Monday, 14 December 2009

UPDATE: Nick Brooks has moved URLs

QUICK UPDATE:
Nick Brooks, the owner of the Sand & Dust blog and researcher at the University of East Anglia, has moved his main homepage to www.nickbrooks.org. Brooks' interdisciplinary research project in Western Sahara with the "aim to improve our understanding of past environmental, social and cultural change" can now be found at www.nickbrooks.org/WS/WSahara.htm.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

PRESS RELEASE: "PM given letter from hunger-striking..."

Press Release - 10th December 2009 IMMEDIATE
 

PM given letter from hunger-striking Nobel Peace Prize activist:
Lenny Henry joins MPs and campaigners in London

On the day the Barack Obama picked up his Nobel Peace Prize, last year's Peace Prize nominee, Aminatou Haidar, was on the on the 25th day of a hunger-strike at an airport in Lanzarote

Today a delegation of political and celebrity figures including actor Lenny Henry delivered a hand-signed letter to Gordon Brown from  Aminatou Haidar, who is protesting at her unlawful deportation to Lanzarote after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. In the letter she asks for the urgent support of the Labour government and the British people and says “my spirit remains strong but I feel my physical strength is fading fast”. Indeed, she is now unable to stand and the doctor who examined her this week listed her symptoms as hypotension, nausea, anaemia, muscular-skeletal atrophy and gastric haemorrhaging.

In her letter she asks that Britain bring pressure to bear on Morocco not just to allow her to return home in accordance with her rights under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but also to get them to accept a conflict solution that conforms with international law, namely:

  • a referendum on self determination for Western Sahara;
  • the cessation of the arrest and torture of human rights defenders; 
  • the freeing of all prisoners of conscience most notably the seven prominent human rights activists awaiting sentence from a military tribunal in Rabat which could include the death penalty.
Haidar writes:
“I would like to ask you and your government and the people of Britain for your urgent support. 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.”

A public letter of support was also be delivered to Mr Brown today, in which signatories -  including 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 – call on the government to act. The letter states that the hunger strike “is not about the individual right of one person to return to her home but about the collective right denied to the Saharawi people to live freely in their native land” and they pledge to do all they can to support her and the people of Western Sahara.”

Stefan Simanowitz, Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network who carried  the letter from Lanzarote, said today:
“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, said today:
“It is fitting that today, 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 bot
h in bringing justice for the people of Western Sahara and in ensuring Ms Haidar’s immediate return to her home.”

Delegates and signatories to the letter include:
Dr. Zola Skweyiya (South African High Commissioner), Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Terry Jones (actor & former Monty Python),Glenda Jackson MP, John Austin MP, David Drew MP, Peter Bottomley MP, John Grogan MP, Katy Clark MP, Paul Flynn MP, Mark Williams MP, Frank Cook MP, Martin Caton MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Dave Anderson MP, Lord Nigel Jones MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jill Evans MEP, Brian Eno (musician, composer, record producer), Mike Leigh (film director), Ken Loach (film director), Juliet Stevenson (actress), Dave Prentis (General Secretary, UNISON), Matt Wrack (General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union), Mick Shaw (President Fire Brigades Union), Gerry Morrisey (General Secretary of BECTU), Paul Laverty (screen writer),  Chrisopher Simpson (actor), John Pickard (actor), John Hilary (Executive Director, War on Want),  Jonathan Heawood, (Director, English PEN), Stefan Simanowitz (Chair, Free Western Sahara Network), Mark Leutchford (President, Western Sahara Campaign UK), Y.Lamine Baali (Polisario Front Chief UK representative), Danielle Smith (Director, Sandblast charity), Giles Foreman (Director, Caravanserai), John Gurr (Western Sahara Resource Watch), Nicola Quilter (actress)

Contact UK press office on 07799650791 or Lanzarote 0034 676634163 or 0034 633208682

NEWS: "Women on the Frontline for Human Rights" (Amnesty International)

Amnesty International released the following piece (Dec 10) on three wonderful women who endanger their own lives to stand up for human rights. To read the whole article, click HERE:
"Aminatou Haidar, Western Saharan human rights defender who has been on hunger strike since 15 November to protest her expulsion from Laayoune in Western Sahara by the Moroccan authorities. She is currently stranded in Lanzarote airport in Spain’s Canary Islands.

"When I was 20 years old, I went through kidnapping and enforced disappearance. I spent about four years, having my eyes covered and without any trial…I went through different physical and psychological torture. After that, I was released and then I was subjected to continuous surveillance.

"In June 2005, I was tortured on the street; it caused me serious injury requiring (14 stitches and I had three broken ribs… I was again arrested based on a fake police report. I was tried and sentenced to seven months imprisonment that I spent in a prison called ‘Lakhal,’ prison in Laayoune.

"As women and mothers in Western Sahara, we are aware that we have a very difficult and important role; it is [to] educate our children to stick to the Sahrawi identity, Sahrawi culture and Sahrawi traditions. It is not an easy task and it is not a new issue. The Occupation is always trying to absorb the Sahrawi culture.

"It is very difficult for a Sahrawi woman, as a mentor to instil these values and at the same time be an activist outside of her home… It is hectic for a woman activist who works in the human rights field… The children are always very scared to loose their mother.

"This generation and the children [in Western Sahara] witness with their own eyes the police oppression… Just imagine many children instead of drawing toys; they draw a policeman with a gun and a stick beating people and people behind bars. I am scared that they will become violent and incite violence… because practicing violence, one day will incite violence.

"It is our role as human rights defenders to call for peace… but our means are very limited, we are not authorized even to organise workshops, trainings… Now it’s becoming more difficult…."

(Source: Amnesty International on December 10, 2009)

STATEMENT: Aminatou Haidar writes to Prime Minister Brown

Statement from Aminatou Haidar to Prime Minister Gordon Brown
10th December 2009


Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you from my bed in the terminal of Lanzarote airport on this the 25th day of my hunger strike in protest at my illegal expulsion from my home in Western Sahara on 14th November.  As I write, my spirit remains strong but I feel my physical strength is fading fast.
 
I would like to ask you and your government and the people of Great Britain for your urgent support. 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.
I call on the British government to do all in their power to bring pressure to bear on Morocco to accept a solution to this conflict that conforms with international law, namely:
  • to allow the United Nations to hold a referendum on self determination for Western Sahara;
  • to immediately desist from the arbitrary arrest, torture and ¨disappearing¨ of human rights defenders in occupied Western Sahara;
  • to free without delay the prisoners of conscience held in Moroccan jails, particularly the seven human rights activist who were arrested in Casablanca on 7th October and are awaiting a sentence in Sale / Rabat prison which could include the death penalty;
  • to allow me to travel home to my children in Laayoune, Western Sahara in accordance with Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Today, on International Human Rights Day, I hope the Britain together with the rest of the international community will not ignore our plight and will support our just struggle to bring an end to an unlawful occupation that has been allowed to continue for over three decades.

Yours,
Aminatou Haidar

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

NEWS: "Spanish Government Seeks to Force-Feed..."

Despite all efforts, nothing that we write and try to expresscan be as intimate and true as a comment of someone who has spent these crucial days with Haidar. Spotted on Democracy Now!, I personally find this article or report (in reverse chronological order) very interesting.
"Spanish Government Seeks to Force-Feed Western Sahara Human Rights Activist Aminatou Haidar
Updated on Tuesday, [December 8, 2009] at 3:19 a.m.

Last week Democracy Now! covered the story of thje Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar. She has been on a hunger strike for three weeks since being deported against her will by Moroccan authorities occupying her homeland. Haidar, known as the “Sahrawi Gandhi,” was at the airport on the Canary Islands up until Friday.

María Carrión, a Madrid-based journalist and human rights activist, has been sending Democracy Now! updates about what is happening with Aminatou Haidar.

Tuesday at 3:19 a.m. EST
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 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 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 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 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 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."

(Source: Democracy Now! on December 8, 2009)

URGENT ACTION: Allow human rights defender to return home (Amnesty International)

"The Moroccan authorities confiscated Sahrawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar’s passport on 13 November and expelled her from the country the following day, leaving her stranded in Lanzarote Airport, in Spain’s Canary Islands. She has been on hunger strike since 15 November in protest.
Aminatou Haidar, who is 42 and has two children, was detained at Laayoune airport, Western Sahara on 13 November when she returned from a month-long trip, to countries including the USA, where she accepted the 2009 Civil Courage Prize, which is awarded every year "for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk." She was questioned about why she had given her home as "Western Sahara" rather than "Moroccan Sahara" on her landing card; she was also asked about her travel, as well as her political opinions and affiliations. Her Moroccan passport and identity card were then confiscated and she was detained in the airport overnight. She said that on 14 November officials offered to release her in return for a public acknowledgement of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. She refused to do so, and a few hours later she was put on a flight to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands.

Aminatou Haidar has been on hunger strike since 15 November in protest. According to her family, she has grown quite weak; her health is at particular risk because she suffers from anaemia and a stomach ulcer. She is refusing to take her regular ulcer medication, as part of her hunger strike. Aminatou Haidar has rejected the possibility of obtaining refugee status in Spain, insisting on her right to return to Western Sahara. Without travel documents, Aminatou Haidar is effectively confined to Lanzarote. Her situation is further complicated by the fact that neither she, nor her family, can access her bank account. A source who has asked to remain anonymous has told her family that a high-ranking security agent instructed the bank to block her account.

Amnesty International believes that Aminatou Haidar’s expulsion and confiscation of her Moroccan identification document and passport are politically motivated and that she is being punished because of her stance on Western Sahara’s self-determination.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Arabic, French, English or your own language:
Calling on the authorities to return Aminatou Haidar’s passport and identity card, and allow her to return to Western Sahara immediately and unconditionally;
Urging them to ensure that Aminatou Haidar’s access to her bank account is not blocked by the security forces.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 15 JANUARY 2010 TO:
King
Mohammed VI
Bureau de Sa Majesté le Roi
Palais Royal
Rabat, Maroc / Morocco        
Fax: +212 537 73 07 72
Salutation: Your Majesty

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
Taieb El Fassi Fihri
Ministre des Affaires Etrangères et de la Coopération
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt
Rabat, Maroc / Morocco        
Fax: +212 537 76 46 79
Email: mail@maec.gov.ma
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:
President
Ahmed Herzenni
Human Rights Advisory Board        
Place Ach-Chouhada
Boîte Postale 1341
Rabat 10000, Maroc / Morocco        
Fax: +212 537 72 68 56
Email: ccdh@ccdh.org.ma
Salutation: Dear Mr Herzenni
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

Additional Information

For many years, Aminatou Haidar, President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (Collectif des défenseurs sahraouis des droits de l’Homme, CODESA), has played a leading role in a number of campaigns organized for the release of Sahrawi prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, and in raising local and international awareness of human rights violations in Western Sahara. On 20 October she accepted the Civil Courage Prize, which includes an award of US$50,000, from the Train Foundation in New York City. In a telephone interview with Amnesty International on 3 December, Aminatou Haidar said: "I am determined to continue my struggle to defend human rights peacefully… This generation and children [in Western Sahara] witness with their own eyes the police oppression… Just imagine, many children, instead of drawing toys, they draw a policeman with a gun and a stick beating people... I am scared that they will become violent and incite violence."

A mother of two, Aminatou Haidar was secretly detained, without charge or trial, from 1987 to 1991. In 2005, she was sentenced to seven months in prison after an unfair trial, on charges arising from her alleged involvement in protests in Western Sahara. Before her arrest, she required hospital treatment for injuries she sustained when she was apparently assaulted by the security forces while she was on her way to join a demonstration in Laayoune.

The Moroccan authorities have little toleration for people who speak out in favour of self-determination for Western Sahara, which was Spanish territory until Morocco annexed it in 1975. They appear to be adopting an increasingly repressive approach to the activities of Sahrawi human rights defenders, in breach of their obligations under international human rights treaties, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and contrary to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Western Sahara is the subject of a territorial dispute between Morocco, which claims sovereignty, and the Polisario Front, which calls for an independent state in the territory and has set up a self-proclaimed government-in-exile in refugee camps in south-western Algeria."


(Content provided by Amnesty International through action mailing list on 04/12/09)

Monday, 7 December 2009

ACTION: Ken Loach and Paul Laverty on Aminatou Haidar and Rosa Park

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty have long supported the peaceful Saharawi resistance to their Moroccan occupiers. They released the following statement on December 1, 2009 to the UK campaigners for Saharawi self-determination, namely the Western Sahara Campaign, the Free Western Sahara Network and Sandblast.

Statement concerning Saharawi human rights activists Aminatou Haidar (Dec 1, 2009) 
Haidar's boarding card and Rosa Parks' seat
On December 1, 1955 in Montgommery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver and give up her seat to a white passenger. On Friday, November 13, 2009, Aminatou Haidar refused to fill out her boarding card as instructed by the authorities in Laayoun (where she lives) in Morocco controlled Western Sahara.

Now, with growing horror, we watch the plight of Aminatou Haidar, mother of two small children, continue her hunger strike in Lanzarote Airport. Haidar, a life-long human rights activists for the Saharawi people, was thrown out of Morocco controlled Western Sahara by the authorities because she filled out her boarding card, (on her return from picking up a human rights award in the UK), with the words "Western Sahara" instead of Morocco. The Moroccan authorities said she had thereby waived her Moroccan citizenship, confiscated her passport, and then dumped her on a flight without any papers to Lanzarote against her willl, all of which breaks Article 12 of the International Convenant of Civil and Political Rights, which states "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country".

At the heart of this dispute is Morocco's refusal to allow the Saharawi people the right to a referendum on self-determination following Spain giving up its colony in 1975. The United Nations and the international community, do not recognise de jure Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, but at the same time they keep silent while hundreds of thousands of Saharawis still languish in desert refugee camps for now over 34 years. In recent weeks Moroccan oppression against human rights activists has increased following King Mohammed VI vulgar George Bush-like speech when he said "...either a person is a Moroccan or is not... On is either patriot or a traitor. There is no half-way house...". Haidar and her arrested colleagues inside Morocco controlled Western Sahara are supporters of a non-violent solution to this long-standing problem. It is about time the International Community and especially Spain, whose silence over the year has been shameful, put pressure on Morocco to allow a fair and free democratic referendum, or once against must we see how mineral rights (massive phosphate deposits( and economic interests take precedence over human rights. It is perhaps wishful thinking to imagine that Haidar's boarding card could be equivalent to Rosa Parks not giving up her seat. But we live in hope and send our solidarity to this remarkable woman who, despite being "disappeared" for 4 years and tortured by the MOroccan authorities still has the courage to resist. But what a tragedy it would be for non-violent resistance, and to the possibility of a peaceful solution, if she is left to die.

We urge the Spanish government ot ensure the safe return of Aminatou to her homeland immediately.

Paul Laverty and Ken Loach.

ARTS: Finally, Florie's product design projects

Spotted on MA Design Suite.com:

Florie Salno[t], Contribute to Saharawis empowerment through product design
December 4, 2009 


We are calling charity’s to get in touch. We are offering our exchange program as a  tool for research and generation of new ways and strategies within the creative industry but also the social layers of life and environment.

Contribute to Saharawis empowerment through product design.

Two years ago we invited Danielle Smith of Sandblast Arts charity (http://www.sandblast-arts.org) to visit us and launch a brief. This was part of our ‘export London’ mission. We are offering our program as a research and aid platform for non developed regions and sectors. This is coming from the belief in culture as a reviver and a generator.

A year later, Florie (one of our students working on this brief) together with Sandblast Arts travelled to the Sahara desert where the Saharawis refugees camps are…

‘To design a way to empower the Saharawis to produce some objects by utilizing the resources available in the camps.

The two aims:
-To enable the Saharawis to express themselves, their culture and identity which have been threatened by years of conflict with Morroco.
-Enable the Sahrarwis to generate an income.

For this project, I have developed:
-A technique to recycle plastic bottles
-Some tools
-Some samples of possible outcomes

Then, I gave shape to it by organising a workshop in the Saharawi refugee camp of Dakhla (Algerian desert), in April 2009.’

Read more from Florie Salno[t] and the Saharawis project outcome please visit http://floriesalnot-saharawis.blogspot.com/2009/04/personal-outcomes.html

NEWS: Nobel Peace Price nominee Haidar on hungerstrike


Frequently referred to as the Saharawi Gandhi, Haidar has now commenced the third week (Update 7/12/9: day 21) of her hunger strike at the Lanzarote airport. 

On Friday, December 5, Spanish authorities informed Haidar that she could return to Morocco and travel without her passport. Moroccan authorities, however, refused to allow the plane meant to take her home to leave on grounds of "technical difficulties". Read THIS to learn about what happened from a Spanish supporter.


For your information
Haidar was expelled from her homeland of Western Sahara after returning there from the US where she received the latest in a series ofawards from the Train Foundation, for her tireless and peaceful human rights advocacy work. Mother-of-two Haidar is in a critical condition and is unable to stand or speak. The Moroccan authorities expelled her on the grounds that she insisted on affirming her Saharawi identity and did not state she was a Moroccan national living int he Moroccan Sahara on her landing card. 

The prime minister of East Timor, Jose Ramos Hortas, Jose Saramago, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, the Oscar winning actor Javier Bardem have all expressed their solidarity and outrage.

Update (7/12/9):
Observer: Morocco-Spain hunger strike deal (Dec 6)

WSahara.org.uk: Amnesty launch URGENT ACTION in support of Aminatou Haidar (Dec 6)

Wsahara.org.uk: Wave of abuse against Saharawi human rights activists (Dec 5)

Barcelona Reporter: "Hunger-striking Nobel Prize nominee Aminatou Haidar in 'critical condition" (Dec 7) 
Alternet: "The Other Occupation: Western Sahara and the CAse of Aminatou Haidar" (Dec 5)


UPDATE (3/12/9):
BBC: Concert backs "Gandhi of Sahara'
Afrik.com: "British Parliament tables motion in support of Aminatou Haidar" (Dec 1)
Indybay: "Ailing Western Saharan Human Rights Activist Aminatou Haidar Demands Moroccan..."
CPJ: "Morocco silences the pens of its journalists"
The Independent: "Marooned at Lanzarote airport, the 'Gandhi of the Western Sahara'"

Amnesty: Morocco/Western Sahara: Expulsion of Human Rights Defender reflects growing intolerance 
Morning Star: MPs' dismay at removal of "African Gandhi" (Dec 1)

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

NEWS: "British Parliament tables motion in support of Aminatou Haidar"



"A cross-party group of British MP’s today tabled a Motion in Parliament expressing “dismay” at the expulsion of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Amainatou Haidar from Western Sahara. The Motion signed by parliamentarians from all three main political parties states that “this House condemns the escalating wave of human rights violations against Saharawi human rights activists..[and] is dismayed over the expulsion of prominent Saharawi human rights activist and winner of the 2009 Civil Courage Award Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara.”
Known has the "African Gandhi", Haidar had her passport confiscated by Moroccan authorities on her return from a trip abroad on 14th November. She was deported in unlawfully to the Canary Island of Lanzarote where she has been on hunger strike in the airport terminal for over two weeks.

Her deportation has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as her friends and supporters around the world including Nobel Laureates Jose Saramago and President Ramos-Horta, film director Pedro Almodovar and actor Javier Bardem. On 27th November the US State Department issued a statement: “The United States remains concerned about the health and well-being of Saharawi activist Aminatou Haidar, recipient of the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the Train Foundation’s 2009 Civil Courage Prize. We urge a speedy determination of her legal status and full respect for due process and human rights.”

Haidar, a life long human rights activist for the Saharawi people, was expelled from Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara because she put “Western Sahara” instead of "Morocco" on her landing card. The Morrocan authorities said she had thereby waived her Morrocan citizenship, confiscatd her passport, and then forced her onto a flight without any papers to Lanzarote against her will. Stefan Simanowitz of the global campaigning group, the Free Western Sahara Network, points out that Haider’s expulsion from Morocco and entry into Spain was a breach of international law. "Aminatou Haidar should not have been permitted to travel without a passport and should not have been allowed into Spanish Territory. Her deportation is in breach of Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which states “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

Today, campaigners announced their intention of sending a high level delegation to visit Ms Haidar in Lanzarote, and in an open letter, celebrities including film director Ken Loach and former Monty Python, Terry Jones called on the Moroccan government “to return Aminatou Haidar’s passport immediately and allow her to travel home to her country and to her two young children before it is too late."
 

'Aminatou Haidar is an inspirational figure who has devoted over two decades of her life fighting for a peaceful end to Morocco’s 34 year unlawful occupation of Western Sahara,” said Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Jeremy Corbyn MP. “We hope she will live to continue her struggle for many years to come.'"


Thursday, 26 November 2009

HIGHLIGHT: Saharawi poetry

Saharawi poetry is a highly evolved and sophisticated artform. Poets are held in high esteem and confirm a culture that has been built on deeply rich oral traditions. Historically, and still in the present, poetry has been the primary vehicle for transmitting the culture, collective memories and values of the desert nomadic Saharawis. Their poetic tradition is expressed in both classical Arabic and Hassaniya, their spoken language, and covers a complex range of styles and genres to express themes such as landscape, love, battles, religious praise and more. Spanish colonialism and the elevated numbers of Saharawis who have studied in Cuba, since exile began, have given rise to new generations of Saharawis who opt for Spanish over Arabic to express themselves.
 
The following poems are an example of this culture. For more poetry, visit the website.

Chejdan Mahmud

watercolour

I am one of those
two faced believers,
who fill up on whores
and eat in the name of God.
They gallop in the clouds
as if fed up of earth
and paint sirens
with the false smoke of eternity.
That?s it. As I say:
some cling
onto de belief that a devotee
is a walking poem.

acuarela

Yo soy de aquellos creyentes
que tienen doble cara,
se sacian de las putas
y comen en nombre de Dios.
Galopan en las nubes
cuan hartos de la tierra
y pintan sirenas
con el humo falso de la eternidad.
Esto es todo. Ya lo digo:
hay alguien que se aferra
a creer que un fiel
es un poema andante.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

NEWS: Saharawi activists stopped at airport - again!

There has been a lot of "development" in the occupied Western Sahara territory in the last few weeks. Detentions, disappearances, abuses and tortures are not unfamiliar to the Saharawi but they have presented a force and brutality that has previously been reported  during the war between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front from 1975 until 1992 (when UN peace-keeping initiative MINURSO was established).

These arrests and detentions of Saharawi human rights activists on grounds of "treason" have been considered as a direct reaction to the UN-led efforts last August, when representatives of Morocco and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic came together in Austria to commence peace talks to end the diplomatic stalemate. Van Loon reported only on Tuesday on afrik.com that the recent arrests in August of the Oxford 6, in September of the 7 Saharawi human rights activists in Casablanca, and most recently of Saharawi "Gandhi" Aminatou Haidar may be efforts on part of Morocco to scupper these negotations, but may very well backfire.

It may backfire, but in the meantime, Saharawis in Morocco are not safe. In August, Talk Together was trying to bring the youth of those peoples together that are in conflict with each other, such as Morocco and Western Sahara. Six bright Saharawi students were chosen to attend the programme but were stopped at the last minute when they were about to board the plane in Rabat to London. This encounter was followed by intimidations, detentions, abuse and torture.

The students that were soon to be known as the "Oxford Six" have since endured physical and emotional abuse up to a point that has become unbearable; a point that forced them to consider the unimaginable...to leave their family and friends behind..to leave their home country at the age of 19 and 20 to live in an unfamiliar country and culture with an unknown future as asylum-seekers.

And then this happened:
[T]wo young Sahrawi activists, Hayat Rguibi and Ngaya El-Haouassi, were prevented from traveling to Great Britain. They were detained at the Mohamed V airport in Casablanca this morning at 10:00 and interrogated by security services. Both said their passports and tickets to Great Britain were confiscated by Moroccan airport authorities. They claim to have received abusive treatment. Moroccan authorities are refusing to let them travel abroad.
(ASVDH, November 19, 2009)
I have difficulty expressing my shock, my sympathy, my outrage. I have difficulties to allow myself to imagine what they go through, what they have to endure, for fearing that it would grab me by the throat and strangle me. But we have to face and mention these injustices, make them known as oblivion and ignorance is our cruelest enemy.

Monday, 16 November 2009

STATEMENT: Morocco expels Saharawi "Gandhi" from Western Sahara

UK charity Sandblast condemns Morocco’s most recent act of human rights violations against the Saharawi people following the arrest and detention of leading human rights activist Aminatou Haidar on Friday, Nov 13, at the El Aaiun Airport in Western Sahara. Ms. Haidar was returning from a visit to the United States where she received the Civil Courage Prize from the Train Foundation in recognition of her peaceful advocacy for human rights of the Saharawi people. The Moroccan authorities subsequently expelled her to Lanzarote 24 hours later.
Since October 6, fifteen well-known human rights defenders from Western Sahara have been arrested, detained and interrogated. Seven of them, known as the Casablanca 7 are being tried in a military court for acts of treason after visiting their relatives in the Saharawi refugee camps in SW Algeria. These Saharawis have been targeted for speaking out against the repression of the Moroccan occupation in their homeland and advocating their self-determination rights as recognized by the UN charter and over a 100 UN resolutions. In August, the Moroccan authorities prevented six Saharawi youths from traveling to the UK to participate in the Oxford-based programme Talk Together, which promote dialogue between youth in areas of conflict.

Sandblast founder, Danielle Smith, who advocates the human rights of the Saharawi people through arts and culture, is calling upon the British government and civil society to take concrete actions to put pressure on the Kingdom of Morocco to end the violations it is committing against the Sahrawi people.
“It is no longer tolerable and hasn’t been for a long time for the international community to stand by silently while Morocco systematically violates the fundamental human rights of the Saharawi people to freedom of expression, association and movement”, Ms. Smith stresses.

She affirms that her charity is “seriously worried about the lack of any provisions to protect human rights by the UN peacekeeping forces in Western Sahara”. Ms Smith believes the abuses against the Saharawi civilians will escalate and become more violent following the speech of King Mohamed VI on November 6, which commemorated the 34th anniversary of the Green March. In it the king unambiguously stated that anyone who does not declare their loyalty to the Moroccan kingdom will be considered a threat to national sovereignty and integrity and will be treated as a traitor.

Sandblast calls “upon the Moroccan government to end its violence against the Saharawi people and allow the conflict in Western Sahara to be resolved peacefully and justly in conformance with international law.”






Saturday, 14 November 2009

EVENT: Folk Rock triple bill



Only a few days left...

      

Sandblast’s triple bill benefit gig "From 3 Corners of the World" feat. ZEEP, Henry Blake and Luzmira Zerpa & Family Atlantica
on Nov 22 @ 7.30pm

at CARGO
Come for a great night out and a meal at CARGO and hear the fabulous tropical folk band ZEEP, the talented New Zealander guitarist and singer Henry Blake and Venezuelan vocalist Luzmira Zerpa with her  explosive Afro-Latin Family Atlantica ensemble.
Henry and Luzmira have already been to the refugee camps in the Western Sahara and collaborated with Saharawi artist Aziza Brahim, shortlisted for the 2009 Freedom to Create Award. ZEEP hope to go out  to the camps with the UK contingent participating in the "Running the Sahara" event in February 2010.

The benefit gig and "Running the Sahara 2010" are helping to raise money for the Saharawi Artist Fund, which promotes collaborations between Saharawis and artists worldwide and finances projects in the camps to provide the skills and resources for the refugee to gain a voice and income through the arts.
For 2010, we hope to raise £50,000 for a professional mobile recording studio and train Saharawis to use it.
To learn more about the projects the Saharawi Artist Fund facilitates, visit the website and meet Florie Salnot on Nov 22 and learn about her jewellery-making workshops from plastic bottles which she ran for 20 Saharawi women in the camps in April 2009.

Buy your tickets now at www.justgiving.com/sandblasttickets for only £10 or for £12 at the door. Donations are welcome.









See you at CARGO, The Sandblast Team





MUSIC: Aziza Brahim for Freedom to Create Prize

News from Danish organisation Freemuse reached us that Saharawi singer Aziza Brahim, who recently performed at the Southbank Centre here in London, was shortlisted for the Freedom to Create Prize.

This prize seeks to award artists from all over the world whose ability to support and sustain the expressiveness and creativity of a people is exemplary. Aziza's music reflects the pains and hopes of her people, the Saharawi; negotiating ideas of freedom and narrating the story of those Saharawis living in the occupied territory and those living in exile. Her album, Mi Canto, drew the committee's attention to Brahim's talents and the importance of her music as a window to the rich Saharawi culture.

Aziza Brahim will perform at the awards ceremony at the V&A in London on Wednesday 25 November 2009. The winners for the Main, Youth and Imprisoned Artist Prize categories will be unveiled at this occasion. 

Sandblast congratulates Aziza for being shortlisted and crosses all fingers and toes!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

TRAVEL ADVICE: Caution, not fear

Today, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued a newly revised travel advice for Western Sahara. Some of the first-time participants of Running the Sahara 2010 may have already come across it...and are worried.


Not to go into great length of the advice, the FCO highlights various safety issues (other than swine flu) that we do not want to diminish in its relevance and seriousness. However, we would like to put them in perspective. There is no question, that Western Sahara is a disputed territory. After all, this is one of the reasons, why we invite you to visit the camps with us and see for yourself what this issues means to the people that are affected by it. However, "Running the Sahara" takes you to the refugee camps in the SW Algerian Sahara NOT the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, which changes the situation for you ever so slightly. 


All caution will be taken to keep you away from the danger zones at and around the 2,500km long berm that divides the Western Sahara into the occupied territory and the desert, in which hundreds of thousands Saharawi refugees are forced to live. The refugee camps in the latter region are backed and protected by the Algerian government. It is the government of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria and the relevant British embassy that will be of relevance for us if so necessary.


A few other points that were raised: 
- travel and medical insurance    
- visas

    Travel and medical insurance
    As with any travel to place that are exotic or nearby, it is wise to get travel and medical insurance. This isn't different with Algeria or Western Sahara.

    Visa
    For questions on the acquisition of a visa, please contact info@sandblast-arts.org

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009

    VIDEO: Salah Amaidan invites you to "Running the Sahara 2010"


    Media coverage: Community Newswire Oct 16, 2009


    SAHARAWI ATHLETE DREAMS OF LONDON 2012
    By Paul Collins, Community Newswire

    SPORT Olympics, 16 Oct 2009 - 10:46

    An African athlete who trains with British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has arrived in the UK to highlight the plight of his country and plea with the International Olympic Committee to let him compete in London 2012.

    Salah Amaidane from Western Sahara has never been able to compete in the Olympics because his country is not recognised by the IOC.

    Western Sahara has been unlawfully ruled by Morocco since it was annexed by force in 1975. Despite an International Court of Justice ruling, and more than 100 UN resolutions, Morocco has continued to block the right to self-determination.

    Amaidane said: "I have two dreams. The first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free."

    Amaidane, 26, lives in France and regularly trains in the Pyrenees with Radcliffe. He has been living in exile since 2003 when he unfurled a Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic flag, the symbol of Saharawi defiance, while competing for Morocco at an event in France.

    The athlete, in the UK as a guest of human rights group and arts charity Sandblast, will take part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k run, in South London, on October 18.

    He will also urge an all party parliamentary group in Westminster to increase political pressure on Morocco to abide by international law, and hopes to meet Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising committee.

    Amaidane said: "When I was 10 years old I used to sneak up behind Moroccan policemen and snatch their caps off their heads. They would chase me but I was always too fast for them. I guess I was lucky that they never drew their pistols. People said I was faster than a bullet but fortunately it was never put to the test."

    Sandblast aims to raise awareness of the situation in Western Sahara by encouraging Saharawis to tell their own story through educational events and the arts. The charity finances cultural and artistic projects in refugee camps, and promotes collaboration with artists worldwide.

    It is currently looking for participants from the UK to take part in the Running the Sahara 2010 event to help raise £50,000 to fund its work with the people in Western Sahara. Entrants can choose to run 5k, 10k, a half marathon, or full marathon course around refugee camps in February.

    For more information visit www.sandblast-arts.org.

    Source: Community Newswire


    Wednesday, 21 October 2009

    Media coverage: Camden News Journal Oct 15, 2009

    Camden Sports - by STEVE BARNETT
    Published: 15 October 2009
    FREEDOM runner Salah Amaidan was training with Highgate Harriers coach Keith Wilson this week in Parliament Hill Fields.

    The long distance gold medalist has come to Camden to raise awareness about the plight of his native Saharawi people, who are living under occupation in Morocco.
    Salah will run 35 laps around Parliament Square later this month to mark a 35-year milestone since an international court recognised his people’s right to self-determination. The verdict has so far been ignored by the Moroccan state, but the 26-year-old wants his country to be recognised so that he can one day run at the Olympics. He said: “Having a team of top Saharawi athletes is a dream of many of our youth.”
    Salah met Danielle Smith, who runs the Sandblast charity in West Hampstead, and sports massage therapist George Ellis, who is taking part and promoting the Saraha charity runs in February and raising funds for the Saharawi refugees. Salah will talk about his political struggle and his rise as a world class runner in Inspirals Cafe in Camden High Street on Monday at 7pm.

    Media coverage: The Bath Chronicle Oct 21, 2009

    Time for tea as African athlete pops round for charity chat 
    Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 08:50
    An elite African athlete who has fought for his country's independence has given a talk to a group of Bath students during an event to highlight the work of Amnesty International.

    Sixth-formers at the Royal High School held an 'Amnestea' fundraising tea party, at which staff and parents listened to a presentation on the human rights charity's campaigns across the world.

    The special guest was 5,000-metre African champion Salah Hmatou Amaidane, who has campaigned for his homeland Western Sahara to be granted independence from Morocco.

    The 26-year-old is the honorary figurehead for next year's Sahara Marathon, an event to raise money to help build an athletics team to represent the Saharawi people.

    School International Baccalaureate co-ordinator Angharad Holloway thanked Amaidane for taking the time to talk about his experiences. She said: "Peace and conflict resolution is one of the core themes in the current IB programme.


    "We were privileged to have Amaidane with us and everyone was very moved by the plight of his people and his passionate devotion to their freedom. It has really brought home to the students how fundamental human rights are to a decent and dignified existence."

    Amaidane, born in Western Sahara, has represented Morocco at athletics competitions but has been arrested and imprisoned for taking part in peaceful protests for the self-determination of his people.

    He was granted political asylum in France after showing a Saharawi flag during a race. The Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1976 and around 165,000 Saharawis live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert.

    Amnesty International estimates that more than 500 people have "disappeared" and is trying to draw the world's attention to the abuses of the Moroccan authorities.

    Media coverage: Your Local Guardian Oct 20, 2009


    Monday, 19 October 2009

    Amaidan wins Wimbledon Audi 10k

    On occasion of his visit to the UK in order to support Sandblast in  their campaigning efforts for the Saharamarathon, Salah Amaidan took part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k on Sunday, October 18th...and won!

    Salah has been training for this race since he arrived in London on Oct 8th; that is, he tried to use every second for his training that he was not busy giving interviews, engaging in debates with students, activists, politicians and other members of the public. In the last two weeks, he toured through England from London to Brighton and Bath, he spoke to the Muslim community at the City Circle, to students at the Royal High School of Bath and Sussex University, ran laps at Parliament Square for each year the 1975 ICJ verdict on Sahrawi self-determination has been ignored and, finally yesterday, he competed in the 10km race in Wimbledon. 

    The Wimbledon Guardian will be reporting about his victory tomorrow. The source, however, is sitting right here and this is what Salah said about the race:

    "I came to the UK to support the charity Sandblast and their efforts to campaign for the annual Saharamarathon in the camps. By this, British people get the chance to see and experience for themselves how my people have to live. When I run and win races, this is a way for me of expressing the aspirations of my people for their independence.

    [To the Wimbledon Audi 10k] I enjoyed running the race in Wimbledon but it was hard for me as it is a lot colder and hillier than I am used to. I was very happy to win but I would have loved to win an Audi 4x4 to support my youth athletic projects in the refugee camps."

    Wimbledon Audi 10k results: Wimbledon Audi 10k (pdf)


    Thursday, 15 October 2009

    Statement: Sandblast condemns arrest of 7 saharawi human rights activists

    London, Oct. 13, 2009 – The apprehension of seven Saharawi human rights advocates in Casablanca last Thursday, October 8, 2009, is the latest systematic violation of human rights by Moroccans against Saharawis after the detention of six Saharawi students in August this year.

    Moroccan police arrested a group of human rights defenders from Western Sahara on October 8th 2009 at the Casablanca Airport at the point of their return from the Saharawi refugee camps in SW Algeria. While Moroccan police officers have confirmed the arrest, no further details on the group’s whereabouts and their situation were released.

    The group’s visit to the camps had previously been condemned in the Moroccan press and they accused the advocates of treason. The widely published articles and press releases stated that their visit “hurt the feelings of the whole Moroccan people” and demanded an “exemplary punishment” for all members of this group.

    Mohamed Abdelaziz, the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) expressed his concern to the President of the Security Council, Mr Le Loung Minh for the safety of the Saharawi detainees.

    Sandblast condemns the abduction and fears for the safety of
    • Ali Salem Tamek, first Vice-President of the Saharawi Collective of Human Rights Defenders (CODESA);
    • Brahim Dahane, President of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights (ASVDH);
    • Ahmad Anasiri, General Secretary of the Saharawi Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara;
    • Yahdih Ettarrouzi, member of AMDH Laayounne Chapter;
    • Saleh Lebayhi, President of the Forum for the Protection of Saharawi Children;
    • Dagja Lachgar member of the executive office of ASVDH, and
    • Rachid Sghayar, member of the Committee Action Against Torture

    Wednesday, 14 October 2009

    Press release: Saharawi Athlete's Dream of London 2012

    LONDON, Oct. 14, 2009. The Sahrawi runner Salah Amaidane from Western Sahara who regularly trains with Paula Radcliffe has arrived in London to highlight the plight of his country and his dream of running in the 2012 Olympics. Salah Hmatou Amaidane who has won gold medals in Africa and Europe is not eligible to compete in the Olympics due to the fact that his country, occupied unlawfully by Morocco for over three decades, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. During his UK visit, Amaidane will take part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k run on October 18th.

    Western Sahara was annexed by force in 1975, eight years before 26 year-old Amaidane was born. Despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice and over 100 UN resolutions, Morocco has steadfastly blocked the native Saharawi people's right to self-determination and as a result Amaidan is unable to compete for his country.

    Amaidane, who lives in exile in France, has track times which would qualify him to compete in numerous Olympic track events including the 1500m (3min32s) and the 3000m Steeplechase (8min25s). But unless his nation gains independence or is recognised by the IOC, he will be forced to watch the Games in 2012 from the grandstand.

    Amaidane's athletic talents were first spotted when he was just a boy, rebelling against the oppressive Moroccan regime. “When I was ten years old I used to sneak up behind Moroccan policemen and snatch their caps off their heads. They would chase me but I was always too fast for them” he recalls fondly. “I guess I was lucky that they never drew their pistols. People said I was faster than a bullet but fortunately it was never put to the test.” He was invited to join a running club and at the age of 13 he was selected for the Moroccan youth athletics school and moved a thousand miles away to Rabat where he stayed until he was 19. Three times youth champion of Morocco and runner up in the African Athletics Championships he was selected to compete for Morocco in France in 2003. Whilst approaching the finishing line in first position in a 10km race there he unfurled a SADR flag, the symbol of Saharawi defiance. As a result he was forced into exile. He has not seen his family nor run for any nation since.

    Whilst in London, Amaidan will be taking part in a number of events and will even be meeting with MPs in Parliament. He will take in a 'Chariots of Fire' race around Parliament Square and race in a half marathon in Wimbledon and is also hoping for a meeting with Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Sir Craig Reedie newly appointed executive board member.

    He will call on the IOC to recognise the SADR and impress MPs the need to increase international political pressure on Morocco to abide by international law and allow the Saharawi people self-determination.

    “I have two dreams” says Amaidan. “the first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free”.

    Amaidan is in London as a guest of the UK human rights and arts charity, Sandblast, to help promote the “Running the Sahara 2010” (aka the Saharamarathon) taking place in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Algerian desert next February. 

    • Oct 16: To commemorate the 34th anniversary of the International Court of Justice Ruling he will take part in a “Chariots of Fire” race around Parliament Square competing against a number of athletes, MPs and celebrities. Parliament Square
    • Oct 18: Amaidane takes part in the Wimbledon 10k, London
    • Oct 19: Amaidane speaks about his story as a freedom runner from Western Sahara at InSpirals Lounge, Camden, 7pm
    • Oct 20: Testimony at Parliament meeting with All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara

    Tuesday, 13 October 2009

    Freedom Runner: Salah Hmtou Amaidane



    26-year old Amaidane began his athletic career in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara at age 12, when he was recruited to Morocco’s junior running team. Early in his career he displayed an exceptional ability to run and win over a wide range of distances from 1500m to 10km. By 1999 he was the triple champion for Morocco for cross-country racing and the second champion of Africa (5000m). Despite his remarkable record, it did not protect Amaidane when he joined peaceful protests against the Moroccan occupation. His family home was repeatedly raided. He was blindfolded, taken to prison, interrogated, threatened and humiliated.


    Amaidane got political asylum in 2003 after he led an 8-km race in France and waved the Saharawi flag for the last remaining 200m. Alongside other exiled Saharawis, Amaidane has joined an UN-sponsored programme to reunite Saharawi families separated by the occupation and the 2,500km long land-mined Berm dividing the Western Sahara.

    In a letter addressed to the British people, Amaidane expresses his support for the Saharamarathon as a means to draw attention to the situation of his people (for the full letter, click here). Having personally suffered the consequences of speaking up for his people, Salah campaigns for not only the resolution of the Western Sahara issue, but also for the international recognition of Sahrawi sportsmenship:
    "I believe sports is an important way to represent your country and its values. Having a team of top Saharawi althletes is the dream of many of our youth. Unfortunately, humanitarian aid is rarely adapted to meet the requirements of high level sports  and the youth in the camps lack all kinds of facilities and training equipment to achieve this dream.

    Fulfilling  the athletic aspirations of young Saharawis living in occupied Western Sahara is not any easier either. The only way a Saharawi can find a place in top competing teams is if he or she expresses their allegiance to the King and the Moroccan occupier. But doing this comes at a high price. It means enduring all kinds of humiliations and disrespectful treatment. Otherwise, Saharawis have no chance to participate in any competition of any meaningful level". (Excerpt from Amaidane's letter)
    Saharawi athletes are not permitted to take part in international competitions and, thus, the Olympic Games as his country, the Western Sahara, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (as well as by Egypt, Madagascar, Iran, etc.). Amaidane calls on the IOC to recognise the SADR and fulfil his dream of competing in the Olympic Games. In an interview with the journalist Stefan Simanowitz, Salah said: "I have two dreams. The first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London, then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free".

    This Friday (Oct 16th), Salah will run 35 34 laps around the Parliament square for each year that the ICJ verdict on the Saharawi right to self-determination has been ignored by Morocco and the international community. Want to join him? Get in touch.

    On Sunday (Oct 18th), Salah will run the Wimbledon Audi 10k race and hopes to be able to meet iwth Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.



    Saturday, 10 October 2009

    International Education Fund: the Sahrawi project

    The Imperial College Business School dedicated this year's International Education Fund (IEF) to the Sahrawi refugees and raises funds for the camp school for blind children. The good people of IEF host a fundraising launch evening on November 11th with "numerous MPs, professors and other dignitaries will be attending" (according to the IEF facebook group), such as MP Jeremy Corbyn. The Sahrawi singer Aziza Brahim, who we featured on this blog earlier in September, is thought to give a performance to mix up the long line of keynote speakers ranging from the Imperial College Rector Anderson to IC professors.

    The IE Fund initiators ask you "to come along with an open heart and an open cheque book so we can collectively raise money".



    Visit here for their homepage and here for their facebook group. You can buy tickets for their launch evening on Justgiving.com.

    Friday, 9 October 2009

    It's not easy being green? Try being a human rights activist

    Activist of all kinds of convictions have made the headline this year. Most prominently in the UK, we remember the G20 protests early 2009 that saw British police officers literally lashing out to protesters causing one death and countless injuries. Only limited and highly censored news of the arrest and abuse of human rights activists at the Beijing Olympics reached us in the summer of 2008. 


    No news at all reaches us (unless we look carefully enough), about human rights activists that campaign in support of the Saharawi refugees. While the Moroccan UN ambassador tours the world and proposes... well... "visions", those aiming to effect change or "merely" want to observe, investigate, and understand what is going on "behind closed doors" are hindered to do just that. Hindered with violence, hindered with arrest. ASVDH reports:
    Morocco arrests 6 Western Saharan human rights activists at Casablanca airport
    08/10/2009 | INFORMATION-UPDATE

    ASVDH has received a telephone call from its President, Mr. Brahim Dahanne, confirming that he was on board a plane and had just landed, along with six Sahrawi human rights defenders, at the Casblanca Airport. They had returned from a visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, lasting from 23 September and 8 October.

    The other activists on the flight were:
    Ali Salem Tamek (vice president of the CODESA)
    Degja Lechgar (ex-disappeared, member of ASVDH and CODAPSO)
    Hammadi Naciri (vice president of the CSPDH (Smara))
    Rachid Saghair (member of the Committe Against Torture, Dakhla)
    Saleh Lebaihi (president of Forum to Protect Children)
    Yahdih Ettarouzi (human rights activist)

    At 13h37 (GMT) we called him again and he told us that there were a few police cars near the plane and they will be arrested. Since that time we have lost contact with him. (Source: ASVDH)