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Morocco/Western Sahara: New ICRC visit to Moroccan prisoners held by Polisario Front

07-12-2001 News Release 01/48

Between 20 November and 3 December, two ICRC delegates – one a doctor qualified in psychiatry – visited the Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario Front. In total, 1,477 prisoners are still being held. The delegates saw 680 of them, including 35 civilians, the others having been seen by the ICRC in May. During their visit, the delegates visited eight detention centres in the area of Tindouf (Algeria), in the part of Western Sahara east of the sand wall and in a hospital. They were informed that one prisoner had died and another had escaped, which explained the drop in the total number of prisoners from 1,479 in May to 1,477 in December.

The aims of the visit were to assess the general conditions under which the prisoners were being held and to measure the effect on their mental health of such a long period of captivity. For 1,028of them, detention has already lasted over 20 years, and one prisoner is now starting his 27th year in captivity. Red Cross messages have been enabling the prisoners to keep in touch with their families and the ICRC distributed 99 pairs of glasses and delivered 180 kg of medical supplies during the visit.

The ICRC is extremely concerned about the long period these men have spent as prisoners. In view of the age and health of the prisoners, the time for which they have been held, and the requirements of international humanitarian law, the ICRC repeats its call for all prisoners to be released immediately, starting with the most vulnerable.

During the period of their visit, the delegates spoke to representatives of the Polisario Front and members of civil society regarding Sahrawis who had gone missing during the conflict. They also infor med them of the ICRC visit to Layoune in November, when the ICRC had met 24 persons whom the Polisario Front had reported missing.