Life and Activism in Western Sahara

It got dark early on the 5th of November. Literally, as the Danish fall season means only 8 hours of sunlight, but also in a more figuratively sense. You see, our lecture in class this Tuesday afternoon was the first of two on Human Rights Violations and Security. This meant discussions on dire matters such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, aggression and genocide. The scene was thereby thematically set for the first student-organized academic event of the semester.

By Benedicte Bertelsen & Niels Duus Nielsen

Nazha El Khalidi, our guest speaker for the evening, waited for us in the designated lecture room. Nazha together with volunteers of Global Aktion had arrived early and Nazha had already started preparing tea. That is tea the traditional Saharawi way. We had, as we soon realized, quite ignorantly not thought of the ceremony of tea making, which is no instantly produced, quickly-fixed tea-bag in hot water process. Instead, it is a timely process and ceremony, neatly highlighting why a guest like Nazha and her story is important, as the conflicts the Human Security cohort engage with have implications for humans. Obviously. Studying security and conflict in theory and in-text is in our case done from afar in comfortable Aarhus. It is easy to become cynical. The process of making tea is part of Nazha’s human experience. One that is also interrupted. Taste the tea. Aromas of bitter and sweet will fill your mouth as a reminder of the humans we study.

Western Sahara

The conflict over Western Sahara is complex with multiple actors and interests and is essentially a dispute over sovereignty and the right to self-determination.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony, given the right to a free and fair referendum on self-determination already in the 1970s by the International Court of Justice which overruled the claim of historical ties to Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco and Mauritania opposed this referendum. The armed conflict that erupted between POLISARIO and Moroccan continued until the ceasefire in September 1991 with the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (Darbouche and Zoubir, 2008). However, until this day there has never been held a referendum.

Activism in El Aaiun

Nazha herself was born and has lived her life in El Aaiun, the capital of the disputed area. She works with the media collective Equipe Media in the city. Nazha provided the guests of the event with both a brief historical overview of the conflict in Western Sahara and different parties of interest in the conflict as well as her perspectives on human rights violations, strict media censorship, and the controversial fishing quota on the coast of Western Sahara. The talk was concluded with a screening of the movie 3 Stolen Cameras produced by Equipe Media and the production company RåFILM. Finally, the audience had time to ask Nazha questions, which included issues of filming and media censorship in El Aaiun, pre- and post-conflict Saharawi culture and the lack of human rights monitoring. Nazha’s presentation has given a picture of what challenges you face as a human rights activist fighting for self-determination.

Embodied experience: A voice from our an area of Human Insecurity

Nazha represents a voice from a conflict frozen in time, an area where few international journalists have access and where international NGO are rarely seen. Even the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara does not have the mandate to monitor human rights, the only UN peacekeeping mission that has been denied this mandate. Despite, Nazha is on the streets demonstrating for the self-determination of Western Sahara. Reality is often more complicated than what can be detected at first glance.

Nazha painted a picture of a conflict that has been fought through public protest, international legal suits, media coverages and extensive lobbying. However, recent events have threatened to turn the conflict violent again (e.g. the EU-Morocco trade agreements concerning fishery). These events have left the younger Saharawi generations with little hope for a diplomatic way to self-determination.

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