Western Sahara: The Moroccan Systematic Obliteration of Identity
By Joanna Aniel Bidar (Lebanon)
There should be an added definition of a violation of human rights, something like ĎThe violation of identityí, which can be easily erased through an innovated, inconspicuous political tool Ė torture and the fragmentation of history. Who is to define what happened since incidences are fragmented through a human instrument- this time, political channels running through the media where the ordinary peopleís thoughts divert from the main purpose of the conflict. The ordinary peopleís thoughts have diverted from the Western Saharaís existence as a democratic republic, as a people descending from a rooted Identity. We forgot about the Armenians, we forgot about the Arawaks and now we forget about the Saharawi nationalism. We will not however, forget the Holocaust, a calculation of what is necessary to mention at this time where specific powerful countries are backed up for a political aim excluding the desperate, the hungry, the victims who are victimised existing under the disadvantage of being Saharawi, Palestinians, and ArmeniansÖ
It has been forgotten the strugglers, not only for food, not only for shelter, not even only for life, they are struggling for Identity; the only surviving tool that can confirm their existence.
Western Sahara has been forgotten and no longer considered a country by the European Union and the United States, whose support for Morocco has been encouraging the violations of human rights. Its people are no longer considered people with a Saharawi identity. The world is silent, watching and it seems again, that the Joanna Aniel Bidar, Elkouria Amidane and Soumia Hamudi Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been disregarded.
So why is it that the West and by the West I refer specifically to those countries and people whoís power is unlimited, those who influence the decisions that affect third world countries, are proud of their identity and their nationalism? Why is it that every one of us holding on to our identity and the existence of our country is not pressuring the government to recognise the Western Sahara Republic? Why are we letting our governments support the Moroccan state and deny the Western Saharaís right for self-determination?
The Western Sahara, similar to any developing/under-developed nation, has been exploited by the West, it happens to possess a geographical advantage, attractive and productive in Phosphate and fish.
During my interview with Elkouria Amidane, a 22 years old human rights activist on visit to Red Cross United World Colleges in Fjaler, Norway, I was able to directly communicate and understand what is exactly happening in the Western Sahara. Amidane is from occupied Western Sahara, and studies at the university in Marrakech.
Soumia Hamudi also participated in the conversation. She is a 16 year old student at United World Colleges, but originating from the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. In our talk, we went over historical backgrounds and then she openly discussed her personal encounters. This is not a war for land anymore; itís a war for identity.
Joanna: Could you please describe to us how the conflict started since it has been rarely discussed in the media and there has been a shift of attention to the Palestinian conflict which is also quite similar to the Saharawi conflict.
Elkouria: Saharawis have been suffering from the Moroccan occupation for years now. Before the Moroccan occupation, we suffered from the Spanish occupation for more than 100 years. The Spanish occupation in 1973 was fought by a liberation movement led by Saharawi students. In 1975, Spain did secret agreements with Morocco and Mauritania to divide the Western Sahara between them; the southern part of Western Sahara being occupied by Mauritania and the Northern part being occupied by Morocco. Spain of course got benefits from our natural resources. When Morocco invaded in 1975 they invaded violently because Moroccan troops entered Western Sahara decimating Saharawis. Saharawi refugees were forced to move to the desert and establish first refugee camps in rehmada area; itís a desert, a very difficult place to live in. Morocco bombed that camp therefore Algeria helped Saharawi surviving the bombings by sending humanitarian aid and established camps for Saharawis in Algeria. Algeria has been the most important Arabic country to assist us. They gave us part of their land in the desert and we established the Saharawi refugee camps there and Algeria defended and protected Saharawi refugee camps with Algerian military bases. During the war, Front Polisario, which is the Saharawi liberation movement, fought both Morocco and Mauritania simultaneously. Polisario attacked Mauritania because it was the weakest part of the conflict and they gained the war causing Mauritania to surrender. That time Morocco occupied the rest of the Sahara while Mauritania surrendered, so now we are living under full Moroccan occupation.
Joanna: Can you tell us the difference between the Moroccan and the Spanish invasion? How did Morocco succeed powerfully in occupying Western Sahara? And what is their interest in Western Sahara?
Elkouria: During the Spanish occupation Spain was not very interested about Western Sahara. But after they discovered the large phosphate mines, which are very valuable, and the fishing banks, Spain started plundering our land. However Spain was not so cruel. The colonising population was friendly. Spain colonised our land, it did not occupy it but Morocco invaded and killed people bombing us and now they are committing crimes against humanity and violating human rights just because we are demanding for our right for self-determination. People in Western Sahara have been staging demonstrations especially from 2005 till now, rising flags of Polisario and asking for independence, but Moroccoís response is very cruel. You find families being subjected to torture, imprisonment, and full disappearance for taking part in demonstrations.
Joanna: How does the support of superpowers, meaning the United States and the EU, facilitate Moroccoís violence towards the Saharawi people?
Elkouria: You see now that Morocco is supported by the United States, France, even Spain and partly all the powerful EU countries because of the interest in the economy and benefits from resources. Morocco signs agreements with European units to fish in Western Saharan waters and exploit our phosphates.
Joanna: Can you tell us a bit more about the Republic of Western Sahara as a Democratic state in the refugee camp of Algeria?
Elkouria: We have a liberation movement called Polisario established in 1973. In 1976, the Republic was established, mostly by young people, most of them university students. So we have now a government in exile in the refugee camps we have a president and our republic has been recognised by around 80 states, most of them are from Africa and Latin America. This is our flag - itís like the Palestine one but with a half moon and a star. So Polisario was fighting the Moroccan occupation from the start till 1991 when a ceasefire between Polisario and Morocco was signed. The UN sent a mission (MINURSO- United Nationís Mission For The Referendum In Western Sahara) to help referendum in Western Sahara but since 1991 till today nothing happened. No referendum - no peace.
Soumia: Moroccans say that we do not support our own government and that we wish to change it but itís not true we do have a democratic government which we have elected and we support.
Joanna: So since there is a democratic government you are being portrayed by the media that support Moroccoís view of your republic as a terrorist state; so that is a pretext used to obliterate the mentioning of any existence of a democratic republic in the Western Sahara, could you comment on that a bit more?
Elkouria: The Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic is our representatives. It represents the people. Since we are living under the Moroccan occupation in the occupied territories, we donít have a democratic government but our government is in exile so our government is representing the Saharawi people under the occupation and you know that Morocco needs to protect itself they always say that our republic is a terrorist organisation and what is Morocco doing you know, human rights violation, torturing people, and so on they just say that Morocco has the right to protect itself. To protect themselves from this, they have even built a wall, that divides the occupied territory from the liberated areas. It is 3 times as long as the Palestinian wall and on the east side of the wall, they have placed millions of landmines. This wall was made with the of Israel and a few more states. So Morocco violates human rights with the help of supporting countries that claim that Morocco has the right to protect itself.
Joanna: Can you discuss the importance of the Saharawi identity?
Elkouria: We as Saharawi we always struggle to make our voice known and to make people know that there are people called Saharawi and we have refugee camps and we are have a republic so itís very important that other countries recognise our republic. This will help us a lot because when they recognise our republic it will stop Morocco from violating our rights, they wonít dare committing crimes like they do it now. The recognition of the republic is very important and will change the situation.
Joanna: Itís the same thing as having any other identity it is equally important to any person. I would like you to generally describe abuse, the use of abuse to injure you mentally and physically, itís another way of killing you but it doesnít directly kill you, it impairs your mind and body stopping you from speaking out about your Saharawi identity.
Elkouria: Morocco in the beginning they used to kill Saharawis but now because of the awareness of the world, international human rights organisations, and the internet, Morocco cannot make such crimes, but what itís doing now is killing us indirectly. We would prefer that Moroccans use gun to kill us, its better than torturing us because the torture will stay with you all your life even when we get independence we will not enjoy it because you find so many Saharawis have become crazy mentally and physically sick; so many have become handicapped since when Moroccans detain Saharawis, they beat us in sensitive places. For instance when they detain men they beat them in sexual organs so not to be men. When they detain women for instance when they beat my friend, she lost her eye. So they want to handicap us and you know also the mental torture is atrocious. They use aggression to make us give up and threaten others not to do the same like they burnt a man 21 years old for dancing with our flag and they beat a man till he died. There are so many horrors to threaten people not to be active.
Joanna: Can you also talk about your personal life as an activist. Has it drained you since you have also been tortured? How has it made you stronger and how has it made you weaker as a human rights activist going around and speaking out publicly about the conflict?
Elkouria: Well the reason I came to be a human rights defender is that I experienced the reality. I saw harm towards Saharawis. I saw suffering. I saw tortures and killings which is why I have the power to defend their rights. Someone had to know whatís happening in Western Sahara which is why I took part to denounce whatís going on. Speak out to those people. I was detained and tortured very much but that does not affect my life, no, it gives me the power to struggle against it and now I even have the feeling that I can sacrifice my life for my people.
Joanna: You are putting your life to threat by going around speaking about it and it is causing your family back in the occupied territories to be subjected to torture. It is threatening their lives by being subjected to torture.
Elkouria: It happened just last Friday they revenged them by taking them and beating them harshly more than others because Iím here and I denounce whatís happening in Western Sahara so they do such things.
Soumia: I am living in refugee camps and my family has been living there for 35 years. Itís not a place for human beings to live, the life is very difficult. The temperature almost every summer is 45 or 50 degrees, and the water is not healthy itís very salty and the food is obtained from humanitarian organisations. The families are separated like my family is segregated. I did not have the chance to enjoy my life with my family I am living away from my family.
Elkouria: Saharawis are separated dispersed by the Moroccan occupation, you find families in the refugee camps and families in the occupied territories who havenít seen each other for more than 32 years so its really very difficult for people to live with this and all of it because of the Moroccan occupation.
Joanna: Since this is a lot to do with awareness, how will it help people pressure their government? If people do pressure their governments in their own countries then how will that pressure Morocco to pull out and obliterate all the violence implemented on the Saharawi people?
Elkouria: As you know that the reason Iím here in Norway is to spread awareness to make the students know about our conflict. That helps a lot because weíve been suffering for more than 32 years and nobody knows about this but now we are letting our sufferings be known so that people recognise whatís going on. If we gain support from students, they can put pressure on their governments to put pressure on Morocco to stop those human rights violations against Saharawis and also to make this conflict known in the media so that people can learn about it.
Joanna: About the children that live under the occupation of Morocco and the refugee camps, what would you say to them since they are born unfortunate of being Saharawis at a time of Moroccan occupation?
Elkouria: The children in Western Sahara are really suffering because Morocco has shown no respect or consideration for human rights because you find the children in Western Sahara are suffering torture and even sexual torture. Most children were expelled from school just because they took part in peaceful demonstrations. They spent more than 5 days in the police station without food, with torture just for peaceful demonstrations. They are also learning in Moroccan schools under Moroccan programs and all the school subjects that they study involve politics, you will find politics in all the subjects, even in Islamic education so the Moroccan government in trying to make us Moroccan by force. But I hope that Saharawi children will stick to their principles and we will help them to overcome all the suffering that they have lived and all the tortures they have endured, we really need to help children because they are the generation of tomorrow. You know, we have saying that goes ďKoul el toufli youwladou fee watani ella el toufli el sahrawi ou outanou yawladou feeĒ. It means ďEvery child is born in his country, with his own identity, except the Saharawi child. His country and identity is born in him.Ē
Joanna: Thank you very much.
Joanna Aniel Bidar (Lebanon) is a student at the Red Cross United World Colleges in Fjaler, Norway.
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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