By Nicolaj Nielsen
I already posted on how the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (Minurso) is the only one of its kind to not have a human rights mandate. The conflict is over thirty years in the making and consistently hovers below the media radar screen.
Perhaps there is not enough blood spilled to get the world’s attention; a disturbing paradox for the human rights activists on the ground and on the frontline. The freedom of expression, of assembly, of political dissent are vital in any functioning democracy, but in Morocco and despite promises of reform, an entire people have been pushed to the edge and forgotten. And over 160,000 refugees are wasting away in a desert near a former Algerian military base in Tindouf as a result.
It seems so long ago now but when I was there in November and December of last year, I had secretly met with a number of human rights activists in Laayoune – a former Spanish outpost in the middle of a vast desert. There is an all out media blockade there and those caught risk jail – and those who are seen to associate with media incur even greater risk. In other words, it’s rare to hear anything coming out of the region. While access to the Western Sahara is no problem, getting access to the issues that Minurso is tasked to oversee is an altogether different experience.
For those of you interested in some of the issues I covered there and the people I spoke to – please read the following feature published yesterday at Pambazuka News: