S.O.S HUMANITY........ sign now


For more than 24 years, the Polisario has continued to detain, in Tindouf (South of Algeria), 1,481 Moroccan prisoners of war in spite of the ceasefire which took effect on 6 September 1991 and which has been supervised by the United Nations (through the Minurso).

The problem of these prisoners is posed at two levels : (a) that of their recognition as prisoners of war, and (b) that of the treatement which is reserved for them during their detention.

After the ceasefire, maintaining these prisoners in detention is not at all justified. The third Geneva Convention of 1949 is most explicit in this regard.

Some prisoners have been maintained in detention in te Tindouf camps for 25 years, and thus forming one of the oldest groups of prisoners of war in the world.

Foreign initiatives, notably that of the ICRC the International Committee of the Red Cross), have allowed for the rapatriation of 776 Moroccan prisoners of war, in 6 sections (or groups) :

- 150 on 25 May 1987

- 185 on 19 November 1995

- 49 on 19 December 1996

- 186 on 26 February 2000

- 201 on 14 December 2000

There remain, according to the list released by the ICRC, 1481 Moroccan prisoners of war whom the ICRC visited. This figure is inferior to that of missing in action during military engagements. The differences between the two figures is 964 persons, about he fate of whom the ICRC, the Polisario and Algeria have said nothing, up to now. Their families live in an unbearable uncertainty, an uncertainty that blocks any administrative settlement of their cases.

Already, the existence of 1481 prisoners of war (confirmed by ICRC), ten years after the ceasefire brokered under the aegis of the United Nations has brought the hostilities to a stop, constitutes a flagrant violation of the International Humanitarian Law. Indeed, the first line of Article 118 of the third Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, related to the treatmant of war prisoners, enjoins the following : Prisoners of war shall be freed and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities. Yet, the party that detains the Moroccan prisoners of war makes of their freeing, in small groups, an intolerable means of manipulation which is condemnable by virtue of the International Humanitarian Law.

Acting on a premonitory hunch, already in 1992, the president of the ICRC has written to the concerned parties requesting of them to show great understanding and commitment not to link the political aspects of the settelement of the conflict to the humanitarian problem of prisoners, who should have been freed immediately after the cessation of the hostilities, in conformity with the Geneva Conventions (cf. Report 00/01, on the state of ICRC activities in favor of prisoners of war).

There is an urgency to dissociate the humanitarian from the political. The more so after ten years of unnecessary internment, suffering and repeated deceptions for the prisoners and their families.

Among these prisoners of war, there are civilians who have no relation with the army nor the military operations. Their only crime is to be in war zone, at the inappropriate time. This is the case of nomads who were tending their herds, road menders who were clearing sand from the pavement of the road between Tan-Tan and Tarfaya, or fishermen on the coast of Dakhla who were captured by armed men on board rubber boats.

These cases, and many more, constitute a violation not only of the International Humanitarian Law, but also of Human Rights. In view of their number, they constitute a crime against humanity of which their perpetrators must be held accountable.

The prisoners of war live a real ordeal in the physical, psychological and moral domains. Their state of health is deteriorating irremediably, as confirmed by the findings of the medical teams which have received the few prisoners who repatriated to their country.

These prisoners suffered from being detained, from the conditions of detention and from ill-treatment to which they were subjected, especially at the outset of the period of their captivity. They will never forget the conditions of their capture and the questioning that they have undergone.

The Questioning of Prisoners

Militarily neutralized, hand-cuffed, blind-folded, and brutalized, the Moroccan prisoners are led on foot, and without any consideration shown to them, to the gathering places where they are subjected to preliminary questioning.

Once at Rabouni, South of Tindouf, they are made to undergo questioning, in total disregard to the stipulations of International Humanitarian Law. In order to extract information from them, which they often ignore, they are subjected to all kinds of maltreatment covering the whole spectrum of moral and corporal violence. These kinds go from ragging to foul swearing and humiliation, to hitting (coming from hand blows, foot kicks, sticks or riffle butts), to severe beating (with clubs, electrical cable, iron bars), to being placed on a pillory. And to other forms of torture. Some prisoners have lost their lives under tese kinds of maltreatment, others have lost their sanity, most of them kept with them some traumas, even mutilations and handicaps, epsecially from the brutalities inflicted upon them between 1975 and 1980. They described these brutalities as inhumane, unbearable and going beyond anything that one could imagine.

The testimony by the deputy director of the security service of the Polisario, M. Ahmed CHRIF; returned to the Kingdom on 5 May 2000

During the years of warfare, the severely wounded prisoners were dispatched to the other world on the spot, because they were judged to be cumbersome. The other wounded were led to the headquarters of the Polisario in Rabouni and thrown into caves guarded by elements of the security. The joint questioning (the Polisario plus Algerian army officers) was particularly thorough and involved the use of all sorts of torture, which provoked death : more than 300, according to figures in possession of the Directorate of Security of the Polisario. Corpses were buried at night in the desert; they were easily detected by scavengers.

The officers who were made prisoners were taken, after interrogation at Rabouni, to the north of Algeria where they were subjected again to a thorough questioning conducted by Algerian officers of the military security in Boughar Center and at the Driss Army Barracks. Polisario cadres (Mohamed Abdelaziz, Brahim Biadillah, Brahim Ghali and Mohamed Lamine Bouhali) used to go to these interrogation centers in order to get information about the results of the questioning.

This explains, in part, the inability of the ICRC to find the Morrocans missing in action whose locating has not yet been effected.

Besides the brutality, which in itself is condemnable, the object of the questioning represents a violation of the International Humanitarian Law, which specifies the information which can be required of a prisoner of war. In total disregard of the limits set by this law, the questioning had to do, mainly, with obtaining information about the military potentials of the Moroccan army, the organization and the situation within the RAF (Royal Armed Forces) units deployed in the southen zone, facts on which the prisoners had only partial information.

At their arrival at the Tindouf camps, the prisoners were subjected to another form of humiliation, at the hands of the women and children gathered for the occasion : the means used ranged from a spit on the face to stone and dirt throwing and, in between these two extremes, insults and tart criticism towards to the Kingdom of Morocco and it sacred institutions.

The ill-treatment continued, changing in tems of form and method but not in substance. To precarious and humiliating detention conditions were added, for the prisoners, frequent vexations, disparaging campaigns, misinformation, and their displaying for the media and for propaganda purposes. They have been an object of the Polisarios attention-seeking and of display for all foreign delegations, NGO representatives or journalists visiting the camps.

Hurt in the depth of their souls, battered in their flesh and honor, atrociously marked by brutality, profound horror and scorn, the prisoners who have been repatriated, up to now, are indeed a collection of depressed, handicapped, impotent, crippled and sick people. In the statement that they have made, they have described the centers where they were detained as centers of alienation, exhaustion and death.

The Prison System

The first contingents of Moroccan prisoners were dispatched to the Algerian detention centers of Blida, Boughar and Jalfa. Later on, they were incarcerated in detention centers near Tindouf.

At first, the prisoners were huddled together in collective pits for 6 to 20 persons, from which is removed the ladder. Then, they were put in larger open-sky trenches capable of holding about forty persons. Finally, they were incarcerated in huts made of earthen conglomerate which the war prisoners have built themselves.

Clothing and Bedding

At the time of capture, the prisoners are stripped of all objects : papers, watches, other personal objects, as well as their clothes and shoes. They are given in their place, irrespective of what the weather is, a used short-sleeve shirt and short pans taken from piles of second-hand clothes donated by NGOs. Most of the time, the prisoners work bare feet ; tennis shoes are worn only on specific occasions.

For their bedding, the prisoners are given one of two used blankets.


Food, basically rice and starchy food, is served in terms of one dish for 10 persons. It is often not well prepared, of poor quality and is served in dirty dishes, sometimes even inappropriate containers (e.g. wheel barrows).

The prisoners attribute their under-nourishment and malnutrition equally to the scarcity of the food and to its inequitable distribution, which generate a black market and ensure big profit for the food managers.

Hygiene and Medical Care

Measures concerning hygiene are neglected; they are unknown in certain detention camps. The distribution of half a bar of soap per month for each prisoner does not provide for both his body cleansing and the washing of the clothes, especially in view of the dirty work which the prisoners effect. Medical care is insufficient and the medicines are often out of date or given in small quantities.

The Testimony of an ICRC medical doctor, in a report dated 25 May 2000. is very telling:

I could not even choose which of the prisoners to examine; because all were impatiently desirous that I sound them. All were sick, physically and psychologically. Premature, aging, depression, indded psychosis, were very common. Possibilities for medical treatment in the camps remain very limited and the living conditions in the desert are very harsh, especially during the summer months.


The hard work starts at dawn, is pursued under blazing sun and finishes at late hours. The very few hours of sleep are sometimes interrupted by calls for assemblies, according to the whims of the people in charge.

Being close to the limit of what is tolerable, the work which the prisoners are compelled to do is varied :

- making earthen bricks,

- building various fixtures,

- digging wells for the benefit of the camps,

- trash collection, clearing up of septic tanks, all sorts of goods handling

- gardening and agricultural chores...

Certain war prisoners are asigned domestic chores and are servants for all work. Some are put at the disposal of the Minurso.

Moroccos Call

Morocco reiterates its call for an immediate cessation of the detention of war prisoners in the Tindouf camps, in Algeria. It does so in order to put an end to their prolonged suffering and to end a situation characterized by a massive, continuous and intolerable violation of the most fundamental rules of Humanitarian Law.

Morocco calls upon ICRC to use all its means and expertise in such a way as to ensure the liberation and prompt repatriation of Moroccan prisoners of war.

It is high time that the parties that detain Moroccan prisoners of war (Algeria and the Polisario) answered the call of the ICRC and conform rapidly to the international humanitarian obligations

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Freida PerkinsBy:
Petition target:
the UN general secretary...sir KOFI ANNAN


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