Aminatou Haidar Credit: Christian Gustavsson/Right Livelihood Foundation

Aminatou Haidar’s vision for a free Western Sahara

News 31.05.2023

In the spirit of solidarity, 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar sheds light on her vision for the self-determination of Western Sahara during the International Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories (May 25-31, 2023). Despite the current challenges, including a violation of the ceasefire and the lack of international support, Haidar remains steadfast in her belief that a united and democratic Western Sahara is possible.

The struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara began in 1975 when Spain withdrew from the territory, leaving it as a recognised non-self-governing territory by the United Nations. Since then, the UN has called for a referendum on self-determination and the decolonisation of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi people, represented by the Polisario Front, continue their quest for independence and the fulfilment of their fundamental rights to this day.

Right Livelihood: Can you provide an overview of the current situation in Western Sahara?

Aminatou Haidar: The current situation has been marked by a war scenario since November 2020. Unfortunately, this is due to the violation of the ceasefire by the Moroccan occupier and the inaction of the international community, particularly the United Nations, in fulfilling its obligations to enforce the referendum on self-determination.

For those of us living under Moroccan occupation in the occupied zones, the situation has been getting worse. Right now, I am speaking from my house and the police are outside, but my case is not unique. All militants and activists are under police siege. And of course, this is to prevent any form of protest. 

All of this is happening with the total silence of the international organisations, mainly the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which is based a few meters from my house but does nothing. They neither call, nor ask about our situation, nor do they even greet us.

RL: As an activist, how do you manage to sustain yourself over the course of many years, especially when it appears that the situation is getting worse?

AH: The situation is worsening, but at least now we have established international relations, and our voices are being heard. Currently, I am sending this message from my home through you, which was not possible before.

The brutality and barbarity of the Moroccan regime have been inflicted upon us, and this horrific experience remained concealed. The occupied zones were shrouded in secrecy, and nobody knew what was happening there.

However, thanks to our current connections and the power of social media and the internet, we are finally being heard. Our determination and conviction that we have the right to fight and that our cause is just uplift and sustain us.

RL: How are the identity and cultural heritage of the Sahrawi people affected by the occupation? 

AH: Morocco has used many methods to eliminate the Sahrawi culture. For example, Sahrawi music, especially revolutionary, is forbidden here in the occupied zone. They are trying to educate children in schools about Moroccan culture and Moroccan traditions. 

They are also producing documentaries and films with the intention of conveying the message, both to the outside world and to Moroccans, that Sahrawis are already similar to Moroccans. However, the truth is that they are actively fighting against our culture. So, we always try to explain, especially to the children, that Moroccan culture is not our culture. We respect their culture, but it is the occupiers’, not ours.

RL: A few days ago, you commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Polisario Front and the beginning of the armed struggle. How do you personally reflect upon this anniversary?

AH: Throughout these five decades, we have witnessed the loss of many martyrs, victims, and the disappeared. However, it has also led to the development of a modern Sahrawi society that places great importance on humanity, tolerance, and the empowerment of women, who are respected and occupy prominent positions in all fields. 

Our motivation stems from the yearning for freedom and the desire to enjoy our full rights as Sahrawi citizens. As a human rights activist advocating for peaceful struggle, I am fully aware that I may face significant consequences, but I also understand that the harshest condemnation would be to remain silent and accept that my people resign themselves to injustice.

RL: How do you envision a free and unoccupied Western Sahara?

AH: It is our dream. I firmly believe that my people can establish and develop a modern and democratic nation. I believe that all members of my people rightfully belong to their land, their homeland. Unfortunately, we have experienced a division, with some residing in the occupied zones and others in refugee camps.

This separation has caused immense sorrow, as we have lost loved ones without the opportunity to see them or for them to see us. Such experiences of suffering, however, serve as valuable lessons that will ultimately aid the Sahrawi people in constructing a democratic, united, and progressive country. This envisioned nation will prioritise human rights and the principles and values of democracy.

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