From CNN - A forgotten human rights tragedy

Posted by Holly Jerrett on January 24, 2014 @ 3:48 PM

An op-ed by Kerry Kennedy in CNN's Global Public Square:

The Security Council must add a human rights monitoring mechanism to the MINURSO mission for 2014. Such a move would be historic, but by no means revolutionary. We are simply calling on the United Nations to extend to the mission in Western Sahara the same international human rights standards it has applied to every other peace-keeping operation since 1991.


United Nations: the MINURSO Commission to monitor Human Rights in Western Sahara petition

Posted by Holly Jerrett on January 21, 2014 @ 5:44 PM

Did you know that MINURSO, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, is the only U.N. peace-keeping mission that was designed without a mandate to investigate and report on human rights violations in the last several decades?  A move to include human rights monitoring in the mandate was struck down last April. However, reports of human rights abuses by the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara continue to surface.


The U.N. Security Council will re-visit the topic of Western Sahara in April 2014 as part of its annual discussion of the issue.  Human rights activist from the occupied territories of Western Sahara have begun circulating this petition regarding the human rights mandate.  The purpose of this petition is to get as many signatures as possible in order to send it to the UN Secretary General next April asking him to urge the Security Council to mandate the MINURSO mission to monitor Human Rights violations in Western Sahara.


Please sign the petition, and encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same.  Thank you for your time and support!

The Other Dakhla

Posted by Holly Jerrett on January 18, 2014 @ 3:12 PM

An eye-opening video by San Diego-based Moroccan filmmaker, blogger, human rights and political activist Nadir Bouhmouch.  He made a historic visit to the Saharawi Refugee Camps in 2013 when he was invited to participate in the FiSahara International Film Festival.  In these candid interviews, Bouhmouch endevours to uncover the truth of the refugees' situation, which has been obscured in his home country by years of propaganda and misinformation.  He also chronicles his courageous decision to stand with the Saharawi people on his blog.

An Unexpected “Adventure”

Posted by Holly Jerrett on January 03, 2014 @ 4:23 PM

One refugee’s story… 

My brother and I had always spent our summer vacations with our aunt and uncle along the beautiful coast of our country of Western Sahara.  We would spend our days at the beach, playing, exploring and swimming.  Our parents would remain at home with their own work and activities. 

I remember one day my uncle and aunt saying that we had to go on a great adventure.  Not wanting to create fear in us, they said that we would be taking a long trip, but that it would be fun for us.  And it must begin that very day. 

What we did not know was that Morocco was at that moment beginning an invasion into the north of our homeland.  From the information they had, my uncle and aunt believed it was best for us to head toward the Algerian border to the east, where the Sahara Desert began its long stretch across North Africa.  Communication was very limited with radio and word of mouth, telephones being a rarity.  My parents, being far to the North, were assumed to be fleeing to the Desert as well… 

Our “adventure” began with my uncle filling his car with as much food, fuel and supplies as he could pack in.  He would drive a fair distance ahead, and then we would follow the tire tracks of his car until we found him, with a tent set up and tea and food waiting for us. As we moved farther east each day leaving our Atlantic coastline behind, the landscape began to slowly change, and the vegetation and animals became part of the “adventure.”  My brother and I would catch lizards and discover other treasures of rocks, stones and bugs.   

Day after day we would continue our game…following the tracks until we would reach our uncle’s car, eat our supper, and explore our new surroundings.   The smell of the sea became a fading memory, and the ocean breezes became hotter, dry winds that stirred the sands we saw stretching before us with less and less vegetation.  The adventure was beginning to lose its excitement……the games were becoming less interesting.  

My uncle had brought along my bed pillow, and I began putting the pillow over my head each night so that my quiet crying would not be heard.  I remember the growing sadness…missing my mother and father…wishing they would come now, because I did not like this “game” any more.  I wanted to go home.  

Our food began to diminish…both in quality, variety, and quantity.  I remember one day when we came upon a large group of Saharawi people who were also trailing into the desert and away from the invading forces that were  moving deeper into our homeland.  They were all eating a strange food that I had never tasted before.  It was something we had only fed our camels and goats.  They were eating lentils, along with bread that was dry, sandy, and had some bugs inside.  I could not be persuaded to eat what all these people were eating.  It made my longing to go home become even more painful. 

Holes began to appear in my clothes, and everything was full of sand.  Still our painful exodus continued.  We would meet more and more Saharawi along our path, sharing bits and pieces of news that came from our various friends, families, and experiences.  When the last of our fuel was gone, we took what we could carry and continued our trek into the Sahara Desert.  

At last, we came to a small hill dotted with a hodge-podge of tents made of bits and pieces of clothing.   My uncle set our now tattered tent at the edge of this little camp, where everyone was hungry…everyone was dirty…everyone was wearing rags.  I found myself wishing for a bowl of the lentils and disgusting bread. This was our new “home”……at least until we could return to our real homes……until we could be reunited with my mother and father……until we could return to our fields and flocks…and the sea. 

The first morning, I crawled out of our little tent.  As a boy of 5 years, I remember standing up, and looking ahead at the scene that stretch as far as I could see.  Sand……barrenness……nothing.  

And the questions came, that have yet to be answered.  Why?  Why is this where I have to be?  Why is this now my “home”?  Why us?   Why me? 

I never saw my parents again.  We eventually realized that they had remained to protect our home, never imagining that this invasion would succeed……that the world would look the other way……that their two little boys were among the great throng of people fleeing to safety from the invading forces.  


The temporary refuge we took in the Sahara Desert has stretched more than 3 decades.  And I am left with memories of a Homeland that, in all their beauty and happiness, daily threaten to torment my mind and heart with the haunting question of “Why?” and “When will justice come?”


By Janet Lenz.  Originally posted December 30th, 2011.

From Ceasefire Magazine - Western Sahara: Our Long Road To Freedom

Posted by Holly Jerrett on December 17, 2013 @ 12:24 PM

"...a highly personal portrait of the historical origins of the Western Sahara question and the ongoing Sahrawi refugee problem."

Click here for the full article.

From The Nation Magazine - Letter From Western Sahara, a Land Under Occupation

Posted by Holly Jerrett on November 05, 2013 @ 1:32 PM

For nearly four decades, Sahrawis have struggled for independence from Morocco. There are growing fears of a return to arms.

Click here for the full article.

From the Huffington Post - Africa's Last Colony: The Forgotten State

Posted by Holly Jerrett on November 05, 2013 @ 1:21 PM

There's one state that has been left behind. Ignored by the international media, failed by the UN, its people in refugee camps for 38 years.

The state is called Western Sahara, the people are called Sahrawis, and this is their story.

Click here for the full article.

From the Washington Post: In Western Sahara, a forgotten struggle

Posted by Holly Jerrett on October 17, 2013 @ 1:48 PM

A rare glimpse into the struggle for independence inside of occupied Western Sahara.

From PBS - Dispatch from Algeria: Watching Movies in a Desert Refugee Camp

Posted by Holly Jerrett on October 16, 2013 @ 11:53 AM recently featured an excellent article about the recent FiSahara film festival in the refugee camps.  

Dispatch from Algeria: Watching Movies in a Desert Refugee Camp


Posted by Holly Jerrett on October 09, 2013 @ 12:03 PM

The following address was given yesterday by Janet Lenz, Not Forgotten International's Director of Saharawi Programs, to the United Nations Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). 

The video from the Fourth Committee proceedings is available here. Janet's speech is from 38:54 - 43:40.

United Nations IV Committee 

“The Question of Western Sahara”

October 8-10, 2013


Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, thank you for allowing me to speak to you today.  Having been deeply involved in the tragic injustice under which the Saharawi people have suffered for almost 4 decades, I again come to you with a plea that you follow through on your promises to them over 20 years ago.

 I represent hundreds of other Americans from my organization who have served the Saharawi in the refugee camps for the past 14 years. We have seen and experienced far too much on the ground to ever stop calling for the United Nations to keep its promises to them.  I want to tell you a story that I hope will put a human face to the very real suffering that you have allowed to continue for far too long….

 Fourteen years ago, during my first visit to the camps, I met a beautiful, bright young Saharawi woman, Aisha, who shared this personal memory of her true homeland of Western Sahara:

 Aisha remembered being in her house, playing on the kitchen floor with her little baby doll.  She heard the front door open, and saw her daddy suddenly appear in the kitchen doorway.  But something was different about his voice and his expression.  He quickly stepped toward her and, taking her little hand in his, pulled her to her feet with a simple, strained, “Come.”  Aisha grabbed her little doll as her daddy scooped her up into his arms.  They headed out the front door, being joined by her mother and baby brother.  Her daddy set her down, grabbed some bags of food, clothes and papers into his arms, and again took her hand in his.  Her little legs could hardly keep up with her father’s hurried strides, and as she tried to keep up, she looked back at her home.  She saw the familiar red door, now shut tightly behind them. 

 Aisha asked, “Where are we going, Daddy?”  “I’ll tell you later, Honey.  We just have to go…”   Aisha began to cry, and took one last look at her home, and the red door that burned into her memory.  Her family’s journey ended in the desert, along with the tens of thousands of other Saharawi who fled to refuge in Algeria, never imagining that it would be decades before they could return.

 As Aisha finished telling me her story, tears filled her eyes as she said with quiet determination, “Someday I will go back.  And I will search and search until I find that red door.  And when I find it, I will be HOME.” 

 Two decades ago, the United Nations made a promise to Aisha, and to tens of thousands of her people, the Saharawi, that you would assist them in their God-given right to determine their own future.  You have not kept your promise.

 The rightful land and homes of the displaced Saharawi people now are occupied by Moroccan citizens.  Their jobs have been filled by Moroccan citizens.  Their heritage has been stolen from them by a King that is not theirs.  And those who remain in Western Sahara suffer under horrendous oppression and abuse that no human should have to experience.

 Aisha, along with tens of thousands of other young adults who have similar memories, are determined to return to their rightful homeland, their heritage and history.  Their rightful homes.  With or without the United Nation’s fulfillment of your promise.

 Those who remained in their homeland are similarly determined to continue suffering dire human rights abuses until their homeland – their red doors – are again open to welcome them back into freedom and safety.

This CAN BE DONE.  This story CAN have a good ending.  An honorable ending.  A RIGHT and JUST ending.  It remains in your hands for now to do the right thing…   Please do not continue, by your silence, to force the Saharawi to take this injustice into their own hands.

We call on you to institute a human rights mandate until you either keep your promise of a referendum, or acknowledge your failure and withdraw, releasing the Saharawi from the promise they have kept to the United Nations.


Janet Lenz

Executive Director/Founder

Not Forgotten International, Inc.

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