"Women are tortured and raped, and we have no legal protection", said Aminatou Haidar, right, who celebrated the international Women´s Day in Bergen. The Sahrawi human rights activist addressed the great differences in how the day is marked in Norway and back home in Western Sahara.
"Here, you can demonstrate and celebrate in peace and freedom. In Western Sahara, women and youth will be beaten up by the Moroccan occupation forces if we take to the streets to demonstrate."
By Arne Liljedahl Lynngård, Chairman of the Rafto Foundation. Translated and prepared for publication by Human Rights House Foundation / Niels Jacob Harbitz.
Haidar was invited to Bergen to mark Women´s Day by Amnesty International and the Rafto Foundation. For an attentive audience at the Rafto Human Rights House on Thursday night, she drew a bleak picture of the situation in Western Sahara.
"Beaten up and left to die in the desert" "It is dramatic. Public rallies and attempts to demonstrate are broken up heavy-handedly. Hundreds are beaten up and physically mistreated also in other ways. Activists have the interior of their homes and whole houses destroyed. Political prisoners are tortured. Schools are turned into police stations, where children are interrogated, in what used to be their own schools", Haidar explained.
She went on to tell how activists who had first been brutally beaten up or tortured by security forces, were driven 50 kilometers into the desert and left there, in a very miserable condition.
"It is important to break the monopoly on information" "In Western Sahara, we don´t have freedom of expression, assembly or organisation. Freedom of movement is also restricted or out rightly refused. We cannot travel where we like, and face difficulties when we apply for passports. I have a passport and can travel internationally, but that is only because of the pressure that has been put on Morocco from the US", adds Haidar.
"It is important to break the monopoly on information that Morocco tries to keep on everything related to Western Sahara. For as long as Morocco refuses journalists entry into the occupied territory, information on what is going on in Western Sahara can only to a very limited degree reach the international community."
"Morocco constantly infringe the most basic human rights" Saharawi human rights activists have begun to use Internet to spread information on human rights violations in their own country, but Haidar strongly encouraged western journalists to try to travel into the occupied territories. In denying the Saharawis their right to self-determination and independence, Morocco constantly infringes the most basic human rights in Western Sahara. In view of this, Haidar expressed gratitude towards western observers who have attended court proceedings against Saharawi activists. This, she said, has contributed to increased efficiency in the legal handling of cases, and also reduced the sentences imposed.
"Norway can make a very significant contribution" "The situation in Western Sahara is, quite simply, a question of decolonisation. We have the right on our side. The Saharawis must be given the opportunity to decide on the future of their own country through free and democratic elections, with UN observers present. After 30 years of suffering, we´re beginning to lose patience. Our peaceful resistance has not brought any results. International attention is rather drawn to conflicts where there is a lot of violence and terror involved. For this reason, international solidarity with the people of Western Sahara is extremely important. Norway can make a very significant contribution by being the first Western European country to recognise the republic of Western Sahara as a country with a legitimate claim to full independence."
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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