Rabat – The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has deemed Algeria responsible for the 2009 abduction of Polisario dissident Ahmed El Khalil Mahmoud Braih.
The Alkarama Foundation, a Geneva-based human rights organization, shared the recent UNHRC decision on its official website.
The story of Ahmed El Khalil Mahmoud Braih
El Khalil was born in Tan-Tan, southern Morocco. In 1977, he joined the Polisario Front, the militant separatist group vying for independence in Western Sahara.
Two months after Polisario appointed El Khalil to monitor human rights in the Tindouf camps, a cluster of refugee camps in western Algeria, the Polisario General Secretariat requested his presence at the University of Algiers.
On his way to the university on January 6, 2009, plainclothes Algerian intelligence services kidnapped El Khalil.
It was not until two months after his disappearance that El Khalil’s family received word of his whereabouts. Polisario said he was in custody at the Algerian military prison in Blida.
Two years later, in April 2011, Polisario finally permitted El Khalil’s eldest son to visit him in prison.
Speaking with his father in the presence of Polisario members, El Khalil’s son was “unable to obtain any information about the reasons for his arrest and detention and about possible legal proceedings before the military court,” according to Alkarama.
“Ahmed Khalil, who seemed worried and tired, simply told his son he did not have a lawyer,” the source continued. “This was the last time they saw each other.”
El Khalil’s family demanded his release, but to no avail. “Because of their insistence, they were subjected to threats and intimidation by Polisario agents and some of them were even forbidden to leave the Tindouf camps,” according to the same source.
Former Polisario officer Mustapha Salma Oueld Sidi Mouloud declared in January 2019 that El Khalil had died in prison. However, the Polisario Front has neither confirmed nor denied the claim. El Khalil’s family and Sahrawi activists have continued to demand answers.
Read also: Polisario Remains Silent About Forced Disappearance of Ahmed El Khalil
The former Polisario member has now been missing for over a decade.
“Ahmed El Khalil was denouncing the systems when he was arrested. Since then, he was never seen again,” said French lawyer and author Hubert Seillan at the UN 4th Committee in October 2019.
For years, El Khalil’s relatives have protested his abduction, demanding Polisario leaders reveal his fate. The leader of the front, Brahim Ghali, promised to enlighten El Khalil’s family but ultimately ended up refusing to engage with them.
Out of options, the family staged a series of protests. The most recent demonstrations that solely focused on the release of El Khalil were sit-ins near the office of the High commissioner for Refugees in Rabouni, near Tindouf, in July 2019. Tindouf has erupted in similar protests against the disappearance of other civilians under suspicious circumstances.
In December that same year, El Khalil’s brother attended a press conference in Geneva along with other witnesses of human rights breaches in Tindouf.
He said his brother’s abduction occurred just before an investigation “which he was to conduct into the deaths of approximately 160 people, including women and children, in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Read also: UN Experts Slam Algeria, Polisario for Arbitrary Arrest of Sahrawi Activist
The UNHRC’s response
In November 2016, the Alkarama Foundation alerted the international human rights monitoring body of El Khalil’s abduction. Nearly four years later, the UNHRC has deemed Algeria responsible for the crime.
On July 27, the UNHRC determined that El Khalil was “potentially still being held incommunicado by the Algerian authorities and is a victim, together with his family, of enforced disappearance.”
The UNHRC added that Algeria’s “de facto devolution of … jurisdictional powers to the Polisario Front, as well as the lack of effective remedies for those in the Tindouf camps, continue to deprive Ahmed Khalil and his family of any access to their legal rights,” Alkarama reported.
Algeria has international obligations towards the victim, his family, and all Sahrawi refugees in Algerian territory, including in the Tindouf camps, the UNHRC decision continued.
“The Algerian State is therefore required to conduct a prompt, effective, exhaustive, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the disappearance of Ahmed Khalil Mahmoud Braih and to provide the family with detailed information on the results of that investigation,” Alkarama stated, quoting the UNHRC decision.
The UNHRC declared that Algerian authorities must release El Khalil immediately if he is still in detention. If he is dead, authorities must return his body to his family.
The UN body called on the Algerian state to prosecute those involved in El Khalil’s kidnapping and provide reparation to him and his family.
Read also: MEPs Probe Algeria’s Aid Diversion, Extrajudicial Executions in Tindouf
The UNHRC’s stance on Tindouf
The UNHRC’s decision included a statement on the Sahrawi refugees living in the Tindouf camps.
Algeria’s devolution of power to the Polisario “did not mean that the Algerian authorities would relinquish their responsibilities for the protection of human rights in the Tindouf camps,” Alkarama reported, quoting the UNHRC decision.
“The Algerian State must ensure the freedom and security of individuals, as well as access to Algerian courts for anyone in the camps,” the same source added.
The UNHRC requests that Algeria confirm within 180 days what measures it has taken to follow up the decision.