Maritime border tragedy near Saidia: A flagrant human rights violation across unclear maritime border, within an undisputed zone

On Tuesday, 29 August 2023, across the maritime borders near the city of Saidia (Northwest of Morocco), Algerian coastguards fired live bullets at five young Moroccan men after they strayed at sea, killing two of them, severely injuring a third, who is currently recovering in Oujda, and arresting a fourth who was quickly sentenced to an 18-month prison term. Mr. Bilal Kissi, a victim, was buried in Morocco, while Mr. Abdelali Mchiouer’s corpse still remains in Algeria.

In response to this tragedy, Ms. Amina Bouayach, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Council (Morocco’s National Human Rights Institution) dispatched a delegation led by Mr. Mohamed Amarti, Chair of the Regional Human Rights Commission in the Oriental Region. The delegation included commissioners and staff members and was tasked with gathering information and holding formal hearing sessions with a survivor, Mr. Mohamed Kissi, and with the families of the victims.

Drawing from preliminary gathered information and cross-cutting analysis, the National Human Rights Council:

● Condemns the use of live ammunition by Algerian coastguards across the territorial maritime border at the Mediterranean Sea against unarmed citizens, instead of adhering to the internationally recognized affirmative obligation to rescue and render assistance to persons in distress at sea. This is a severe breach of international standards and international human rights law;

● Questions the motives behind the Algerian maritime authorities’ decision to use live bullets and lethal force against unarmed people posing no imminent threat to life;

● Notes that this is a flagrant human rights violation and an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, which is an absolute right and must be protected regardless of any circumstances, reasons or conditions, especially across unclear boundaries within an undisputed maritime zone;

● Notes that rescuing and rendering assistance to people at sea is a fundamental principle in international law, enjoying supremacy over all and any other considerations;

● Notes that the Algerian coastguards committed a gross violation of international standards related to the safety and protection of individuals at sea, particularly under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, adopted on November 1st, 1974, and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, adopted in April 27, 1979 and amended in 2004, mainly Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of its Annex, along with Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, adopted in December 10, 1982;

● Stresses on the legitimate right of Mr. Abdelali Mchiouer’s family to receive his body for them to carry out his burial in accordance with Morocco’s religious, social and cultural traditions;

● Expresses awe and astonishment at the rapid “trial” of Mr. Smail Snabe, sentenced to eighteen-month, and notes the legitimate demands of his family for his release and handover to Moroccan authorities;

● Commits to pursuing the right of the survivor, Mr. Mohamed Kissi, and the families of the victims, to access to justice and seek redress;

● Notes the Public Prosecutor’s Office decision to open an investigation and invites authorities to share the outcome and conclusions with the public.

The National Human Rights Council has also corresponded with Algeria’s National Human Rights Institution to ensure that Mr. Smail Snabe, currently detained in Algeria, receives all necessary assurances for a fair and transparent trial, including the presence of international observers, while also guaranteeing and protecting his physical and psychological integrity.

The Council will continue to closely monitor all developments relating to this tragedy and to push for compliance with the principles of international human rights law and global standards, in order to uphold justice and safeguard the right of the victims and their families to redress.

The human rights delegation had extended condolences, sincere sympathy, and support to the families, on behalf of CNDH Chairperson, Secretary-General and all of our members and staff.

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