Sahrawi activist returned to Laayoune last night

After voluntarily checking herself into the hospital on Thursday morning, Haidar was allowed to return home to Laayoune in the Western Sahara Thursday evening.

The BBC reported Today that “It now appears that frantic multi-country talks were under way to seek a resolution … [but ] details of how a deal was finally reached were not known … The Spanish foreign ministry said only that it was the result of a co-ordinated effort between Spain, France and the US to persuade Morocco that it would be ‘preferable’ to allow Mrs Haidar back to Western Sahara. A spokesperson told the BBC no conditions were attached and Spain had issued ‘salvoconducto‘ (safe-conduct) documents to make travel possible …The independence activist launched her very public protest after the Moroccan authorities confiscated her passport and denied her entry to Laayoune, in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. She had refused to declare her nationality as Moroccan on an official form – as usual – but this time she was expelled from the territory”.

The Financial Times reported that Morocco relented, after international diplomacy went into high gear. Unfortunately, as so often happens when diplomacy goes into high gear, it was at the expense of a political concession: “Earlier this week, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, called for accelerated negotiations to help save Ms Haidar’s life. Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, helped broker a deal with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to allow Ms Haidar’s return. As part of the agreement, both France and Spain – Morocco’s most important European allies – have issued conciliatory official statements recognising the de facto application of Moroccan law in the Western Sahara until the conflict is resolved. Human rights activists believe that western governments are cynically ignoring the legitimate demands of Sahrawis to protect their commercial and strategic interests (which include countering the influence of both China and al-Qaeda in Africa) through their relations with Morocco”.

The FT said that “Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who advises on international affairs and admires Ms Haidar, has blamed Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, for inadvertently encouraging the Moroccan authorities to crack down on Sahrawi activists when she praised the country’s human rights record and its plans for the Western Sahara in an interview before her recent visit to Morocco … Mr Ross, who advises Polisario, said in an e-mailed message to the media on Thursday shortly before Ms Haidar returned home to El Ayoun that her plight was ‘the real price of the EU’s cosying-up to Morocco, including negotiating an enhanced partnership with the EU, and paying Morocco for EU boats illegally to fish the Western Saharan waters’.”

As the FT explained: “Morocco annexed the Western Sahara as Spain abandoned it in 1975, and the territory is sometimes called Africa’s last remaining colony. The Polisario Front, based in neighbouring Algeria, waged a guerrilla war for independence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire deal that provided for a referendum. But the vote has yet to be held and Morocco says that the most it will grant is autonomy … According to Mr Ross, seven other Sahrawi activists face military trials for treason and could be sentenced to death if found guilty”. This FT story can be read in full here.

In an interesting article signed by AHMED T.B., showing artful reporting combining praise and constructive criticism (plus, of course the facts) in an difficult and tendentious atmosphere, posted on the MoroccoBoard website, the author writes: “Morocco’s actions against Haider gave credence to her claims of abuse against the Sahrawi; claims that were partially discredited on account of the fact that she lived in Morocco and was free of her movement and expression. The United States, France, and the Arab governments (minus Algeria,) thus far, bask in a stolid insularity. Could Morocco have handled Haidar’s issue internally? Absolutely yes! She is, after all, Moroccan. The removal of a Moroccan’s citizenship is by Royal decree (there are exceptions and Haidar’s case is not one.) That authority is not delegated to the King’s prosecutor. The Moroccan legal system has established a set procedure to be adhered to. A Moroccan cannot just surrender her passport, and renounce her citizenship, nor should the government deprive a Moroccan of her citizenship without due process. If Aminatou Haidar decided to submit a request to the King to forfeit her Moroccan citizenship, and such request was approved, only then could she be handed over to MINURSO officials for transport to the refugee camps in Tindouf. The Aminatou Haider incident exposes the flaws of Morocco’s policies and the inefficiency of its security posture vis-à-vis its Southern Provinces. Perhaps emboldened by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expressed commitment to support Morocco’s agenda (after all, Christopher Ross is a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer,) Mohammed VI, in his speech commemorating the 34th anniversary of the “Green March,” delivered a stern message to the Sahrawis signaling that the democratic process afterglow had waned. The King presented the Sahrawi population with an ultimatum a la George W. Bush – ‘you are either patriots or traitors’. The execution of his directives was immediate. Security forces rounded up dozens of activists accusing them of providing material and/or ideological support to the Polisario Front; they reinforced their presence in southern cities and the routes connecting them. If Haider is indeed a subversive member of the Polisario, as Morocco’s Foreign Minister Taeib Fassi-Fihri claimed today in Brussels, the Moroccan authorities should have arrested her, presented their evidence, and tried her. Much like Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Dakja Lashgar, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek, all arrested on October 8th in Casablanca, Haider was known to Morocco’s intelligence services since 1987 when she was ‘disappeared’ for four years for joining a local underground pro-polisario support group. After the passing of Hassan II and seizing on the permissiveness of the transitional spirit that characterized Mohammed VI’s political outlook then, Haider overtly campaigned for the independence of ‘Western Sahara’. When riots broke out in El Aayoun in 2005, she was, once again, arrested and detained for seven months. Morocco’s counterintelligence office had an opportunity to launch an offensive intelligence operation to deny Algeria the initiative. Haider and other Sahrawi dissenters could have been recruited as sources considering their tremendous placement and access allowing them to answer some of Morocco’s priority intelligence requirements. Granted that they lacked the motivation to support what they regard as a colonizer, but the Moroccan government should have embraced them, involved them in the political process and provided them with a controlled venue to express their frustrations. From an intelligence perspective, Aminatou Haider is an utter failure. It is clear that Morocco’s strategy, as it stands, is counterintuitive. The King’s rigid approach will greatly compromise Morocco’s long-run political prospect and tax its security forces by driving the opposition underground forcing it to devise a stealth modus operandi and making it suitable for exploitation by foreign intelligence services and terrorist organizations. A calibrated strategy with depth and forethought would seek to foster an environment of debate and a culture of transparency that does not revolve around passionate rallies of mindless patriotism. Instead of threats, the government should bring arguments to the fore. Instead of echoing gauzy statements to cover up its mistakes, it should take responsibility”. This posting can be read in full
here. [Its website says that “Morocco Board News Service is the Moroccan American Community News source for American-North African Affairs. Its content is distributed to Moroccan Americans, to general market media and to a broad range of the general Public. The topics are not usually covered by the English language media. MoroccoBoard reaches a new audience with a new focus. It is a podium for different voices and opinions; it sheds the light on America’s relation with Morocco and North Africa“.]

Spanish FM to Sahrawi hunger striker who may be on verge of death: "Abandon hunger strike"

I guess she (Aminatou Haidar) hadn’t thought of this herself …

Aminatou Haidar photo on Amnesty International webste

Aminatou Haidar


(1) According to a report from AFP on 21 November, “Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar has declined an offer by Madrid to grant her refugee status following her expulsion from the territory by Morocco, a representative said Saturday … Haidar is at the airport on the island of Lanzarote [n.b. the Spanish-ruled Canary Islands] demanding to be sent back to the Western Sahara capital of Laayoune to recover her passport confiscated by Moroccan authorities last week. ‘The government is ready, if Ms Haidar asks, to grant her refugee status as soon as possible and provide her with all the necessary documents (so she can travel)’, the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement Friday. The ministry said it would act if the Moroccan consulate in Spain turns down her request for a new passport. But Haidar refuses to apply to the consulate, saying she wants her old passport back. Morocco’s ambassador to Spain, Omar Azziman, said she could receive her passport back if she recognized her Moroccan nationality. ‘Perhaps if Aminatou Haidar recognized her Moroccan nationality, her passport would be returned. At the moment it is impossible’, he told reporters. ‘It is not Spain or Morocco that has a problem, it is she, and the solution therefore is in her hand’s. Moroccan authorities arrested Haidar on November 13 on her arrival in Laayoune from Spain’s Canary Islands. Immigration officials immediately sent her back to the archipelago after confiscating her passport. She used her Spanish residency permit to re-enter the country. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that in the face of Haidar’s refusal there was nothing more he could do, adding that he had already expressed his concern about her case Thursday in a meeting with his Moroccan counterpart Taieb Fassi Fihri…” This report can be read in full here.
(2) Then, on 6 December, AFP reported that “The health of Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar is deteriorating as she ends her third week on hunger strike to demand Morocco allow her to return home, one of her aides said Sunday. ‘She is going through a dangerous period’, Fernando Peraita, the spokesman for Haidar’s support group said at the airport in Lanzarote, in Spain’s Canary Islands, where the award-winning human rights activist is staging her hunger strike. ‘The danger comes from the fact her mental state make her seems better than she really is. She is suffering from dizziness and loss of vision. She spent a bad night, in pain’. A doctor attending to her, Domingo de Guzman Perez Hernandez, told the El Pais newspaper her life is now threatened. ‘Her time is coming to an end. We’re not talking in terms of weeks but in hours or days’, he said. The 42-year-old went on hunger strike on November 16, three days after Moroccan authorities denied her entry into her native Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco in 1975, allegedly confiscated her passport, and sent her back to Lanzarote. The mother-of-two, who campaigns for the independence of the Western Sahara from Morocco, has camped at the Lanzarote airport to draw attention to her cause … On Saturday, Moroccan authorities again refused to allow her to return to Laayoune.  Peraita said Haidar is also appealing to the international community for protection for her family in Western Sahara.  He said Spanish journalists seeking to interview her two sons, aged 13 and 16, were prevented from entering the house by Moroccan police. Haidar, visibly weak, remained Sunday in a small room of the airport, only emerging in a wheelchair to go the toilets accompanied by a member of her entourage … Spain had offered to give Haidar refugee status or Spanish citizenship so she could be allowed to return home but she rejected both options on the grounds that she did not want to become ‘a foreigner in her own home’. Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said last week that Haidar had ‘disowned her identity and her nationality’ and ‘must accept, on her own, the legal and moral consequences which result from this behaviour’ … Haidar won the Robert Kennedy human rights prize in 2008 as well as several other awards for her activism on behalf of Western Sahara” … This AFP report can be read in full here.
(3) That was over a week ago… Today is the 30th day of her hunger strike, as an article published yesterday by The Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section [written by Brian Eno and Stefan Simanowitz, who is Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network] states: “…the director of Lanzarote hospital, Domingo de Guzmán, has … [listed] her symptoms as hypotension, nausea, anaemia, muscular-skeletal atrophy and gastric haemorrhaging, [and] Dr Guzman believes she is nearing an irreversible deterioration that could result in her death even if she were to abandon the hunger strike. But abandoning her strike is not something Haidar, a human rights activist nominated for the Nobel peace prize, will countenance unless her single demand – to be allowed to return to her country – is met.  Haidar has been on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport since being deported there from her home in Western Sahara on 15 November.  Two days earlier she had flown back to Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, from New York, where she had picked up the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage human rights award. On her arrival in Laayoune she wrote her address on her landing card as being in ‘Western Sahara’ rather than ‘Morocco’.  As a Saharawi, she has never recognised Moroccan sovereignty over her native land which has been occupied by Morocco in breach of international law for over 34 years. In the past Morocco has chosen to overlook her numerous ‘landing card protests’, but on this occasion she was interrogated, stripped of her passport and expelled to the volcanic Canary Island which lies less than 80 miles off the African coast.  Spain offered to give Haidar refugee status or Spanish citizenship so she could be allowed to return home, but she rejected both options on the grounds that she did not want to become ‘a foreigner in her own land’.  According to Human Rights Watch, her forced expulsion breached Article 12 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Morocco, which makes it clear that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter their own country. In addition, by preventing her return to Western Sahara, Spanish authorities may have breached both Spanish national law and Article 2 of Protocol 4 of the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Article 12 (2) of the ICCPR also stipulates that everyone shall be free to leave any country.  On 4 December, perhaps after having been made aware of the legal situation, Spain laid on a private aircraft to carry Haidar back to Laayoune. As she boarded the plane with Agustin Santos, of the Spanish foreign ministry, it seemed as if Haidar had won a significant victory. However, celebrations among Saharawis and campaigners around the world were short-lived when it emerged that the Spanish had not received any agreement from Morocco to allow her return. In a hastily organised press conference held soon after tearful supporters had watched Haidar being stretchered back into the airport terminal, Santos claimed that Spain had attempted ‘to facilitate the exercise of her right to return to her country’ and could do no more” … This article, which warns that Haidar could be on the verge of death, can be read in full here.]

Then, yesterday (Monday 14 December), Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington.  The two said to journalists after their meeting that among the subjects they discussed was the Western Sahara situation — particularly the situation of Aminatou Haidar:

QUESTION FROM A JOURNALIST (via the INTERPRETER): Sure. Mr. Minister, if we understood correctly, you discussed the issue of Sahara. Right now, there is a problem with a Western Sahara citizen that you were aware of. What type of cooperation did you ask from the United States over that issue? Also, last week, it was said that there is no intervention necessary right now from the king. At what point would the king’s intervention be necessary?

FOREIGN MINISTER MORATINOS: (Via interpreter) First of all, thank you for the question. I was expecting it. So yes, the Secretary of State and I did speak about the issue. We did speak about Mrs. Haidar’s situation concretely, as well as the problem overall in Western Sahara. And obviously, as two allies and two partners with interests in the regions, we must collaborate, we must cooperate, and we need to find a solution to the Haidar case, not through pressure of any kind that we’re applying, but by suggesting to her that her cause, which is a legitimate cause, does not require her to go on a hunger strike. We are all looking for a solution to the situation that has arisen from her expulsion from Laayoune, and we will continue to work in that direction and we will continue to work, moreover, to find a definitive solution to the situation in Western Sahara, where what we need is a new dynamic, a new engagement, not just there, but in North Africa as a whole. As you know, North Africa – events in North Africa have bearing throughout the international community. We have seen the example of the Sahel. We have seen al-Qaida operating in Maghreb. So the U.S. and Spain – it’s in their interest to work toward the betterment of the integration of that region. We would like to see a better relationship, a better understanding, between Algeria and Morocco. And we will continue, as I said, to work with the – also work toward an understanding with the Polisario Front so that the people of Western Sahara can have self-determination. But as far as Ms. Haidar, we think that we need to find a solution. She should abandon the hunger strike, but she should continue to strongly and firmly defend her cause so that we can better and improve the situation in Western Sahara. However, as far as your second question regarding the king, I would like to say that I feel that this is primarily the government’s responsibility. The king may or may not intervene, but I feel that it is, first of all, the government’s responsibility to act”…

Hilary didn’t say anything…

Further background:

(4) From an article about Aminatou Haidar’s situation that was published in the Christian Science Monitor in mid-November: “… Her crime? Leaving the citizenship line blank on her customs form, and writing Western Sahara – the disputed Moroccan territory where she lives – on the address line.  On Monday, Ms. Haidar declared a hunger strike and said she’ll carry out her fast ‘to the death’if authorities continue to bar her return home.  ‘s one of many risks she has taken in a 20-year campaign to win independence for the people of Western Sahara, a region Morocco annexed in 1975. Haidar’s perseverance was highlighted by the Train Foundation on Oct. 21, when it awarded her the Civil Courage Prize in New York. Among other trials, the foundation cited Haidar’s 1987 arrest, disappearance, and subsequent four-year prison sentence, along with another seven-month detention in 2005.  After receiving the award, whose previous winners include the late Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Haidar told reporters she still faced a constant risk of arrest in Morocco.  When Haidar came home to the Western Saharan city of Laayoune, police proved her right.   Speaking by phone from the Spanish-controlled Canary Islands airport to which she was deported, Haidar says that upon her arrival in Laayoune, she handed in her customs forms, putting ‘Western Sahara’ in the address section.  ‘I’ve always done it in the same way’, says Haidar.  But for the first time, Haidar says, police took issue with the address. Pointing [to her writing on the form] ‘Western Sahara’, Haidar says the officer told her, ‘This place doesn’t exist’.  Authorities then confiscated her Moroccan passport, she says, and after 24 hours of police questioning, a prosecutor ordered her expulsion.  When she got on the plane, Haidar says, ‘They didn’t even tell me where I was going’.  Morocco’s Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri said Haidar was deported after renouncing and willingly signing away her Moroccan citizenship.  ‘Members of Aminatou Haidar’s family talked to her and were present when she signed her statements in the presence of the public prosecutor, wherein she gave up her Moroccan citizenship’, Fihri said in a statement.  Haidar called this nonsense and criticized the Spanish government for cooperating with what she called Morocco’s ‘illegal expulsion’.  She said she stopped eating at 12 a.m. Sunday, in a bid to spur Spain to push for her return.  An official with Spain’s Foreign Ministry who declined to be named told the Monitor that officials are doing what they can to resolve the situation, but in the meantime Haidar has a valid Spanish residency card and can move about freely … In her visit to Marrakesh this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed Morocco’s proposal to keep hold of the territory while granting it limited autonomy – a solution the Polisario rejects.  Days after the Clinton visit, however, Moroccan King Mohammed VI took a hard and very public line against Saharawi activism.  ‘One is either a patriot or a traitor’, he said in a Nov. 6 speech commemorating the territory’s annexation.  ‘One cannot enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship, only to abuse them and conspire with the enemies of the homeland’.”  This can be read in full on the CSM website here.]