This chapter describes the emergence of human rights as a political terrain in the Western Sahara conflict, and in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, in particular. An historical overview of the development of human rights in Western Sahara is organized in three parts: first, its emergence following the UN-brokered ceasefire between Morocco and Polisario in 1991; second, its expansion with the first Sahrawi uprising in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara to make widespread use of nonviolent protest as a tactic, known as Intifada al-Istiqlal in 2005; and, third, the use of videography as a means of documenting Moroccan state violence over the past decade. This periodization of human rights discourse in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara highlights the shifting uses and effects of this discourse over time, showing how human rights has functioned both as the ethical basis for advancing political claims, and as an “instrument” in the broader struggle over self- determination and sovereignty. Shifts in human rights discourse between 1991 and 2020 have also entailed changes in the modes of representing human rights violations, with a recent emphasis on the visual aspect of documenting Moroccan state violence on video. The last section of the paper focuses on how the visual aspect of recording state violence (also known as “sousveillance”) has become particularly prominent over the last decade. In Western Sahara, the effect of human rights activism as “sousveillance” has not been to end violence in Moroccan-occupied territory, but to make it visible – in order to induce the intervention of another observer – or, another form of veillance. This relationship between human rights activism and proliferating forms of monitoring, or “veillance,” emerges from the “disaggregation” of sovereignty between occupation and the politics of recognition, a dynamic which, in the context of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, dates back to the conflict’s roots in mid-20th c. decolonization.
Discussant: Tyson Patros, Clinical Assistant Professor, Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies