Aminatou Haidar’s personal story is both tragic and inspirational. Tragic for the suffering she has endured in seeking to promote respect for universal freedoms. Inspirational for her courage, her devotion to her people and to human rights, and for what her life says about the resilience of the human spirit.
Her commitment to non-violence began as a young university student, witnessing the abuses of the Moroccan security forces. As Kerry just described, in 1987 Ms. Haidar was imprisoned and tortured because she dared to speak out. For four years she was “disappeared,” and during that entire time she was blindfolded, totally cut off from her family and the outside world. Her health was permanently damaged by the abuses she suffered.
After her release in 1991, Ms. Haidar described herself as “a ghost, a living dead, a young woman back from a kind of hell that bears no name.”
As the Sahrawi poet, Mohamed Ebnu wrote, “And we still wait for a new dawn. We still wait to begin again,” Ms. Haidar resumed her work to call attention to the denial of human rights inWestern Sahara.
In June 2005, when Ms. Haidar was again arrested, again beaten and injured, and again arbitrarily detained, she did not give in to anger or despair. Instead, she and a group of 37 other Sahrawi political prisoners held a 51-day hunger strike in an effort to obtain more humane prison conditions, investigations into allegations of torture, and the release of political prisoners.
For seven months she was separated from her two children, knowing nothing of their fate. Those of you who are parents and grandparents, as I am, can only imagine how agonizing that would be, and for her children as well.
During her detention, Ms. Haidar gained international renown as a dedicated and determined human rights defender. She was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and she gained the support of other human rights organizations and the European Parliament.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights conducted an assessment in the Western Sahara, finding serious human rights abuses and concluding that “the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara must be ensured and implemented without further delay.”
Since her release in 2006, Aminatou Haidar has continued her non-violent struggle tirelessly. She is President of the Sahrawi Collective of Human Rights Defenders – CODESA – which Moroccan authorities have denied the right to legally register in Western Sahara.
Patrick Leahy, United States Senator of Vermont