For Immediate Release: November 5, 2010
American NGOs, Human Rights Activists Call on Obama to Protect Sahrawis in Western Sahara
(Washington, D.C.)…Representatives of American non-governmental organizations and human rights activists sent a letter today to President Barack Obama requesting his immediate help to protect the lives of the Sahrawis in Moroccan-Occupied Western Sahara. Protesting their treatment as second class citizens in their own homeland, the Sahrawis have left the city of El Aaiun to set up a tent camp.
They are now surrounded by the Moroccan army which is denying them food and water and restricting access by journalists and international observors. Already a fourteen year old Sahrawi boy has been shot and killed by the Morrocan army.
“We just had a very contentious election in the United States, but this is an issue in which we all, whether Democrats, Republicans or Independents, agree upon, and we have joined together to appeal for President Obama’s intervention,” said Suzanne Scholte, Chairman of the U.S. Western Sahara Foundation. “We are deeply concerned that the Sahrawis are in grave danger for peacefully expressing their fundamental rights, and we have seen those in occupied Western Sahara repeatedly tortured and imprisoned simply for speaking out in support of self-determination, which was first promised by Spain, affirmed by the International Court of Justice and re-affirmed and promised by the United Nations.”
The letter, signed by a wide range of organizations and individuals from such left-leaning organizations as the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies to conservative-leaning organizations such as the Defense Forum Foundation, states: “As President of the United States, and the representative of us all, this is an opportunity to show that although Americans share many diverse opinions, our country and our people’s commitment to freedom of expression, the rule of law, and the right to self-determination is unyielding.”
Because of the deteriorating situation in occupied Western Sahara, the signers called for human rights monitoring to be added to the MINURSO mandate.
Signers also included officials who had served with MINURSO, as well as former Reagan and Clinton appointees including Ambassador Frank Ruddy, an Ambassador for former President Ronald Reagan, and Gare Smith, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for former President Bill Clinton.
Also included were leaders of humanitarian organizations including Dr. Teresa Smith de Cherif of the Sahara Fund and David Lipiatt of We International as well as human rights activists from New York, California, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states across America.
TEXT OF LETTER SENT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
November 5, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing as a diverse group of American citizens, including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and as representatives of non-governmental organizations, to appeal for your immediate attention to the situation in the Western Sahara, where thousands of the indigenous Saharawi people are in grave danger. This situation has already led to the death of a fourteen year old Sahrawi boy who was shot last week by the Moroccan military.
Thousands of Sahrawi left their homes in El Aaiun, Western Sahara, and set up a tent camp outside the city to protest their treatment as second class citizens in their own homeland. They are specifically protesting their living conditions, lack of employment, and the exploitation of their natural resources by Morocco which illegally annexed their country when Spain withdrew in 1975. The United Nations, with strong U.S. support, has repeatedly promised the Saharawi the right to self-determination, but Morocco has blocked efforts to hold a referendum that includes the option of independence.
It has been reported by Associated Press and AFROL news that the Sahrawi are now surrounded by the Moroccan military, which is preventing water and food from reaching them. The Moroccan authorities are also denying international observers and journalists access to this area.
We believe that your calling upon the Kingdom of Morocco to show restraint and respect for the Sahrawi’s right to freedom of expression could prevent an escalation of this potentially tragic situation. We also believe that this situation illustrates why human rights monitoring must be added to the MINURSO mandate, which may currently be the only peacekeeping operation that does not include a human rights component.
As President of the United States, and the representative of us all, this is an opportunity to show that although Americans share many diverse opinions, our country and our people’s commitment to freedom of expression, the rule of law, and the right to self-determination is unyielding.”