From 1975 Moroccan security forces and Polisario guerrillas fought a 16-year war for control of Western Sahara. Forced population displacement and an accompanying rise in the number of missing persons has been part of the conflict’s continuing legacy.

A report issued by the US State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in 2001 cited the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues’ estimate of “between nearly 600 and several thousand” missing persons in Morocco as a result of political violence.

A number of mass graves have been located and exhumed with a view to identifying individuals who went missing as early as the 1970s. International human rights organizations have criticized both the Moroccan Government and the Polisario guerrillas for failure to observe minimum human rights standards.

Since the end of full-scale hostilities, following a UN-monitored ceasefire, Polisario and the Moroccan authorities have released prisoners of war in a series of exercises requested and facilitated by foreign governments and international organizations. Many prisoners had been held incognito for more than a decade. Polisario claims that the Moroccan Government has failed to account for all prisoners, a claim the Government rejects.

In February 2007, Morocco signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. A National Council on Human Rights, created and funded by the government, is responsible for investigating cases of enforced disappearance. In 2012 the authorities paid more than US$5 million in compensation to 345 beneficiaries.

The selectivity and slow pace of official investigations into missing persons cases has been criticized by representatives of the Sahrawi people, the community most affected by the conflict in the Western Sahara. A 2013 US State Department report on Morocco cited 114 cases of enforced disappearance which an association of families of the missing claimed had not been resolved by the end of 2012.