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Reaching out to the Sahrawi people: Student Peace Prize for Human Rights Activist

It’s a long-disputed, largely neglected and forgotten corner of North Africa.  But finally, Western Sahara has something to celebrate with the announcement that one of its citizens,  Rabab Amidane, is this year’s winner of the Student Peace Prize 2009. Amidane was awarded the Prize for her work on human rights, students’ rights and peace in the controversial territory.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony up until 1975, when the Spainish withdrew. Morocco invaded the same year and has occupied the country ever since. Much of the population is confined to a miserable existence in refugee camps in Algeria, and the people still in Western Sahara itself live under strict surveillance by the Moroccan police and with a constant threat of violent repression if they show dissent to Moroccan rule.

Through her work, Amidane is making a considerable contribution to alerting the world to the discrimination and violence that the Sahrawis are exposed to by the Moroccan Government. What makes her work all the more impressive is that even though Amidane herself has always used peaceful means in her fight for human rights, she has been exposed to torture and arrested by the Moroccan police on several occasions and also seen her brother sentenced to five years in jail and her sister arrested and beaten for speaking out about the situation.

The Prize comes in recognition of her extensive work which focuses heavily on documenting the situation in Western Sahara through photography and writing reports for the Sahrawi human rights organisation, CODESA.  She has even taken the brave step of publishing videos on the internet of students being attacked by the police, which led to her receiving anonymous threats to her safety.  Amidane has also worked tirelessly to highlight the situation of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara at international level through travelling abroad and lobbying European political leaders.  This included a trip to Norway in 2007 to meet meet with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in which she called for political support for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco.

According to Sigrun Espe, leader of the Student Peace Prize Committee 2009, Amidane was a natural candidate for this year’s Prize. “The reason why Rabab Amidane was awarded this year’s Peace Prize is precisely because of her involvement with students’ rights and human rights in Western Sahara, and her contribution to a peaceful solution to the conflict. Additionally, Rabab is a strong and charismatic woman, and she speaks English, both of which have helped her to build up a strong international network.”

“By giving the Student Peace Prize to Rabab Amidane the conflict is becoming more visible, which is an important contribution to peace in Western Sahara,” claims member of the Student Peace Prize Committee and former leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjøs. “The conflict in Western Sahara has been going on for more than thirty years, but only a few people know about the violation of human rights committed by the Moroccan government. A referendum about Western Sahara’s right to self determination should have been carried out a long time ago, but nothing has happened yet. “The Student Peace Prize can contribute to carrying through the referendum promise, and to a just peace in Western Sahara,” continues Mjøs.

ESU has been following the work of Amidane since 2007 and extends its warmest congratulations to her on this Prize.  We will continue to support her work and that of other Sahrawi students fighting for the right to self-determination in Western Sahara.


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