For Immediate Release


Jeffrey Buchanan (202) 463-7575 ext 241

RFK Memorial

Western Sahara Human Rights Defender Wins 2008 RFK Human Rights Award

Aminatou Haidar to be presented with RFK Human Rights Award for her campaign for the self-determination of Western Sahara

Haidar is the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate.
Ms. Haidar is being recognized for her courageous campaign for
self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco
and against forced disappearances and abuses of prisoners of conscience. Regularly referred to as
the "Sahrawi Gandhi," Ms. Haidar is one of Western Sahara 's most prominent
human rights defenders.

"For me, as an individual, the Robert F. Kennedy Human
Rights award represents a great honor. As a Sahrawi human rights
activist, I consider it recognition that the cause of the Sahrawi
people is just and legitimate and that our non-violent resistance
is noble and righteous, in spite of the risks and the
intimidation of the Moroccan authorities," said Aminatou
Haidar. "The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award will provide
constructive support to the struggle of the Sahrawi people for
liberty and human dignity."

"I congratulate Aminatou Haidar for receiving this honor.
All who care about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law
for the people of the Western Sahara
are inspired by her extradorinary courage, dedication and skilled
work on their behalf," said Senator Edward Kennedy. Senator
Kennedy has been an outspoken champion of Western
Sahara in the U.S. Senate for over two decades.

Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy will present Ms. Haidar with the 2008
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award in a public ceremony
sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy the morning of November 13th,
2008 in the Russell
Senate Office Building's
Caucus Room. Stay tuned to
for details.

"Aminatou Haidar has shown extraordinary courage and heroic
leadership for human rights in Western Sahara, one of the
forgotten corners of the world and the last colony in Africa. Her nonviolent struggle for the
freedom and dignity of her people reflects the kind of leadership
that Robert Kennedy most admired, and that his brother, Ted
Kennedy, has long supported," said John Shattuck, former
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and
Labor, current CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and
RFK Human Rights Award Judge.

Once a Spanish colony, Western Sahara has been under strict
military control by the Kingdom of Morocco
since its invasion in 1975. The region has experienced an
extended conflict between Moroccan military and the Sahrawi
("Saharawi") independence group, the Polisario Front.
In response to the International Court of Justice's
rejection of Morocco's
claims of sovereignty in the region, the Polisario Front, in
1976, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as Western Sahara's legitimate
government in exile.


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In 1988, the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed
to settle the dispute through a UN-administered referendum that
would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between
independence or integration with Morocco. The vote
still has not been held. A UN-administered ceasefire has been in
place since 1991. In 2007, the United Nations began facilitating
peace talks between Morocco and the
Polisario Front, but talks have stalled over disagreements
including who qualifies to participate in the potential
referendum and whether full independence is an option for

Ms. Haidar is part of a younger generation of Sahrawi leaders
working through non-violent means to organizing peaceful
demonstrations in support of the referendum and to denounce the
human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict. Her peaceful
efforts have been met with increased police aggression and
brutality. In 1987, at the age of 21, Ms. Haidar 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 demonstrations.
Unfortunately, the torture and harassment of Sahrawi human rights
defenders continue behind closed doors.

"The RFK Human Rights Award not only recognizes a
courageous human rights defender but marks the beginning of the RFK Center
's long-term partnership with Ms. Haidar and our commitment
to work closely with her to realize the right to
self-determination for the Sahrawi people," said Monika Kalra Varma , Director of the RFK Memorial Center
for Human Rights.

For 40 years, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial has worked for a
more peaceful and just world. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Award was established in 1984 to honor courageous and innovative
human rights defenders throughout the world. There have been 38
RFK Human Rights Laureates from 22 countries to date. The award
includes a cash prize of $30,000 and on-going legal, advocacy and
technical support through a partnership with the RFK Memorial Center
for Human Rights. Award winners are selected by an independent
panel of human rights experts, which this year included: John
Shattuck; Gay McDougall, U.N. Independent Expert on Minority
Issues; Ambassador Bill vanden Heuvel, RFK Memorial Board Member
and Of Counsel with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; Makau
Mutua, Dean of Buffalo Law School, The State University of New
York; Sushma Raman, President of Southern California Grantmakers.

For more info on Western Sahara
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