Hunger-striking Nobel nominee seeks return to Western Sahara

On the day the Barack Obama received his Nobel Prize in Oslo, one of the runner-up Peace Prize nominees, Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar, was on the 25th day of a hunger-strike at an airport in Lanzarote, Spain. On Dec. 10, leaders from around the world received a hand-signed letter from Haidar, asking for their urgent support. In the letter, Haidar, who is protesting her unlawful deportation to Spain after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara says, “my spirit remains strong but I feel my physical strength is fading fast.” She is now unable to stand and a doctor who examined her this week listed her symptoms as anemia, muscular atrophy and gastric hemorrhaging.

Haidar, 43, demands to return to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, without having to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. At an airport press conference on Human Rights Day, she charged that the Spanish government is holding her “illegally” and “has not done enough” to unblock a diplomatic impasse with Morocco over her case.

“My demand is to return to Western Sahara, to hug my children and to live with them and my mother, but in dignity,” Haidar said in a statement read by a supporter at the start of the press conference, which was nationally televised in Spain. Haidar, seated in a wheelchair, then told reporters that she wants to return to Western Sahara, “with or without a passport, alive or dead.”

She arrived at the airport on Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, on Nov. 14, shortly after Moroccan authorities took her passport and refused her entry at El Aaiun airport in Western Sahara. She began her hunger strike two days later. Since then, Madrid has offered her Spanish citizenship or political asylum, but she declined.

In the letter, Haider makes it clear that she is asking support not just for herself but for all the Saharawi people who, for the past 34 years have been forced to live either under an illegal occupation in Western Sahara or desolate refugee camps in the Algerian desert. (, CNN, Dec. 10)

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  1. Hunger strike activist returns to Western Sahara
    Western Sahara independence advocate Aminatou Haidar returned home Dec. 18 after a 32-day hunger strike at a Spanish airport, defusing a diplomatic dispute between Spain and Morocco. The Moroccan government initially refused to allow Haidar to enter the country after a trip abroad unless she swore loyalty to King Mohammed, confiscating her passport and putting her on a flight to Spain’s Canary Islands. France, the US and other Western states reportedly worked to help Haidar return home. (Reuters, Dec. 18)

    Haidar had been admitted to intensive care at a Canary Islands hospital two days earlier, and was flown home on a medically equipped plane. “This is a triumph for international law, for human rights, for international justice and for the cause” of Western Sahara, said Haidar as she departed for the airport in an ambulance. (AFP, Dec. 18)

  2. Spain denies recognizing Moroccan rule in Western Sahara
    From AFP, Dec. 23:

    MADRID — Spain rejected Tuesday criticism that it had recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara in its handling of a hunger strike by an independence activist from the disputed territory.

    The complaints from several Spanish opposition parties and Saharan independence activists arose from comments by Spain’s foreign minister after Morocco allowed Aminatou Haidar to fly back to the territory on December 17.

    Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had said that “until the dispute is settled, and in conformity with the UN position, Spain notes that Moroccan law applies to the Western Sahara”.

    The comment was seen as amounting to a recognition of Rabat’s rule over the phosphate-rich territory that was annexed by Morocco in 1975 following the hasty withdrawal of colonial power Spain.

    But Spain’s foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday that “no recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara had taken place”.

    “On the contrary, the government had limited itself to noting that Moroccan law applies to the Western Sahara; that is, it simply noted a fact that is, moreover, evident to anyone who closely follows the issue,” it said.