Aminatou Haidar has been imprisoned and tortured because of her struggle for Africa's last colony. She now appeals for Norwegian recognition of Western Sahara as an independent state. Vårt Land (Oslo, Norway) March 9th 2007.
Published: 15.03 - 2007 17:11
Appeals for Norway to support independence for Western Sahara.
By Geir Ove Fonn
For 20 years the human rights activist has conducted a peaceful struggle against the drawn- out Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, a desert territory situated between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. In 1987 her struggle resulted in mistreatment and several years in prison, for taking part in a demonstration.
"When I was freed, I was reduced to a shadow of my real self. A ghost, a young girl emerging from a nameless hell", she says about the day she was released from prison, June 19, 1991.
Militarised town Yesterday, the highly respected activist participated in the International Women's Day celebrations in Bergen, Norway. That demonstration did not have the same consequences as when she took part in a similar demonstration on Women's Day in Western Sahara in 2005: ever since, her employer has withheld her salary.
"Since the popular uprising intensified during the spring of 2005, the occupied territories have been ruled with an iron hand. Women and men, children and the elderly - they have all been oppressed by the occupying power. Our capital, El Aaiun, has been turned into something resembling a military garrison," Haidar explains.
During the popular uprisings in the summer of 2005, Haidar was beaten and detained by Moroccan police during a demonstration in her hometown El Aaiun. In a heavily criticised trial in a Moroccan court in El Aaiun, she was sentenced to 7 months in prison. An Amnesty International observer stated that the trial indicated that Haidar was a prisoner of conscience.
"Since my release from prison I have become more active in the campaign to increase the international awareness regarding the dangerous situation in Western Sahara", said Haidar, who for 15 years had been prevented from travelling abroad, since her passport had been confiscated.
Refusing referendum During her visit to Norway, Haidar has had several meetings with Norwegian organisations as well as with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The political situation is in deadlock, because the Moroccan authorities refuse to adhere to an agreement from 1991, in which the parties to the conflict agreed to carry out a referendum as a means to decide on Western Sahara's future. Haidar now challenges Norway to lead the way, and to recognize the Western Sahara Republic:
"The people of Western Sahara wish that Norway, with its special and independent history, takes the initiative by becoming the first European country to recognize our independence. It is my hope that Norwegian authorities follow the example set by South Africa, as well as 80 other countries, that have already recognized Western Sahara," she said.
"Strong determination" The indigenous population in Western Sahara, the Sahrawis, probably number not more than approximately 100,000-150,000 inside the territory, while about 160,000 Sahrawis live in refugee camps across the border to Algeria. Western Sahara has large mineral- and fishing resources, and probably also undiscovered oil reserves.
"It is a tragic reality that we, the Sahrawis, are not allowed to reap the benefits of our own resources, that are stolen from us by the occupying power. Regrettably, this is supported by the EU, through a fishing agreement with Morocco, at a time when we who live there are very poor".
She believes that it is up to the local population to decide on Western Sahara's future, but is also confident that even the Moroccan settlers will support independence for Western Sahara.:
"I am hopeful, because even if the oppression is worse than ever, the resistance is also stronger than ever. Particularly the younger generation show strong determination."
Constant fear Haidar has experienced the consequences of the struggle for liberty at first hand. She is divorced, with responsibility for a daughter aged 12, and a son aged 10, and has experienced both torture and imprisonment.
"I am worried about the safety of my family and myself. At any moment I may be arrested again, or even killed in an engineered accident. I see police cars on guard outside my house 24 hours a day. My brothers are interrogated by the police for no reason. Not even my children are spared this harassment", Aminatou Haidar says.
This text is translated to English by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
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.
Give a donation!
Support the Support Committee. Help us work for the Sahrawi people's struggle for self-determination. Give a donation here.