JULY, 2008



Madrid, Spain


July 8, 2008

Feminist International Radio Endeavour
by Margaret Thompson

Sultana Taiya (left) and Zahra Amed, Western Saharawi women who spoke at a round table at the Congress

The young woman stared straight ahead and talked quietly in Arabic as her translator related her testimony of torture and oppression along with other Western Saharawi university students by Moroccan police in reaction to a peaceful demonstration against the long-time occupation of the Western Sahara.  Sultana Taiya lost an eye as a result of severe beatings by the police in May, 2007. But unfortunately, her story of violent repression is not unique.

Taiya and Zahra Amed, of the Organization of Western Saharawi women were among several Saharawi women who traveled to Madrid, Spain for the 10th Interdisciplinary World Congress of Women 2008.  According to Amed, they came to denounce the repression and oppression of the Western Saharawi peoples, and “to transmit a message of peace, especially in the voice of women” in their struggle for equality, freedom and independence.  


Sultana in the hospital after being brutally
beaten and tortured by Moroccan police


Covert photo of a brutal police response to a
political demonstration by Saharawi students in Morocco


Several women at the World Congress responded by working with the Saharawi women to compose a declaration demanding that the conference organizers, and the governments of Spain and Morocco take action to resolve the situation involving numerous human rights violations in the Saharawan occupied zones. 

For more than 30 years, over half of the population of Saharawis, the indigenous population of the Western Sahara, have lived in four refugee camps in the barren wind-swept desert of Algeria, whereas the others live within Moroccan under conditions of occupation and repression.  Morocco invaded the Western Sahara in 1976 after centuries of occupation by Spain, and the ensuing conflict forced hundreds of thousands of Saharwis to flee to Nigeria to escape the bombs and napalm. 

After a war between the Moroccan government and the Polisario guerillas, an independence movement of the Sahwaris, the Moroccans build a highly controlled and militarized separation wall that stretches 2200 kms. and divides in half the Western Sahara country including many families.   The west side, rich with natural resources including phosphate and fisheries is controlled by Morocco, whereas the east side is barren desert, where the refugees rely almost entirely on dwindling international humanitarian aid.

The UN declared Morocco’s occupation of Western Saharwi a violation of that country’s sovereignty, but efforts to broker a peace agreement through the years by the UN, the African Union and others have so far failed.   One referendum brokered by the UN would provide for self determination for the Saharawis if it passes, but Morocco refused to allow the referendum to be held.  And the Saharawis are still waiting.

But the occupation of the Western Sahara is a long forgotten occupation, with little coverage in media, and little political will by governments or the UN to resolve the situation.  As noted in the recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, “the international community has chosen to look the other way.”  Instead, attention has been diverted by western interests (particularly the US and France) involving valuable natural resources of phosophorus, fisheries and potentially oil in the Western Sahara, and Morocco’s efforts to join the European Union.  And the Saharawis are still waiting.

“My country is considered the last colony of the African continent,” declared Zahra Ahmed, of the Organization of Western Saharan Women in an interview with FIRE.  “My country continues suffering the consequences of the armed forces imposed on us by the Moroccan government.”

Those Saharawis who remained in their homeland now occupied by Morocco have constantly faced arrest, imprisonment, death and “disappearance” at the hands of Moroccan occupying forces.  Peaceful demonstrations are met with violent repression.  Hundreds have been arrested.  Women and children have been assaulted in their homes by Moroccan security forces.

Women have long played a strong role in Saharawian society, and today are the foundation of life in the refugee camps, which are comprised of 90% women and children.  Many of the men are either dead from the war with Morocco or are away and stationed with the Polisario Front.   Women are the key figures in education, administration and health.  And they also are leaders in the struggle for their country’s freedom and independence. 

The resolution proposed at the World Women’s Congress is an effort to generate support for the Western Saharawi movement for self determination, said Amed, and to bring a “pacific and just ending to this conflict…to bring freedom, justice and peace for the Saharawian population.”



FIRE interview with Zahra Amed, Organization of Western Sahara Women ( in Spanish)

"Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Zones" (Western Sahara), roundtable at Women's Worlds Congress 2008, Saturday, July 5, 2008.

Brennan, Stephanie (2001, Aug. 29), “Western Sahara: A Saharawi woman’s plea,” Green Left Online (http://www.greenleft.org.au/2001/462/25358).

Norwegian Refugee Council (2008, Aug. 1), “Western Sahara: NRC Launches Report – Turning the Blind Eye on the Western Sahara,” allAfrica.com (http://allafrica.com/stories/200804010610.html ).

Zeina, “Sarahawi women and their struggle for independence” (2007, Dec. 24), (blog).  (http://saharawiyazeina.blogspot.com/2007/12/saharawi-women-and-their-struggle-for.html).



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