Kerry Kennedy Testifies Before Lantos Commission on Western Sahara

President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Kerry Kennedy testified at a hearing in the United States House of Representatives before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (Lantos Commission) entitled “Human Rights Threatened, Self-Determination Deferred: The Status of Western Sahara” on March 23, 2016.

The hearing discussed the ongoing human rights situation in Western Sahara, the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and self-determination and sovereignty issues.

In her testimony, Ms. Kennedy told the emblematic story of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate Aminatou Haidar, who was disappeared by Moroccan authorities from 1987 to 1991 after participating in a peaceful protest. She was held in secret prison without charge or trial, and subjected to torture. Ms. Haidar’s experience is far from unique, as she discussed other human rights violations perpetrated by Moroccan authorities against the Sahrawi people, including violent protest dispersals, arbitrary arrests, constraints on movement, underrepresentation in nearly every labor sector, and limited access to resources.

Ms. Kennedy, who led a delegation to Western Sahara in 2012, also discussed the limited mandate of MINURSO—the only United Nations peacekeeping mission established in the last 37 years that continues to operate without a human rights monitoring mandate. She emphasized the importance of such a mandate in an environment in which reporters are often blocked from covering human rights issues and civil society organizations have limited capacity and access to funding.

Ms. Kennedy concluded with recommendations for the U.S. government, including resuming support for the expansion of MINURSO’s mandate, playing an active role in negotiations that fully achieve the Sahrawi right to self-determination, raising concerns about human rights abuses during diplomatic engagements with Morocco, and providing support to Sahrawi civil society.

Other participants in the hearing included Eric Goldstein, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, Erik Hagen, Director of Western Sahara Resource Watch, and Francesco Bastagli, the former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Western Sahara.

The text of Ms. Kennedy’s testimony is available here. A full video of the hearing can be accessed here.