Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sahrawi activist to receive RFK rights award

Soon to receive the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award is Aminatou Haidar (right), for the last 2 decades a campaigner for the self-determination of the people of her native Western Sahara. (photo credit)
Haidar's homeland, once a Spanish colony, has been under Morocco's military control since 1975. That same year that an International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion rejected Moroccan claims to sovereignty. Soon the independence Frente Polisario proclaimed a government in exile for the region. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has operated there since a ceasefire was signed in 1991. The planned referendum has yet to be held. (A new article on this matter is hot off the presses: Erika Conti, The Referendum for Self-Determination: Is it still a solution? The never-ending dispute over Western Sahara, 16 African Journal of International & Comparative Law 178 (2008).)
Because of her own efforts on behalf of self-determination Haidar has spent years behind bars:
In 1987, at the age of 21, Ms. Haidar was one of 700 peaceful protestors arrested for participating in a rally in support of a referendum. Later she was 'disappeared' without charge or trial and held in secret detention centers for four years, where she and 17 other Sahrawi women were tortured. In 2005, the Moroccan police detained and beat her after another peaceful demonstration. She was released after 7 months, thanks to international pressure from groups like Amnesty International and European Parliament.

Notwithstanding, Haidar continues to work for nonviolent settlement of the dispute, an approach for which she's known as the "Sahrawi Gandhi."
Haidar will receive a prize of $30,000 at a November ceremony in Washington. That is "the beginning of the RFK Center's long-term partnership with Ms. Haidar and our commitment to work closely with her to realize the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people," said Monika Kalra Varma (left), Director of the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights (and, I'm proud to say, a former student of mine). The 1st such award was given in 1984, since then, 38 human rights defenders, from 22 countries, have been honored.

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