on their confessions to the police to convict them, without seriously investigating claims that the defendants had signed their confessions under torture. The Cassation court, Morocco’s highest judicial instance, upheld the appeals verdict on November 25, 2020.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
The Family Code discriminates against women with regard to inheritance and procedures to obtain divorce. The code sets 18 as a minimum age of marriage but allows judges to grant “exemptions” to marry girls aged 15 to 18 at the request of their family.
While Morocco’s 2018 Violence against Women law criminalized some forms of domestic violence, established prevention measures, and provided new protections for survivors, it required survivors to file for criminal prosecution in order to obtain protection, which few can do. It also did not set out the duties of police, prosecutors, and investigative judges in domestic violence cases, or fund women’s shelters.
Morocco’s law does not explicitly criminalize marital rape, and women who report rape can find themselves prosecuted instead for engaging in sexual intercourse outside marriage if authorities do not believe her.
In July, an Instagram post showing a hotel in Marrakech denying access to Moroccan women unaccompanied by either their husbands or families, went viral.
Morocco bans hotels from accommodating unmarried couples in a shared room, but there is no known law denying access to unaccompanied women from any facility.
In July, authorities appointed the first female head prosecutor at a court of first instance. While Morocco does have female judges, women overall continue to remain heavily underrepresented in judicial positions.
In May, Morocco’s National Human Rights Council reported that sexual harassment and gender-based violence are widespread against female staff and students at Moroccan universities, and a lack of mechanisms and means to adequately deal with harassment, and provide assistance to victims in universities.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual sex between adults who are not married to one another is punishable by up to one year in prison. Moroccan law also criminalizes what it refers to as acts of “sexual deviancy” between members of the same sex, a term that authorities use to refer to homosexuality more generally, and punishes them with prison terms of up to three years.
In a memorandum published in October 2019, the National Human Rights Council, a state-appointed body, recommended decriminalizing consensual sex between non-married adults. More than 25 NGOs expressed support for the recommendation. The Moroccan government did not act upon it.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The government has yet to approve a draft of Morocco’s first law on the right to asylum, introduced in 2013. A 2003 migration law remained in effect, with provisions criminalizing illegal entry that failed to provide an exception for refugees and asylum seekers. As of September 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had granted, or started the administrative process for granting, refugee cards, along with special residency permits and work authorizations to 856 persons, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had recognized in recent years. All of the 8,853 refugees recognized by UNHCR as of September 2021 had access to health services and where applicable public education, but only about half of them had regular residency permits and work authorizations, according to UNHCR. Morocco also hosted 6,902 registered asylum seekers as of September.
Human rights violations against migrants by Moroccan authorities, as reported by the media and non-governmental organizations during 2021, included abusive raids targeting sub-Saharan migrants for forced internal displacements, usually toward the south of the country, and arbitrary detention of migrants, including children. In a positive step, the Moroccan government stated it would include refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in its national Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which launched in January 2021. As of September, 547 refugees had been vaccinated.
On July 19, Idris Hasan, an Uyghur activist who had been living in Turkey, was arrested upon landing in Casablanca airport. A court agreed to China’s extradition request on December 15 but he had not been extradited yet at time of writing. Extraditing Hasan would violate Morocco’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Convention against Torture, which prohibit forcibly sending anyone to a place where they would risk persecution and torture.
Key International Actors
On September 29, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) annulled two trade agreements on agriculture and fishing between the European Union and Morocco. The court said that Western Sahara, which was included in those bilateral agreements, should be considered a third party and as such, its people had to give its “full consent” for the agreement to be valid. The ECJ ruled that the consultations with stakeholders in Western Sahara, in which the Polisario refused to take part, did not meet the threshold of “consent.” Morocco and the EU had not appealed the ECJ ruling at time of writing.
EINDE BERICHT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHAMNESTY INTERNATIONALMIDDLE EAST AND NORTHERN AFRICAMOROCCO AND WESTERN SAHARA
MOROCCO AND WESTERN SAHARA 2021
The authorities continued to use the 2020 health emergency decree-law to arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression and assembly, including of journalists, activists and workers. The authorities continued to violate the rights of pro-independence Sahrawi activists through arbitrary house arrests, ill-treatment and harassment. The government introduced a Covid-19 vaccine pass necessary for anyone to enter their places of work, public and private administrations, restaurants and to travel inside and outside Morocco. Protests against the pass were held in several cities and were met by force at least once. The Feminist Action Union recorded monthly increases in domestic violence cases in almost every city in Morocco. Parliament passed a new law that allows for gender reassignment for those born “hermaphrodites”, which was criticized by LGBTI communities for its vagueness and lack of reference to transgender people. Migrants and asylum seekers were arbitrarily detained and, in areas close to border crossings, the authorities raided the lodging places of sub-Saharan nationals, sometimes burning their belongings or forcibly evicting them.
Government measures to support the economy during the second year of the pandemic included compensating those who could not work, although this only applied to those in formal jobs.
In October, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was renewed, but still lacked a human rights mandate. Human rights organizations could still not access Western Sahara and Polisario camps.
On 21 October, the government announced that a vaccine pass would be necessary to enter places of work, restaurants and for all travel inside and outside of Morocco. The union of café and restaurant owners, the lawyers’ union and some rights organizations criticized the move, saying the pass was unconstitutional, arbitrary or a danger to the economy. Protests against the decision were held across Morocco on 31 October.
Between January and December, the king issued royal pardons affecting 4,127 prisoners.
In September, Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco.
Freedom of expression and association
Human rights defenders, journalists, social media users, academics and activists continued to face repression of the legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression. At least seven were arrested and/or prosecuted for freedom of expression-related offences. On 23 March, academic and human rights defender Maati Monjib was provisionally released from El Arajat prison near the capital Rabat. In October, he was prevented from travelling to France for a medical appointment and to see his family, due to an arbitrary travel ban imposed since October 2020.
In July, Omar Radi, an independent journalist who was often critical of the authorities, was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of espionage and rape after a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. Among other things, he was denied the right to see and challenge each piece of evidence used against him.
In September, the Marrakesh Court of First Instance sentenced Jamila Saadane to three months in prison for videos she posted on YouTube accusing the Moroccan authorities of covering up prostitution networks and human trafficking in Marrakesh. She was convicted of “insulting institutions” and “spreading false information”.
The Moroccan authorities continued to violate the rights of pro-independence Sahrawi activists throughout the year, through ill-treatment, arrests and harassment. In May, the authorities arrested Essabi Yahdih, a Sahrawi journalist and director of the online Algargarat Media company, at his workplace in Western Sahara. They interrogated him about his journalistic work and accused him of filming military barracks in Dakhla, a city in Western Sahara. On 29 July, he was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine. In Dakhla prison he was denied medical attention for pre-existing hearing and sight conditions.
Right to privacy
In July, together with the coalition Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International revealed that NSO Group’s Pegasus surveillance spyware was used extensively by the Moroccan authorities. Journalists, activists and political figures of French and Moroccan origin had been targeted with the spyware. The devices of Hicham Mansouri, a Moroccan journalist living in exile in France; Claude Mangin, the partner of Naama Asfari, a Sahraoui activist who is imprisoned in Morocco; and Mahjoub Maliha, a Sahraoui human rights defender, were infected with Pegasus software in violation of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly
On at least four occasions, the authorities repressed peaceful protests demanding improved working conditions and used the health emergency decree-law to suppress workers’ grievances.
In April, police arbitrarily arrested 33 teachers who were protesting peacefully in Rabat against education policies they deemed harmful for public education and forcibly dispersed the protesters even though they were respecting Covid-19 safety measures such as social distancing. The teachers were provisionally released after 48 hours but were still facing charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering without an authorization”, “breaching health emergency status” and “offending public officials”. Their trial was ongoing at the end of the year.1
In July, Noureddine Aouaj, an activist and human rights campaigner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. He was arrested in June after joining a peaceful rally supporting jailed journalists Omar Radi and Suleiman Raissouni, and charged with “insulting constitutional institutions, principles and symbols of the kingdom”, “denouncing fictitious crimes” and “undermining judicial authority”.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Some prisoners were held in harsh conditions, including prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement, in violation of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
Suleiman Raissouni, a journalist and editor of Akhbar Al Yaoum newspaper, remained in solitary confinement since his imprisonment in May 2020. He staged a 118-day hunger strike from 8 April to protest against his solitary confinement.
Mohamed Lamine Haddi, sentenced in connection with the Gdeim Izik protest, continued to be held in solitary confinement since 2017. In March, prison guards ended his hunger strike held in protest at his ill-treatment by force-feeding him, which amounts to torture under international law.
Members of the security forces raided the house of Sahrawi activist Sultana Khaya in Boujdour at least three times in 2021. She said that during a raid in May, members of the security forces beat her and tried to rape her with batons, and attacked and raped her sister. On 15 November, members of the security forces broke into her house and raped her and sexually abused her two sisters and 80-year-old mother.2
Right to health
In May, the Independent Syndicate of Public Sector Doctors held a 48-hour national strike, excluding emergency services, to protest at the authorities’ inaction to their long-standing demands for improved pay and working conditions and better resourced public hospitals.
By the end of the year, Morocco had fully vaccinated about 67% of the country’s population against Covid-19.
Women’s and girls’ rights
A national pandemic fund was created in 2020 to compensate those forced to leave work. However, Moroccan NGO the Feminist Action Union found that women were less able than men to benefit from the scheme as they are less likely to be in regular work
Implementation of the 2018 Law 103-13 for the prevention of violence against women remained weak. Contrary to claims by the Public Prosecution Office that domestic violence cases decreased by 10% compared to previous years, the Feminist Action Union recorded monthly increases in domestic violence cases from January to April in almost every city in Morocco.
In May, the Minister of Justice announced that the number of child marriages had reduced since 2019. UN Women disputed this, saying the figures do not provide information on the forms of customary marriage involving children, nor do they consider the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on mobility and access to public administrations. Article 19 of the Family Code sets the marriage age at 18, but Articles 20 and 21 give judges in charge of family issues the right to authorize requests for child marriages.
In January, former police officer Wahiba Kharchich relocated to the USA after suffering defamation when media company ChoufTV published a video alleging to show her having an extra-marital affair in December 2020. She had filed a complaint in 2016 about sexual harassment by her boss Aziz Boumehdi, head of El Jadida police unit, which was never followed up.
LGBTI people’s rights
Article 489 of the Penal Code continued to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
In July, parliament passed Article 28 of the 36.21 Civil Status Bill, which states that the gender assigned to “hermaphrodite” newborns can be changed later in life. While billed as an advancement in LGBTI rights in Morocco, the amendment was criticized by trans rights organizations who said they had not been consulted and that many find the term “hermaphrodite” offensive. Furthermore, the law continues to assign intersex people to either male or female genders, does not extend to allowing transgender people to transition and focuses on the appearance of genitals without reference to chromosomes or hormones. There remained no mention of transgender people in law.
In February, gender non-conforming artist Abdelatif Nhaila was released after serving a four-month prison sentence imposed in 2020. Police arrested him after he visited a police station to report death threats and homophobic harassment he had received as part of a widespread social media smear campaign begun in April 2020, and subsequently prosecuted him for “violating the state of health emergency” and “insulting an official”.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
The authorities arrested and arbitrarily detained migrants and asylum seekers during the year, deporting some to their country of origin and expelling others to southern areas of Morocco and the Western Sahara. In areas close to border crossings or on migratory routes to Europe, including Nador, Oujda and Laayoune, the authorities raided the housing and encampments of sub-Saharan nationals, sometimes burning their belongings or forcibly evicting them from their makeshift shelters, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.
In addition to refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa or Middle Eastern and North African countries, most of the 8,000 or more individuals who crossed from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in late May (see Spain entry) were Moroccans and included at least 2,000 unaccompanied children.3 Between April and May, at least three unidentified migrants and nine Moroccan men died during attempts to reach the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Moroccan territory.
Morocco continued to cooperate with the EU to prevent the irregular entry of migrants from its territory into Europe. In June, a group of 15 Sudanese and Chadian asylum seekers, including two minors, were sentenced to six months in prison for attempting to enter Melilla from Morocco.
EINDE BERICHT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
ZIE NOOT 16
”Marokko heeft in 2007 voorgesteld dat de Westelijke Sahara een verregaande vorm van autonomie krijgt – maar dat het koninkrijk wel zeggenschap houdt over het buitenlands beleid en defensie.”
NOSOOK NEDERLAND STEUNT MAROKKO IN DE WESTELIJKESAHARA KWESTIE
ZIE VOOR GEHELE TEKST, NOOT 3
DEZE VORM VAN ”AUTONOMIE” ONTSLAAT MAROKKO NETZO MIN VAN HAAR VERPLICHTINGEN ALS BEZETTER ALS IN HET ISRAELISCHE GEVAL
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHISRAEL: ”DISENGAGEMENT” WILL NOT END GAZA OCCUPATIONIsraeli Government Still Holds Responsibility for Welfare of Civilians
28 OCTOBER 2004
The Israeli government’s plan to remove troops and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip would not end Israel’s occupation of the territory. As an occupying power, Israel will retain responsibility for the welfare of Gaza’s civilian population.
Under the “disengagement” plan endorsed Tuesday by the Knesset, Israeli forces will keep control over Gaza’s borders, coastline and airspace, and will reserve the right to launch incursions at will. Israel will continue to wield overwhelming power over the territory’s economy and its access to trade.
“The removal of settlers and most military forces will not end Israel’s control over Gaza,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “Israel plans to reconfigure its occupation of the territory, but it will remain an occupying power with responsibility for the welfare of the civilian population.”
Under the plan, Israel is scheduled to remove settlers and military bases protecting the settlers from the Gaza Strip and four isolated West Bank Jewish settlements by the end of 2005. The Israeli military will remain deployed on Gaza’s southern border, and will reposition its forces to other areas just outside the territory.
In addition to controlling the borders, coastline and airspace, Israel will continue to control Gaza’s telecommunications, water, electricity and sewage networks, as well as the flow of people and goods into and out of the territory. Gaza will also continue to use Israeli currency.
A World Bank study on the economic effects of the plan determined that “disengagement” would ease restrictions on mobility inside Gaza. But the study also warned that the removal of troops and settlers would have little positive effect unless accompanied by an opening of Gaza’s borders. If the borders are sealed to labor and trade, the plan “would create worse hardship than is seen today.”
The plan also explicitly envisions continued home demolitions by the Israeli military to expand the “buffer zone” along the Gaza-Egypt border. According to a report released last week by Human Rights Watch, the Israeli military has illegally razed nearly 1,600 homes since 2000 to create this buffer zone, displacing some 16,000 Palestinians. Israeli officials have called for the buffer zone to be doubled, which would result in the destruction of one-third of the Rafah refugee camp.
In addition, the plan states that disengagement “will serve to dispel the claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” A report by legal experts from the Israeli Justice Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the military made public on Sunday, however, reportedly acknowledges that disengagement “does not necessarily exempt Israel from responsibility in the evacuated territories.”
If Israel removes its troops from Gaza, the Palestinian National Authority will maintain responsibility for security within the territory—to the extent that Israel allows Palestinian police the authority and capacity. Palestinian security forces will still have a duty to protect civilians within Gaza and to prevent indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians.
“Under international law, the test for determining whether an occupation exists is effective control by a hostile army, not the positioning of troops,” Whitson said. “Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in control.”
Under international law, the duties of an occupying power are detailed in the Fourth Geneva Convention and The Hague Regulations. According to The Hague Regulations, a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”
The “disengagement plan,” as adopted by the Israeli Cabinet on June 6, 2004, and endorsed by the Knesset on October 26, is available at:
EINDE VERKLARING HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH