RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco will retry 24 civilians convicted of killing members of the security forces during clashes in Western Sahara in 2010, a victory for human rights campaigners who say allegations they were forced to confess were never addressed.
The cassation court on Wednesday ordered a retrial in a civilian court for the defendants who were jailed for between 20 years and life by a military court in 2013, Mohamed Sebbar, head of the National Human Rights Council, said. Morocco outlawed military trials for civilians in 2014.
Two lawyers confirmed the news, which comes as Morocco negotiates with the United Nations about the return of members of its Western Sahara mission expelled from the country after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon described Morocco’s 1975 annexation of the territory as an “occupation”.
Moroccan authorities say 13 people were killed - 10 security officers, a firefighter and two civilians - and dozens injured on Nov. 8, 2010 when authorities dismantled a camp where thousands of Western Saharans, known as Sahrawis, were protesting.
The camp had been set up to protest against unemployment.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975, when former colonial power Spain withdrew and says the territory should come under its sovereignty, while the exiled Polisario Front says Western Sahara is an independent state.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said the defendants, who include several advocates of human rights and independence for Western Sahara, had been jailed by the military without any investigation into allegations their confessions were extracted under torture.
Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about the size of Britain, with rich fishing grounds off its coast and reserves of phosphates.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy