Aminatou Haidar delivering a statement at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Concern over targeting of human rights defenders in Western Sahara

Right Livelihood is deeply concerned at the escalating violence in Western Sahara and, in particular, at the violations committed by Moroccan authorities against Sahrawi human rights defenders. Among them, Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar and her fellow activist Sultana Khaya, who are facing serious retaliations for being outspoken about the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination.

It has been more than one year since the Moroccan security forces first surrounded Khaya’s home and forcibly detained her and her sister without any legal basis. Since then, the Khayas’ family has been under a de-facto house arrest, enduring illegal and violent raids, rape, physical and sexual assault, denial of medical treatment, exposure to COVID-19 and toxic substances. 

Khaya is a prominent Sahrawi woman human rights defender, President of the League for the Defense of Human Rights and against the Plunder of Natural Resources, and member of the Sahrawi Organ against the Moroccan Occupation (ISACOM). Since September 2020, when Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar established ISACOM, several members of its executive directorate, including Khaya, have been subjected to serious human rights violations.

On November 15, 2021, police forces looted the Khayas’ family home in the early morning and raped Khaya and her sister while their mother was present. A few days earlier, it was reported that Moroccan security forces had assaulted Khaya and injected her with an unknown substance that left her physically ill. On that day, her sister and elderly mother were also attacked and sexually assaulted by the officers, who threatened them with death. 

Haidar and other ISACOM colleagues were also victims of the Moroccan police. On November 9, 2021, they were stopped at a checkpoint in El-Ayoun and were prevented from leaving the city to reach the nearby city of Boujdour to visit Khaya after the terrible attacks she had suffered. Following the publication of a video where Haidar speaks out against the Moroccan occupation, a Moroccan NGO, the General Secretariat of the Moroccan Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Organization, filed a complaint to the chief public prosecutor of the Rabat Court of Cassation to investigate Haidar for “inciting against the territorial integrity of the kingdom,” in blatant violation of her right to freedom of opinion and expression. 

In 2021, UN Special Procedures have repeatedly condemned the reprisals against Khaya, Haidar and other members of ISACOM. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres further denounced the treatment of Haidar in his last two annual reports on reprisals against human rights defenders. 

Right Livelihood condemns in the strongest terms the horrendous violations committed against Khaya and her family and calls for an immediate end to their de-facto house arrests. Sexual and physical assaults against them must be immediately investigated, with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice and providing remedies.

Lastly, in light of the deteriorating situation in Western Sahara, we call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently dispatch an observer mission to the Occupied Territories, to investigate all human rights violations committed against the Sahrawi people and to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and freedom of movement. Failure to speak out against injustice provides a license to Morocco to act with total impunity.