I know not many people will care about Western Sahara……but that does not matter…..why? Because I care………
After I finished my studies in International relations I applied for a job with the UN in Tunisia….I did not get it but I did get an offer from a Spanish newspaper…..which I accepted and that allowed me to travel in North Africa and the Middle East…..the area of my studies…..and while I was working in Morocco I worked on a piece about a disputed area called Western Sahara (I have written about this area in the past….in case one is interested)…….and I got the chance to visit the area and got to know several people within the freedom movement and the people, the Sahrawis…..a great, generous and passionate people. Since Spain pulled out in 1974 the land has been claimed by Mauritania and Morocco, who has possession today….but the freedom movement has continued and the US is siding with Morocco, who has promised limited self rule for the area……
Morocco then fought a war against an indigenous Sahrawi group of fighters, the Frente Polisario, which ended in 1991 when the UN brokered a ceasefire and pledged to hold an independence referendum within six months.
The referendum has still not been held. Morocco retains control of Western Sahara and its lucrative phosphate and fishing resources. The country is now the last United Nations-designated “non-self-governing territory” in Africa, and is home to between 100,000 and 140,000 Moroccan military personnel (despite a total population of just 500,000).
Morocco’s reigning King Muhammad VI has said that “the issue of our Saharan provinces is central” in order “to complete our territorial integrity”.
In April, Amnesty International reported that: “Sahrawis advocating self-determination for the people of Western Sahara remained subject to restrictions on their freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and leading activists continued to face prosecution.”
Despite the danger of documenting unrest - anyone caught filming or taking pictures of protests in Western Sahara faces punishment, and usually the destruction of the camera equipment – Coordination Gdeim Izik say they have video evidence of the attacks on their protests.
In one video seen by this reporter, a 55-year-old woman is savagely beaten and kicked to the floor by two riot policemen; in another, uniformed military personnel beat a young girl so severely she had to be hospitalised, according to her friends. A senior member of the group, Sidi Muhammad Ramadiy, pointed to the screen and said: “This is human rights for Morocco.”
The group’s de facto leader, Lahib Salhi, said: “We live here always under the eyes, and under the clubs of the Moroccans. The world must do what it promised to do when the UN first came: hold the referendum, and give us the chance to live as we wish to live.”
Many Sahrawis in fact blame the international community. “The Moroccans make the claim on our land because they can, because they are strong and because they are supported by France, the United States, and Britain,” said Salhi. “But they know the claim is false. The Mauritanians once claimed Western Sahara for themselves. Where are they now? How much longer will the world permit this injustice?”
What happened to the US and their support for democracy and freedom?