Biden Must Undo Trump’s Damaging Decision on Western Sahara

President Biden promised America would once again lead by example in its international affairs. Reversing Trump’s flawed policy decision in Western Sahara is a first, key test.


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In August 2012, my daughter Mariah and I took part in an international human rights delegation trip to Western Sahara, where we met with hundreds and hundreds of victims of abuse. People there told us they had been threatened, beaten, raped, tortured and had family members killed, all for criticising the Moroccan regime or calling for self-determination.

Everywhere we went, we were followed. At one point while driving, we encountered a handful of men attacking a group of women. We pulled over to get closer to this horrific scene, which Mariah began to record on camera. Soon, several men surrounded our car to block our view. One of the brutes even lunged through the window to grab her camera.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate Aminatou Haidar, who was traveling with us, recognised the thugs immediately. She said they were the feared General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance – Moroccan secret police. She pointed to the leader and said he told her 13-year-old son, “I will rape you until you are paralysed.”

Two of our delegation members followed one badly beaten woman to the hospital and took pictures of her bloodied and bruised face. Later that night, the hospital workers who had let us in were told they might be fired.

That same week, we met a dozen women whose sons and husbands were beaten and remain in prison for their non-violent activism. We met with a group of men who showed us home videos of peaceful demonstrators being harassed, kicked and beaten with nightsticks by police.

We met with a group of lawyers who said from 1999 onward, they had represented over 500 cases just like the one we witnessed that day; peaceful protesters bruised, bloodied, often murdered and always, always falsely accused of some crime. These lawyers estimated that across all those years, the courts had acquitted only one Sahrawi defendant.

Morocco’s lack of adherence to basic decency and international norms did not prevent the Trump administration from selling out the United States' allies. In December 2020, the administration traded the Sahrawi right to self-determination – the mandate upon which the US itself was formed – for a deal in which Morocco recognises Israel, ignoring decades of United Nations (UN)-led efforts to reach an agreement between the Polisario Front and Morocco.