The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. Then United Nations personal envoy of the secretary-general Horst Koehler convened a roundtable meeting on March 21-22. At the conclusion of that meeting, Koehler commended all delegations for their engagement and for demonstrating an awareness of the many individuals placing their hopes in the renewed political process. The delegations agreed to continue the discussion under a similar format to identify elements of convergence, although Koehler resigned from his position in May and by year’s end was not replaced by the UN secretary-general.
Morocco administers the territories in Western Sahara by the same law and structures governing the exercise of civil liberties and political and economic rights as in internationally recognized Morocco. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and local observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections, held in both internationally recognized Morocco and Western Sahara, credible and relatively free from irregularities.
The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police Force manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. Moroccan civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.
Significant human rights issues, predominantly the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco, included: allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations of political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized the monarchy and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; and corruption.
The lack of reports of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by Moroccan officials in Western Sahara, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, contributed to a widespread perception of impunity.