Civil Courage Prize
for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk

2009 Civil Courage Prize Honoree

Aminatou Haidar
Champion of non-violent resistance in Western Sahara

Ms. Haidar is a courageous campaigner for self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco, as well as against forced "disappearances" and abuses of prisoners of conscience. Regularly referred to as the "Sahrawi Gandhi," Ms. Haidar is one of Western Sahara's most prominent human rights defenders.

An Award Ceremony was held in New York City on October 20, 2009.

Year 2009 Award Recipient

Aminatou Haidar is part of a younger generation of Sahrawi leaders working through non-violent means to organize peaceful demonstrations in support of a referendum to settle the extended conflict between Moroccan military and Sahrawi independence groups, as well as to denounce the human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict. Her peaceful efforts have been met with increased police aggression and brutality. In 1987, at the age of 21, Ms. Haidar was one of 700 peaceful protestors arrested for participating in a rally in support of a referendum. Later she was "disappeared" without charge or trial and held in secret detention centers for four years, where she and 17 other Sahrawi women were tortured. In 2005, the Moroccan policed detained and beat her after another peaceful demonstration. She was released after 7 months, thanks to international pressure form groups like Amnesty International and European Parliament.

Since then, Ms. Haidar has traveled the globe to expose the Moroccan military's heavy-handed approach and to plead for the Sahrawi People's right to self-determination. Her efforts helped change the Moroccan government's violent tactics for dispersing pro-independence demonstrations. Unfortunately, the torture and harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders continues.

Ms. Haidar was born in 1967 in El Ayoun, Western Sahara. She is the mother of two children and holds a baccalaureate in Modern Literature. She has been awarded the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, the 2007 Silver Rose Award (Austria), and the 2006 Juan Maria Bandres Human Rights Award (Spain). She was nominated by the European Parliament for the Andrei Sakarov Human Rights Award. Amnesty International (USA Branch) nominated her for the Ginetta Sagan Fund Award. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Background to the conflict in Western Sahara, former Spanish Morocco

Once a Spanish colony, Western Sahara has been under strict military control by the Kingdom of Morocco since its invasion in 1975. The region has experienced an extended conflict between Moroccan military and the Sahrawi independence group, the Polisario Front. In response to the International Court of Justice's rejection of Morocco's claims of sovereignty in the region in 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as Western Sahara's legitimate government in exile.

In 1988, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to settle the dispute through a UN-administered referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. The vote still has not been held. A United Nations' administered ceasefire has been in place since 1991. In 2007, the United Nations began facilitating peace talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front, but talks have stalled over disagreements, including who qualifies to participate in the potential referendum and whether full independence is an option for Sahrawis.


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2009 Honoree
   12/3/2009 statement
   press release
Remarks by Aminatou Haidar

Aminatou Haidar

Aminatou Haidar in Western Sahara

Aminatou Haidar with supporters at a rally

Keynote Speaker John Fund of the Wall Street Journal addresses the audience

Chairman and Founder, John Train and the 2009 Honoree Aminatou Haidar

John Fund; Amb Mouloud Said, Representative of Western Sahara; John Train; Aminatou Haidar; Ariadne Calvo-Platero, Train Trustee; Ahmed Boukhair of Western Sahara

Aminatou Haidar presents her address

Aminatou Haidar with Mouloud Said receiving thanks from the audience

© Civil Courage Prize