Finally, during a mid-March week, the conflict of Western Sahara was revealed to college students and faculty in New England as an issue of global significance.
Western Sahara Awareness Week introduced the Western Sahara to Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, USA, by bringing two speakers, film director Carlos Gonzalez and professor of politics at the University of San Francisco Stephen Zunes, to discuss the neglect and importance of the country’s status. Three a capella groups, all from separate colleges, gave a benefit concert for Saharawi solidarity. The events took place on three successive days, between March 9 and 11.
Filmmaker Carlos Gonzalez, who had travelled to the college from Los Angeles, California, spoke about his journey to the occupied territories, where he filmed victims of abuse, beatings and torture, by Moroccan police of Saharawi students of all ages. See his film here.
Gonzalez believes that because there is no death toll in Western Sahara, but rather continued abuse and oppression, the conflict does not get international media attention. While in the occupied territories, Gonzalez was detained and expelled by the Moroccan police, and accused of being a “Venezuelan spy.”
Also a visitor to the refugee camps in Southwest Algeria, Gonzalez talked about these places to which at least 200,000 Saharawi refugees are displaced as a “hell on earth,” mentioning the nickname “the devil’s garden.”
Stephen Zunes, who flew in from San Francisco, California, for the next day’s lecture “The Other Occupation: The Struggle Over Western Sahara,” spoke during his lecture about the crucial necessity that the international community recognize Western Sahara’s right to independence.
If the UN fails to pass the referendum, he said, it would be the first time in the history of the UN that a country successfully accomplishes its goals of military expansion. This is not only a dangerous precedent and enabling factor for Western-sanctioned dictatorships; it also totally contradicts the principles of self-determination enshrined in the UN, and threatens the very foundation of the UN global system which was to prevent another unchecked power such as WWII Germany from arising.
Dr. Zunes also suggested that any college campaign to divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestine (in February this year Hampshire College, neighboring Mt. Holyoke, became the first U.S. College to divest from the occupation), would strongly benefit from a campaign to divest from Moroccan occupation likewise, to emphasize the illegality of any occupation and to draw attention to international law that has been violated in Western Sahara same as in Palestine.
On day three, Wednesday, three a capella groups performed at the campus center in a benefit concert for Saharawi Solidarity, as a fundraising effort to build a library in the Algerian refugee camps. Two of the groups came from neighboring colleges.
At the concert, the Sahrawi student Senia Bachir-Abderahman, born in one of the refugee camps, introduced Western Sahara’s devastating situation, her own plight for her people, and a library project in the refugee camps she has embarked upon.
The library will hopefully support the Sahrawis knowledge of English language, and reinforce the Saharawi refugees with the understanding that they have an inaliable right to self-determination, which includes a right to return to their original home. Since 2006 Bachir-Abderahman has spoken annually at the U.N. General Assembly. As a high school student, she campaigned and raised awareness about her country in Norway and set up phone networks in the camps.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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