Haidar’s intervention in the Conference on Western Sahara in Pretoria
The Saharawi human rights’ activist and ex-prisoner of conscience, Aminatou HAidar, gave an intervention during a Conference “on Multilateralism and International Law with Western Sahara as case study”, hosted by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs and the University of Pretoria, 4 and 5 December.
Here is the complete text of Aminatou Haidar’s speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me, first of all, to greet you and wish everyone at this very important conference the greatest success in accomplishing, through the proceedings of this conference, a contribution to the respect of the right of the Saharawi people to live in peace, freedom and dignity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you know, my people, the Saharawi people, have suffered greatly from the consequences of an unjust war carried out against our will by the Moroccan state since 1975. The invasion of Western Sahara by the Moroccan army was coupled with a campaign of blind repression against the Saharawi civilian population, in towns and villages and in the countryside, inaugurating a bloody way of life never before known in the history of Western Sahara.
Thousands of Saharawis, of all ages and both sexes have been subjected to a collective punishment, consisting in exposing them to forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, being buried alive in mass graves, while others have been quite simply thrown out of helicopters.
It is during these years that the nameless secret dungeons of Kalaat Maggouna, Agdez, Derb Moulay Chrif, Skoura and the PC-CMI in occupied El Aaiun, were to transform themselves into concentration camps for Saharawi civilians. Hundreds of Saharawis served sentences of 16 years’ disappearance in these prisons. Some succumbed under the bad conditions of detention.
As for the « commission group » of which I was part, it was 400-strong, Saharawi men and women, all abducted on the eve of the arrival of a UN commission awaited on November 20th 1987 in the capital city of Western Sahara, El Aaiun . Four died and left us during our horrible and indescribable experience lasting nearly 4 years, in the secret detention centre the PC-CMI in occupied El Aaiun. We spent all these years blindfolded and handcuffed, with bad food, no health care or hygienic conditions, on top of that daily torture sessions, threats of rape, these were the practices to which we were subjected throughout this long and hard period of forced disappearance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since 1976 and up until the present time over 500 Saharawis have « disappeared » and Morocco refuses to make a pronouncement on their fate, while it carries out propaganda campaigns of a pseudo truth commission, known as the « Equity and Reconciliation Body », which travels the world without delivering any real answers on the human rights abuses perpetrated against the Saharawi population.
Since May 21st 2005, a non-violent uprising of the Saharawi population has been under way in Western Sahara, a series of demonstrations in southern Morocco and in the Moroccan university campuses, proclaiming respect for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination. Each time this has dangerous repercussions for the demonstrators who endure severe baton attacks, torture, going as far as death, as in the cases of some young Saharawis: Hamdi Lambarki, Bachaikh Lakhlifi and Sidha Uld Lahbib, who lost their lives under blows from Moroccan police in the middle of the street. Or by serving heavy prison sentences of up to 15 years, as with the case of the Saharawi human rights defender, Yahia Mohamed Elhafed, or again, enduring permanent infirmities following brutal interventions by the Moroccan security forces, which cost a Saharawi student, Sultana Khaya the loss of her right eye, Lwali Quadimi became a total paraplegic, without saying anything of the
daily routine of ransacking houses of Saharawi citizens and incessant campaigns of intimidation and harassment of Saharawi human rights defenders, including arrest and torture, even dismissal from one’s job, ban on freedom of movement, being forcibly moved to Moroccan towns or forbidden from enrolling in universities as is the case with two Saharawi human rights defenders and members of CODESA, Ali Salem Tamek and Alamin Sahel.
As for myself, the Moroccan security forces tortured me in the street on 17 June 20005 for being a human rights defender and after having received first aid at the hospital in occupied El Aaiun, they arrested me and on the basis of falsified and non-authentic charges, I served 7 months locked up in the Black Prison of El Aaiun. Until now, I still can not find an employment, just because I commemorated the International Women’s Day in March 2005!!!
Furthermore, human rights activists carry out their duties in very difficult conditions, considering the systematic ban on forming human rights NGOs, at the moment the collective of Saharawi human rights defenders, CODESA, of which I am president, is still banned by the Moroccan administrative authority, as is the Saharawi association of human rights abuses, ASVDH.
The right of Saharawi pupils and students to education is under threat because of repressive and discriminatory practices exercised by the Moroccan authorities against this stratum of Saharawi society.
Actually, since May 2005, our educational establishments have been transformed into veritable police stations, where school children are exposed to beatings, arrest, and other acts of intimidation and humiliation. And the Saharawi students in Moroccan universities live in even worst situation. They suffer discrimination, torture, imprisonment and arbitrary detention. In effect, this week the Moroccan authorities committed a crime against the Sahrawi students in the Moroccan city of Agadir. Two Sahrawi students at the University of Ibn Zohar in Agadir died, Hossein Abdessadik Alketyif (20 years), Khya Baba Abdelaziz (22 years), after being run over by a bus and dozens were injured, while they were taking part in a sit-in to demand transport to go to spend the Aid El-Adha feast with their families. In the face of this alarming situation, the Moroccan police, instead of arresting this Moroccan criminal, they proceeded to torturing the other students who were demonstrating and arrested many of them. This confirms the implication of the Moroccan authorities in this crime. After these assassinations, all cities in Western Sahara were put under military siege and schools are surrounded by Moroccan police, while houses of Sahrawi activist are under constant surveillance. Unfortunately, Morocco is committing all these crimes in a military blocked territory, where the media and the NGO’s are denied access.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The economic crimes committed by the Moroccan state in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, are no less harmful than the violation of political and civil rights of the Saharawi people. The natural resources of Western Sahara have, for years, been the object of large-scale pillage. Fishing in the Saharawi national waters, the exportation of phosphate from Boucraa and the level of exploitation are illegal acts according to resolution 1803 of the General Assembly 14 December 1966 on the « permanent sovereignty over natural resources », article 1 (paragraph 42).
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to let you know that the European Union’s policy concerning the issue of Western Sahara is far from the aspirations of the Saharawi people; certain positions even go against our aspirations, as is the case of the fishing agreement concluded between Morocco and the European Union with no legal basis. The European policy towards Western Sahara continues to be deceiving, for not saying that is accomplice.
We do not understand the silence of the European Union concerning Morocco’s lack of respect for the clauses relating to human rights contained in the Partnership between the European Union and this country. But what is even more serious is the granting by the European Union of an Advanced Status to Morocco, without excluding the territory of the Western Sahara.
I can confirm to you that this will intensify the Moroccan repressive apparatus against the Saharawi civilian population. As a victim of Moroccan repression and also as a Saharawi human rights defender, and president of CODESA, I would like to testify that the situation has seriously deteriorated and that Saharawi population is in distress. I, therefore, call for the protection of their basic rights, and it is urgent and imperative to make more strenuous efforts and to intensify our work to put an end to these suffering. Today after these assassinations, the European Union cannot remain indifferent and should send an enquiry mission to investigate this crime. It is also its duty to work urgently to make possible the visit of the ad hoc delegation of the European Parliament to the occupied territories of Western Sahara. Morocco has never been willing to allow the visit of the delegation since its establishment in October 2005.
Shouldn’t the Saharawi people, as a victim, benefit from international protection, in face of this ferocious repression campaign? For how long will the international community keep up its deplorable attitude of quietly assisting a parallel form of foreign domination which is visibly harmful to the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination?
The Committee of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, which carried out a visit to Western Sahara from 15 to 19 May 2006, confirmed in its report that all the violations committed by the Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara flow from the denial of the fundamental right which is the foundation of the United Nations, namely the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me, on behalf of my colleagues in CODESA and on behalf of all the Saharawi defenders of human rights, to launch from this platform, an urgent appeal to the whole international community and above all to the United Nations, to put a substantial effort behind the protection of Saharawi citizens living under Moroccan occupation. It is highly desirable to put in place a mechanism for the protection and promotion of their fundamental rights.
Finally, I would like to seize this opportunity to remind you that about forty Saharawi political prisoners, including human rights defenders, are today behind bars in Morocco’s prisons and in the Black Prison of occupied El Aaiun. They are in deplorable conditions of detention.
These prisoners need our support and our solidarity in order to recover their freedom. Let us mobilize ourselves for their immediate release and to disclose the fate of all the other disappeared Saharawis since 1976.
Thank you very much.
Pretoria, 5 December 2008