Western Sahara 
Saharawi wins human rights award

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Rafto Foundation 

Sidi Mohammed Daddach

«I am happy to receive the award on behalf of all those fighting for Saharawi independence»

Sidi Mohammed Daddach

afrol News, 26 September - Sidi Mohammed Daddach, a Western Sahara ex-prisoner of conscience released from Moroccan prisons November 2001, has been assigned one of the world's most prestigious human rights awards, the 2002 Rafto Award. The Rafto Foundation directly gives support to the "Saharawi people's fight for human rights and self-determination." It remains unsure if Mr Daddach will be allowed to travel to receive the award.

The Board of the Rafto Foundation, based in Bergen, Norway, today announced its decision to assign the Rafto memory award 2002 to Sidi Mohammed Daddach of Western Sahara. The Rafto Award is often labelled the "human rights Nobel Award", in reference to the not-related Oslo-based Nobel Peace Price. The Rafto Foundation however on many occasions has been ahead of its more conservative Oslo cousin, for example in its 1993 award to "the people of Timor".

Mr Daddach was selected as a "strong symbol for his people's tale of own sufferings" and their battle for independence. The Rafto Board further says he "stands out as a moderate voice who builds bridges for the future." In spite of having spent more than half his life as a prisoner of conscience, Daddach had "never given up the fight for human rights and dignity."

The award winner holds no public office in the exiled Saharawi government or the POLISARIO liberation movement - although he was a member before being arrested, 19 years old. He was rather chosen because of his personal experiences and lifelong dedication to human rights. 

Arne L Lynngård, leader of the Rafto Board, told afrol News that Mr Daddach had become a "strong symbol" of Saharawi resistance to the Moroccan occupying forces, a known personality who had become "a spokesperson of political prisoners". Mr Daddach had been able to smuggle messages out of Moroccan prisons, describing the suffering of his fellow inmates.

Mr Daddach in clear terms had condemned Morocco's "colonialistic governing" in Western Sahara and had pointed out serious violations of human rights in the occupied territory. For this reason, he had been sent to Moroccan prison and was recognised as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

The Saharawi activist, who is now 45 years old, all together has imprisoned 24 years. Mr Daddach was first sentenced to death, but the sentence was later altered into a life sentence. He refused to apply for a reprieve, but went through with several hunger strikes demanding release for all political prisoners, and that the destiny of the many "disappeared" Saharawi should be known. 

After pressure from human rights organisations in Western Sahara and internationally, he was released on 7 November 2001. After his release, Daddach has continued his battle in the occupied Western Sahara. Morocco has lately arrested several of the activists around Daddach and closed the offices of various human rights organisations. 

It remains uncertain whether Mr Daddach may be able to receive the award at the Bergen ceremony on 3 November, Mr Lynngård says. The award winner, who gladly accepted the price yesterday, had expressed doubts whether Moroccan authorities would grant him a passport, which he has solicited since February. 

Mr Lynngård however promised he would cooperate with the Norwegian government to "positively influence" Morocco, making his arrival possible. The Rafto Foundation was also planning to reunite Mr Daddach with his mother in Bergen after 27 years of separation. While the Saharawi activist had been imprisoned in Morocco, his mother lived in one of the four Saharawi refugee camps in southern Algeria. 

The Rafto Foundation, in its press release announcing Mr Daddach's assignation, generally expresses support for the 27 years of Saharawi struggle to end Moroccan occupation. Also Mr Lynngård told afrol News his foundation wanted increase international focus on the rightful struggle for Saharawi independence and enhance pressure against a current French/US initiative to make Sahara an autonomous Moroccan province. This was "an unacceptable solution," Lynngård says, adding it runs against several UN resolutions on Saharawi independence.

Another prominent Saharawi, Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Saharawi Republic, may also have soon make headlines after being assigned an award from Norway. Mr Abdelaziz is one of the nominees to this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Opposite to Mr Daddach however, human rights issues may obstruct Mr Abdelaziz' chances as the Saharawi government refuses to free Moroccan prisoners of war still in their custody.

Sources: Based on Rafto and afrol archives

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