Keeping America Strong. Promoting Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Abroad.

DFF President's Body of Work for Western Sahara

President, Defense Forum Foundation
Chairman, U.S. Western Sahara Foundation

-organized 48 Congressional fact finding missions to the Sahrawi refugee camps since 1993
-established the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation as a project of DFF in 1999
-sponsored 8 Capitol Hill Forums on Western Sahara (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2009)
-sponsored 4 Congressional receptions focusing on Western Sahara (2002, 2006, 2007, 2008)
-successfully nominated Aminatou Haidar for the Civil Courage Prize (2009) and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (2008)
-organized protests at the Embassy of Morocco on behalf of Aminatou Haidar ( 2009) and the Sahrawi Six (2010)
-letter writing campaigns to U.S. Presidents, United Nations, other officials (ongoing)
-organized the first Christian prayer service held in the refugee camps (2002)
-testified before the United Nation=s fourth committee on Western Sahara (2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010)
-organized and testified before Congressional hearings and briefings (2005, 2007)

Since 1993, Suzanne Scholte has been working to raise awareness of the issue of the Western Sahara and the plight of the Sahrawi people, in her capacity as President of the Defense Forum Foundation (DFF). Scholte has worked closely with Ambassador Moulud Said of the Sahrawi Republic and Carlos Wilson, who has been active in the Sahrawi cause since 1975 and heads the US-Western Sahara Foundation.

Scholte believes that the Sahrawi people offer the greatest opportunity for the establishment of a pro-west, Muslim democracy, in North Africa, which can serve as a beacon of hope to that region and to Muslim leaders who believe in freedom, democracy and human rights.

In 1993, there was little awareness of the issue of Western Sahara in the United States or among the Members of Congress, but as a result of Scholte's efforts there is now solid support for the referendum for Western Sahara in the United States Congress, on-going projects by American organizations and citizens to help the Sahrawi refugees, a Congressional Caucus on Western Sahara, a working group on Western Sahara composed of NGOs and Congressional staff, and the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution in support of the referendum.

The following is a summary of Scholte’s work for the Sahrawi refugees over the past 15 years:

Forty-eight Congressional Fact Finding Missions Organized: Since 1993, Scholte has organized 48 trips for hundreds of American citizens to visit the Sahrawi refugee camps. These missions have been composed of key Congressional staff members, journalists, leaders of Christian humanitarian organizations, and other non-governmental organizations. Nearly every American who has become involved in the Sahrawi issue was first inspired through these fact-finding missions and every major project being undertaken by Americans for the Sahrawis was inspired by these missions. For example, the following programs were established by individuals participating in these fact-finding missions:

--Sahrawi Children Summer Sponsorship Program and Left Behind Project: a program that made it possible for Sahrawi children to visit the United States during the summer and a program for the children left behind in the refugee camps; Janet Lenz leads these programs.

--Sahara Marathon: established in 2001, has now become an international annual event in which athletes from around the world compete to publicize the plight of the Sahrawi refugees; JEB Carney established the marathon

--English School: established to teach English to the refugees; Steve Hagens established the school

--Humanitarian Shipments: Several individuals and organizations have been involved in sending humanitarian food aid and medical supplies to the camps; Carlos and Nancy Huff were the main organizers

--Water Drilling Projects: were begun to help Sahrawis with irrigation and wells; Odo Sidahaya and Lifewater led these projects

--Prayer Trips to Western Sahara: the first Christian prayer service in the refugee camps for the Sahrawis was held in 2002 and has led to regular prayer events. Dan Stanley was the main organizer

Establishment of the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation: Scholte established the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation in 1999 with Carlos Wilson, who serves as Executive Director, and a distinguished Board of Advisors including Congressman Donald Payne and Congressman Joseph Pitts and Ambassador Frank Ruddy. The purpose of the Foundation is to: 1) raise awareness of the issue of the Western Sahara and the need for a free and fair U.N.-sponsored referendum for the Sahrawi people; 2) provide a network for a far-reaching and ever-growing group of individuals and organizations across the United States that wish to see a free, fair and transparent referendum for the Sahrawi people and support the United Nation's activities to resolve this conflict peacefully; and 3) promote and coordinate humanitarian efforts for the Sahrawi refugees.

Scholte and Wilson through the US-WS Foundation have sponsored letter writing campaigns, petition drives, humanitarian aid, and other grassroots activities to promote the referendum on self-determination and other activities. Wilson in addition leads efforts internationally that aim at blocking Morocco from exploiting the Western Sahara=s natural resources.

Eight Capitol Hill Forums Organized: Scholte has organized eight forums on Capitol Hill on the Western Sahara issue. Speakers have included Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz and Ambassador Moulud Said (1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004); Sahrawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar (2009); as well as former MINURSO Deputy Chairman Ambassador Frank Ruddy (1995, 1997), Congressman Donald Payne (1999) and MINURSO military personnel: Navy Commander Doug Dryden (1997) and Air Force Major Scott Tate (1999), and Ambassador John Bolton (1998).

Four Congressional Receptions Organized: Scholte has organized four Congressional Receptions to focus attention on the Western Sahara issue. The first was held in 2002 to honor the Noble Peace Prize nomination of Sahrawi Republic President Mohamed. In 2006, Scholte organized a reception to honor Aminatou Haidar, a Sahrawi human rights defender who was one of the disappeared and survived Morocco's black prison. Haidar is known as the 'Sahrawi Ghandi' for her peaceful efforts advocating for self-determination and human rights. In 2007, Scholte organized a reception for the Sahrawi refugee children who were visiting Washington DC for the 'Be Their Voice Rally' for Western Sahara at Lafayette Park. In 2008, she organized a reception to see the photographs of the refugee camps taken by Spanish photographer Nacho Hernandez.

Nominations of Aminatou Haidar Leads to Prestigious Civil Courage Prize and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award: Scholte successfully nominated Aminatou Haidar for the Civil Courage Prize in 2009, which is given to an individual who has shown “steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk.” She also successfully nominated Haidar for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2008 which has led to active involvement by the internationally respected Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to partner with her on her advocacy for the Sahrawi people.

Protests Organized at the Moroccan Embassy on Behalf of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders: Scholte personally organized protests at the Embassy of Morocco on behalf of Aminatou Haidar in 2009 when the Moroccan government refused to allow her entry to her homeland and in 2010 on behalf of the Sahrawi Six, six men who had been facing a military trial in Morocco because they had visited their families in the Sahrawi refugee camps. Haidar was allowed to go home and all six of the Sahrawi Six have since been released.

Letter Writing Campaigns to U.S. Presidents, United Nations, other officials (ongoing): Scholte has organized regular letter writing campaigns to the President of the United States, Secretary General of the United Nations and other officials calling for Sahrawi self-determination, human rights monitoring in the occupied territory and other advocacy for the Sahrawi people.

First Christian Prayer Service in the Refugee Camps: Scholte helped organize a delegation of Christians from all over the United States to visit the camps and have a prayer service with and for the Sahrawi people and for the liberation of their homeland. It was the first Christian prayer service held in the camps and included Christians from the USA, Spain, and Muslims from Algeria and the Western Sahara.

Testimony Before the United Nations IV Committee: Scholte has personally testified, and also organized others to testify, before the United Nations IV Committee (Decolonization Committee) in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

Congressional Briefing and Hearing: Scholte helped organize a Congressional hearing on the Western Sahara in 2005 in which she helped arrange the witnesses and submitted testimony and a Congressional briefing in 2007 in which she helped arrange the witnesses and served as moderator.