Watch Democracy Now!’s coverage of the story of the Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar here. She has been on a hunger strike for four weeks since being deported against her will by Moroccan authorities occupying her homeland. Haidar, known as the “Sahrawi Gandhi,” spent the month surrounded by supporters at an airport on the Canary Islands.
María Carrión, a Madrid-based journalist and human rights activist, is posting updates about the ailing human rights activist Aminatou Haidar and her attempt to return to her home in occupied Western Sahara.
Madrid, December 22
Aminatou Haidar is finally home in Layounne with her two children and her mother. But after having defeated Morocco’s attempt to exile her permanently, she is now under virtual house arrest. Although there are no known arrest orders, the human rights activist is not allowed to leave her home, nor is anyone but her immediate family permitted to enter past the police cordon that tightly controls her home.
“Moroccans want to tell the world that I am isolated,” said Haidar yesterday from her home. “They are silencing Saharan voices so they can say that I am alone, that the Western Sahara is not with me. But the Sahrawis are with me. They all think like me, but they don’t express it because they are afraid. I ask the government to take me to prison and end this senseless strategy.”
On Sunday, Haidar’s personal doctor, Domingo de Guzmán, was stopped by police as he attempted to visit her. Tomás Bárbulo, one of the few journalists still in Layounne, yesterday reported in the Spanish newspaper EL PAIS that as the doctor argued fruitlessly with police to allow him through, “a woman appeared on the street, stumbling… no-one paid any attention to her until they saw that it was Haidar herself, assisted by her daughter Hayat… Weakened after a 32-day hunger strike she had gotten out of bed, almost fainted and had to lean on a car to stop from falling, but as soon as she recovered she confronted the agents and was able to get the doctor past the police cordon.”
As the international media begins to pay less attention to the situation there, police repression against human rights and pro-independence activists in the occupied territory continues to escalate, with doctors in hospitals ordered to turn in anyone with injuries attributable to police brutality, and activists barred from speaking to the media.
Last Thursday night, as Haidar was finally flying home, thousands of cheering Sahrawis left their homes in Layounne to celebrate her return and were attacked by armed police, who beat them and prevented them from reaching the airport and Haidar’s home. Those who went to the hospital to be treated for their injuries were told that doctors were under orders to turn over to the police the names of those asking for medical reports that could be used to file complaints. Fearful of police reprisals, people went home to be treated by family members. Without medical reports, no-one was able to file a complaint.
Human rights activists have been told to remain in their homes and leave their doors open, and journalists are not allowed to meet with them because, authorities say, the activists have not obtained special permits from Rabat to speak to the media. Seven activists remain under arrest for visiting the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, where over one hundred thousand Sahrawis live in exile. They are to be tried in a military court under charges of collaborating with the enemy and face the death penalty.
Meanwhile, there is concern among supporters of a vote on self-determination about the political concessions that Spain and France made to Morocco in return for allowing Haidar to fly to Layounne and recover her Moroccan passport, which was confiscated by authorities. In communiqués released simultaneously on Thursday evening as Haidar´s airplane reached Layounne, both countries acknowledged that “Moroccan law prevails in the Western Sahara,” an affirmation that has not been legally recognized by the United Nations for a territory that is still under dispute. Morocco has interpreted this statement as an acknowledgement of its sovereignty in the Western Sahara, although Spanish government officials deny this.
France, the United States and Spain issued communiqués last Thursday praising Morocco for readmitting Haidar and lauding the Kingdom for its progress on democratization, despite the fact that in this past year, press freedom has been significantly curtailed. In its statement, the US did not include the controversial mention about Moroccan law in the Western Sahara.
Fridy December 18
Late last night, Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar finally returned to her home in Layounne and hugged her mother and two children. And after 32 days on hunger strike, she finally broke her fast. It was, she said, “a victory for the Rule of Law, international justice, human rights and the cause for the Western Sahara.”
Haidar flew from Lanzarote to Layounne in a medicalized airplane chartered by the Spanish government, accompanied by her personal doctor and her sister Leila. As she emerged from the airplane, cheering crowds awaited her outside the airport and in her neighborhood. But almost immediately, police charged brutally against her supporters.
Among cheers of “long live Aminatou,” Sahrawis awaited Haidar in Layounne. Her extraordinary defeat of the Kingdom of Morocco has made her figure even larger than it already was among her people. But the euphoria soon gave way to chaos and terror, as police with batons beat people and dispersed the crowds. “The airport was taken over by plainclothes police, and they prevented us from getting close to her,” one of her supporters said. “They would beat people, put them in police vehicles and dump them in the outskirts of the city,” said a woman from a local hospital whose brother had been badly beaten.
Human rights organizations warn that the situation in the occupied territories is volatile, and that the international community must remain vigilant to ensure that Haidar’s and other Sahrawis’ human rights are not trampled on. Many voices, including that of UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon, are urging for talks to resume between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front to find a solution to the 34-year occupation of the Western Sahara.
It is not yet known how exactly the final deal was brokered, but most experts say that Morocco had been more and more isolated in its position, even among its staunchest supporters. Spain, France and the US negotiated the conditions of Haidar’s return until the last minute, and Morocco has tried to save face by saying that it was a “purely humanitarian decision.”
Thursday December 17
A little after ten o’clock local time tonight, a medicalized airplane carrying human rights activist Aminatou Haidar took off from the airport in Lanzarote, in the Spanish Canary Islands, and headed for the city of Layounne, in the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara. After 32 days of a hunger strike that has profoundly shaken the powerful Kingdom of Morocco and situated the long-forgotten Western Sahara on the world stage, the woman known to many as the “Gandhi of the Western Sahara” emerged ailing but victorious from the Spanish hospital where she had been taken hours earlier. Outside, she said that her return home was “a victory for the Rule of Law, for human rights, for international justice and for the Sahrawi cause.” Cheering crowds greeted her as she left the hospital.
Haidar was taken by ambulance to the airport and boarded a plane with her personal doctor and younger sister Leila. A Moroccan doctor specializing in gastroenterology was also reported to be on board to monitor a bleeding ulcer and severe abdominal pain caused by her hunger strike and the effects of years of torture in secret Moroccan prisons.
With no money or weapons and relying only on her enormous will power, public support and international human rights instruments, Haidar has thus defeated Morocco in a crisis that mobilized thousands and that eventually required the personal intervention of UN Secretary General Ban-Kin moon, the European Union president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the time of this writing, sources said that a final deal was brokered between Morocco, the US and France, and that no conditions were set for Haidar to return home. But the details of the deal remain a mystery. Two personal envoys of the King of Morocco had been in Washington meeting with State Department and National Security officials in the past few days.
Sahrawis in Layounne were reportedly relieved and overjoyed to hear that Haidar was on her way, and security at the airport was very tight to prevent any show of support or demonstrations on her behalf. Haidar has said that she would only cease her hunger strike once she was allowed back in, and added that the first thing she would do was “hug my mother and two children.”
Haidar’s supporters are concerned for her safety, and vow to keep the issue alive on the streets and in the media. Sahrawi human rights and pro-independence activists are routinely followed, harassed and arrested in the occupied territories, and Haidar may now become more of a target.
Thursday December 17
As her 32nd day of hunger strike nears its end and her body begins to fail, Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar is readying to finally go home to Layounne on a Spanish government plane and with the authorization of Morocco. Just minutes ago, her supporters received a phone call from the Spanish president, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, announcing that a medicalized airplane was ready to take her to Layounne, along with her sister Leila and her doctor.
Haidar received the news at the hospital in Lanzarote, where she was taken early this morning after her condition took a turn for the worse. She was given palliative treatment at the intensive care unit and later moved to a hospital room, where she remains on her hunger strike. She has said to supporters that she will not end the fast until she sets foot in her home.
Negotiations had intensified in the past two days, and as the day wore on today, there were more and more indications that a resolution was around the corner. The European Parliament today cancelled a vote to demand that Morocco readmit Haidar at the petition of the Socialist Party, which said it had information that a resolution was hours away. Zapatero himself announced today that the end of the crisis was near, and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had to interrupt a parliamentary session on the Haidar case to engage in intense negotiations and preparations for her trip back to the Western Sahara.
It is not yet known how Morocco has been convinced after weeks of refusing to budge, but many believe that the Obama administration applied pressure on Rabat and worked out a face-saving deal. For Morocco, the issue was one of “honor” and it displayed an extraordinary diplomatic effort to convince the international community that it was Haidar who had provoked her own expulsion when she refused to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara on an airport entry form.
Thursday December 17
Aminatou Haidar, who today enters her 32nd day on a hunger strike, was hospitalized last night suffering from intense abdominal pain, bleeding and nausea. The Sahrawi human rights activist is in intensive care and in stable condition in Lanzarote’s main hospital, on the Canary Islands. She is receiving palliative care exclusively, and continues on her hunger strike.
“Aminatou is still determined to continue with her hunger strike until Morocco allows her to return home,” said her lawyer Inés Miranda. Her sister Leila flew to Lanzarote from Layounne yesterday to be with her. Haidar had been suffering from increasing pain in the last few days due to the hunger strike and a bleeding ulcer caused by years of torture in a Moroccan prison. She had also had trouble swallowing the sugared water that is keeping her alive. Doctors are administering anti-nausea and pain medication intravenously, as well as water.
Meanwhile, there are increasing signs that Morocco and the United States are engaged in high-level talks to try to resolve the month-old dispute, which began on November 13 when Morocco detained and then deported Haidar from the occupied Western Sahara to Spain.
A personal friend of King Mohammed VI and the head of Morocco’s secret services are in Washington holding talks with the Obama administration, according to several press reports. Spanish government sources have told EL PAIS, the Madrid-based daily newspaper, that parliamentarian Fouad Ali el Himma, who is close to the King, and Yassin Manssouri, head of the Moroccan Secret Services, are holding talks with State Department and National Security officials, and are seeking an “imaginative” solution to the conflict that would allow Haidar to return home and at the same time give the appearance that Morocco has not lost the diplomatic battle.
One possibility, according to the source, would be for Morocco to allow Haidar to enter Layounne but not return her Moroccan passport to her, which officials say she “trampled on” when she was detained. Haidar denies this version, but maintains her stance of not recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
It is also very possible that Morocco is seeking an advantageous position, with perhaps some concessions, as it heads into UN-sponsored talks with the pro-independence movement, the Polisario Front, over the future of the phosphate-rich Western Sahara. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon has urged his Personal Envoy to the Western Sahara, American diplomat Christopher Ross, to initiate an urgent round of talks between Morocco and the Polisario as an effort to save Haidar’s life and resolve the 35-year conflict over the status of the territory.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament is due today to vote on a resolution supporting Haidar’s claims and urging Morocco to readmit her without conditions. A coalition of European progressive political parties will also submit a proposal today to freeze the implementation of Morocco’s preferred trade status with the EU until the conflict is resolved.
Wednesday December 16
As the European Union is pressured to freeze its trade agreements with Morocco due to its deportation of Aminatou Haidar, the Western Saharan human rights activist is beginning to suffer from life-threatening symptoms caused by her 31-day hunger strike. Supporters announced today that she is having trouble swallowing the sweetened water that has kept her alive and is barely able to sleep, but that despite her increasing weakness, she remains “resolute and ready to take this protest to the end,” according to Fernando Peraita, spokesperson for the Platform in Support of Aminatou Haidar who is with the activist at the airport in Lanzarote.
Public pressure is increasing on the EU to freeze the preferential trading status afforded to Morocco until the Kingdom allows Haidar to return to her home in Layounne, in the occupied Western Sahara, and improves human rights conditions there. A coalition of European progressive political parties will present a motion tomorrow to freeze Morocco’s status at the EU, where a meeting between Moroccan and EU representatives is scheduled to take place tomorrow to discuss the trade conditions.
“If the EU were to condition Morocco’s preferential status to its human rights practices, the chances are that Aminatou would be allowed back into Layounne,” said Peraita to Democracy Now! He said that Haidar still hopes that the Obama Administration will pressure King Mohamed VI to readmit her, despite the State Department’s statement on Monday that it considers it a bilateral problem between Spain and Morocco. “We are still hopeful that they are actually doing more than what they have acknowledged publicly to resolve the situation,” said Peraita. Some unconfirmed media reports claim that Washington has told Madrid that it is working to convince Morocco to readmit Haidar, but prefers to do it without stating it publicly.
Haidar is a well-respected human rights activist who has powerful supporters in the US Congress, both Democrat and Republican, and who has received a number of human rights prizes, including the RFK Center’s Human Rights Award. But the Obama administration remains reluctant to engage in a public dispute with its historical ally, Morocco.
Leading human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, are also asking the United Nations to expand its mission in the Western Sahara, known as Minurso, to include human rights monitoring. Reporters and activists who have been to the territories recently talk about a “climate of fear” imposed by police, who patrol the streets and tightly watch the human rights and pro-independence community. Haidar has denounced that her family is under “de-facto house arrest,” with armed police surrounding the family home and preventing reporters from speaking with them. Currently, Minurso’s mandate is to supervise a vote on self-determination, which Morocco has blocked. Morocco has said that it will never accept having Minurso’s mandate expanded to include human rights monitoring, and is busy these days trying to convince the international community that as a reliable ally in the Magreb region in the war against terrorism, it is not willing to submit to pressure on Haidar’s situation.
UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon has asked his Special Envoy to the Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, to reactivate talks quickly between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front as part of a bid to save Haidar’s life. Her critical condition “really requires that the United Nations do more on this political negotiation,” said Ban.
Monday December 14th
The optimism that seemed to prevail over the weekend among the close-knit group caring for the ailing human rights activist Aminetou Haidar, fueled by an impending meeting in Washington between the Spanish Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State, today gave way to disbelief. Instead of publicly asking Morocco to readmit Haidar back to her hometown of Layounne in the Western Sahara, from where she was illegally expelled a month ago, in a post-meeting press conference, Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos urged Haidar to abandon her hunger strike, which she began 29 days ago. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton stood at his side and said nothing about the situation.
Moratinos and Clinton met over a number of issues, including the situation in Afghanistan and Spain’s upcoming presidency of the European Union. But expectations were high that the Spanish Foreign Minister would also urge his US counterpart to get more involved in pressuring Morocco to allow Haidar to return to her home, where her mother and two children await. It is not yet known exactly what transpired between the two, but publicly, the pressure seemed to be on Haidar to give up her hunger strike, rather than on Morocco to meet its human rights obligations.
“We are asking her, not pressuring her, only suggesting to her, that her just and legitimate cause can be defended without the need of a hunger strike,” Moratinos said as Clinton looked on. “We [the US and Spain] are two close allies, and that is what we agreed to do, to begin to work quickly” to convince Haidar.
“If I abandon my hunger strike, Morocco will expel many other Sahrawis just as they did with me,” Haidar told the Spanish daily newspaper EL PAIS yesterday. “My case is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is happening in the Western Sahara. Seven Sahrawis, including the vice-president of Codesa, the human rights organization I direct, are about to be tried by a military court after visiting the refugee camps in Tindouf [in Southwestern Algeria] for collaborating with the enemy.” The seven could face the death penalty.
Haidar also denounced that her family is under siege in their home, permanently surrounded by Moroccan police. “They have effectively been put under house arrest,” she said. “But no government or institution is condemning that.”
The social movements supporting Haidar have, in turn, stepped up pressure on the Spanish government to return Haidar home. Thousands of people from all over Spain are planning to attend a demonstration in Madrid this coming Saturday, and scores of smaller protests are taking place daily across the country. Some of Spain’s top actors and film directors have produced a television spot urging Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has remained at the sidelines, to call Moroccan King Mohamed VI and request that Haidar be readmitted.
Haidar’s hunger strike, almost a month long, is beginning to cause permanent damage to vital organs, according to a doctor who saw her but did not examine her yesterday. Frail but resolute, and wearing a bright yellow melfa — a traditional Western Saharan dress — she emerged this morning from the small room in the airport in Lanzarote where she spends most of her time and was taken by wheelchair to an airport pharmacy to weigh herself. Supporters say that she is determined to fight to the end, and that her spirits are high thanks to a visit from four of her first cousins who flew from Layounne yesterday to spend a few hours with her.
Saturday December 12th
Morocco has told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that it will not back down on its refusal to allow Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar to return to her home in Layounne, in the Western Sahara. With her health worsening by the hour, Haidar today enters her 27th day of her hunger strike as pro-independence Sahrawis and human rights activists in the Morocco- occupied territories, unable to demonstrate on her behalf, await in a climate of fear.
In a meeting yesterday in New York, Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told the Secretary General that Morocco “will not be blackmailed” and that Haidar’s situation is not a humanitarian problem, but a political one.
On Thursday, Fassi Fihri gave a similar answer to Hillary Clinton, and the State Department said yesterday that the issue remains “a bilateral problem” between Morocco and Spain. “She [Clinton] did note our concern about the state of health of Ms. Haidar and expressed our concern that we try and resolve her situation as quickly as possible,” said State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly. He refused to say whether Clinton had directly asked Morocco to readmit Haidar to Layounne.
Clinton will address the issue with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos tomorrow in a meeting in Washington. Many close to Haidar, including representatives of the Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, are hopeful that the US, the European Union and the UN could eventually get Morocco to change its mind if they increase pressure on the Moroccan King, Mohamed VI.
RFK Center representative Marshela Gonsalves, who is with Haidar at the Lanzarote airport, said yesterday that conversations are taking place “at the highest level” and that her hope is that ultimately the United States would be able resolve the problem.
“All that Clinton has to do is set a deadline for Morocco,” said a Sahrawi who is close to the negotiations, “and Morocco would have to yield.” But so far, the US is acting with extreme caution, avoiding a diplomatic confrontation with its close ally.
The readmission of Haidar has now become a problem of “honor” for Morocco. Officials have said repeatedly that they will only allow Haidar back into the Western Sahara if she apologizes to the King for writing in her entry form at the airport that her home is in the Western Sahara — a designation not recognized by the government — instead of Morocco.
But Haidar, who was disappeared into Moroccan prisons, tortured and held without charges for over four years, refuses to apologize to the person who is, ultimately, responsible for her suffering. “I will return to Layounne — dead or alive, with or without my passport, but with dignity,” she said. Haidar has said that the only reason that she accepts a Moroccan passport and nationality is because “according to international law, an occupying power has the obligation to grant a passport to the occupied population so that they can exercise their freedom of movement.” Even so, it was not until 2005, and in part due to US pressure, that Morocco granted Haidar a passport.
Meanwhile, in the occupied Western Sahara, there is a total prohibition by Moroccan authorities against any public sign of support for Haidar. Tomas Bárbulo, one of the few journalists able to report from the tightly controlled territory, wrote today in EL PAIS that in the Layounne neighborhoods where many human rights and pro-independence activists live, “fear is camouflaged on the streets as apathy” and activists are told to keep the doors of their homes open “so that the police posted outside can see every one of their movements.” In an interview with former political prisoners, including an activist who holds the sad honor of being the longest-held political prisoner in Africa after Nelson Mandela, one of them told Bárbulo: “People don’t even talk about Aminatou with their friends because you never know who will snitch to authorities.”
As streets in Spain fill with protests, “here there is not a single demonstration, not even a painting on a wall,” according to Bárbulo. The police control is such that a few days ago, when someone threw pro-independence leaflets out of a four-by-four vehicle, “the next day police interrogated every single owner of an SUV in the city to find out what they had done the night before,” he writes.
Last night, hundreds of people in Madrid held a candlelit protest in front of the Spanish Foreign Ministry and accused Spain of collaborating with Morocco in the deportation of Haidar. Spontaneous protesters also held banners inside the Spanish Parliament demanding that Spain return Haidar to Layounne.
The Spanish government is saying that it is doing everything within its power to help Haidar return to her home. But the Spanish government has refused an offer by King Juan Carlos, the Head of State, to intercede in the crisis and speak with King Mohamed, a personal friend.
Yesterday, amid accusations that Madrid had actively collaborated with Rabat to have Haidar deported against her will to Spain, Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero explained that his government had applied immigration laws to have her admitted. But Haidar’s lawyer, Inés Miranda, said that Spanish authorities “violated immigration laws that say that a non-citizen is only admitted if they are willing, and if they carry a passport.” In addition, Miranda noted that Haidar’s rights under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights had also been violated.
Friday December 11th
As Aminatou Haidar increasingly sets her hopes on Washington’s ability to convince Morocco to allow her to fly back home, Spain’s state television, Televisión Española, is reporting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken with Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri and has asked him to allow the human rights activist to return to Layounne, in the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara.
The news reports say that Fihri told Clinton that Morocco would only allow Haidar to return to Layounne if she apologized to King Mohamed VI for claiming on an entry form that she was a citizen of the Western Sahara, instead of Morocco. But Haidar, on her 26th day of a hunger strike, has said that she will not apologize because even though she holds a Moroccan citizenship, her homeland is the Western Sahara, which she says is illegally occupied by Morocco.
The United States, a close ally of Morocco, has remained almost silent on the issue but is now feeling intense international pressure to intervene on behalf of Haidar. Clinton is due to discuss the issue this Monday in a meeting with Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos. Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon spoke with the Moroccan Foreign Minister and urged him to readmit Haidar back into Layounne. The European Union has also urged Morocco to “meet its human rights obligations.”
It is Moroccan King Mohamed VI who has the last word on Haidar’s fate, but most experts feel that the US could convince him if it applies sufficient pressure.
Haidar today emerged briefly from the small room in the airport in Lanzarote, where she spends most of her time. She accepted a human rights award from Izquierda Unida, a progressive political party in Spain, and also spoke with representatives of the Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Friday, December 11th
AS SPAIN ASKS FOR WASHINGTON’S HELP, THE EU URGES MOROCCO TO READMIT HAIDAR
Aminatou Haidar, a tiny bespectacled woman wrapped in a colorful Saharan shroud who today enters her 26th day of a hunger strike, has singlehandedly achieved what legions of lobbyists, diplomats and politicians have failed to do in the past 35 years: with no money or weapons, she has managed to put her forgotten homeland of the Western Sahara on the world map.
As she appeared yesterday before the international press outside the airport in Lanzarote, frail but determined, her words reached the corridors of power running from the White House to the headquarters of the European Union. She told world leaders that on International Human Rights Day, her humble request was to have her own rights respected and that she be allowed to return home with her mother and two children. On the same day that the world’s most powerful man received the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the least powerful was giving the world a lesson in the true meaning of peace.
The European Union responded. As Spain and Morocco reached an impasse yesterday in negotiations to return Haidar to her hometown of Layounne, the EU asked Morocco to fulfill its “international human rights obligations” and cooperate with Madrid in the resolution of Haidar’s deportation. In a statement issued yesterday, the EU presidency also expressed its concern over Haidar’s health, which is declining rapidly.
Madrid is urging the Obama administration to intervene in the crisis. Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain’s Foreign Minister, is planning to travel to Washington, DC in the next days to discuss the issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Representatives of the Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, who are now at Haidar´s side in Lanzarote, have also met with State Department representatives and urged them to pressure Morocco to readmit Haidar.
Haidar’s peaceful struggle began 21 years ago, when as a university student she demonstrated for the right to self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco has occupied for 34 years. She was arrested by Moroccan police and held without charges for four years in a series of secret prisons, where she was repeatedly tortured along with other women activists. She continued to struggle peacefully for independence and human rights, and was again imprisoned in 2007. While Rabat has confronted activists in the territory with hard repression, Moroccan officials now appear disarmed in the face of her peaceful international protest.
Washington, a close ally of Rabat, has remained practically silent on Haidar’s situation. The State Department issued a statement on November 26 expressing concern for her health, but stopped short of asking Morocco to readmit her into the Western Sahara. Several US Senators and Members of Congress have urged the Obama administration to get involved.
The US has a long history of supporting Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara, which was set in motion in 1974 after Spain, the occupying power, reached an agreement ceding the territory to Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco´s King Hassan consulted closely with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before launching a full-scale military invasion in 1975. The invasion precipitated an exodus of over one hundred thousand Sahrawis fleeing the repression, who have ended up in refugee camps in a forgotten corner of Algeria. Morocco also launched a repopulation campaign known as the Green March, and moved tens of thousands of Moroccan citizens into the territory.
Morocco has received substantial military aid from the US without any conditions limiting its use in the Western Sahara, where part of the Sawhari population remains. With US help, Morocco built a fortified wall in the early 90’s running for over 1000 miles and lined with over a million landmines. That wall separates the occupied territory, rich in fishing waters and phosphates and offering the promise of offshore oil, from the area that was liberated by the Polisario Front after its independence war with Morocco.
In the past, the US has supported a series of UN resolutions calling for a referendum to be held in the Western Sahara with three options: full integration with Morocco, autonomy within a Moroccan State or independence. But Morocco has rejected every option for a vote, including the Baker Plan, which was put together by the former US Secretary of State when he was the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Western Sahara. James Baker left in 2004 in disgust after working at it for seven years and realizing that Morocco had no intention of agreeing to a vote. Another American, Christopher Ross, now occupies that post and recently held a series of talks in New York with Moroccan and Sahwari representatives.
In 2007, Morocco offered an Autonomy Plan that was rejected by Sahrawis, both those in the occupied territories and those in the refugee camps. The US, France and Spain support the Moroccan plan, which does not include a referendum, and even though human rights conditions in the occupied territory continue to worsen. According to human rights monitors, King Mohamed VI, Hassan’s son, rules in the Western Sahara with an iron fist, and any expressions of dissidence are brutally repressed.
Haidar’s protest has mobilized thousands of people in Spain, where social movements have supported the Sahrawi cause for decades. Yesterday, a group of Spanish writers, artists, actors and film directors, including three Nobel Prize recipients and headed by Oscar-winning Pedro Almodóvar, urged the King of Spain to intervene on behalf of Haidar. King Juan Carlos is known to be a close friend of the King Mohamed VI, who is personally responsible for the decision to deport Haidar. However, the Spanish King said yesterday that although he is willing to step in, he has been told by the Spanish president, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, that the government wants to handle the matter.
Another group of artists and intellectuals in the UK, including director Ken Loach and music producer Brian Eno, yesterday sent Gordon Brown a letter urging him to intervene.
Supporters of Haidar urge the public to press Hillary Clinton to resolve the issue. Among the actions that people can take is to write a letter to the Secretary of State asking her to pressure Morocco to readmit Haidar with no conditions. A template of a letter is available at Amnesty USA’s Website:
Amnesty also has an urgent action appeal on Aminatou Haidar:
Thursday, December 10th
MADRID– On International Human Rights Day and as President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatu Haidar said today that if the US President asked Morocco to allow her to return to her home in the occupied Western Sahara, “the Moroccan authorities would yield.”
On her 25th day of a hunger strike, Haidar gathered her strength to make a brief statement to the awaiting press outside the small room where she now spends most of her time, on the ground floor of Lanzarote airport, in the Canary Islands. She had to be carried to her wheelchair by an assistant, but her voice was firm as she spoke.
“In this, International Human Rights Day, Spain and Morocco must respect these rights above other interests,” said Haidar. She added that the appeal her children had sent on her behalf “has made me stronger” and that her wish now is “to hug them and live with them and with my mother, but with dignity.”
Asked yesterday by a reporter what she thought would happen to her, Haidar responded that “I will return to Layounne — dead or alive, but I will go home.”
Morocco has initiated an intense lobbying campaign to explain its side of the story. A high-level delegation, including Morocco’s Minister of Justice, flew to Spain to meet with government officials and political leaders. The Moroccans repeated their mantra to anyone who would listen: that Spain and Morocco are mere victims of a “problem created by Aminatu Haidar” and that she chose to renounce her Moroccan citizenship when she declared in an immigration form that she was a citizen of the Western Sahara. Rabat has also activated its network of mosques and imams in Spain to defend its position and attack Algeria, a supporter of self-determination for the Western Sahara whom it accuses of setting up the diplomatic incident.
Meanwhile, scores of demonstrations were held across Spain to demand that Haidar be flown back to her home in Layounne before it is too late. Students gathered on college campuses with photographs of Haidar and her children, cities across Spain turned off their Christmas lighting in protest, and a large group of actors, film directors and writers signed a letter addressed to the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, a personal friend of the King of Morocco, asking him to intervene in the crisis. Hundreds also protested today outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry.
Haidar has received the support of the Portuguese Parliament and of the government of South Africa. Numerous personalities, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, film directors Ken Loach and Pedro Almodovar and Nobel Literature winner Jose Saramago have also launched appeals on her behalf.
In the United States, conservative Republican Senator James Inhoffe from Oklahoma has added his voice to the many in Congress who are asking the Obama administration to intervene on behalf of Haidar.
Wednesday, December 9
Ever since his mother began a hunger strike 24 days ago in a Spanish airport terminal demanding that she be allowed to return home to her family, Sahrawi activist Aminatu Haidar’s youngest son, Mohammed, awakens every night to ask if his mother is still alive. On Tuesday, the 13 year-old and his sister Hayat, 15, sent an urgent appeal to “all the children and the mothers in the world” to help “our mom return to our side so we can live in peace.”
“We plead with all the children and mothers in the world to support our mom,” the handwritten letter says. “We are pained to learn the bad news that our dear mother has decided not to take her medicines, and this is dangerous for her.” The letter ends with an anguished plea to “avoid the tragedy, which would affect us very negatively both physically and psychologically.”
Shuttered in the family home in Layounne, in the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, and surrounded by armed police, Haidar’s children speak with their mother every day by telephone. Haidar’s supporters, who remain with her at the Lanzarote airport, say that she is especially concerned for her youngest, Mohammed. After she speaks with him, Haidar “appears depressed,” according to those closest to her.
Haidar’s family has tried to speak with reporters but Moroccan police refuse to let journalists into the home, nor do they allow family members to meet with the press. Haidar’s partner, Bachid, did manage to tell a Spanish reporter that the family “respects Aminatu’s will and struggle.” The police is also impeding Sahrawis in the occupied territories from demonstrating publicly in support of Haidar or for a vote on self-determination. Local human rights organizations have denounced that since the incident began, several people have been arrested and beaten for demonstrating peacefully.
As the Spanish government weighs whether to take her to a hospital and force-feed her, Haidar has warned that she will accuse the government of kidnapping if she is forced into a hospital against her will. She has signed a notarized document rejecting all medical help and dismissed her personal doctor because he had been forced by a judge to submit confidential medical records. A Spanish high judge said today that Haidar’s will must be respected “while she is conscious,” but if and when she slips into unconsciousness, the State might be able to legally intervene.
Haidar’s health is worsening. Today she tried to hold a press briefing but had to cancel because she was too weak. Since she began her fast, she has only taken water with a few spoonfuls of sugar.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay yesterday called on Morocco to allow Haidar to return to “her country.”
Tuesday, December 8
After Morocco threatened over the weekend to end its collaboration with Spain in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal immigration, the Spanish government has backed down on the diplomatic confrontation it has held with Rabat over the deportation of Sahrawi human rights activist Aminatu Haidar to the Canary Islands. Instead, it has begun a different confrontation, this time with Haidar herself.
A judge, accompanied by a team of doctors and several armed police, charged into the Lanzarote airport terminal Saturday evening where she has been protesting peacefully and demanded to physically examine her in order to determine whether she needs to be force-fed.
Haidar, who today enters her 23rd day of hunger strike with her life hanging on a thread, accused the Spanish government of engaging in “Moroccan tactics” and assured the judge that she did not want medical treatment. “My beliefs are not for sale,” she said. “I will continue with this protest until I am allowed to return home.” Spain has force-fed hunger strikers in the past but only those in custody, and there is no legal precedent here to force-feeding non-prisoners against their will. After pushing Haidar´s supporters out of the room where she now spends most of her time and conducting a brief check-up, the team left the airport.
Haidar also decided to forgo regular medical check-ups by her personal doctor after the judge ordered him to turn over confidential medical reports.
In a plea to Spanish authorities and the international community, Haidar asked for international protection for her family, who remains under siege in the occupied Western Sahara. Haidar´s mother is at the family home, while her two teenage children are at the home of another renowned human rights activist. Both houses are surrounded by police, who prevent anyone from entering.
“Police harassment of Aminatu´s family reflects the increasing aggression being directed by Morocco against her,” said Spanish actor Willie Toledo, who remains at Haidar´s side in Lanzarote airport.
The Spanish government has withdrawn the request it made Friday to Rabat to fly Haidar to the Western Sahara on a government airplane. Hundreds of people protested yesterday outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry. They asked the Spanish government to put Haidar on a commercial plane to Layounne, her hometown, and to begin diplomatic efforts to resolve the 35-year military occupation by Morocco of the Western Sahara.
But the Spanish government does not want a face-off with Morocco, which they consider of strategic interest both politically and commercially. “Morocco is not hundreds of kilometers away, but only 14,” stated a government official.
Moroccan representative are due to meet today with EU officials over the terms of the preferred commercial status Morocco has been granted by Europe. Haidar´s supporters have asked for the meeting to be suspended until Morocco allows her to return. Efforts also continue at the United Nations to find a solution. In the United States, Senators Patrick Leahy and Russ Feingold, as well as several other members of Congress, have demanded Morocco allow Haidar back home and have asked the Obama administration to help resolve the crisis.
Sunday, December 7 at 4:41 a.m. EST
Aminatu Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights activist entering her 21st day of hunger strike, may not have more than a few more days — or even hours — to live, according to the doctor who is monitoring her health, Lanzarote Hospital director Domingo de Guzmán Pérez Hernández. Her blood pressure is fluctuating dangerously, and she suffers from a number of other life-threatening ailments due to her hunger strike and the sequels of abuse and torture in a Moroccan prison. Hernandez said today that Haidar´s health is uncertain, and that she could require hospitalization at any time. But Haidar, who has vowed to persist “to the end” if Morocco does not allow her to return home, has asked doctors not to medicate her or revive her should she need intravenous fluids or hospitalization.
Spain has reapplied for flight and landing permits from Moroccan authorities to fly Haidar home to Layounne, a city in the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco since 1975. On Friday night, a Spanish medicalized airplane carrying Haidar and high-ranking government officials, was refused entry into the Western Sahara when it was preparing for take-off from the Canary Islands. Spanish officials and Haidur´s supporters fear that Morocco could protract the crisis until it is too late to save Haidar´s life.
Haidar is very frail but upbeat, flashing signs of victory to her friends and supporters who are camping out with her at the Lanzarote airport.
Saturday, December 6 at 2:30 a.m. EST
Aminatu Haidar today enters her twentieth day of hunger strike, frustrated but determined. After Morocco last night backpedalled on an agreement to let a Spanish airplane carrying her and Spanish government officials to land in Layounne, in the occupied Western Sahara, the human rights activist was transported on a gurney back to the airport terminal in Lanzarote (Canary Islands), where her disappointed supporters awaited her.
The Moroccan government has not officially explained why it decided to rescind on the landing permission, which was granted at 6pm local time. At first, authorities said that Spain had not given a 24-hour notice on its landing request, which was sent through diplomatic channels rather than directly to airport authorities. But many speculate that the real reason was that the Moroccan King, Mohammed I, was angered at what appeared to be a victory for Haidar and the Sahrawi pro-independence movement.
Haidar has told supporters that she will not give up her hunger strike until she sets foot in her homeland. Yesterday, UN top officials, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay had been involved in the negotiations with Morocco and Spain to return Haidar to Layounne, and will continue to do so over the weekend.
Haidar’s health is rapidly deteriorating. She now slides in and out of consciousness and is too weak to stand, or often to sit up. After three weeks of hunger strike, the body begins to mine vital organs, as well as bone marrow. Haidar’s health was already fragile due to years of torture and mistreatment in Moroccan jails, and a prior hunger strike that lasted 40 days.
Supporters are asking people to take action by sending urgent action appeals. One, directed to the UN, is available at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights). Amnesty International USA is asking people to send letters to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Templates can be found here
Friday, December 5 at 4:33 p.m. EST
The government of Morocco is apparently saying that Spain did not give enough notice about the flight. Spain denies this and says that it advised Morocco about the flight earlier today. Spain will re-submit flight and landing requests, but the outcome is uncertain. As she boarded the plane to cheers from her supporters, Aminatu stated that “I may be going home, or I may be going to jail. But I thank the Spanish government for finally flying me home.” Aminatu’s supporters were shocked to learn minutes later that the airplane would not be leaving Lanzarote. The situation has produced a grave diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco.
Friday, December 5 at 3:08 p.m. EST
Morocco will not let the Spanish government plane that Aminatu Haidar is on land in Layounne. She will thus not abandon her hunger strike. She is on the plane but it looks like she will have to return to the airport in Lanzarote.
Friday, December 5 at 2:59 p.m. EST
After 19 days on a hunger strike to protest her deportation from the Western Sahara by Morocco to the Spanish Canary Islands, renowned human rights activist Aminatu Haidar was flown Friday evening to Layounne, her hometown, on a Spanish government airplane. Moroccan authorities confiscated Haidar’s passport and deported her as she returned from New York City after stating on an entry form that she was a citizen of the Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco has occupied since 1975. Thousands of Spaniards, including Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem and director Pedro Almodovar, mobilized to pressure Spain to allow Haidar to return. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and other members of the US Congress also urged the Obama administration to intervene in the case. Haidar was accompanied on the plane by a doctor and a Spanish government official.