Moroccan security forces repeatedly beat and abused people they detained during disturbances in Western Sahara earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
"The Moroccan authorities should immediately end the abuse of detainees, and carry out an independent investigation into the abuse," which the New York-based rights group said followed the dismantling of a squatter camp on November 8.
The raid on the camp erected by Sahrawis in early October to protest their social and economic conditions in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara sparked clashes both in the camp and in the nearby city of Laayoune.
Morocco said 11 security officers and at least two civilians were killed, while the separatist Polisario Front said the toll was much higher. HRW said it had no tally of its own.
"The security forces have the right to use proportionate force to prevent violence and protect human life, but nothing can justify beating people in custody unconscious," HRW's Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The rights group accused Moroccan security forces and civilians of staging retaliatory attacks on Sahrawi civilians and homes, and blocking wounded Sahrawis from seeking medical treatment.
Security officials detained hundreds of Sahrawis in connection with the disturbances and more than 100 are still being held, HRW said.
They were being investigated on charges such as formation of a criminal gang to commit crimes against persons and property, possession of arms, destruction of public property and using violence against the security forces resulting in injury and death, it said.
Nine more detainees were transferred to Rabat for investigation by a military court, HRW added, quoting human rights lawyers in Laayoune.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed seven Sahrawis detained following the November 8 violence and then released. The witnesses had severe bruising and other recent wounds that suggested they had been beaten, it said.
"All alleged that the police or gendarmes abused them in custody, including in some cases beating them until they lost consciousness, throwing urine at them, and threatening them with rape," the group said.
Leila Leili, a 36-year-old Sahrawi activist, told HRW she was punched and kicked and ordered to shout pro-Moroccan slogans like "Long Live the King," and to say that she was Moroccan.
"I told them that I respect their King and the Moroccan people, but am not Moroccan," HRW quoted her as saying.
Other civilians said their homes were raided and looted by security force members and Moroccan civilians, who attacked and beat them, and in one case fired a shotgun.
Police also beat up HRW's Laayoune-based research assistant Brahim Alansari in the street when he was in the company of a newspaper reporter, the group said.
The European Parliament called Thursday for an independent United Nations probe, saying it "strongly condemns" the incident and voices the "greatest concern about the significant deterioration of the situation in Western Sahara."
Morocco called the resolution one-sided, unfair and hasty.
The UN Security Council also deplored the raid, which coincided with a new round of UN-brokered peace talks between Rabat and the Polisario that ended with both sides agreeing only to meet again in December.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara after Spain pulled out of its former colony in 1975, but the Polisario Front fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
The Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options.
Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.
Source: AFP Global Edition