United Nations IV Committee "The Question of Western Sahara" October 8-10, 2013
Janet Lenz, Executive Director/Founder Not Forgotten International, Inc.
Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. Having been deeply involved in the tragic injustice under which the Saharawi people have suffered for almost 4 decades, I again come to you with a plea that you follow through on your promises to them over 20 years ago.
I represent hundreds of other Americans from my organization who have served the Saharawi in the refugee camps for the past 14 years. We have seen and experienced far too much on the ground to ever stop calling for the United Nations to keep its promises to them. I want to tell you a story that I hope will put a human face to the very real suffering that you have allowed to continue for far too long!
Fourteen years ago, during my first visit to the camps, I met a beautiful, bright young Saharawi woman, Aisha, who shared this personal memory of her true homeland of Western Sahara:
Aisha remembered being in her house, playing on the kitchen floor with her little baby doll. She heard the front door open, and saw her daddy suddenly appear in the kitchen doorway. But something was different about his voice and his expression. He quickly stepped toward her and, taking her little hand in his, pulled her to her feet with a simple, strained, "Come."Aisha grabbed her little doll as her daddy scooped her up into his arms. They headed out the front door, being joined by her mother and baby brother.Her daddy set her down, grabbed some bags of food, clothes and papers into his arms, and again took her hand in his. Her little legs could hardly keep up with her father's hurried strides, and as she tried to keep up, she looked back at her home. She saw the familiar red door, now shut tightly behind them.
Aisha asked, "Where are we going, Daddy?" "I'll tell you later, Honey. We just have to go." Aisha began to cry, and took one last look at her home, and the red door that burned into her memory. Her family's journey ended in the desert, along with the tens of thousands of other Saharawi who fled to refuge in Algeria, never imagining that it would be decades before they could return.
As Aisha finished telling me her story, tears filled her eyes as she said with quiet determination, "Someday I will go back. And I will search and search until I find that red door. And when I find it, I will be HOME."
Two decades ago, the United Nations made a promise to Aisha, and to tens of thousands of her people, the Saharawi, that you would assist them in their God-given right to determine their own future. You have not kept your promise.
The rightful land and homes of the displaced Saharawi people now are occupied by Moroccan citizens. Their jobs have been filled by Moroccan citizens. Their heritage has been stolen from them by a King that is not theirs. And those who remain in Western Sahara suffer under horrendous oppression and abuse that no human should have to experience.
Aisha, along with tens of thousands of other young adults who have similar memories, are determined to return to their rightful homeland, their heritage and history. Their rightful homes. With or without the United Nation's fulfillment of your promise.
Those who remained in their homeland are similarly determined to continue suffering dire human rights abuses until their homeland " their red doors " are again open to welcome them back into freedom and safety.
This CAN BE DONE. This story CAN have a good ending. An honorable ending. A RIGHT and JUST ending. It remains in your hands for now to do the right thing! Please do not continue, by your silence, to force the Saharawi to take this injustice into their own hands.
We call on you to institute a human rights mandate until you either keep your promise of a referendum, or acknowledge your failure and withdraw, releasing the Saharawi from the promise they have kept to the United Nations.