The trail of Bassir Mohamed uld Haj Brahim, Basiri, He was lost in the early hours of June 18, 1970. The Spanish colonial authorities arrested the 28-year-old Saharawi man that day in El Aaiún, the then capital of Spanish Sahara. In the photo of his mugshot, the founder of the Harakat Tahrir (Liberation Movement) —direct antecedent of the Polisario Front— appears sorrowful, with a number, B-2875, written in chalk on a tablet that he carries in his hands. hands. He has never been heard from again. Almost 52 years later, the president of the Saharawi National Human Rights Commission, Abba Salek, confirmed to this newspaper on the 20th that the Polisario Front plans to file a complaint with the Spanish courts so that they can clarify Spain’s responsibility as a power in the disappearance of Basiri and in massacres such as that of Zemla, also in 1970, in which the Legion shot dead several demonstrators in the Saharawi capital.
At the headquarters of the human rights organization in Rabuni, capital of the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, 1,700 kilometers southwest of Algiers, the Saharawi official points out that the human rights organizations of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)—the State self-proclaimed in 1976 by the Polisario Front—they have been analyzing this possible cause for “a year”. Salek disassociates his announcement from the Spanish government’s support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Sahara, which was announced in March. However, he defines the abandonment of the traditional official neutrality of Spain in this conflict as “a betrayal” and formulates the wish that Spanish justice “does not take a turn like the one it has taken [el presidente, Pedro] Sanchez”. The Polisario Front broke off its relations with the Spanish Government on April 10. “The time has come to open these human rights cases,” continues the Saharawi official.
Spain maintains classified many of the official documents on its administration of the Sahara, between 1884 and 1976. The circumstances of events such as those cited by Abba Salek thus remain hidden in the secrets of a colonial power that showed its worst face in the throes of its presence in the territory.
The massacre of the demonstration in the neighborhood of Zemla, in El Ayoun, is one of those dark pages of the last period of Spanish colonization. That protest, on the eve of Basiri’s arrest, was precisely what precipitated the arrest of the Saharawi leader. That June 17, 1970, his organization had managed to gather thousands of Saharawis to claim independence, who planted their jaimas (traditional tents) in that neighborhood of the city with the slogan “The Sahara, for the Saharawis” . The demonstration, initially peaceful and festive, ended tragically. According to various historians, a company of the Spanish Legion, the Tercio Juan de Austria, shot dead a number of Saharawis that has never been officially determined, but is believed to range between three and 12.
Metou el Kaid Saleh survived that massacre. In her house in the Bojador refugee camp, about 12 kilometers from Rabuni, this Saharawi woman, now 79, still remembers how she “saw people fall to the ground” when the Spanish military began shooting. The old woman speaks hassania, the Saharawi dialect of Arabic, but, in his account of what happened that day, he inserts a word in Spanish: the “third”; the third of the Legion. “When the Spanish started shooting”, he explains, the Saharawis defended themselves “with the only thing they had at hand: stones. The people began to stone the Spaniards. We later learned that some of the people we had seen collapse had died.”
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Spaniards from the Sahara
If the Polisario announcement becomes a reality, the case against the Spanish State could prosper in court thanks to the fact that the native inhabitants of that territory “were considered Spaniards.” This was determined by a 2015 order from the National High Court, by which 11 senior Moroccan officials were prosecuted for genocide against the Saharawi people. In his exposition of the facts, the magistrate Pablo Ruz detailed how the around 74,000 Sahrawis registered by Spain in 1974 before the Moroccan invasion, had ID, passport and family book. They were Spanish, and Spanish justice has universal jurisdiction in crimes against all nationals of the country.
Another order of the high court considered in 2014 that, as long as the decolonization of the Sahara is not completed, Spain continues to have responsibility over the territory in its capacity as administering power. In addition, the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity do not prescribe. Inés Miranda, vice president of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara (IAJUWS), considers that events such as the disappearance of Basiri or the Zemla massacre “should be investigated because they could be framed within this type of crime. ”.
The responsibility that the human rights organizations of the Saharawi diaspora in Algeria attribute to Spain goes beyond the possible crimes committed by the colonizers. The president of the Saharawi National Commission for Human Rights defends that the case that the Polisario plans to initiate also aspires to hold the Spanish State to account for not having defended the population, once Rabat annexed the territory, when Spain had not yet had withdrawn completely.
The Moroccan invasion of the Sahara was neither peaceful, as Rabat maintains, nor did it begin with the Green March, made up of 350,000 civilians, some of whom crossed the Saharawi border on November 6, 1975. A week earlier, on October 30, 40,000 Moroccan soldiers had penetrated to the east of the colony without Spain presenting any opposition. Between that date and February 28, 1976 —when Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Valdés lowered the last red flag in El Aaiún— “Morocco committed the worst atrocities,” says Salek.
“In those months, the Moroccan bombardment of Saharawi civilians with napalm and white phosphorus took place in [la localidad de] Umm Draiga [entre el 18 y el 23 de febrero de 1976]”, evokes the Saharawi official in reference to the attacks by Moroccan aviation against those who fled towards Algeria. Salek also recalls the discovery of several mass graves dating from that final period of the Spanish presence. Judge Ruz’s genocide order mentions, among others, two in Amgala, near the city of Smara, in which eight bodies were found. Abba Ali Said, who witnessed the crime when he was 10 years old, recounted how Moroccan soldiers executed these Saharawis in cold blood between February 12 and 13, 1976. When the Spanish coroners Francisco Echevarría and Martín Beristáin exhumed the bodies in 2013 Pesetas and their Spanish identity cards were found in the pockets of some of them.
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