Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Western Sahara’

Western Sahara: The Forgotten Injustice

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th October, 2010

A delegation of British MPs and Peers, including Mark Williams (LibDem), Jonathan Evans (Conservative) and Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), went in a delegation to see Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP today, to protest yesterday’s fatal shooting of a 14-year-old Saharawi boy, Nayem el-Garhi, by Morrocan security forces. The boy was attempting, along with his brother and a number of others, to enter a protest camp which has been set up outside El Aauin (Laayoune) by 10,000 Saharawis who wish to draw attention to the ongoing occupation of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara that has endured since 1975. When Namibia became independent, many British media incorrectly reported that the decolonisation process in Africa was complete, but that was not true. Though Saharawi forces (the Polisario) managed to defeat Mauritanian troops who had occupied the southern part of the territory after the Spanish withdrew and succeeded in getting their withdrawal, the Moroccans are still there and have been settling many tens of thousands of Moroccans in the territory. An enormously long earth wall separates the occupied part of Western Sahara from the desert fiefdom of the Polisario, many of whose supporters live in refugee camps just inside Algeria, as they have done for decades now. In 1991 (just one year after I visited the Polisario-controlled areas), the UN brokered a ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario, which was meant to lead to a referendum in which the Saharawis could choose their destiny, but this has not happened. Bizarrely, MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping mission to the Western Sahara, has no mandate to monitor the human rights situation there, unlike other such missions elsewhere in the world. The current protest camp — which Moroccan forces have effectively blockaded — was set up a fortnight ago to highlight the situation at a time when a UN special envoy, Christopher Ross, is visiting the region. As Mark Williams comments, ‘We cannot continue to ignore the brutality of the Moroccan authorities against those who peacefully demonstrate for their rights to independence. The first step is for the Security Council to implement human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.’


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Aminatou Haidar’s Right to Be Free

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th December, 2009

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and as I walked across Trafalgar Square at luncthime from the pomp and ceremony of the Vin d’Honneur for the new South African High Commissioner at South Africa House to a similar event for the new Czech Ambassador at the Athenaeum in Pall Mall, I passed by two human rights demonstrations outside the National Gallery. The first was by people protesting about the People’s Republic of China’s oppression of followers of Fa Lun Gong, while the second highlighted the case of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights campaigner who is on hunger strike at an airport in the Canary Islands. By coincidence, Lamine Baali, the Polisario representative in London had cornered me about her case at the South African reception. Then this moning I was pleased to see a related comment piece by Paul Laverty and Ken Loach in The Guardian. For those who are not familiar with the case, Ms Haidar was prevented from returning to her home town of Layoun in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara on her way back from receiving an award in the United States because she refused to fill in her nationality as ‘Moroccan’ on her landing card. She was thus deported to the Canary Islands are is staging her protest to be allowed to return to her family, but as a proud Sahrawi.

Morocco and Mauritania occupied the Western Sahara after Spain left its former colony in the mid-1970s, though later the Mauritanians were defeated by the Polisario Sahrawi fighters and withdrew, leaving the territory divided (literally, by an earth wall). I slept under the stars in the desert there the night I heard on the BBC World Service of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in South Africa in 1990. It would be wonderful if tonight I could hear of Aminatou Haidar’s safe return, as her hunger strike is taking its toll. Meanwhile, the Spanish (for all their concerns not to offend the Moroccans) really must accept their moral responsibility to get this matter resolved.

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Western Sahara Still Unresolved

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th August, 2008

The Polisario’s UK representative, Lamine Baali, came for lunch yesterday. He arrived just two weeks ago, though this is actually his second London posting. He spent the intervening dozen years based in Stockholm. In the interim, much in Britain has changed. John Major’s Conservatives have been replaced by New Labour, though now it is Gordon Brown’s government that gives the impression of being on its last legs. In contrast, the situation regarding the Western Sahara remains depressingly the same.

For nearly 30 years now it has figured on the United Nations list of Non-Self Governing Territories — the last unresolved major territorial dispute in Africa. Morocco occupies the better half of what used to be the Spanish Sahara — and has been settling it with migrants from further north — while the Polisario control the desert rest. However, the bulk of the Sahrawi population who support the Polisario’s campaign for independence live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert, as they have done for a generation, currently suffering from intense heat and drought.

I visited the Polisario camps in 1990 and travelled by jeep and camel in their part of what they call the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Lawrence of Arabia would have felt at home there. I was woken one morning by a camel nuzzling my ear as I lay on the ground, and I heard about Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on the World Service of the BBC while I was there. I even climbed over the wall that the Moroccans built right through the territory, in order to keep Polisario fighters out of their occupied zone. These are some of my most vibrant memories of my time as a foreign correspondent. But I find it infinitely depressing that nearly 20 years later, the issue of the Western Sahara’s future still has not been resolved, and the referendum promised to the Sahrawi people so they can exercise self-determination still seems no more than a distant mirage.


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