Biden official dodges questions on U.S. concerns of human rights abuses in Morocco

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken raised concerns about human rights abuses in Morocco in a phone call Friday with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. However, at a press briefing in Washington D.C., a State Department official dodged questions about the specific concerns being raised.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris receive the weekly COVID-19 briefing Thursday, March 18, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) *This image has been altered for security reasons. 
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris receive the weekly COVID-19 briefing Thursday, March 18, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) *This image has been altered for security reasons.

“[Blinken] encouraged Morocco…to reaffirm its commitment to protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms,” according to a statement of the call

In response to a Today News Africa inquiry into U.S. concerns of human rights in Morocco, the State Department on Friday had nothing to add beyond the above statement.

Today News Africa previously reported on the Moroccan crackdown on pro-Sahrawi independence activists in the Moroccan controlled portion of the disputed Western Sahara territory.

According to Human Rights Watch, Moroccan security forces “continue to harass activists supporting Sahrawi self-determination” and “have obstructed the work of local human rights [NGOs].”

HRW also cites a number of human rights concerns in Morocco such as crackdowns on journalists.

While Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter on Friday acknowledged that talks over the disputed Western Sahara territory were ongoing, she did not share any details of the talks, saying they were “private”.

She also didn’t confirm whether the topic of Western Sahara came up in Secretary Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Bourita.

Secretary Blinken on Friday “highlighted” Morocco’s role and yesterday “expressed appreciation for Algeria’s role in fostering stability in the Sahel and Libya,” in his call with Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum.

Yet recent flare-ups between Moroccan and Polisario forces since the Fall of 2020 have also reportedly raised tensions between Morocco and Algeria.

About 80 percent of the Western Sahara territory is under Moroccan control; the rest of the territory is under the control of the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi independence party backed by Algeria.

Late last year, mere weeks before Biden was to take office, the Trump administration announced it would open a consulate in the disputed region – further inflaming tensions over the territory.

Two weeks prior to that announcement, the Trump administration had recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara region.

Prior to the Trump administration, the U.S. had long advocated for a pathway to Western Saharan self-determination – a policy it had shared with the African Union (AU), EU, and UN, as previous reported by Today News Africa

Many saw the Trump administration’s decision as an exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel.

On Friday, Secretary Blinken “welcomed” measures Morocco has taken to deepen ties with Israel. “The Secretary welcomed Morocco’s steps to improve relations with Israel and noted the Morocco-Israel relationship will bring long-term benefits for both countries,” the statement read.

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