President Joe Biden shocked the human rights community by nominatingEdward Gabriel, a longtime friend lobbyist for the Moroccan government, to the board United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Supporters of the congressionally funded institute for conflict resolution and prevention, diplomacy mediation, human rights, and democracy raised alarms by the outspoken supporter a repressive monarchy in such an a position.
In one of the most egregious examples of Washington’s infamous revolving doors, Gabriel followed his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton to become a lobbyist for the Moroccan regime — essentially switching from advancing U.S. interests in the Moroccan capital of Rabat to advancing Moroccan interests in Washington, D.C.
Of particular concern has been Gabriel’s strident defense of Morocco’s occupation and illegal annexation of the country of Western Sahara. Sahrawis are a people from Morocco who have a different history, dialect, and culture. It was originally known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR. It has been recognized and accepted by more than 80 countries. It is also a full member state in the African Union. Despite this, Gabriel calls the 1975 Moroccan conquest of that former Spanish colony, in defiance of resolutions by the United Nations Security Council and a landmark World Court opinion, simply a case of Moroccans exercising their “duty to the nation to reclaim all that was rightfully Morocco’s.”
When then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon referred to the situation in Western Sahara as an “occupation” — a term repeatedly used by the UN General Assembly and other international bodies — Gabriel criticized his remarks as “incomprehensible” and “outrageous” and accused the respected diplomat of “incompetence.”
Gabriel strongly opposes any act of self determination by Western Sahara. This includes a referendum by the people of the country. This is what many international bodies, including the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council, have requested. The United States is the only major country that has not. recognized Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara.
The USIP was established by Congress in 1984. It has projects that address human rights, conflict analysis, prevention, democracy, governance, global health and strategic nonviolent actions, mediation and negotiation civil-military relations electoral violence violent extremism, gender and reconciliation.
Perhaps the institution’s great concern now should be Gabriel’s defense of the Moroccan regime’s notorious human rights record. Amnesty International, Human Rights WatchThe, along with other respected investigative groups, have documented widespread arrests of dissidents and torture and violent suppressions of peaceful protests. Freedom House, in its survey of 210 countries, has ranked Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara as having the world’s worst record on political rights in the world save for Syria and South Sudan.
Despite these documented crimes, Gabriel has praised Morocco’s human rights record. Gabriel has responded to well-documented human rights violations that have been systematic and grave. praised the autocratic monarchy for its “innovative leadership … especially in the promotion of human rights” and praised its supposed “commitment to peace, religious moderation and democracy.” He has opposed giving UN peacekeepers a mandate to monitor the human rights situation similar to those given virtually all UN peacekeeping missions.
When President Barack Obama’s State Department documented some of these abuses in its annual report on human rightsAround the world Gabriel insisted without evidence that the report contained “erroneous information” and said it failed to account for what he called “Morocco’s substantial achievements in terms of reforms in general and Human rights in particular.” Gabriel asserted that, rather than be criticized, Moroccan King Mohammed VI should be praised for having “tirelessly endeavored throughout recent years to consolidate its achievements in human rights” in “a robust and affirmed democratic context that deserves to be applauded.”
Moroccan occupation forces have targeted pro-independence women activists in prison and elsewhere because Sahrawi culture holds a more progressive view of women than Morocco. under house arrest. Gabriel, however, has praised the Moroccan regime’s supposed “women’s rights protection.”
The USIP board is nominated by the president, so not surprisingly there have been board members — particularly those chosen under Republican administrations — with structural ties to the military and defense contractors like Raytheon and surprisingly militaristic views on foreign policyThe 2015 report by World Beyond War, a grassroots organization, details the following. Since then, board members have been criticized by the left for their views about human rights, international laws, and the use of force.
This is the first time that anyone has been identified who was so recently registered as a foreign agent for a regime with such severe human rights violations and violations of international law norms. It is especially outrageous that the president who appointed him is a Democrat and claims to support international law and human rights.
Putting someone with such a history of denials of well-documented human rights abuses on the USIP board threatens the integrity of USIP’s important programs in human rights and democratization. The U.S. government funded institute USIP cannot challenge U.S. policy in any way that would be detrimental to its stated agenda for peace, human rights, and conflict resolution. Its work has been praised by progressive activists and scholars despite this.
USIP’s conflict resolution programs that have addressed the Western Sahara conflict have stressed the importance of including all parties, including the Polisario Front — the internationally recognized representatives of the Western Sahara people and the governing party of the SADR — in the negotiations. Gabriel insists that the Polisario was created by Algeria. This is incorrect as the Polisario Front’s origins are clearly Indigenous national liberation movements at a moment when Algeria was backing an independent group.
If Gabriel is confirmed, USIP programs that deal with international law, conflict resolution, human rights, and conflict resolution would be at risk. President Biden’s nomination of a spokesperson for a foreign autocratic government is a threat to USIP’s integrity at a time when more action in defense of human rights is sorely needed.