Aminatou Haidar is a human rights activist and advocate for the independence of Western Sahara, a disputed territory claimed by Morocco. Haidar is currently the president of the organization Defenders of the Sahrawi Human Rights (CODESA), a group committed to advocating for the rights of Sahrawi people through nonviolent means. Throughout her career, Haidar has been threatened, arrested, imprisoned, and violently tortured as a result of her activism. In 1987, Aminatou underwent a forced disappearance at the hands of the Moroccan government after participating in a demonstration against the occupation of Western Sahara. Haidar was held without trial until her release three years later in 1991. Haidar was jailed again in 2005 after she was attacked by Moroccan police during a protest. During her imprisonment Aminatou staged a hunger strike to demand improved conditions of detention and an investigation into torture allegations of her fellow Saharawi detainees.
In 2009 Haidar garnered international attention when, returning from a trip to Spain she was denied entry back into Morocco for refusing to state “Moroccan” as her nationality. She was stripped of her passport and sent back to Lanzarote Airport in Spain where she began a hunger strike that lasted more than three weeks. Her strike was pushed into the spotlight by Amnesty International and stable of supporters including many prominent Nobel Prize laureates, filmmakers, actors and musicians. Hospitalized and on the brink of death, Morocco finally relented in the face of international pressure from Spain, France and the United States. Upon her return Aminatou stated, “This is a triumph, a victory for human rights, for international justice and for the cause of Western Sahara … And it’s all thanks to your pressure.”
Since the Lanzarote strike Haidar has continued her courageous work and has become known as “Sahrawi Gandhi” or “Sahrawi Pasionaria” for her commitment to non-violent methods of resistance. She is the recipient of numerous honorary citizenships and awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2008 and the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize in 2009.
Illustration by Jessica Barbon
The melhfa is a long rectangular cloth made of colorful patterns that is traditionally worn by Saharawi women as a long dress. It’s form and colors differentiate them from women of other Islamic countries. It is used for protection against harsh weather conditions created by the sun, sand and wind. Leaves are used in this pattern to represent hope, renewal and revival for the many hardships Aminatou has encountered during her journey fighting for the Saharawi people.
710,850 km2 (40th or 58th)
Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy