Diplomatic crisis
Society 01/06/2021

High Court judge frees Polisario leader

Judge Santiago Pedraz does not take precautionary measures against Brahim Ghali, who will be able to leave Spain when he recovers

3 min
The Hospital of Logroño where Ghali is admitted.

BarcelonaHigh Court judge Santiago Pedraz has ruled out taking precautionary measures against the leader of Polisario Front Brahim Ghali this Wednesday after taking his statement by videoconference from the hospital in Logroño where he is recovering from Covid-19. The judge, in agreement with the Prosecutor's Office, has only asked him for a telephone number where he can be reached. His arrival triggered the latest diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco, which is trying to pressure Madrid into recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony, as Donald Trump's United States did. It is a crisis that uses thousands of young people as cannon fodder; encouraged by Moroccan authorities, large numbers entered the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in the most serious migratory crisis between the two countries.

Why was Ghali interrogated?

The judge has asked him about two cases. One opened in 2012 following a complaint for genocide and torture filed by a Sahrawi association against 28 Polisario leaders for the treatment they allegedly gave prisoners of war and Sahrawi citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, and another in 2019 for the complaint of a young man who claims he was arrested and tortured for demonstrating against the Polisario. The events are said to have taken place in the refugee camps of Tindouf in Algeria. The two complaints prospered in spite of the cutback in universal justice, because applying international law, Spain has jurisdiction over the former colony. The judge has considered that "the report of the prosecution has not provided proof nor even clues (the witness statements in the case have no corroborative evidence and the accused's participation cannot be deduced) that support the existence of sufficient grounds to believe him responsible for any crime". The lawyer Sidi Talebbuia Hassan recalls that the lawsuit for genocide was filed after the Spanish judiciary prosecuted in 2014 thirteen high-ranking Moroccan officials also accused of genocide following the discovery of several mass graves, but Morocco has refused to extradite them. He also highlights the contradiction that Morocco "claims its sovereignty over Western Sahra and at the same time wants Spain to judge some events that occurred in Sahrawi territory"

How did Ghali arrive in Spain?

The Moroccan journalist based in Barcelona Ali Lmrabet explains, quoting sources from the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and the PSOE, that the state of health of Ghali, 71 years old, deteriorated seriously because of covid-19, to the point his life was in danger. "The reception in Spain was decided in a concerted manner between Ghali's trusted men, the Algerian presidency and the Spanish government, which only made it a condition that it should be done discreetly so as not to disturb Morocco". This explains why Logroño was chosen, governed by the PSOE, and not a large Spanish city with more media exposure. Since the end of 2020, tension is at its highest in Western Sahara, after the breakdown of the cease-fire in force since 1991. The relations between Morocco and Spain were not going through their best moment either, after Rabat unilaterally closed the transit of goods into Ceuta and Melilla. Rabat's reaction, which withdrew its ambassador from Madrid, was not expected either, since other Sahrawi leaders have been hospitalised, during the presidencies of Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez, without any crisis. Ghali's predecessor, Mohamed Abdelaziz, died at Mayo Clinic in the United States in 2016 without any public reaction from Rabat.

There has also been much speculation that Ghali had used false documentation, but SADR sources assure ARA that he was carrying an Algerian diplomatic passport, like all Polisario leaders.

What is at the bottom of the crisis?

In a statement with a very belligerent tone for diplomatic language, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself acknowledged on Tuesday that the crisis is not because of Ghali, but because of Spain's "hostile" position in relation to Western Sahara. For Haizam Amirah Fernandez, an analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute: "Morocco had made a wrong calculation. After Donald Trump had recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat normalising relations with Israel, Rabat expected an avalanche of recognition that did not come. No other major democratic country, no other EU country or any other member of the UN Security Council has taken the step, and this has generated nervousness".

Isaías Barreñada, professor of international relations at the Complutense University, adds that Rabat "wants to put pressure on the EU as well, in the face of the imminent ruling of the European Court of Justice which has to rule on Moroccan trade agreements with the European Union which affect Saharawi territory". He adds that even Biden has not translated Trump's decision into action: "In the coming weeks, joint US military manoeuvres with other countries are expected, and Rabat insists that they will take place on Western Sahara territory, but this is still not clear".

Morocco now says it will host itsunaccompanied minors

Hours after the Spanish High Court confirmed it would not prosecute the Polisario leader, Morocco published a statement in which it explains king Mohammed VI has given instructions to his Foreign Office and Ministry of the Interior so that they facilitate the return of unaccompanied migrant minors, a move Spain and France had demanded for years. This is a clear sign that the Ceuta crisis, which ended up with two dead, has created great unease in the country, with many families complaining that their children were tricked and used as cannon fodder in the political game against Spain.

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