Letter to the Council of Europe’s Commissioner of Human Rights concerning Aminatou Haidar, expelled by Morocco to Spain
December 10, 2009
Dear Mr Hammarberg:
We are writing you about the alarming situation of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) in Western Sahara. Ms. Haidar, a 42 year-old mother of two children, has been on hunger strike since November 14 at the airport of Lanzarote (Spain).
On November 13, 2009, Ms. Haidar arrived at the airport of El-Ayoun (Western Sahara), returning to her home in that city via Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) from the United States. She was travelling on her Moroccan passport. In New York, the Train Foundation had awarded her the Civil Courage Prize for her peaceful advocacy on behalf of the human rights of the Sahrawi people.
When Ms. Haidar submitted her border control form at the airport, Moroccan authorities took her into custody on the grounds that she had listed her home address in El-Ayoun as being located in Western Sahara, a designation the authorities do not recognize. After holding her overnight in the face of her refusal to change the way she had completed the form, authorities confiscated her passport and other identity documents and forced her to board a Spanish flight departing for Lanzarote.
Since arriving at the Spanish airport, Ms. Haidar repeatedly expressed her desire to return to her home in El-Ayoun. However, Spanish authorities did not permit her to leave the country. According to news reports, Spain’s foreign ministry said that this was because she lacked a passport.
On December 4, Spain finally allowed Ms. Haidar to board a plane for El-Ayoun, but the departure was cancelled when Moroccan authorities said they had not authorized the aircraft to land. Ms. Haidar returned to her hunger strike at Lanzarote airport.
We are concerned that the prevention by Spanish authorities of Ms. Haidar’s effort to return to Western Sahara from November 14 until December 4 may have breached both Spanish national law and Article 2 of Protocol Number 4 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which Spain recently ratified (Spanish Official Journal, October 13, 2009), and which stipulates that ‘everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.’ Article 12 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Spain ratified on April 27, 1977, also stipulates that everyone shall be free to leave any country.
We are concerned that the forced expulsion of Ms. Haidar by the Moroccan authorities was illegal. According to Article 12 (4) of the ICCPR, which Morocco ratified on May 3, 1979, no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter her own country. Furthermore, the confiscation of Ms. Haidar’s passport constitutes a severe and arbitrary restriction on her freedom of movement.
We are concerned that Morocco expelled Ms. Haidar and is denying her right to return to Western Sahara because of her human rights work in Western Sahara, which includes her outspoken international advocacy for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people. Ms. Haidar is the winner of the 2006 Juan Maria Bandres Human Rights award (Spain), the 2007 Silver Rose award (Austria), and the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Center Human Rights award (United States).
Given the serious nature of this matter, we respectfully urge you to take all necessary measures to ensure that Ms. Haidar’s human rights are respected, including ensuring that Spain is placing no restrictions on her right to leave Spanish territory.
We are at your disposal for any further information.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa division
Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia division