2008: Aminatou Haidar, Western Sahara
Promoting the civil and political rights of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara, including the freedom of speech and assembly and the right to self-determination.
Biography ▪ The Issues ▪ Defenders at Risk ▪ Aminatou's Expulsion from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara & Hunger Strike Working with the UN ▪ Statements
Human Right Award Ceremony ▪ Support the Work of Aminatou & other Laureates
Aminatou Haidar is President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). Regularly referred to as the "Sahrawi Gandhi," Haidar is one of Western Sahara's most prominent human rights defenders. In an often forgotten crisis, Ms. Haidar is a champion for human rights in the fight for Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. Since 1975, in defiance of the United Nation’s International Court of Justice ruling, Morocco has continuously occupied Western Sahara. Through non-violent means, Ms. Haidar has denounced Morocco's gross human rights violations against the Sahrawi and advocated for the fulfillment of its right to self-determination.
In November 1987, Aminatou Haidar decided, with hundreds of other men and women, to organize a peaceful demonstration to mark the arrival to the Sahrawi territory of the technical Commission of the United Nations which was charged with evaluating the conditions for holding a referendum on self-determination, as recommended by the United Nations. The protestors wished to denounce the serious violations of human rights perpetrated by the Moroccan forces from the beginning of the Moroccan march into the territory on October 31, 1975. In addition, they wanted to make clear their demand for a referendum on the self-determination of Western Sahara.
The Moroccan authorities put an end to this peaceful demonstration and proceeded to arrest more than 400 people, of whom 70 joined the list of “disappeared.” Among the disappeared were 17 women, including Aminatou Haidar, who suffered the worst torture. She spent almost 4 years in a secret prison, without being charged with a crime and without a trial. There she was brutally tortured, tied to a wooden plank with her head down, slapped and kicked repeatedly, had chemical-soaked cloths forced into her mouth, and was subjected to electrical shocks throughout her whole body. Ms. Haidar was kept blindfolded the entire duration of her detention and has suffered from permanent health damage because of the torture. When finally released in 1991, Ms. Haidar said she was “a ghost, a living dead, a young woman back from a kind of hell that bears no name.”
Ms. Haidar continued her activism in defense of the fundamental rights of all Sahrawi people despite these hardships, and repeatedly suffered the consequences of speaking out against the Moroccan human rights violations. On June 17, 2005, Ms. Haidar was brutally beaten and injured by the police during a demonstration in El-Ayoun. She was arrested at the hospital after receiving 12 cranial stitches and treatment for 3 broken ribs. She served 7 months in the infamous “Black Prison” of El-Ayoun. There she and 37 other Sahrawi political detainees began a 32-day hunger strike to demand improved detention conditions, investigations into the allegations of torture, and the release of all political prisoners. In the Fall of 2009, as Ms. Haidar returned from a visit to the U.S., the Moroccan government removed Ms. Haidar’s passport and expelled her from Western Sahara, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees every person the right to live in his/her homeland and to return to his/her country. In response, Ms. Haidar went on a hunger strike that ultimately lasted for 32 days until Morocco allowed her to return to Western Sahara.
In 2008, Aminatou Haidar, President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her courageous non-violent work, promoting the civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights of the people of Western Sahara, including the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association ,and to self-determination.
Defenders at Risk
Aminatou’s Expulsion from Morocco-controlled Western Sahara & Hunger Strike
Working with the UN
2008 Human Right Award Ceremony
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