The anniversary of International Human Rights Day was recently marked. Also marked was the 25th day of hunger strike for Aminatou Haidar, Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Forcibly expulsed to Lanzarote by Moroccan Authorities for identifying herself as Saharawi rather than Moroccan, and blocked by Spanish authorities from traveling back to Western Sahara, Aminatou – commonly known as the Saharawi Ghandi – remains in Lanzarote airport, surrounded in solidarity by hundreds of her supporters. She has vowed to return to her homeland and family as a Saharawi, or die in the attempt.
From her wheelchair in the airport, she has written to world leaders – including Gordon Brown – asking the government and the people of Britain for urgent support. She writes: “Support not just for me but for all the Saharawi people who, for the past 34 years have been forced to live either under an unlawful and brutal occupation in Western Sahara or in desolate refugee camps in the Algerian desert.”
The Western Sahara – previously a Spanish colony – was invaded in 1975 by Morocco and Mauritania. Whereas Mauritania soon pulled out, the Moroccan authorities bombed the fleeing Saharawis with napalm and white phosphorus. To this day, close to 200,000 Saharawi refugees languish in the harshest, driest corner of the Sahara desert – the Algerian Hamada. Simultaneously, around 180,000 Saharawis remain in their homeland, living under a brutal Moroccan occupation in which they face discrimination, kidnap, torture, rape, false imprisonment and death. Countless United Nations calls for a self-determination referendum for the Saharawi people have been blocked by Morocco and its allies, yet world leaders do nothing to sanction Morocco.
Aminatou’s letter, along with a public letter of support signed by MP’s from all three main political parties, MEP’s, ambassadors, trade union leaders, lawyers such as Baroness Kennedy QC and celebrities such as Brian Eno, Terry Jones, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Juliet Stevenson will be delivered to 10 Downing Street today by Free Western Sahara Network and a delegation of political and celebrity figures.
Stefan Simanowitz, Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network who carried the letter from Lanzarote, said this morning “Aminatou Haidar remains resolute but she is being pushed to the brink of death and her condition is now critical. Her doctor talks about hours or days rather than weeks. Sadly, biology knows nothing of politics.”
Jeremy Corbyn MP, vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, commented: “It is fitting that, on International Human Rights Day, we are here outside No.10 Downing Street, to deliver this letter from Aminatou Haidar, an iconic campaigner for the rights and justice of her people. Throughout the world people have been shocked at her treatment at the hands of the Moroccan authorities and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has this week emphasised her right to return home. There has already been tremendous support for Ms Haidar among the British public and in Parliament with a delegation going to Lanzarote and a cross-party motion tabled in the House of Commons. We call on Britain to play a meaningful part both in bringing justice for the people of Western Sahara and in ensuring Ms Haidar’s immediate return to her home.”
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This post was written by Joanna Allan