No War, but No Peace

Published on
by
Al Jazeera English

No War, but No Peace

by
David Chater

It takes a rare form of courage to conduct a hunger strike in full public view.

Aminatou Haidar's self-imposed ordeal in protest at her treatment by the Moroccan authorities is taking place at the bus station on the edge of Lanzarote's main airport.

She's been surviving over the last 30 days on sips of sugared water and the media spotlight around her is growing ever brighter. Satellite trucks, cameras and correspondents record her every movement. Aminatou is weakening rapidly and now has to be taken in a wheelchair to use the public lavatories on the site.

Shielding her eyes from the glare of the Spanish sun and the pursuing pack of press, she is prepared to endure the daily humiliation because each day now it is becoming harder for political leaders to ignore what is happening in the disputed territory of the Western Sahara, just one hundred kilometres away from the shores of the Canary Islands, and that bastion of human rights, the European Union.

Because each day now it is becoming harder for the Moroccan government to justify Rabat's control of the territory - dubbed Africa's last colony – or gloss over the scale of suffering amongst the indigenous Sahrawi population.

Aminatou is now the best-known activist campaigning for their rights of self-determination.

She was travelling back to her home town of Laayoune in the Western Sahara last month to see her mother and her two teenage children. But when Haidar refused to state her citizenship as Moroccan on the entry forms, her passport was confiscated by officials and she was expelled.

She had just been to the United States to collect a civil courage award from the Train Foundation for what they described as her "courageous campaign for self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco and against forced disappearances and abuses of prisoners of conscience".

When I spoke to her on the eve of her second month on hunger strike, Aminatou told me she had a message for her children: "I chose this way to be a defender of human rights. But if I have to die, they need to understand, at least I will die with dignity."

Speaking softly but coherently in fluent French, she added: "I also have a message for my people and fellow defenders of human rights. Please continue your non-violent struggle. If I die it won't be the end of the world."

There seems little prospect of that struggle succeeding though. In a speech last month the Moroccan monarch King Mohammed VI seemed to finally rule out any idea of independence.

"One is either a patriot or a traitor," he declared.

"Is there a country that would tolerate a handful of lawless people exploiting democracy and human rights in order to conspire with the enemy against its sovereignty, unity and vital interests?"

The Polisario Front fought a 16 year long war to dispute that opinion. It only ended on the promise that a referendum would be held to determine the future status of the territory.

The Sahrawis are still waiting for the United Nations to make good on that promise. More than 100,000 of them are living in the limbo of refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria.

There is no war, but neither can there be peace as long as their plight is ignored by the international community. Aminatou's voice may be fading as her hunger strike reaches its final stage but her message is only growing stronger.

David Chater is an award winning correspondent with more than 30 years experience in international television news. He is based in France.

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