Friday, 29 January 2010

PRESS RELEASE: Britain's Got a "Western Sahara Moment" [UPDATED]

For immediate release

Britain’s Got a “Western Sahara Moment”:
Charity Sandblast urges UK action on Moroccan human rights abuses

London, February 1, 2010 - The increase of reports of violence and human rights abuses against Saharawis in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara has alarmed human rights organisations and activists all over the world. Gordon Brown’s “Western Sahara moment” during Prime Minister’s Questions session (January 13th) highlighted the general lack of awareness in Britain about the grave human rights problems afflicting the former Spanish colony. In protest, the UK charity Sandblast has launched an e-petition to 10 Downing Street seeking to mobilize British voices to call on Gordon Brown and his government to put more pressure on Morocco to respect universal human rights principles and stop its abuses against the Saharawi people.

In August 2009, a group of six young Saharawis were prevented by Moroccan authorities from boarding the plane in Agadir to attend to Talk Together at Oxford University, a programme  to generate dialogue between young members of communities in conflict. The "Oxford Six” subsequently experienced severe harassment, beatings and abductions.  Then in October, seven well known Saharawi human rights activists were abducted and arrested at Casablanca airport, upon their return from visiting relatives in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. They are on trial for treason in a military court and face possible life sentences or even execution. Amnesty International reports that the authorities have been using repressive legislation to force statements, are abusing prisoners and deny adequate legal representation. In November, leading human rights activist Aminatou Haidar was expelled to Lanzarote from her homeland for rejecting to identify herself as a Moroccan national. Only after serious international pressure was she eventually allowed to return home 32 days later and has reportedly been under virtual house arrest ever since. 

The recently published 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report states “Morocco’s backtracking on rights became apparent to all during 2009. Developments in 2010 will reveal whether authorities intend to reinforce this negative trend or put the country back on a path of progress on rights.”

Sandblast's e-petition calls on Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the UK government  to take action and pressure Morocco to respect universal human rights principles and stop its abuses against the Saharawi people. As a leading EU member, the charity urges Britain to ensure that negotiations, due to take place this coming April on the "advanced status" for Morocco in  the EU, are suspended until it meets vital human rights criteria. Founding director Danielle Smith believes Britain has a crucial role to play and that the voices of British civil society need to be heard loud and clear to ensure human rights and freedom for the Saharawis.

Sandblast hopes to collect thousands of signatures by February 27 on the occasion of the anniversary of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was proclaimed 34 years ago and is recognized by over 70 countries worldwide. Sign the petition at

About Sandblast:
Sandblast is an arts and human rights charity that aims to empower the displaced Saharawi refugees through the arts. Close to 200,000 Saharawis have been living as refugees since the 1975 Moroccan invasion of their country, Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony in NW Africa. Despite the extreme hardships of their exile, the Saharawi refugee community has managed to build a vibrant, democratically run nation-in-exile, where women play a prominent role in all sectors of life, defying many Western preconceptions about Arab-Muslim societies. The Saharawis seek their independence in Western Sahara and have been waiting for the UN to implement the long promised referendum for their self-determination, originally scheduled for early 1992.
To find out more please visit the Sandblast website:

Danielle Smith
Director of Sandblast
61 Minster Road
London NW2 3SH
t: 0783 8463310

Download press release from release_petition_Feb2010.pdf

Monday, 18 January 2010

URGENT ACTION: Victim of torture facing trial (Amnesty International)

Amnesty International released an Urgent Action appeal on Friday, January 15th, after having learned that Mr Haddi was due to face trial in Rabat.

Haddi was "disappeared" in late October of 2009 and is believed to be a victim of torture since then. He is now facing trial for a number of offences, including treason and drug-trafficking. Haddi has not have a lawyer or any legal representation and the trial is thought to be unjust, his treatment until then brutal and inhumane. Read more about his story and the charges held against him at and/or take action now.
"PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Arabic, French or your own language:
Expressing concern that Ahmed Mahmoud Haddi was subjected to an enforced disappearance from 28 October to 15 November, during which time he is believed to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and urging the Moroccan authorities to ensure  that he is protected from further torture or other ill-treatment, is granted any medical care he may require, and has regular access to his family and legal representation;
Urging the Moroccan authorities to investigate immediately allegations that Ahmed Mahmoud Haddi was tortured or otherwise ill-treated by members of the security forces, and to bring those responsible to justice in compliance to Morocco’s obligations under international law;
Urging them to ensure he receives a fair trial and that statements made under duress are not used as a basis to convict him.

Minister of Justice        
His Excellency Mohamed Naciri
Ministry of Justice
Place Mamounia, Rabat, Morocco
Fax: +212 537 72 37 10
+212 537 73 07 72
+212 537 73 47 25
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Interior       
His Excellency Taib Cherkaoui
Ministry of Interior
Quartier Administratif, Rabat, Morocco
Fax: +212 537762056
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:
President of the Advisory Board of Human Rights        
Ahmed Herzenni, Place Ach-chouhada,
B.P. 1341, 10000 Rabat, Morocco
Fax: +212 537 726856
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 314/09.

Further information:"

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Amnesty International says "Morocco must adequately tackle legacy of human rights abuses"

"Moroccan authorities have failed to deliver on their promises to tackle the legacy of gross human rights violations committed in Morocco and Western Sahara between 1956 and 1999, Amnesty International said ahead of a report to be published on the issue.

The organization said Moroccan authorities have failed to provide justice to the many victims of the “years of lead”, decades in which hundreds of people were victims of enforced disappearances and thousands of others were arbitrarily detained or tortured.

An official commission established by King Mohammed VI six years ago to investigate human rights violations committed by the Moroccan security services between 1956 and 1999 has failed to fully deal with the legacy of the violations."

Read more here:

NEWS: Seen on BBC2's Daily Politics

The Daily Politics on BBC2 on January 13, 2010 at ca. 12.30pm

Dr. Andrew Murrison (conservative MP for Westbury) directs question at Prime Minister Gordon Brown: What is the Prime Minister's attitude to the current situation in the Western Sahara"

Brown: "Mister Speaker, I'm thinking of all the issues that he wishes me to talk about in relation to the Western Sahara [noise, laughter?]. The one thing that I have been worried about is the growth of ethnic violence in these areas; the one thing that we've been trying to do is to increase, indeed, double the aid in these areas; and the one thing that we have been worried about ...that we have been worried about is the growth of terrorist groups in these areas and that's why we are taking the action that is necessary to dissuade terrorism and take the action that is necessary. I've had numerous conversations with leaders in these areas - if he wishes [interruption] if he wishes to direct [noise] me to a specific point, I will take it up"

What do you think about Brown's attitude to the current situation in the Western Sahara? Could he have been any more unspecific?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

ePETITION: petitioning vs. human rights abuses


We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to do all in his power to pressure the Moroccan government to respect universal human rights principles and stop its abuses of the Saharawi people under its occupation in Western Sahara.

Saharawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar was expelled for refusing to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Her 32 day long hunger strike has highlighted to the world the plight of her people.

We, the undersigned, request the British government takes the following actions: Through its bi-lateral relations and influence demand that Morocco frees all the prisoners of conscience held in its jails and particularly raises the issue of the 7 Saharawi activists in Sale/ Rabat, who face a military court trial with possible death sentence.

In its capacity as a leading member of the European Union, call for the suspension of negotiations on advanced status for Morocco unless it complies with required human rights standards. Through its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, ensure the self-determination rights of the Saharawi people be fulfilled through a referendum.

Sign. Verify. Circulate. Thanks.

Newsletter 1/2010: Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone:

We hope 2010 will be a great and successful year. In this first newsletter we are updating you on what has been and what is yet to come.

Since 2009
All eyes were on Aminatou Haidar when the decade came to an end. After staging a 32 day long hunger strike, the "African Gandhi" finally celebrated her victory and was allowed to return to her home in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Since then, she has been reported to be under house arrest and is still very weak.  Her convictions generated unprecedented media coverage about the plight of the Saharawis. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who showed their support.

It is our responsibility now to use this momentum of rare international awareness on Western Saharato to take action.

Action Alert
While Aminatou’s battle is won, the wider battle of human rights still needs to be fought. Sandblast is running a PETITION addressed directly to the Prime Minister to pressure the UK government to play a more active role in finding a just solution to the conflict in Western Sahara. It is very important that this petition be signed by as many of us as possible to reflect our outrage about the ongoing human rights violations being perpetuated by the Moroccan regime.

Sign it and share it. Circulate it with your network via email, facebook, twitter and the good old word-of-mouth.

Coming up in 2010
For 2010, we hope that the Saharawi struggle for their self-determination can come closer to becoming reality.

February 19-27
Next month, 32 people go out to the refugee camps in the Algerian desert for the Saharamarathon. Charity director Danielle Smith joins the group of adventurous runners and plans to walk 42km in an effort to raise £ 20,000 for projects to give the Saharawi refugees a voice and income through the arts. Please support their fundraising efforts and learn about the personal stories of some of the participants on our JustGiving page

April 25-May 2
For this year’s FISAHARA, the annual international film festival in the Saharawi refugee camps, we hope to attract as many actors, filmmakers, film technicians and enthusiasts to experience this unique festival in the desert. Now in its 7th year, international stars like Penelope Cruz are expected to attend. More information will soon be released. for more details.

Contact us for any questions and comments,

If you no longer want to be contacted by Sandblast, please email to