2019 Laureate Aminatou Haidar.

HRC45: Intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders engaging with the United Nations, the case of Morocco

On 30 September, 2020, the Human Rights Council held an Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, on the annual report of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on cases of reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the United Nations in the field of human rights.    

Earlier this year, the Right Livelihood Foundation contributed to the report through a submission on the case of 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar, who has been the victim of physical attacks and online stigmatisation by the Moroccan authorities in January and February 2020. The reprisals were carried out after the celebration of the reception of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award during which Haidar met several UN representatives, including former UN Deputy High Commissioner Kate Gilmore, as well as after her participation to the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council session, in March 2020.  

Details about her case have been included in the Secretary-General‘s report, to which Morocco replied by refuting the allegations and claiming that Haidar «is not a human rights defender subjected to reprisals, but rather has a political agenda which does not correspond to the mandate of this report». The report also mentioned the cases of other Right Livelihood Laureates, namely Helen Mack Chang, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, late Abdullah al-Hamid, Raji Sourani’s Palestinian Center for Human Rights and members of the CICIG, which was led by  Ivan Velásquez.   

Presenting the report, Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights lamented that the numbers of allegations are increasing in the wake of the pandemic, highlighting their online dimension. She expressed concern at the increasing threats towards women human rights defenders, LGBTI defenders, indigenous groups, minorities and youth. She emphasised that the United Nations deserve human rights defenders’ trust only if it stands for them when needed and recalled the Secretary General’s Call to Action for Human Rights who underlined that the well-functioning of the UN depends greatly on the inclusion and participation of civil society partners.  

During the debate, 36 statements were delivered by states, including 3 joint statements. The European Union and others condemned all reprisals described in the report, something that was echoed by Australiawhich was concerned that members of the HRC are among those cited in the report. Countries mentioned in the report, including Egypt, the Philippines, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia refuted the information contained in the report, stating that it does not rely on reliable sources and that the people mentioned had been tried and given the necessary sentence for lawful crimes.  

During the debate, Haidar delivered a video statement highlighting that the Sahrawi people continue to be deprived of their legitimate right to self-determination and of their civil, political, economic and cultural rights by the occupying power. She further denounced that human rights violations in Western Sahara are happening under the eyes of the United Nations, which is failing to protect the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people.  

Watch the video statement (in French) below or click here to read the text.  


This is not the first time Haidar has been intimidated by the Moroccan authorities in retaliation for her engagement with the United Nations. In November 2012 she was beaten and threatened with a knife by the police on her way home from a meeting with the former Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Western Sahara, Mr Christopher Ross, in El Ayoun. Once again, in April 2015, Moroccan police attacked Haidar’s home with rocks as she hosted a meeting with UN representatives.  

We argue that the recent actions undertaken by the Moroccan authorities amount to a form of reprisals for Haidar human rights activism and cooperation with the UN system, as an attempt to intimidate her and discourage her from pursuing her advocacy work. We also wish to highlight that these retaliations take place within the context of a pattern of serious and systematic violations of the rights of the Sahrawi people, including the right to self-determination. Sahrawi activists suffer daily from the Moroccan repression, by being subjected to torture, cruel and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, expulsion from work, forced deportation, enforced disappearances, and defamation by the Moroccan press, among others.