Cheikh Banga has been on a hunger strike since mid-September. His life is therefore in danger. But he is willing to risk his life for the cause he is fighting for – independence for the population of Africa’s last colony, Western Sahara that has been illegally occupied by Morocco for over 36 years. Banga is also fighting to end Moroccan discrimination against the indigenous population of Western Sahara, the Saharawis, as well as to ensure that he gets a fair trial. Banga, and twenty-three other hunger striking human rights activists, are detained in the infamous Sale Prison outside the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and are awaiting trial in a military court. They were all arrested in October last year during the demolition of the peaceful Gdeim Izik protest camp in occupied Western Sahara by Moroccan security forces. The European Parliament, amongst many others, strongly condemned the raid. The hunger strikers demand a fair trial or to be unconditionally released as they have now been detained for over a year without trial. They also demand that their rights are not further violated while they are imprisoned.
The hunger strikes, or the Western Sahara conflict for that matter, have not received much coverage in the Danish media. Africa Contact, a Danish solidarity organisation and NGO, which has campaigned for a free Western Sahara for years, are trying to change this, amongst other things by writing several letters to the newly appointed Danish Foreign Minister, Villy Søvndal. The letters argue that Moroccan human rights violations have increased since Gdeim Izik, that detained or remanded Saharawis risk abuse and mistreatment in Moroccan prisons, that they are often forced to sign confessions to crimes they have not committed, and that they are subsequently brought before military courts. In a reply to Africa Contact written Tuesday, Villy Søvndal tells Africa Contact that he generally agrees “that the situation in Western Sahara is certainly not good,” and that he regrets Morocco’s “unnecessary use of force and assault in Western Sahara.”
To try and help bring about a solution to these problems, the Danish government has therefore “demanded admission to Western Sahara for official representatives,” says Søvndal, as well as having made “contact with local human rights organisations.” Søvndal also says that the human rights situation in Western Sahara “will also regularly be discussed with the relevant Moroccan authorities”, examples of which are a recent meeting with the Moroccan Secretary of State to the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Latifa Akherbach. The Danish Embassy in Rabat “will also be pursuing the subject of Western Sahara when meeting with the Moroccan authorities and the embassy will be following the trials against activists from Western Sahara closely together with our EU-colleagues,” the letter says. Denmark is not willing to recognise Western Sahara’s government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, however, even though SADR is a member of the African Union and 80 countries have already recognised it – and even though such a gesture would be a noticeable and concrete way of showing support to the Saharawis. “Recognising SADR as a government, would create a number of complications in relation to international law,” the Danish Foreign Minister writes, “and would hardly contribute positively to the negotiation process. This is why no European country have recognised SADR, and why we will not do so either.”
By Peter Kenworthy – Africa Contact
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