Non-Violent Resistance: The Sahrawi People Under Moroccan Occupation – OpEd


By Mohamed Brahim

For over three decades, the Moroccan government has abused human rights in Western Sahara, using various brutal and inhumane tactics.[1] There is a long list of people who disappeared throughout the 36-year conflict when they were kidnapped by the Moroccan secret services. Many of the Sahrawi political detainees were denied trial and kept in dungeons and other secret detention centres throughout Morocco and Western Sahara. Until the early 1990s, the Moroccan government denied the existence of these prisoners and the prisons. Then suddenly, some of these detainees were given a royal pardon by the monarchy and released. The king’s pardon stated that these prisoners had been abroad on missions for the Moroccan government, in an attempt to explain their disappearance.

Today Morocco is still imprisoning Sahrawi who are peaceful demonstrators or peaceful defenders of human rights, for the sole reason that these Sahrawi are calling for a referendum to be held in Western Sahara and demanding the right to exercise their entitlement to self-determination. The right to self-determination is a natural right of a people. It is included in the United Nations Charter as one of the basic decolonisation principles that the UN is empowered to preserve.

All of these Sahrawi prisoners were, and have been, a target for unjustified attention, torture, and surveillance. Such actions constitute a human rights violation on the part of the Moroccan government. Recently, some of these people have been tried in Moroccan courts. However, the Moroccan judges were mere puppets of the Moroccan regime. Therefore, it is necessary to have international human rights observers to attend those trials. It is amazing to see that the Sahrawi prisoners are only asking for freedom of speech and freedom of expression and for the right of self-determination, but when they petition the Moroccan regime for these rights, they are imprisoned.

Women have not been spared. Sahrawi women were always part of the struggle and have played a vital role in fighting against the Moroccan regime through peaceful resistance. These women endure being beaten, sometimes raped, denied their legal rights, and their houses ransacked. The website of ASVDH, the Sahrawi human rights monitoring organisation, contains some graphic examples of Moroccan abuse.

Aminatou Haidar is one of these female heroes of our non-violent struggle and is considered to have led many non-violent actions against the Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. For many years she met with foreign delegations and initiated many non-violent actions, such as writing articles to foreign newspapers about the oppression and about the human rights violations. She also wrote many letters to officials in different countries. She succeeded in getting more NGO’s interested in the malpractices of the oppressive Moroccan regime. She is constantly in touch with human rights organisations all over the world and coordinates many activities aimed at unmasking the atrocities of the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara.

Many international organisations have condemned the atrocities of the Moroccan state, but the international community has not put sanctions in place against Morocco. No real action has been taken to address these atrocities, except on a few occasions when hearings have been held. These have had little impact. Morocco may be a traditional ally of the United States, but the Moroccan regime has denied the Sahrawi their rights and has continued to abuse them in different ways. Distributing leaflets and writing graffiti on walls is our long-time tactic to tell the Moroccans that we are here, that we are resisting and that we refuse to accept their occupation of our land and our spirit.[2]

It is common practice and well-known policy that the Moroccan government does not give employment positions to Sahrawi people in cases where they would have access to confidential information. No Sahrawi can serve in a political office at any level of the Moroccan government – local, state, or national. This means, with Morocco as the occupier of our land, we are unable to play any part in the governing and administration of our land. The only Sahrawi given this privilege are those who have served as Moroccan agents to disseminate propaganda. Some of these are defectors with no sense of loyalty to the Sahrawi people. Some choose to work for the Moroccans for financial gain. The Moroccan regime commonly gives bribes in order to get people to defect and to get these people to continue to do work for the Moroccan government. Some of them defect out of fear because the Moroccan government threatens their lives or the lives of their families.

It is also important to clarify that non-violent resistance is the only weapon used by the Sahrawi in the occupied territories against the oppression. Meanwhile, war was the tool used against the Moroccan army along the borders with the Sahrawi liberated territories.

Therefore, it has been essential for Sahrawi under occupation to look for different peaceful options to fight occupation and to reject Morocco’s strategy, which attempts to assimilate every Sahrawi into Moroccan society. King Hassan II (the current king’s father) tried to assimilate young Sahrawi into Moroccan society in 1989 by giving them jobs and free accommodation inside Morocco-proper, but it was a total failure and the Sahrawi were able to preserve their identity and maintain their own ancient heritage.

The Sahrawi people also adopted the strategy of not letting their own dialect and cultural heritage slip away from them. Sahrawi under occupation speak their own dialect and preserve their own identity.

Recently, an ‘Intifada’ began in the occupied territories to give a push to the Sahrawi cause as it seemed to have reached an impasse.[3],[4] This non-violent political resistance was initiated by the creation of our ‘independence camp’ at Gdeim Izik in the Occupied Territory, by Sahrawi from all walks of life, all ages, and from both genders. It was peaceful and successful as it made the Moroccan authorities very angry, and they began arresting many Sahrawi people and human rights activists. For visuals of this resistance watch Gdeim Izik videos here and here.

Another non-violent tactic has been the formation of human rights associations. These human rights advocates run a secret network of informants and activists who assist them in gathering all information necessary to show the world that the Sahrawi are suffering and are being segregated. They have succeeded in attracting the attention of many international human rights organisations and NGO’s.

Another non-violent strategy is to refuse to sell their houses to Moroccan settlers. Sahrawi also try to live away from Moroccan settlers and prefer to stay within Sahrawi communities. When having a wedding ceremony or other local festival, only Sahrawi are admitted or invited so as to keep away the Moroccan secret service, security forces and settler informants. Finally, the Sahrawi under occupation are always looking for diverse means to empower their non-violent struggle, and always adopt non-violent ways to defend themselves and resist Morocco’s occupation. We have a great need to have NGOs in the occupied territories, but the Moroccans do not let them in. Even international lawyers who try to monitor court cases are not allowed to witness unfair court hearings. We are hoping that more NGOs will put pressure on their governments, who will in turn put pressure on the Moroccan government to let these NGOs and international observers enter the Western Sahara.

Justice will prevail, and freedom will come!


[1] See Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch websites for reports and press statements going back 25 years.

[2] For both Sahrawi and the thousands of international campaign groups who support the Sahrawi struggle for self-determination, the Sahrawi flag and the colourful graffiti are now famous resistance symbols. Sahrawi youth risk their lives on these acts of resistance – for the flag is banned by Moroccan regulations and there are many unfair arrests because Sahrawi are caught with a plastic flag logo on a key-ring, for example.

[3] The term ‘intifada’ as used by the Sahrawi means a peaceful non-violent uprising against what they see as a brutal invasion and occupation by Morocco. Respected academics and analysts note that there have been a number of ‘intifadas’ by Sahrawi over the years, the most famous being the Intifada in May 2005, and subsequent student demonstrations by Sahrawi students studying in Moroccan universities. The Sahrawi emphasise that they use peaceful tactics to protest against Morocco – citizen-reporting videos and photographs uploaded to the internet and testimonies given to human rights monitoring groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch suggest this is accurate.

[4] This ‘impasse’ refers to a mounting feeling across the Sahrawi population that the ‘diplomatic’ route taken by Sahrawi leadership since the 1991 UN-lead ceasefire has brought only broken promises by the UN and its Security Council members and the hardships of life under occupation due to this irresolution. Again, respected academics, analysts and NGO groups often criticise the UN’s failures in ensuring that a decolonised peoples are allowed their basic human right of a referendum for self-determination.

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2 thoughts on “Non-Violent Resistance: The Sahrawi People Under Moroccan Occupation – OpEd

  • October 7, 2011 at 4:49 am

    ABSURD!!!!!??? One question I need to ask you… what about the people who are living in the camps of tindouf in Algeria who are being treated like animals and lack the least of rights such as walking around and be free to say what they want. Throughout the history the polisario front who claim to fight for the sahrawi rights have been caught in a lot of criminal , illegal actions such as the killing orf innocent people in the south of Morocco, and there was even a video published online of the beheading of one of the Moroccan security agents. Also not too long ago the New government of libya has arrested 500 member of the polisario who were killing innocent people of Libya!!! Fighting alongside with Momar ghaddafi….. Furthermore, the aids that are supposed to be given to the people of tindouf doesnt even reach them because the polisario again is selling them in the north of MAuritania to make the captains of the so called Polisario department richer….The polisario front talks about a referendum when they arent even allowing the UN to count how many people live there!!???? it is just absurd
    To sum up the Sahara is Moroccan and it will always remain that way!!!!

  • October 7, 2011 at 10:39 am

    non violent you say?
    polisario is the the next Al-Qaida in the maghreb/Sahel,your fighters have nothing to do so they á re fighting for their padrino Kaddafi or they are trafficing drugs through the sahel region,the last news from Malian intelligence confirm this trend.

    stop spreading your lies everywhere,you´re out.


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