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

Press Releases
Human Rights Defender Brutally Attacked by Moroccan Police

from Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights

Retaliatory violence by the Moroccan government continues to rise during United Nations Envoy's visit to militarily-controlled Western Sahara

(Nov. 2, 2012: Washington) RFK Human Rights Laureate Aminatou Haidar is the latest victim of systemic violence and police brutality by the Moroccan government against the Sahrawi people. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) has received multiple reports in the last week that indicate dramatically increased police presence, repression, and assault against civilians in El Ayun, the of capital of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, coinciding with Ambassador Christopher Ross's arrival in the area.

"The fact that this violence against the Sahrawi didn't just continue but actually increased during Ambassador Ross's visit demonstrates how vital it is to build a global conversation about the plight of the Sahrawi. The Moroccan government believes that the international community will not hold them accountable for these continued human rights violations. We have to prove them wrong." said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center.

Ambassador Ross serves as United Nations (UN) Envoy to Western Sahara, a region Morocco was occupied militarily since 1975 despite calls for a referendum on self-determination. He is in the midst of a planned visit to speak with Sahrawi citizens as part of the UN's Western Sahara peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO. Four decades since the UN cease-fire, the Sahrawi people suffer torture, arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, and other human rights violations at the hands of the Moroccan government and the UN's peacekeeping mission lacks human rights monitoring mandate to report on such violations.

"It's unacceptable that in spite of the overwhelming evidence of violence against the Sahrawi people, the international community and the UN are still refusing to include a human rights mandate in the peacekeeping mission." said RFK Partners for Human Rights Director Santiago Canton.

Earlier this week, CODESA chairwoman and RFK Human Rights Award Laureate Aminatou Haidar was stopped by police officers outside the UN mission's headquarters and placed under police surveillance. Her phone calls and emails are being monitored, and her internet connection was cut. In addition to the increased harassment Ms. Haidar experienced, the RFK Center has received reports of police officers cutting power to areas of the city, breaking into private homes, and intimidating anyone who is seen as a potential critic of the Moroccan occupation.

The next day, November 1, following her meeting with Ambassador Ross, Ms. Haidar was attacked by police in a four hour assault that left her car destroyed and her sister and daughter trapped inside while officers threw rocks at the windows. Ms. Haidar was shoved her to the ground, beaten, and threatened with a knife. She sustained two football shaped hematomas from the public assault, which the Moroccan government denies ever happened.

In September, following a human rights delegation to Western Sahara, the RFK Center released a statement with preliminary observations on the human rights situation in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. The delegation observed firsthand the intimidation and state-sponsored violence that critics of the Moroccan regime live under each day. In spite of the systematic violence against the Sahrawi people, the UN continues to ignore the need for a human rights mandate in its peacekeeping mission there. In response the rising violence and oppression in Western Sahara, the RFK Center has launched a petition calling on the President of the United States to demand that the UN Mission include a human rights monitoring mandate: sahara-2.