Washington D.C.(March 25)… Human rights activists from the United States demonstrated at the Moroccan Embassy today to call for the release of the “Sahrawi Six”, six Sahrawi human rights defenders currently facing a Moroccan military court because they visited their family members in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.
Because the six Sahrawis currently reside in Moroccan-Occupied Western Sahara, they could receive the death penalty for visiting their loved ones, even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has worked to facilitate just these kinds of visits. Speakers at the demonstration included former Deputy Chairman of MINURSO Ambassador Frank Ruddy, Seoul Peace Prize Laureate Suzanne Scholte, Michael Beer of the Human Rights Action Center, and Tim Kustusch of the US Western Sahara Foundation.
Ruddy, an Ambassador who served under former President Ronald Reagan, decried the lack of action by the United Nations in addressing the continuing human rights violations being committed by the Moroccans against the Sahrawis and others.
Scholte, who organized a similar demonstration for Aminatou Haidar last December, said the demonstration was necessary because the Sahrawi six have now been held for nearly six months despite the fact that governments including the United States and international organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for their release.
Beer made it clear that those at the demonstration were not against Morocco, but simply supported human rights around the world — human rights for the Sahrawis and for Moroccans as well. He hoped that Morocco would do the right thing and immediately release the Sahrawi Six.
The demonstrators hand-delivered a letter signed by twenty former officials and NGO leaders based in the United States. They also chanted and protested in front of the embassy with posters showing pictures of the Sahrawi Six and chanted slogans including: “Mo- roc – co, Let the Sahrawis Go!”
Others participating in the demonstration were Professor Daniel Volman of the African Security Research Project, Mary Lynn Qurnell, a long-time staff member for former Senator Jesse Helms, and Henry Song of the Defense Forum Foundation.
The text of the letter is reprinted below >>
Background: The six Sahrawi human rights defenders have been held in a Moroccan prison since they were arrested in Casablanca on October 8, 2009. Ironically, they were returning from the Sahrawi refugee camps, an area Morocco falsely claims is inaccessible to visitors, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has worked for decades to facilitate these kinds of visits between family members living in occupied Western Sahara and those living in the refugee camps in Algeria, who have been separated since Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975. Furthermore, a recent group of Sahrawis living in occupied Western Sahara just returned from a visit to the camps. It is believed that these 6 are being detained and threatened because they are known for their peaceful efforts to raise the unlawful and inhumane treatment of Sahrawi citizens in occupied Western Sahara to advocate for their right to vote. Those arrested include:
1) Brahim Dahane, President of the Saharawi Association of Victims of Serious Violations Committed by Morocco (ASVDH);
2) Ali Salem Tamek , First Vice President of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) and member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH);
3) Ahmad Anasiri: General Secretary of the Saharawi Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Smara and President of AMDH Smara Chapter;
4) Yahdih Ettarrouzi, Member of AMDH Laayounne Chapter;
5) Saleh Lebayhi: President of the Forum for Protection of Sahrawi Children and member of the Laayoune Chapter of CODESA and AMDH; and
6) Rachid Sghayar, Member of Committee Action against Torture
Most have previously been imprisoned by Morocco including Brahim Dahane, who was among the “disappeared” from the 1980s, a period when hundreds of Sahrawis disappeared into Moroccan prisons and were tortured and held for many years without any acknowledgment by Moroccan authorities of their existence. Additionally, Ali Salem Tamek was one of Amnesty International’s Prisoners of Conscience for being held in prison in Morocco for his support of human rights and self-determination.
The violence against the Sahrawis in occupied Western Sahara has been documented and reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the World Organization Against Torture, Reporters without Borders, and the U.S. State Department. In fact, Morocco’s brutal occupation of Western Sahara has repeatedly led Freedom House to list Moroccan Occupied Western Sahara as one of the world’s worst regimes. Even the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged Morocco’s human rights violations against the Sahrawi people, concluding that it is a direct result of Morocco’s denial of the basic right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.
The State Department’s most recent report can be found at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/nea/136076.htm
TEXT OF LETTER –
March 25, 2010
His Excellency King Mohamed VI
c/o Embassy of Morocco
1601 21st Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
We are writing to call upon you to release the six Sahrawi human rights advocates, Brahim Dahane, Ali Salem Tamek, Ahmad Anasiri, Yahdih Ettarrouzi, Saleh Lebayhi and Rachid Sghayar. They were arrested by Moroccan police as they arrived in Casablanca on October 8, 2009, after visiting their families in refugee camps in Algeria.
While we deeply appreciate the long-time friendship between the United States and Morocco, we are demonstrating today at the Embassy of Morocco in the United States because the Moroccan government has continued to hold these six individuals in direct violation of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of movement, and to which Morocco is a signatory, and the reason for their detention is in direct violation of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly December 9, 1998.
Despite requests to Morocco for their release from well respected organizations and government leaders, the authorities in Morocco have continued to detain these individuals for six months in violation of international law. Furthermore, we understand they are facing a military court. These six human rights advocates are known internationally for their peaceful advocacy of their views.
We appreciate the expressed commitment of the Moroccan governments to the ideals of democracy and human rights, and we believe that the release of these six individuals would show that Morocco is committed to those ideals.
We thank you for your consideration.
US Western Sahara Foundation
Human Rights Action Center
Teresa Smith de Cherif, M.D.,
President, Sahara Fund, Inc.
Medical Director, Sahara Fund
Frank Ruddy, U.S. Ambassador (Ret.)
Former Deputy Chairman, U.N. Referendum for Western Sahara
Gare A. Smith
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State,
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Board of Directors,
Not Forgotten International, Inc.
Former Executive Director
Foreign Policy in Focus
US Western Sahara Foundation
Tim F. Kustusch
U.S. Western Sahara Foundation
International Executive Director
WE International, Inc.
Edward L. Peck Ambassador, (Ret.)
Saharawi Programs Coordinator
Christ the Rock Church
English Program, 27th of February Camp
Renaissance Women Productions
Rev. Jonathan F. Peters
River Crossing Community Church
Spring City, PA
Former Congressional Staff Member
Christians In Crisis
Honorable Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Ambassador Susan Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations