As one of the world’s last remaining colonies, included in the UN’s list of 17 “non-self-governing territories,” Western Sahara routinely witnesses a range of human rights violations committed by the occupying country, Morocco, against its indigenous Sahrawi population. Yet, due to the strict limitations imposed on press, foreigners, and human rights monitors, very rarely do reports, footage, testimony or other evidence of abuse emerge to bring these violations to the attention of the international community.
Despite Morocco’s attempts to maintain a media blackout, one source of documentation exists: citizen journalism. Networks of media activists working with limited technology and little to no training risk arrest, imprisonment and torture to film protests and abuses they experience under Moroccan rule. Their videos provide a rare window into the police state, and convey the range of injustices related to the 40-year-old occupation that Sahrawis want the international community to witness and act upon.
Watching Western Sahara aims to ensure that these videos are seen and used to monitor human rights in Western Sahara—something traditional institutions of human rights investigators and international correspondents have been prevented from doing.
What do videos from Western Sahara show?
A close look at videos from Sahrawi activists reveals a number of human rights issues of importance to Sahrawis living in the occupied territory. These include demonstrations calling for jobs, education, a referendum that would allow Sahrawis to vote for self-governance, investigations into disappeared activists, the release of political prisoners, and an end to mineral extraction and trade deals that profit off Sahrawi resources while benefiting the occupying state of Morocco.
The videos also show the aggressive tactics used by Moroccan authorities to repress protesters, target journalists, and control the movement of foreign visitors. Most videos are filmed in the capital of Laayoune and are recorded surreptitiously due to the high risks that media activists face.
About this platform
Watching Western Sahara Silk presents curated and contextualized online reports to help journalists, investigators, and advocates around the world monitor human rights in the region. The platform includes videos filmed as early as December, 2015. While the focus is on online, eyewitness videos from the occupied territory, the platform also includes videos taken by Sahrawis in the refugee camps of Algeria and elsewhere in the diaspora.
Watching Western Sahara Silk applies innovative and collaborative documentation methods. Videos are filmed by journalists and media activists often working at risk and facing various limitations, and are curated, verified, and contextualized by an international network of volunteers. As our network of users and curators expands, and new challenges and possibilities emerge, we will revise the workflow and platform to provide the most effective and safe curation of footage.
If you have a background in human rights, collaborative reporting, and Western Sahara, we could use your help to monitor, curate, and contextualize online videos. Click here to learn about how you can get involved.
Watching Western Sahara was collaboratively designed in 2016 by WITNESS and FiSahara. WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change. The WITNESS Media Lab is a WITNESS program in collaboration with the News Lab at Google, and is dedicated to curating eyewitness footage and advancing its use as a safe and effective tool for human rights.
The Western Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara) brings screenings, roundtables, film workshops and many other cultural events to the refugee camps of Sahrawi exiles in Southwestern Algeria. The organization uses film and media training to address critical issues, engage the international community, and empower the Sahrawi people in the refugee camps and in the occupied Western Sahara.
The project also includes Watching Western Sahara Checkdesk developed in collaboration with Meedan, to facilitate collaborative curation and contextualization of online footage. All of the verified videos submitted as reports on Checkdesk can also be found here as Silk datacards.
To receive monthly reports on human rights in Western Sahara documented through eyewitness videos, add your name to the Watching Western Sahara email list.
On the WITNESS Media Lab website you can learn more about Sahrawi media activism, the objectives of Watching Western Sahara, and how the project seeks to address the challenges of human rights video curation. You can reach the Watching Western Sahara team with questions or feedback by writing to WatchingWesternSahara [at] gmail [dot] com.