While other colonies in Africa threw off occupiers one by one, this rocky desert expanse on the continent’s northwestern coast remains a disputed territory controlled primarily by next-door Morocco and locked in a nearly 40-year-old forgotten struggle for the right to choose its fate. And in a Muslim-majority region where women are often marginalized from politics, women have taken an unusually prominent role in Western Sahara’s independence movement.
How long will U.S. authorities ignore the bleak realities of Moroccan repression?
The annual Robert F. Kennedy Award ceremony took place at the White House this year for the first time in its 28-year history. Also for the first time, the president of the United States was there to honor the awardees. Such public support from the White House is in stark contrast with its silence on the fate of last year’s winner, Aminatou Haidar, who is widely known as the Saharan Gandhi. Earlier in November, when she was returning from the United States after receiving the Civil Courage Award from the Train Foundation, Moroccan occupation authorities arrested and expelled Haidar from her homeland of Western Sahara.
Aminatou Haidar, a nonviolent activist from Western Sahara and a key leader in her nation’s struggle against the 33-year-old U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation of her country, won this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Unfortunately, given its role in making Morocco’s occupation possible, the U.S. government has little enthusiasm for Haidar and the visibility her winning the RFK prize gives to the whole Western Sahara issue.