A recent press release from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights accused the Moroccan police of attacking the home of separatist leader Aminatou Haidar. As usual when writing about the Sahara, the RFK Center report contains overstatements and hyperbole not found in other reports of the same events.
Local eyewitnesses reported violence in the Moulay Rachid district on the evening of April 14, upon Ms. Haidar’s return to Laayoune. However, witnesses testified that in fact, the violence against property and innocent bystanders was perpetrated by pro-Polisario “frontists” in an attempt to persuade the visiting UN delegation that the Moroccan police were responsible for the attacks.
Witnesses reported seeing these “frontists” smashing windshields and causing severe damage to two 4×4 MINURSO vehicles provided for the delegation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was visiting Ms. Haidar’s home at the time of the incident. One would surely have to question the validity of any report absent an agenda against the Moroccan government that accused official Moroccan security services of attacking and damaging UN property openly and in clear sight in one of the busiest areas of Laayoune.
Salem Sharkawy, Head of the Regional Committee for Human Rights in Laayoune, was present at the incident, and he rejected the story told by Aminatou Haidar and repeated by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights without any attempt of verification. No UN officials have confirmed these allegations.
Provoked and staged incidents of disturbance and conflict during high profile visits are routine in the area. It is a strategy based on provocation, disinformation, and propaganda, used to garner political support while distorting the normalcy on the ground in Laayoune and the so-called Western Sahara in general.
With the support and recognition of the RFK Center, Ms. Haidar presents herself as a Sahrawi human rights defender in her role as president of CODESA (Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders). The credibility of information spread by this “human rights organization” is often called into question for half-truths, and it uses a propaganda style approach to issues concerning the Moroccan Sahara.
Although denied by Ms. Haidar, it is reported that she is also member of the General Secretariat of the Polisario Front, a brutal rebel group funded by Algeria and involved in the embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined to the Tindouf camps. At the very least, she enjoys a close relationship with the Polisario guerilla, often traveling and lecturing with key members of its leadership.
Ms. Haidar bolstered her international reputation when she accused the Moroccan government of confiscating her passport and denying her entrance to Laayoune after a trip abroad. Once again, other reports give a much different account of the events. According to a WikiLeaks document exchange between the US and Morocco, it was Ms. Haidar who denounced her Moroccan citizenship, and she turned over her passport of her own volition.
Aminatou Haidar was born in 1966 in Akka near Tan-Tan city in southern Morocco. Tan-Tan city is not part of what is considered the Western Sahara (as shown in the following official document). Although Moroccan by birth and carrying Moroccan residence and citizenship and a Moroccan passport, she uses these as they best serve her personal agenda in the Sahara. She has neither personally nor through her organization questioned the reported human rights violations occurring the in camps of Tindouf at the hands of the Polisario guerilla. She has never taken an official position to denounce the Polisario’s violations of rights of Sahrawis living in the Tindouf camps.
Specifically, she does not endorse the repeated calls from UNHCR (The UN refugee agency) for a full and open census of the camps.
She has made no public statement denouncing the misappropriation of the much-needed international financial aid to the Sahrawi families living under the control of the Polisario in Tindouf. Foodstuffs and other basic life-sustaining humanitarian supplies were uncovered in an embezzlement scandal recently revealed by the European Union’s anti-fraud Office OLAF.
She does not defend Mustapha Mouloud, who is separated from his family and not allowed access to his wife and children living in the Tindouf camps. The former Polisario police officer is denied travel documents and basic liberty because he called for the consideration of the proposed Moroccan Autonomy Plan as a possible solution to the continuing standoff held in place by the Algerian political agenda.
This is a man who has suffered at the hands of the Polisario in much the same way as she claims she has suffered. It is unfortunate that Mr. Mouloud is not in a financial position to fund her jet-setting lifestyle – if he were a rich man, perhaps Ms. Haidar would find more interest in his cause!
It is important to ask who funds Aminatou Haidar. We must ask the question: Who finances her travel and political activism? Two weeks ago, she was in New York, working to cast doubt on the US’s position in the Sahara. She failed.
Kerry Kennedy, daughter of former Senator Robert F. Kennedy, works hard to invoke her father’s name for fame and glory. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center) has taken an oppositional stance against several of America’s allies, ranging from El Salvador to South Korea. Both personally and through her NGO, Ms. Kennedy now targets America’s oldest ally, Morocco, with a false and unsubstantiated campaign claiming human rights abuse in Morocco. Aligning herself with a financially lucrative allegiance to the Algerian position on the Sahara, Ms. Kennedy continues to capitalize on the high international spotlight provided to her, and the resulting cash flow to the RFK Foundation.
Sadly, an American organization that claims to be a champion of the truth and a defender of human rights retweets un-vetted information published by Sahara Press Service without regard for normal journalistic standards, verification, or reasonable scrutiny. This propaganda is repeated every year before the United Nations Security Council prior to the scheduled vote to renew MINURSO.
While remaining open and transparent with the international community on progress and human rights developments, Morocco continues to make considerable regional and national progress in terms of human rights. Rightfully, Morocco rejects any proposals to expand the UN mission in the Sahara, and insists that the international community respect the sovereignty of their country and the right to control their internal affairs without outside interference.
By Hicham Reja