Sahrawi activist on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport admitted to hospital

A Sahrawi human rights activist, on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport since she was expelled from Western Sahara by the Moroccan authorities, was admitted to hospital on Thursday morning as her health had deteriorated.

Aminatou Haidar, who is currently in intensive care, refuses to be fed through a tube and is determined to continue her hunger strike.

She started her hunger strike on 15 November in protest at her expulsion and to demand that she be allowed to return home. She was taken to Lanzarote General Hospital at about 1am.

Amnesty International said it was “deeply regrettable” that the Moroccan authorities have not yet allowed Aminatou Haidar to return to her home and her children in Laayoune.

The activist was detained at Laayoune airport, Western Sahara on 13 November when she returned from a month-long visit to other countries, including the USA where she accepted the 2009 Civil Courage Prize, awarded annually “for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk.”

She was questioned about why she had given her home as Western Sahara rather than “Moroccan Sahara” on her landing card; she was also asked about her travel, as well as her political opinions and affiliations.

Her Moroccan passport and identity card were then confiscated and she was detained in the airport overnight.

She says that on 14 November Moroccan officials offered to release her if she would publicly acknowledge Morocco’s “sovereignty” over Western Sahara. She refused to do so, and a few hours later she was put on a flight to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.

Amnesty International wrote to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations on 11 December, urging him to continue his efforts to obtain Aminatou Haidar’s return to Western Sahara, unconditionally and without delay, and that her identity card and passport are restored.

On 7 and 10 December, he had expressed concern about the condition of Aminatou Haidar, and acknowledged the need for an urgent resolution of her case.

The Moroccan authorities have so far refused to comply with their international obligations, and insist that Aminatou Haidar “renounced” her Moroccan nationality.

“Aminatou Haidar’s expulsion appears to reflect a growing intolerance on the part of the Moroccan authorities to the exercise by Sahrawis of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme of Amnesty International.

In recent months, Amnesty International has noted an increase of reports of harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders and activists including violations of their freedom of movement, verbal intimidation and threats, increased surveillance, the prevention of activists meeting with foreign observers, and the confiscation of travel documents.

Amnesty International’s letter to Ban Ki-moon highlighted the specific responsibility of the UN towards Western Sahara, which is a non self-governing territory under the UN Charter.

The organization called for a legal opinion by the UN on the legal status of the inhabitants of Western Sahara, particularly of those, like Aminatou Haidar, in a situation of statelessness or legal limbo as a result of actions of the Moroccan authorities, and to put such advice in the public domain.

It also reiterated Amnesty International’s calls for the inclusion of a human rights monitoring component in the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, in place since 1991 to monitor a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Front, and to organize and conduct a referendum on the status of the territory.

“The incorporation of a human rights component in the UN Mission’s mandate, up for renewal in April 2010, would be an important step forward to addressing human rights violations in Western Sahara,” said Malcolm Smart.