Washington, D.C. | April 17, 2015.- Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, condemn the recent attacks by Morocco's police force on the home of human rights defender Aminatou Haidar and other violence against peaceful protesters in El-Aaiun, Western Sahara. Ms. Haidar is the recipient of the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA).
"I am shocked and disturbed by reports of attacks against Sahrawi human rights defenders, including our partner Aminatou Haidar," said Kerry Kennedy. "UN officials have witnessed these violations against the Sahrawi people firsthand and should strongly condemn this latest assault. The brazen actions of the Moroccan police demonstrate why accountability for human rights violations is urgently needed in Western Sahara."
Aminatou Haidar was hosting United Nations representatives at her home to discuss human rights abuses in Western Sahara on the evening of Tuesday, April 14 when the meeting came under attack by state authorities. Moroccan police and auxiliary forces reportedly threw rocks and other items at Ms. Haidar's home, causing significant damage. According to eyewitness reports, one of Ms. Haidar's companions was struck and injured when a rock smashed through Ms. Haidar's window. Ms. Haidar, her CODESA colleagues, and the UN delegation were trapped inside during the siege, which lasted for over two hours. A UN vehicle and a car belonging to a CODESA member were also reportedly damaged by Moroccan police.
The attack appears to have occurred in relation to the forceful suppression of a peaceful protest in Ms. Haidar's neighborhood. After being attacked by Moroccan authorities, some protesters fled to Ms. Haidar's building and were pursued by police and auxiliary forces. The information available indicates that when they were able to safely do so, those who took refuge in Ms. Haidar's home left in the company of the UN representatives, and were filmed by plain-clothed Moroccan police. Moreover, police reportedly continued to attack the homes of Sahrawi residents throughout the evening. Members of Ms. Haidar's family who were outside during the initial attack were unable to return home until the following morning due to safety concerns. By the time the violence had subsided, dozens of protesters had reported injuries.
This extreme repression took place just weeks before the United Nations Security Council will vote on renewing the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the only active peacekeeping mission established after 1978 without a human rights monitoring mechanism. Advocates around the world have repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to empower MINURSO to report on human rights violations. But protests in support of human rights and the expansion MINURSO's mandate, like that which took place this week, are violently dispersed in Western Sahara. CODESA reports that 177 peaceful demonstrations were repressed in 2014 alone. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights brought to light many of these and other serious human rights violations in its most recent periodic report on Western Sahara.
"The Moroccan state, which exercises de facto authority in Western Sahara as an occupying power, is bound by international law to respect the human rights of the Sahrawi people. Instead, it is actively repressing and violating their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, personal integrity and property," said Santiago A. Canton. "When it votes on renewing MINURSO by the end of this month, the UN Security Council must take the opportunity to prevent further abuses by including a monitoring and reporting mechanism in its mandate."