sábado, 4 de abril de 2009

Swedish tour operator removed propaganda

The Swedish tour operator Ving has removed information from their homepages claiming that the occupation of Western Sahara in 1975 took place in a peaceful manner.

In 2008, the Swedish tour operator Ving, which sells trips to Morocco, had by mistake introduced a piece of Moroccan propaganda on its homepages.

The operator refered to the occupation of Western Sahara as a peaceful event.

"1975, 350 000 Moroccans marched towards the then called Spanish Sahara to peacefully include this part of the desert with Morocco. They considered this being formerly part of Morocco", Ving wrote.

See the original homepage to the right (click to enlarge).

The information was presented on an overview of the Moroccan national holidays, as part of its Morocco travel guide.

6th of November is such a a holiday in Morocco, despite the fact that it marks the day when Morocco violated international law and the opinion by the International Court of Justice, by entering Western Sahara. The occupation was brutal. Morocco bombed the indigenous Sahrawi settlements with napalm and white phosphorous, leading to a mass exodus of the population. A majority of the Sahrawi people fled their homeland.

After the Swedish Network for a free Western Sahara made the tour operator aware of the mistake, Ving then removed the peaceful reference from their pages. (Corrected version to the right).

The sentence about the so-called Green March was altered, by just stating that an event with such a name took place, but without giving more information.

"We are very happy about Ving's decision to remove the mistake from their homepages", said Kristin Ivarsson of the Swedish Network for a free Western Sahara.

"But we would appreciate if they would inform their customers about the occupation. We have visited several of Ving's bureaus in Stockholm. All the answers we got is that Morocco is a stable and secure country. We got no information that Morocco brutally occupies Western Sahara. Ving's customers deserve to get this basic information", said Ivarsson.

After first being altered, now all information relating to national holidays in Morocco have lately been removed in its entirety from Ving's homepages.

AFAPRDESA calls to the boycott of the meeting of the WSF’s international Council

The Association of the Families of the Saharawi Prisoners and Disappeards (AFAPREDESA) launched today an urgent appeal calling to the boycott of the meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum, planed to be organised in Morocco this May.

AFAPREDESA, joined the calls launched by South African Trade Union, COSATU, and Saharawi UGTSARIO to the components of the World Social Forum, and all progressive forces around the world to clearly express rejection and condemn the decision of the International Council to organise its meeting in a colonial country such as Morocco.

Here is the complete text of the open letter published today by AFAPREDESA and addressed to the international public opinion about the matter:

Saharawi Refugee camps, April 02, 2009.

The Association for the Families of Saharawi Prisoners and the Disappeared (AFAPREDESA) position regarding World Social Forum’s decision to host next International Council meeting in Morocco

After consultations with the rest of the members of the Saharawi Social Forum, AFAPREDESA would like to express its deep indignation and astonishment about the decision to hold the next meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum in Morocco. AFAPREDESA’s position is adopted for the following reasons:

- The holding of the meeting of an organisation as influential as this one in an occupying country that is daily oppressing the Saharawi people is a contradiction of the Charter of Principles of Porto Alegre, which clearly declares in Article 10: "The World Social Forum is opposed to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development and history, and to the use of violence as a means of social control by the State. It upholds respect for human rights and the practices of genuine, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, equality and solidarity among ethnicities, genders and peoples; and it condemns all forms of domination and subjection of one person to another".

- The hosting country of this meeting, the kingdom of Morocco, shows its scorn and arrogance in the face of the resolutions of the international community regarding the decolonization of the Western Sahara. Morocco continues its refusal to hold a just and fair referendum on self-determination within the framework of the UN-OAU peace plan that was accepted by the two parties to the conflict, Morocco and Polisario Front, in 1991. Worse still, Moroccan forces of occupation in the Western Sahara continue their policies of repression and terror against the defenceless civilian Saharawi population, a fact which has been proven by reports by international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch (2008), Amnesty International, the Word Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), and international bodies such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (report of the 2006 mission) and the Ad-hoc Mission of the European Parliament to Western Sahara (report of March 2009), among other reports.

- True, the various members of the Moroccan Social Forum have shown a great degree of maturity in making an effort to contribute to the reconciliation of the visions of the Saharawi and Moroccan peoples in search of alternative solutions, such as the establishment of the Maghreb of the Peoples–a move that we embraced, mainly by facilitating the organisation of the first Maghreb Social Forum held in El Jadida (in Morocco) without the participation of the party of the Saharawi Social Forum in Exile. Still, we are astonished that the Moroccan Social Forum has submitted an invitation to host a meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum.

- Unlike the members of the Israeli Social Forum, all parties included, who regularly and openly denounce the criminal actions of Israel against the Palestinian people, the Moroccan Social Forum does not express opposition to the crimes committed on a daily basis by the troops of their country against the Saharawi civilian population in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. Worse, some of the representatives of the Morocan Social Forum still defend the totalitarian, reductionist and colonialist vision in defending the notion of the so-called "Moroccan Sahara" while they know that the occupation by Morocco of a part of the territory of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is a flagrant violation of the international legality and undermines the stability and progress of the Great Maghreb. The deplorable role played by the Moroccan trade unions is very illustrative, since they participate every day in the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara, especially in regard to mineral and fish resources.

For all the aforementioned reasons, AFAPREDESA launches an urgent appeal to the boycott of this meeting of the international Council of the World Social Forum as long as an end is not put to the occupation of Western Sahara.

Abdeslam Omar Lahsen
President of AFAPREDESA

US Senators call on Obama to help decolonise Western Sahara

Seven US Senators called last Tuesday on US President, Barack Obama, support the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination through a democratic vote, and to support the addition of human rights monitoring to MINURSO’s mandate.

The seven Senators also underlined in a letter they addressed to Obama that it is in the interest of the US to ensure a fair treatment and approach to the solution of the conflict in accordance with the international legality.

Here is the complete text of the letter, of which UPES website received a copy:

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As you begin your term in office, we strongly urge you and your administration to support the people of the Western Sahara in their right to self-determination through a free, fair, and transparent referendum. It is in the interest of our country to ensure that this issue is dealt with fairly, in accordance with internationally recognized principles, and in a manner that permits the Sahrawi people to democratically choose their own political and economic future.

In 1975, the International Court of Justice expressly upheld the right to self-determination for the Western Sahara. As you know, the United Nations Charter enshrines the right to self-determination, and the U.N. General Assembly has been unequivocal in its affirmation of this right. The United Nations has passed dozens of resolutions reaffirming the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination, and established the Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara ("MINURSO") to enable the Sahrawi to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. Unfortunately, Morocco has blocked this referendum and instead proposed an Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara that would deny the Sahrawi the right to a self-determination process that includes the option of independence.

The Sahrawi people have suffered since Moroccan military forces seized control of most of the territory. Many have lived on emergency food aid in camps in the Algerian desert since the mid-1970s. Moreover, related human rights violations have been documented by the State Department over the years in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and by other respected human rights organizations.

Under your presidency, the United States has a new opportunity to help break the impasse in this longstanding conflict. The recent appointment of U.S. career diplomat and Middle East expert Christopher Ross as the new U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara further strengthens the opportunity to advance ajust and sustainable resolution. To that end, we respectfully request your support for the Sahrawi’s right to determine their own future through a democratic vote that includes the options of integration, autonomy, and independence. In addition, we urge you to support the addition of human rights monitoring to MINURSQ’s mandate.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to promote a just and democratic solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

United States Senator Russel D. Feingold
United States Senator James M. Inhofe
United States States Senator Herb Kohl
United States Senator Sam Brownack
United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy
United States Senator Jim DeMint
United States Senator Patrick J. Leahy

cc: The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State
The Honorable Susan Rice, Permanent U.S. Representative to the UN

AFAPREDESA calls on HRW and AI to intervene to save the lives of hunger-striking political prisoners

The Association of the Families of the Saharawi Prisoners and Disappeards (AFAPREDESA) called today upon Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to urgently intervene so as to save the lives of Saharawi hunger-striking prisoners of conscience.

In a letter to Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, director for the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch in Washington, DC, AFAPRDESA gave the international organisation a brief summary about the serious human rights situation in Western Sahara and the special cases of the Saharawi prisoners of conscience in Moroccan prisons.

On the other hand, the President of AFAPRDESA, Mr. Abdeslam Omar Lahsen, sent another letter to Mrs. Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General, about the same subject.

AFAPREDESA called on Amnesty International “to do everything possible to bring the Moroccan authorities to interact positively with international law and international humanitarian law and do your utmost to save these human lives”.

Here is the complete text of the two letters sent today by AFAPRDESA to HRW and AI:

Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson,
director for the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch Washington, DC

Mrs. Director,

I would like to inform you regarding the seriously deteriorating situation of human rights in the occupied territories of the Western Sahara by Morocco as a result of the grave violations and inhumane practices of the occupying Moroccan authorities and dangerous behaviour contrary to all conventions and to International Law on Human Rights.

Indeed, from the beginning of its military invasion and occupation of the territory of the Western Sahara on October 31, 1975, Morocco has paid only lip service to International Law while using sheer force against the defenceless, peaceful and isolated populations of the occupied territories. Since then, Morocco continues to resort to violent, arbitrary and systematic policies to crash the will of the Sahrawi people, despite the peaceful methods used by these populations to assert their legitimate and basic rights.

Since 21 May 2005, peaceful demonstrations calling for the respect and the implementation of the United Nations and the Security Council resolutions and demanding the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination have been met by violent repression for which the Moroccan officials are held directly responsible. The chain of command goes unbroken from the King to local officials, the police and security and administration officials on into the ground. All those forces, various forces of police, gendarmes, security, the special forces, and the so called “Croatian forces” and even the army have been directly involved in the intimidation, arrest and torture in the aftermath of the daily confrontations with the peaceful demonstrations and the sit ins and other peaceful exercises, strikes and the hunger strikes organized by the Sahrawi civil society.

Over the years, the constant deterioration of human rights in the Western Sahara has been reported again and again by many human right organizations and specialized agencies that have been allowed to visit the territories such as Human Right Watch. These reports have not barred the Moroccan occupied authorities from pursuing flagrant violations of these same basic human rights and continue paying lip service to the different call for the respect of human rights in the territories.

I would like to bring to your attention the particularly aggravating deterioration of the health of a group of Sahrawi political prisoners, who have started hunger strike February 13, 2009, in order to draw the attention to the urgent need for the implementation of international legality on the question of the Western Sahara and to address their particular conditions of detention by the Moroccan authorities in jail where the minimum norms and conventions to ensure the protection of human dignity is lacking and ignored. This is the case of Brahim Beryaz, Khalihenna Abu El Hassan and Ali Salem Belar.

It is also the case for another group of detainees that have started hunger strike in the Moroccan notorious jail of El Aaiun, called the Black Jail, in order to promote the implementation of the Sahrawi people right to self-determination in conformity with the United Nations decisions, while expressing solidarity with the detainees in the Bulmhazem Jail in Marrakech. Among them are Bechri Ben Taleb, Ahemdat Ahmed Salem and El Gasmi Mohamed Lahbib.

Mrs. Director,
We call upon you -- since your organization has gained its reputation in the defence of human rights worldwide, to intervene immediately in order to prevent the unfolding human tragedy resulting from the persistent of the Moroccan authorities in their savage repression while ignoring the basic rights of those political prisoners on hunger strike. We call on your high moral authority to do everything possible to bring the Moroccan authorities to interact positively with international law and international humanitarian law.

In conclusion, I would like to express to you our utmost respect and esteem for the dedicated work your organization has done in the defence of human rights.

Accept dear Madame, the expression of my highest respect.

Abdeslam Omar Lahsen
President of AFAPREDESA


Mrs. Irene Khan
Amnesty International Secretary General

April 02, 2009

Mrs. Irene Khan
Amnesty International Secretary General
Amnesty International UK
The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA
Phone +44 (0) 20 7033 1500
Fax +44 (0) 20 7033 1503
Textphone +44 (0) 20 7033 1664
Email sct@amnesty.org.uk

Dear Mrs. Secretary General,
You are for sure aware that the Moroccan authorities continue unabated their serious violations of human rights, whether in the occupied territories of the Western Sahara, in the south of Morocco or in the Moroccan universities where the Sahrawi students pursue their education.

I would like in particular to draw you attention on the uninterrupted violation of human rights and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation of the Sahrawi peaceful activists as a result of the Moroccan persistent and systematic repression. Morocco continues to ignore international Law and international humanitarian law, as well as the decisions and resolutions of the international community. Not only did the Moroccan government put in place a military and information blockade around the territory in order to suppress and intimidate the Sahrawi activists from demanding their legitimate rights and respect for their dignity but goes on to persecute them in their work places, in their homes, and campuses, as it is the case for the students in the Moroccan Universities.

On April 13, 2008, Khalihenna Abu el Hassan, who is studying in Marrakech, was kidnapped at 4 am at the bus station by Moroccan security agents with plain clothes. At the same station, he was subjected to all kind of torture, and then he was taken to the police local headquarters, where they continued his interrogation. The police sought to fabricate an accusation against him when the real reason of his arrest and detention was his political convictions and namely his participation with others activists to call through peaceful means for the respect of the Sahrawi people to self determination and the respect of basic humanitarian rights and for the immediate release of the political prisoners.

The Moroccan authorities arrested also Ali Salem Belar and Ibrahim Bryaz because they have persisted to call and take action for the same demands. They have protested against the difficult conditions inside the jail and to shed light on the inhumane practices of the Moroccan authorities with no respect to human dignity. On February 13, 2009, they have started hunger strike calling for the recognition of their status as political prisoners. The hunger strike continued nonstop for the last forty-seven days.

The condition of these activists on hunger strike has come to a dangerous crossroad. Their struggle has been rendered even more difficult, affecting seriously their health. Their precarious health has shown aggravating symptoms such as the vomiting of blood, and strong pain felt at the level of the kidneys, the stomach and the joins, and at the level of the intestines, while entering in continuous dizziness and losing of consciousness (coma), rendering their movement very painful and difficult. As a result Ibrahim Beryaz was taken urgently on March 30, 2009 to the nearby hospital of the town.

Despite the deteriorating situation and health of the detainees, the Moroccan authorities refused to intervene or to investigate or review their conditions of detention and overall situation. The Moroccan authorities continue to defy international humanitarian law and violate human and individual rights and basic liberties of the Sahrawi citizens.

We would like to draw your attention on other violations which are unprecedented by the Moroccan repressive authorities against our innocent and peaceful citizens on hunger strike in the Moroccan Black Jail in El Aiun, capital of the territory for over 8 days, since Tuesday March 24, 2009. Their health is badly deteriorating, including that of Bechri Ben Taleb, who is hurting at the level of the stomach and the head, Hamdati Ahmed Salem, who feels strong fatigue, and pains at the level of the intestines, while Gasmi Mohamed Lahbib is suffering strong pains at the level of the stomach and the head.

Those Sahrawi activists are only protesting in a peaceful manner against the inhuman condition of their detention. The Moroccan jailing authorities have no respect for the international norms and conventions that should be observed in jail in conformity with international humanitarian law. They are calling on the Moroccan authorities to grant them a status of political prisoners, and for their immediate release. They have committed no crime other than they are Sahrawis citizens and want to be recognized as such, while they are calling for the respect and the implementation of the Sahrawi people right to self determination in line with United Nations resolutions.

We call upon you, since your organization has gained its reputation in the defense of human rights worldwide, to intervene immediately in order to prevent further deterioration of human rights that could result in a tragedy shaped by the stubbornness of the Moroccan authorities in their savage repression while ignoring basic rights of those political prisoners. We are making this call to your consciousness to do everything possible to bring the Moroccan authorities to interact positively with international law and international humanitarian law and do your utmost to save these human lives. The Moroccan government is alone entirely responsible for the health and the fate of these political prisoners on hunger strike. They alone are responsible for the deterioration of human rights and of the aggravating situation in Western Sahara.

Please do accept the expression of our high esteem.

Abdeslam Omar Lahsen
President of AFAPREDESA.

Muslim leaders and Christian volunteers host religious dialogues in Saharawi camps

In the Saharawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf, Algeria, Muslim and Christian leaders gather together once a year to peacefully discuss their faiths. First arranged in 2006 by volunteers coordinated by Christ the Rock Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, the inter-religious roundtables are triumphantly entering their fourth year.

Christ the Rock first began working with the residents of the Saharawi camps in 1999. The program was originally dedicated to providing host families in the U.S. for Saharawi children, so that the youth could escape the scorching hot Saharan sun during the summer months.

Over the years, the program has evolved and is now principally dedicated to running an English learning centre in the camp of Smara. Volunteers come from over a dozen states in the U.S. to teach English, offer sports instruction, and share life with the people in the camps.

Outside of the English school, however, Christ the Rock participants continue to develop parallel programs to build bridges between people in the United States and Saharawis forced to live in the arid Saharan Desert.

“We are open to any new ideas,” says Janet, the program’s founder and director. “We have just come here to serve the Saharawi people. They take the lead, and we just follow.”

One of the group’s most innovative and successful projects has been a series of inter-religious seminars between leaders of the Muslim and Christian faiths. The roundtables take place in the camps, which are entirely inhabited by Sunni Muslims, and were originally conceived after Muslim prayer leaders approached Christ the Rock volunteers with a variety of questions concerning Christianity.

“We were completely taken off-guard,” says Janet. “The Imam from Tindouf and the head Saharawi Imam came to us and suggested we arrange these dialogues to learn more about each other’s religions.

“The Saharawis were disillusioned with other Muslim countries, who have not come to their aid, so it was very exciting to have them come to us seeking dialogue.”

Participants to the first seminar were very closely considered. To avoid potential tension, only a few political leaders from the Polisario Front (the independence movement of the Saharawi people), local religious leaders, and volunteers from Christ the Rock were invited.

“While a few of the attendees at the inaugural session did attempt to debate, the proceedings were for the most part peaceful and cordial,” assures the program’s founder.

The second seminar was even more in-depth, and the principle Muslim religious leader from Algeria attended. The session also took on a more open and conversational tone. By the third meeting, participation even extended to an Algerian politician who had previously authored a book condemning Christianity and had written a law making activities aimed at converting Muslims in Algeria a criminal offense.

“It was incredible,” recalls the Christ the Rock program’s director. “This man who had been vehemently opposed to Christianity came up to me and said he had been moved by what he had heard about our faith [during the seminar].”

Topics for the three seminars, which are chosen by Saharawi prayer leaders, have included: “Who is Christ?”, “Who is Mohamed?”, and “Peace.” During each session, five presenters offer their views on the chosen topic. Local Muslim leaders attend the sessions, as well as Christian leaders who have had previous exposure to Islam.

“I think my proudest moment was when the Saharawi Muslim prayer leader approached me and said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’,” recounts Janet. “Here in the Saharawi refugee camps we’ve successfully managed to host programs that have failed in the United States. It’s incredibly powerful.”

For its 2009 seminar, Christ the Rock is opening the doors to religious leaders from a number of other countries, including South Africa, Spain, and France. Local Saharawi Muslim leaders and Christ the Rock volunteers hope to continue building cultural and religious bridges in the North African region.

“We didn’t come here to convert anyone,” assures Janet. “We’re trying to open up conversation so we can better love our fellow man.”

Moroccan authorities prevent a Saharawi human rights activist from boarding a plane to Ireland

The Moroccan authorities prevented Saharawi human rights activist, Ms. Dagja Lachgar, from boarding a plane to fly to Ireland, where she is expected to participate to an international conference.

The Saharawi activists, member of the Executive Bureau of the Saharawi Association of the Victims of Flagrant Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVDH) was arrested by the police in the airport of Mohamed V in Casablanca.

Ms. Dagja is an ex-victim of forced disappearance. She spent 11 years in Moroccan secret detention camps from 1980 to 1991.

The Saharawi activists was invited to participate to the Irish Ethical Development Action (EDA) Annual Conference 2009, which will take place this year under the theme: “Global Resources, Human Rights and the Environment: The Western Sahara Conflict”, this Friday 3rd April 2009, 9.00 am– 5.00 pm at Gresham Metropole Hotel Cork, Ireland.

This year, EDA’s annual conference will be opened by Minister for foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, TD, and will draw the attention to the decades-old conflict between the people of Western Sahara (the Saharawi), the last remaining colony in Africa, and the occupier of two-thirds of their country, Morocco, EDA’s official website indicates.

EDA’s conference will investigate and challenge aspects of this conflict. Speakers will include Saharawi from the refugee camps, representatives of POLISARIO, the government of Western Sahara, and key international speakers, who together will focus on issues such as food security, gender, the environment, human rights, international law and conflict resolution.

These speakers will include: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin TD; two representatives from Western Sahara; a member of POLISARIO; Simon Coveney TD; Michael D. Higgins TD (TBC); Tom Kitt TD; Dr Tara Shine, Environmental Scientist and TV Presenter; Professor Willem Van Cotthem, UNICEF Dryland Agricultural Advisor; Dr. Nadia Bernaz (Law Department, Middlesex University); Adam Komorowski (Mines Advisory Group, UK); Mark Mc Loughlin (Journalist/Documentary Film Maker); Jim Loughran (Frontline Defenders); Alice Wilson (Cambridge University)

UGTSARIO calls on social forums to boycott the IC of the World Social Forum in Morocco

The Union General of the Workers of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (UGTSARIO- in Spanish abbreviation) called on the components of social forums around the world to boycott the meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum if organized in Morocco.

UGTSARIO reacted to the position expressed last March the 17 by the South African Trade Union, COSATU, which openly declared it won’t participate to this meeting unless it is organized in a country other than Morocco.

The Saharawi Trade union further called upon all trade unions and civil society movements in the world to adopt a similar decision as COSATU’s and “to express their opposition to the colonialist policies pursued barefacedly by Morocco” in Western Sahara.

It also called on all the members of the International Council of the World Social Forum to boycott the meeting, because it is a flagrant “flagrant violation of the Charter of Principles of Port Alegre”.

The General Union of the Workers of
Saguia El-Hamra and Rio de Oro (UGTSARIO)


Bir Lehlou, 31 March 2009

The General Union of the Workers of Saguia El-Hamra and Rio de Oro (UGTSARIO) has received with great satisfaction the news about the courageous decision taken by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to boycott the forthcoming meeting of World Social Forum’s International Council if it were to be held in Morocco. This is because Morocco is a colonialist country that still occupies by force large parts of another African and neighbouring country, Western Sahara, and violates flagrantly the human rights of its people including the right to self-determination and other fundamental political, social and cultural rights.

The decision represents yet another heavy blow to this colonialist regime that has persistently violated all international conventions and resolutions and the basic tenets of international legality. Because of its misconduct, Morocco has severed all ties with its regional neighbours and continental partners, whilst reneging on all its commitments towards them.

The decision to boycott any activity of this kind, as evidenced by COSATU, is an expression of a moral and political commitment related not only to defending the right of the Sahrawi people, which has been systematically denied by Morocco, but also to striving for building a world free from injustice and where justice, peace and mutual respect reign.

UGTSARIO would like to applaud this commendable decision and to express its profound appreciation to the leadership and all members of GOSATU. UGTSARIO considers this decision as another great gesture to be added to the many acts of solidarity and support that all components of South African society have tirelessly extended to the Sahrawi people and their struggle for freedom and independence. It also highly appreciates South Africa’s determination to continue the struggle until Africa has been completely freed from colonialism and occupation.

UGTSARIO would also like to call upon all trade union and civil society movements in the world to adopt similar decisions to express their opposition to the colonialist policies pursued barefacedly by Morocco.

UGTSARIO considers that any participation in events of this kind is a blessing and sheer encouragement for the Moroccan torturers and oppressors to continue inflecting all sorts of terror on the Sahrawi defenceless civilians that are subjected to a systematic policy of torture, intimidation, kidnapping, disappearance and even assassination.

UGTSARIO would finally like to add its voice to this courageous and highly commendable decision taken by COSATU and to express anew its deep appreciation for this move.

UGTSARIO and all the unions affiliated in it condemn the decision to organise the meeting of a progressive forum in a colonial country such as Morocco, and consider it a flagrant violation of the Charter of Principles of Port Alegre.

UGTSARIO finally calls on all the components and Social Forums members in the World Social Forum to boycott the International Council’s meeting if the organisers keep the decision of organising it in Morocco.

Cheikh Lehbib Mohamed
Secretary General of UGTSARIO

Saharawi school sets standard in education for disabled

Photos Jackson Howard and Timothy Kustusch

A group of two dozen Saharawi students pass silently in a single-file line as they squeeze past a handful of foreigners in the narrow hallway. Were it not for the occasional limp of a few of the children, the visitors would have no idea that they are standing in the Centre for Education and Integration, a school for mentally and physically handicapped youth in the Saharawi refugee camp of Smara.

The program was the brainchild of Boujima, a man known to the rest of the Saharawis as Castro, who came up with the idea in the mid-90s. In 1996, the school first opened its doors as a one-room centre serving those with both physical and mental disabilities.

“This school is the only one of its kind in any refugee camp in the world,” boasts Castro in his Cuban-accented Spanish. “Even in third-world countries that have had their independence for decades, there is no centre like the one we have here.”

Today the centre’s facilities consist of two classrooms, a cafeteria, a relaxation room, a “wild room”, and a library that doubles as the administrative centre. This last addition was constructed three years ago thanks to a generous gift of 6,000 euros donated by a Catalonian couple who had visited the school in the late 1990s.

Perhaps the school’s most innovative room is its “wild room.” Here, the students are surrounded by a number of different objects and obstacles and are left to interact with each other and their environment. Monitors do not scold or reprimand the students for improper behaviour, but they use hands-on examples and activities to show the students how to live in peace with their surroundings and other people. Over-sized models of zippers, shoelaces, bags, and other every-day objects litter the floor and the walls, and are used by teachers in instructing the children.

Another innovative space, the relaxation room, is compromised of soft couches and pillows, walls lined with rugs of subdued colours, chains of dimly-coloured lights, and a stereo that plays soothing music.

“Here, the students come to be at peace,” says the school’s director and founder. “We have learned that punishing students for erratic and violent behaviour will only inspire more anxiety, so we bring them here to relax on their own.”

Students are taught in groups based on the severity of their disabilities, and they are given the skills they need to function normally in their society. The school is dedicated to three main principles: education, integration, and autonomy.

“Some families do not know how to react to their children’s disabilities, so we teach the students how to be productive members of their family and their community,” explains Castro.

One unique program offered by the program is an arts and crafts micro-business. Students paint paintings and sew small dolls and sell them to visitors. The children are then given the earnings from the sales and instructed to go to the market on their way home to purchase vegetables, rice, and potatoes for their family to consume.

Similar schools are now run by the government in all of the five Saharawi refugee camps, but opening the first centre in Smara was an uphill struggle.

“At first we were met with some resistance from the Polisario government,” maintains Castro. “They were not excited about the idea of redirecting resources from the movement for Western Saharan independence to the education of our handicapped children. But once we opened this school, they saw its merits and applauded our efforts.”

When he first came up with the idea, people looked at the short, yet energetic man as if he were crazy. “That experience helps me to better associate with the students,” he says with a grin.

The school’s director insists that he received a divine calling to open the school back in the early 90s.

“One day, Allah tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Castro, get up! There are children who need your help.’ In the Koran and in Allah’s eyes, we are all equal – we are all the same, and so we all deserve the same treatment.”

The running of the centre requires tireless work and patience by Castro and the rest of the volunteer staff. In what may be the understatement of the year, the school’s director admitted that the education of handicapped youth in a refugee camp run on humanitarian aid is “not easy work.”

Nonetheless, the dedication of this Saharawi and the rest of the camp residents who support his efforts attest to the open and advanced society defined by the Saharawi culture. In these arid and inhospitable lands, children who are normally shunned in societies throughout the world are treated with dignity and respect.

Perhaps most telling of the school’s mission in the Saharawi refugee camps is a sign painted in Spanish that adorns the door of one of the school’s classrooms: “Here, neither trees nor flowers grow, but human beings blossom.”

Conférence à l'université libre de Bruxelles: "le Maroc semblable à Israël à l’égard de la Palestine"

Bruxelles, "le Maroc semblable à Israël à l’égard de la Palestine", a estimé le Professeur belge de droit international, M. Vincent Chapaux, lors d’une conférence-débat intitulée « pillage des ressources naturelles du Sahara Occidental », organisée mercredi dernier à l'université autonome de Bruxelles, a constaté le correspondant de la SPS sur place.

Pour M. Chapaux a estimé que "le Sahara occidental est un territoire non autonome au regard du droit international" et que "le Maroc refuse d’appliquer les résolutions internationales appelant à l’application du droit du peuple sahraoui à l’autodétermination", il est en cela "semblable à Israël à l’égard de la Palestine" a-t-il précisé.

Le débat qui a été organisé par la cellule du droit international et droit humanitaire de l’université libre de Bruxelles, a permis de mettre en évidence "l’illégalité de l’exploitation des ressources naturelles du Sahara occidental par le Maroc et ses complices et d’éclairer l’assistance sur la réalité de ce pillage", a déclaré à SPS un participant à cette conférence-débat.

"Le droit international est claire sur le sujet", a estimé de son côté l’intervenant sahraoui El Kanti Balla précisant,que la résolution 2625 du 24 octobre 1970 stipule que "le territoire d’une colonie ou d’un autre territoire non autonome possède, en vertu de la Charte, un statut séparé et distinct de celui du territoire qui l’administre".

Un statut séparé et distinct en vertu de la charte existe aussi longtemps que le peuple de la colonie ou du territoire non autonome n’exerce pas son droit à disposer de lui-même conformément à la Charte et plus particulièrement de ses principes", a-t-il ajouté.

M. Bella a évoqué également l’avis de M. Hans Corel sur l’illégalité de l’exploitation des ressources sahraouies, précisant que ce pillage "se fait sans aucune consultation avec le peuple sahraoui", qu’il ne "profite pas à la population sahraouie" et qu’il "empêche de parvenir à une solution au conflit".

La conférence a été assistée par de nombreux étudiants de droit international et de la communauté sahraouie établie en Belgique, qui se sont montrés compréhensifs de la légitimité de la lutte du peuple sahraoui.

Une marche internationale des femmes contre le mur de défense marocain, le 10 avril prochain (UNFS)

Chahid El Hafed, La présidente de l’Union National de la femme sahraoui (UNFS), Fatma El Mehdi, a indiqué que le coup d’envoi d’une marche internationales des femmes, la première de son genre au Sahara Occidental, aura lieu le dix avril prochain, avec la participation de plus 800 femmes étrangères et de 500 femmes sahraoui, pour dénoncer le mur de défense marocain parsemé par des milliers de mines anti-personnelles, d’engins militaires et de soldats.

"Cette manifestation vise à dénoncer ce rempart militaire qui s’étale sur plus de 2000Km divisant le territoire du Sahara Occidental et sa population en deux parties, ainsi que l’état de siège médiatique imposé par le Maroc dans les territoires sahraouis occupés", a déclaré, M. Fatma El Mehdi à SPS.

Parallèlement à cette marche, d’autres activités de sensibilisation sur les dangers des mines, culturelles et sportives soutenant la cause du peuple sahraoui sont également au menu, a conclu la responsable sahraouie.

Le Polisario appelle l’UE à intervenir pour sauver la vie de trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis au Maroc menacés de mort

Bruxelles, Le Front Polisario a lancé un appel à l’Union Européenne (UE), afin d’intervenir "d’urgence" auprès du Gouvernement marocain pour la libération de trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis en grève de la faim depuis 50 jours dans la prison de Boulemharez (Marrakech), et dont l’état de santé devient "très critique".

"Face à l'aggravation de la détérioration de la santé des prisonniers politiques en grève de la faim dans les prisons marocaines, nous appelons l'Union européenne à intervenir d'urgence auprès des autorités marocaines pour mettre fin à la souffrance de ces trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis. Brahim Bariaz, Jalihanna Abu Alhassan et Salem Ablag, détenu dans la prison Boulemharez (Marrakech), en grève de la faim pendant plus de 50 jours", a écrit le ministre délégué pour l’Europe, M. Mohamed Sidati.

Le ministre a en outre évoqué en particulier l’état de santé "très critique du prisonnier sahraoui, Brahim Baryaz " transporté d’urgence à l'hôpital, Ibn Toufail à Marrakech 30 Mars dernier et celui des prisonniers politiques, El Wali Amides et Salama Lehmam, incarcérés dans la prison Taroudant (Maroc), qui ont déclenché depuis samedi dernier une grève de la faim pour "protester contre leurs conditions inhumaines d’emprisonnement".

Par ailleurs M. Sidati a rappelé enfin que le rapport de la délégation ad-hoc du Parlement européen a noté "la nécessité d'établir des mécanismes efficaces devant garantir la protection des citoyens sahraouis de la répression marocaine", estimant que l’UE doit en prendre acte.

Grève de la faim des prisonniers politiques sahraouis : L’AFAPREDESA appelle HRW à intervenir pour éviter le pire

Chahid El Hafed (camps de réfugiés sahraouis), Le Président de l'Association des disparus et détenus sahraouis et de leurs familles (AFAPREDESA), Abdesalam Omar Lahsen, a demandé, jeudi à Human Rights Watch (HRW) à intervenir "immédiatement" auprès des autorités marocaines, afin d'éviter la tragédie qui menace la vie de trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis en grève de la faim depuis 49 jours dans la prison Boulemharez de Marrakech (Maroc).

"Nous vous appelons à intervenir immédiatement afin d’éviter une tragédie humaine, en raison de la persistance des autorités marocaines dans leur répression sauvage, ignorant les droits fondamentaux de ces prisonniers politiques en grève de la faim ", a-t-il dit dans une lettre adressée, jeudi au directeur de HRW pour le Moyen-Orient et l’Afrique du Nord, Sarah Leah Whitson.

"Nous appelons aussi à votre haute autorité morale de faire tout votre possible pour amener les autorités marocaines à respecter et à se conformer au droit international et au droit humanitaire", a ajouté la lettre parvenu à SPS.

"Je tiens à attirer votre attention sur le caractère particulièrement gravissime de la santé d'un groupe de détenus politiques sahraouis, qui ont commencé une grève de la faim le 13 février dernier, ainsi que sur la nécessité urgente de la libération des ces détenus d’opinion", a souligné le texte.

Il a également attiré l'attention de l’Organisation dans le cas d'un autre groupe de prisonniers politiques sahraouis qui ont "entamé une autre grève de la faim dans la tristement célèbre prison marocaine, la Carcel negra d’El Aaiun occupée, dans le but d’hâter la mise en œuvre du droit du peuple sahraoui à l'autodétermination conformément aux décisions des Nations Unies".

Il a en outre rappelé "la dégradation constante des droits humains au Sahara occidental", relevée à plusieurs reprises par de nombreuses organisations des droits de l'homme et des institutions spécialisées, qui ont eu l’occasion à visiter les territoires occupés du Sahara occidental, tels que Human Right Watch.

"Ces rapports n'ont pas empêché les autorités marocaines de poursuivre les violations flagrantes de ces mêmes droits fondamentaux de l'homme et de continuer à tourner le dos aux appels répétés pour le respect des droits de l'homme dans les territoires sahraouis occupés.

Une ONG sahraouie appelle AI pour arrêter le drame des prisonniers politiques sahraouis en grève de la faim

Chahid El Hafed (camps de réfugiés sahraouis), Le Président de l'Association des familles des prisonniers et disparus sahraouis (AFAPREDESA) , Abdeslam Omar Lahsen a appelé Amnesty International (AI) à "intervenir immédiatement ", afin d'éviter une tragédie humaine des prisonniers politiques sahraouis en grève de la faim dans les prisons marocaines.

"Nous appelons en vous, votre organisme de défense des droits de l'homme dans le monde, pour intervenir immédiatement afin d'empêcher une nouvelle détérioration des droits de l'homme qui pourrait résulter en une sérieuse tragédie humaine, en raison de l'entêtement des autorités marocaines, en ignorant les droits les plus élémentaires de ces prisonniers politiques ", a écrit M. Abdeslam dans sa lettre à Mme Irene Khan.

"Nous vous appelons également à tout faire pour amener les autorités marocaines à se conformer au droit international et humanitaire, afin de sauver la vie humaine" de ces prisonniers politiques en grève de la faim depuis le 13 Février 2009, a-t-il ajouté.

"Khalihenna Abou el Hassan, Salem Ablagh et Ibrahim Beryaz ont été arrêtés par les forces de sécurité marocaines, en avril et décembre 2008 à cause de leurs opinions politiques en faveur du droit leur peuple à l’autodétermination et à l'indépendance", a-t-il rappelé.

Le président de l’AFAPREDESA a également attiré l'attention de AI sur la détérioration de l’état de santé des prisonniers politiques, Bechri Ben Taleb, Hamdati Ahmed Salem, et Gasmi Mohamed Lahbib en grève de la faim presque une semaine en signe de solidarité avec leur compatriotes à Boulemharez.

Coup d’envoi dimanche de la première édition d’une course internationale de vélos dans les territoires sahraouis libérés (organisateurs)

Chahid El Hafed, Le coup d’envoi de la première édition de la course internationale de vélos sera donné dimanche prochain à la wilaya de Smara en destination la localité libérée de Tifariti (300Kms), avec la participation de plus de 60 sportifs en provenance de l’Espagne, l’Italie et la République sahraouie.

Organisé par l’Association des amis du peuple sahraoui à Séville (Espagne) en coopération avec le Secrétariat d’Etat sahraouie chargé de la jeunesse et du sport, le parcours est divisée en cinq étapes, partant des camps des réfugies sahraouis, jonchant "le mur de la honte" bâti par le Maroc et qui divise le Sahara occidental, pour arriver à Tifariti, quatre jours après, le neuf d’avril, ont indiqué les organisateurs.

La manifestation vise à "dénoncer ce mur qui divise la population sahraouie en deux parties depuis plus de trente années, et à condamner la situation dramatique des droits humains violés par le Maroc dans les territoires occupés du Sahara occidental", selon la même source.

La course se déroulera parallèlement à une marche internationale des femmes devant le mur de défense marocain qui aura lieu le dix avril et "la chaîne de mille personnes" dans sa deuxième édition devant un tronçon de ce même rempart militaire long de plus de 2000 Kms, parsemé de mines anti-personnels, d’armes et de militaires, a indiqué à SPS, le Secrétaire d’Etat chargé de la jeunesse et du sport, Mohamed Mouloud Mohamed Fadel.

Les prisonniers sahraouis d’Ait Meloul entament une grève de la faim en solidarité avec leurs compatriotes à Boulemharez

Ait Meloul (Maroc), Les prisonniers politiques sahraouies à la prison marocaine d’Ait Meloul ont décidé d’entrer dans une grève de la faim de 48 heurs, en signe de solidarité avec leur trois compatriotes qui mènent la même grève depuis le 12 févriers dernier à la prison locale Boulemharez de Marrakech (Maroc), ont-il indiqué dans un communiqué parvenu à SPS.

Ils ont exprimé leur "profonde indignation pour le silence et la négligence avec lesquels agit l’administration pénitentiaire de la prison de Boulemharez face aux revendications légitimes de leurs compatriotes, ainsi qu’aux lourdes peins prononcées par les tribunaux marocaines", a ajouté la source.

Ils ont enfin lancé un appel aux organisations internationales à exercer toutes les pressions sur le Gouvernement marocain afin de "libérer tous les prisonniers politiques sahraouis qui se trouvent encore dans les prisons marocaines".

Les trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis, Khalehenna Abouelhassan, Ali Salem Ablagh et Ibrahim Baryaz sont en grève de la faim depuis 49 jours dans la prison de Boulemharez et leur état de santé est devenu "critique", rappelle-t-on.

Le président de la République appelle le Haut commissariat des DH de l’ONU à sauver la vie des grévistes sahraouis

Bir Lehlou (territoires libérés), Le président de la République,Mohamed Abdelaziz a appelé jeudi le commissaire des droits de l’Homme de l’ONU, Madame Navanethem Pillay , à "intervenir d’urgence", afin desauver la vie de trois prisonniers politiques sahraouis en grève de la faim depuis 7 semaines à la prison de Boulemharez (Marrakech).

"Nous vous demandons madame la Commissaire d’user de votre influence et de votre pouvoir pour nous aider à rétablir la justice et le droit au Sahara Occidental et assurer une sûre et réelle protection nos populations civiles contre l’arbitraire" a écrit, M. Abdelaziz dans sa lettre commissaire des droits de l’Homme de l’ON, Mme Navanethem Pillay.

"Les prisonniers politiques sahraouis, Ikhallih-Anna Abou Al-Hassan, Ali Salem Ablagh et Brahim Baryaz se sont vus forcés d’entamer depuis le 13 février 2009 une grève de la faim pour protester contre les privations et les vexations dont ils sont l’objet de la part de leurs geôliers, alors que ce dernier se trouve depuis lundi dans un état comatique après que les autorités carcérales marocaines lui aient refusé la possibilité et les moyens de se soigner", a-t-il ajouté.

D’autres prisonniers sahraouis dans la Carcel negra (prison noire) d’El Aâiun continuent refuser de se nourrir pour obtenir des autorités marocaines une amélioration de leurs conditions de détention à l’intérieur de cette prison.

"Malheureusement, nous sommes forcés de constater que les forces de répression ne cessent de renforcer leur emprise sur le territoire et de continuer de défier la communauté internationale en pratiquant une politique d’intimidation et d’oppression à l’encontre de nos citoyens et citoyennes dans la partie spoliée de notre pays", a regretté le président de la République.

Des organisations internationales et non gouvernementales ont établi des rapports qui ont montré l’ampleur et la gravité des violations des droits de l’homme au Sahara Occidentales et ont avancé des propositions concrètes pour mettre fin à une situation qu’elles ont jugée unanimement intolérable au regard du Droit et de la légalité internationaux, a-t-il rappelé.