Regularly referred to as the “Sahrawi Gandhi,” Aminatou Haidar is one of Western Sahara’s most prominent human rights defenders. She advocates for a referendum to determine Western Sahara’s relationship to Morocco, which has occupied the territory since 1975 despite the International Court of Justice ruling denying its claims to sovereignty in the region. She has worked through non-violent means to organize peaceful demonstrations in support of the people of Western Sahara’s right to self-determination and to denounce human rights abuses by the Moroccan government.
Ms. Haidar’s peaceful efforts have been met with increased police aggression and brutality. In 1987, at the age of 21, she was one of 700 peaceful protestors arrested for participating in a rally in support of a referendum. Later she was “disappeared” without charge or trial and held in secret detention centers for four years, where she and 17 other Sahrawi women were tortured. In 2005, the Moroccan police detained and beat her after another peaceful demonstration. She was released after 7 months, thanks to international pressure from groups like Amnesty International and the European Parliament.
Since then Ms. Haidar has traveled the globe to expose the Moroccan military’s heavy-handed approach and to advocate for the Sahrawi people’s right to self determination. Her efforts helped change the Moroccan government’s violent tactics for dispersing pro-independence peaceful demonstrations. Unfortunately, the torture and harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders continue behind closed doors.
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