Behind the Scenes: Exploring Tindouf From Inside

By on January 8, 2016

A testimony of one of the most notorious Al Qaeda theoreticians Abou Saad al-Ameli: Tindouf camps will strengthen the ranks of Al Qaeda and will play a key role in the region through the liberation of the Islamic territory and the making up of Mujahideen to serve as a nucleus for the coming Caliphate.

This collective book just released by the Japanese Nihon Hyoro publishing house deals with one of the thorniest issues: that of the refugees of the Tindouf camps. As the title “Behind the Scenes: Exploring the Tindouf Camps from Inside” says, this is an internal immersion in the lives of the camps populations, touching many important aspects of the problem such as international law, security, ideology, structure of power as well as psychological aspects related to post-trauma stress caused by sequestration, forced displacement, indoctrination and by the harmful environment of this area.

The legal aspect that deals with the international protection of refugees tells a lot as to how international protection is denied to the Sahrawi refugees. Actually, international law emphasizes the obligation for each State to ensure the safety of all persons living on its territory, including those living in refugee camps. These camps are generally monitored by the UNHCR.

A scrutiny of the obligations of the host country and of the UNHCR with respect to these populations and the reality on the ground shows clearly that there is a wide gap between the provisions of international law on the protection of refugees and the reality in the Tindouf camps. And, ultimately, it proposes the enforcement of the United Nations obligations to avert any failure of the initial mission to protect the camps refugee populations and to end its non-civilian and humanitarian character.

This blurred situation triggered another phenomenon, namely the embezzlement of humanitarian aid to the benefit of the Polisario, as revealed in the draft article on “The responsibility of the State in internationally wrongful acts.” Both foodstuffs and pharmaceutical goods destined to the camps populations were subjected to diversions.

This act is deemed a “crime against humanity” in the same way as “extermination.” This act is defined by the International Criminal Court as an intentional act deteriorating the living conditions of a population.

International legislation focuses on the responsibility of a State in any criminal act perpetrated on its territory. It incurs responsibility and is liable of complicity in case it helps facilitate such criminal act.

It is therefore the Algerian State’s duty to protect the Tindouf camps populations since the Polisario is a non-state entity. The requirements of good governance require an audit of humanitarian aid and without such audit, the beneficiaries of the aid would be committing a characterized breach of international law.

This book also lays emphasis on the security aspect and the possible collusion between the Polisario and Al-Qaeda. Actually, this Chapter is based on different sources.

In addition to official reports, reports by experts and think tanks, and records of certain intelligence departments, including Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency, administered by the Ministry of Justice, the study reveals, for the first time, some al-Qaeda documents outlining the recruitment process of Polisario fighters by Al-Qaeda, and the group’s infiltration plan of the Tindouf camps with the aim to convert the Tindouf camps into a Jihadist frontline or a backup for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.

It goes without saying that the turmoil which erupted in the Maghreb and Middle East region contributed to the destabilization and collapse of some States, like Libya. Some members of the Polisario had then seized the opportunity to engage in the fighting alongside the supporters of the ousted Khadafi regime.

The testimony of Al Qaeda theorist Abu Saad Al-Ameli largely concurs with this. He confirms the infiltration of the Tindouf camps by the terrorist organization two years before the outbreak of the protest movements.

The book also sheds light on the links between the activities of some people from the Tindouf camps and the arm and drug traffickers and the terrorist groups operating in the Sahel region. It is within this area that Mokhtar Belmokhtar has established bonds for a long time and it is from this area that he led several terrorist attacks and kidnapping operations, including the Ain Amenas attack.

Finally, this chapter identifies, while surveying the history of the Polisario, a list of incidents involving the separatist organization. As it turns out, the organization has toned-down its use of violence but it has never discarded violence as an option because it is part of its ideological substance.

This security aspect was enriched by two studies: the first deals with the concept of human security in the Tindouf camps, the second covers the developments of the Sahara issue and the new security challenges in the Maghreb-Sahel region.

Regarding the first study, focus was laid on the concept of human security as a methodological analysis framework. This approach aims to present a comprehensive but specific aspect of the limits of peace and individual and collective stability of the Tindouf camps populations.

Indeed, human security is a concept that goes beyond the traditional concept of security policy. It focuses on individuals and their safety through fundamental rights, which are the right to freedom and dignity, the right to live in a secure environment and the right to exercise a political, social, religious and economic activity within each and every society, while secured from organized violence.

However, looking at the reality in the Tindouf camps shows clearly that the populations’ daily life is far from meeting the minimum requirements for dignity and respect for human rights. This situation is the immediate result of the stiffening of the Algerian and Polisario strategies. This human insecurity is a fertile breeding ground for risks and asymmetric threats (organized crime, connections to Sahel-Sahara terrorist networks) operating in the vicinity of the Tindouf camps.

As for the second study on this security aspect, emphasis was placed on the complexity of threats in the Maghreb-Sahel region and the need to find a settlement to this long-lasting conflict.

Actually, this conflict is the first stumble block to Moroccan-Algerian security cooperation, which has become a strategic imperative in an environment weakened by the protest movements and regional security reconfiguration.

The lack of consultation between the two countries increases the risk of collusion between terrorist networks, illicit trafficking and organized crime in the Tindouf camps.

If Morocco has proposed an initiative to appease tensions and try to avoid the mishap of the creation of a failed state, it is clear that the deadlock deprives the region of the opportunity to set up a new regional security mechanism likely to meet the new geopolitical and security reconfiguration,  and to enable the two countries to position themselves in the prospect of a new “regional cooperative security.”

On the other hand, this book reveals another study on the memorial construction built up of the history of the Polisario. This organization has tried to create a history that it describes as revolutionary and authentic.

Recalling the conditions under which Maghreb States have recovered their independence, the readjustments of their borders as well as the poisonous and unstable climate of the Cold War is quite edifying.

So, in this Cold War era, these countries were forced to follow either the “imperialist” camp, as was the case of Morocco, or the “socialist” camp as did Algeria. And this shows that the creation of the Polisario is the result of a recent conflict having a regional and international dimension. Therefore the built up of a memorial history of this entity, that is the result of the Sahara conflict, may be likened to a mere sham.

The socio-political analysis of the transformation of the power structure in the Tindouf camps reveals that this structure has been established and sustained on the basis of the historical domination of the Rguibate Tribe, and this despite the claiming of a revolutionary ideology.

The perpetuation of the domination of tribal unity imposes a type of relationship based on nepotism and cronyism. In these circumstances, the camps populations are not treated on the same footing, a fact that fuels discontent among the different Rguibate factions and regularly triggers conflicts between them. The decision-making structures within the Polisario are not spared and suffer from this discriminatory reality because the structures are dominated by members of some well-known families.

The inhuman conditions in which these people have been living since the start of the conflict have created several types of traumas that impacted their psycho-social behavior. Because of these traumas, some developed post-traumatic symptoms. This is what has been revealed by the findings of a field study that covered 74 Sahrawis who left the Tindouf camps between 2000 and 2015 and are currently living in Morocco.

Among the findings of this study, it is relevant to note that the returnees born in Morocco have intensive post-traumatic symptoms at the memory level with more condensed approaches regarding the perception of time, issues of separation, alienation and even abandonment than those born in the camps.

The persons born in Tindouf have been schooled according to a system based on anti-Morocco propaganda and unfailing allegiance to the Polisario and Algeria. This propaganda work also includes a construction process, by dint of evidence, of a so-called national Sahrawi identity.

Furthermore, the study shows that women who were sequestered in the camps have been subject to double violence: physical violence (harassment, rape, slavery) and systematic violence through imposed ideology.

The book consists of eight chapters as follows:

Chapter I : International Law and the requirements for the protection of refugees: the case of the Tindouf Camps, by  Abdelhamid El Ouali, Professor of International and humanitarian law at Hassan II University, Casablanca

Chapter II : International responsibility: the Polisario and Human Aid embezzlement, by Shoji Matsumoto, Professor of International law and comparative law  at Sapporo Gakuin University, Hokkaido

Chapter  III : Highlighting connections  between Polisario Front and Al Qaeda?  by El Mostafa Rezrazi, International Expert and Visiting Professor of Crisis Management at Sapporo Gakuin University, Hokkaido

Chapter  IV : Right to human security in the Tindouf Camps, by Rachid El Houdaigui, Professor of International Relations at Abdelmalek Saadi University, Tangier

Chapter  V : The evolution of the Sahara issue and the new security challenges in the Maghreb-Sahel region, by Adil Moussaoui, Professor at Mohammed V University, Rabat

Chapter  VI : The Polisario, history of a memorial construction built up, by Khalid Chegraoui, Professor of African Studies at the Institute for African Studies, Mohammed V University, Rabat

Chapter VII: The structure of power and generative forces in the Tindouf camps: from Tribalism to Authoritarianism, by Kei Nakagawa, Professor of Political Sociology at Hagoromo University and Visiting Professor at Meiji University, Tokyo

Chapter VIII: indoctrination and post-traumatic stress among the community coming back from the Tindouf camps, by El Mostafa El Rezrazi, Abdeslam Dachmi (Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of Clinical & Pathological Psychology Laboratory at Mohammed V University, Rabat), Zineb Ouazani Chahdi (Clinical Psychologist at Moulay Abdallah Oncology Hospital, Rabat)  and others

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