Monday, June 07, 2010

Film Festival

Refugee Film Festival Joins Western Sahara Independence Struggle
Written by Stefan Simanowitz
Thursday, 03 June 2010

Audience member at festival
During the 1960s, when decolonization movements were sweeping the world, it was joked that after achieving independence a country had to do three things: design a flag, launch an airline and found a film festival. Western Sahara has a flag but no airline and despite a 35 year struggle has yet to achieve independence. The closest it comes to its own film festival is the Festival Internacional de Cine del Sahara (known as FiSahara), the world's most remote film festival, which had its seventh annual gathering this week in a refugee camp deep in the Algerian desert.
An estimated 165,000 Saharawi people that fled their nativeWestern Sahara have lived for over three decades in such refugee camps. Western Sahara, “Africa’s last colony,” was divided between Morocco and Mauritania by the Spanish when these countries withdrew in 1976 following the mass mobilization by the Moroccans known as “the Green March.” The preceding year the International Court of Justice rejected Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to sovereignty over the territory, effectively recognizing the Saharawis’ right to independence. In February 1976, the Saharawi independence movement, the Polisario Front, declared the creation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. A 16-year war ensued between the Moroccans and the Polisario Front, the Mauritanians having withdrawn in 1979. In 1991, the fighting came to end and under the terms of a 1991 UN ceasefire agreement, and a referendum for self-determination was promised. However, this has been continually blocked by Morocco, leaving the Saharawi to live in four large camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert.
A film festival might seem light the last thing needed by refugees who are dependent on external aid for virtually all their basic needs. Yet the festival organizers regard culture as an important and much overlooked aspect of social progress, essential for maintaining the spirit and identity of a people who have lived in exile over 35 years. FiSahara takes place in Dakhla, the most isolated of four camps in a region know as 'the Devil's garden'. It is 130 miles from the nearest town and home to around 30,000 Saharawi refugees. There are no paved roads, no sources of water, no vegetation and in the summer months temperatures regularly top 120F. And yet once a year Dahlka plays host to a gala of screenings, concerts and workshops attended by around 400 actors, directors and film industry insiders from around the world.

Audience at the film festival
The program boasts an eclectic mix of over 30 films including several about the experience of the Saharawis, some made by Saharawi refugees themselves. Other films offer the refugees a window to the rest of the world: an audience of over 300 refugees sat for two hours captivated by films such as Ken Loaches Looking for Eric, the story of a postman living in a Manchester housing estate. “Eric is not a refugee but he has just the same problems of the heart as we do in the desert” observed audience member Aliya Ahmed after the film. Sixteen-year-old Mahyouba Ahmedu was particularly enthusiastic about a South African film called The Maunscripts of Timbuktu. "Seeing the way that Tuaregs live like us in the desert was very interesting" she says. "I would like to travel to understand what it is that makes people different, and what it is that makes people just the same." While many of the films such as the Gaza documentary, To Shoot an Elephant, are about social struggles, festival organizers are also keen to ensure that audiences are also entertained. Gordos, a Spanish comedy about obesity went down well and the Spanish animation Planet 51 about an astronaut captured by aliens filled the desert night with children's laughter. Although films were generally culturally appropriate for a Muslim audience of all ages, there was no censorship and a scene in theHollywood epic, Agora, involving a naked Rachel Weiss sent an excited shockwave through the audience.
Despite his failing eyesight, seventy-year-old Salek Sahah Yahia sat through El Problema, a film exploring the history of the crisis in Western Sahara. "My head is full of memories" he said as the credits rolled. "It was many years ago but for me the day napalm bombs fell on our village is like this morning." In 1976 Yahia led his family to the safety of Dakhla before returning to fight for four years against the Moroccan occupation. "I am an old man but I am still ready to pick up a gun." he said clenching a boney fist. However, as Yahia struggles to get up from the sand before the next film begins, it is clear that his fighting days are over.
For Deiga Aklaminhom, who is 32 and has lived her entire life in Dakhla, FiSahara offers a welcome break from the monotony of life as a refugee. "I have been waiting all year for this week to come," she smiled. "For me the workshops have been so wonderful." Over a dozen workshops are run by film industry professionals offering refugees access to film-making equipment and audio-visual training. This year, twenty Britons from the Caravanserai acting studio ran a joint workshop with a film director to teach potential Saharawi film-makers how to work with actors. “There was one moment during the workshop when a scene we were developing about the torture of a hunger striker slipped into ultra realism” recalls acting coach Giles Forman. “It was incredibly intense and despite cultural and linguistic barriers I'm certain that everyone in that room had goose pimples.” It is this form of cultural interchange that makes FiSahara so remarkable. All visitors, including the celebrities, stay with Saharawi families, sharing their home and their food and talking leisurely over endless glasses of sweet Sahawari tea.
On the last day, festival-goers gathered for the opening of a new radio, film and television school built in a neighboring camp. The school will provide technical training and the work produced there will form part of the program of future festivals. According to Jadiya Hamdi, Minister of Culture of the Saharawi government in exile, engaging young people in film-making not only sustains and energizes Saharawi culture but also gives these forgotten people a sense of purpose. "Empty time is a dangerous thing," she said. "It can kill a human soul."
Stefan Simanowitz is a journalist, broadcaster and human rights campaigner. If you would like to help the Saharawi people or get involved in the film festival visit
Photos by Robert Griffin

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OHCHR Concerned about the Human rights in Western Sahara


OHCHR concerned about situation of human rights in Western Sahara

Geneva, June 2, 2010 (SPS) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed concern about the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, particularly, the treatment of Sahrawi detainees.

In a response to a letter of Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz, High Commissioner Navi Pillay stated, "I would like to thank you for your letter dated 10 April 2010 regarding the human rights situation in Western Sahara. I am equally concerned regarding the current situation."

Navi Pillay assured President Mohamed Abdelaziz that the information on the situation of Sahrawi detainees and on disappearances has been referred to the relevant United Nations human rights mechanisms for appropriate follow-up.

She also noted the recommendation of the President in his letter to send a delegation of OHCHR to examine the current situation and to ensure the protection of human rights in Western Sahara, with a view to issuing a detailed public report on the subject.

In this regard, the High Commissioner guaranteed that the Organization will follow the situation from Geneva. (SPS)

062/090/000 022040 JUNE 10 SPS



Morocco stalls EU-Sahara fisheries examination (Afrol News)

Brussels, June 4, 2010 (SPS) - Last year, the European Parliament stated that EU fisheries in Western Sahara would be illegal if the indigenous Saharawis were not consulted. But now, Morocco refuses EU parliament members to travel to the territory to examine if they are, Afrol News Wrote Friday.

The fisheries agreement between the European Union (EU) and Morocco continues to create controversy as it includes licences for EU vessels to fish outside Western Sahara, a territory occupied by Morocco. Trade agreements between Morocco and the US or EFTA had specifically excluded Western Sahara and the UN has termed exploitation of Western Sahara resources illegal unless the Saharawi population benefits directly from it.

Within the EU, the Morocco-EU fisheries deal meets increasing resistance. In December 2009, the European Parliament's fisheries committee issued a request to visit Morocco, with the objective to examine how the EU-Moroccan fisheries partnership agreement (FPA) is implemented and whether the Saharawis benefit from it.

After months went by without any official reply, Morocco has now officially rejected the Fisheries Committee's proposal of visiting the territory, claiming the timing for such a visit "is not opportune". This happens several months after Morocco first had left the impression to the European presidency that a visit by the Europeans would be accepted.

The EU Parliament's own Legal Services had already stated that since the indigenous people in Western Sahara, the Saharawis, are not consulted over the agreement, the EU-Moroccan cooperation must be in violation of international law.

Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975, and EU is spending millions of euros annually to pay Morocco to allow mostly Spanish vessels to fish off Western Sahara. The Sahrawis object to European vessels trawling their waters.

"It is a pity the Moroccan authorities do not grant the European Parliament the possibility to establish the facts on the ground", said Isabella Lövin, one of the 9 members of the EU parliament who had signed up to be part of the delegation.

"It seemed an excellent opportunity to demonstrate whether the Saharawi population of Western Sahara benefits from the EU-Moroccan Fisheries Agreement, as the European Commission claims. It is really a pity, and also a bit strange", Ms Lövin stated.

The negative response "does not come as a surprise," according to the pro-Saharawi activist group Fishelsewhere. The controversial EU-Moroccan fisheries agreement has been under increasing fire since the legal opinion delivered by the EP's Legal Services in 2009. The opinion questioned the legality of the agreement since there is no proof that the Saharawi people's wishes and benefits had been taken into account.

Attempting to defend the much criticised agreement it had negotiated in 2006, the European Commission has repeatedly responded that "there is no proof that the Saharawi people do not benefit". Yet, the Commission has still not presented any evidence backing that claim, and has up to now avoided mentioning the matter of the Saharawi peoples' wishes altogether.

The European Commission only defence is a UN legal opinion from 2002. The author of that opinion, Hans Corell, however has stated he is "embarrassed to be European", due to the EU's misuse of his text.

"It has been suggested to me that the legal opinion that I delivered in 2002 had been invoked by the European Commission in support of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement. I do not know if this is true. But if it is, I find it incomprehensible that the Commission could find any such support in the legal opinion," Mr Corell states.

During yesterday's session of the Fisheries Committee, parliament members also asked about the state-of-play on another request they had made to Morocco earlier this year: to deliver a report on the impact of the fisheries agreement on the Saharawi population. The deadline for that report was set during the first quarter of 2010. The Committee said it had still not received any official reply.

It is expected that Morocco's report, when finalised, will claim that the agreement is beneficial to the "local population", which is the way Morocco defines the people who have been moved into the territory from Morocco. A majority of Saharawis now live in refugee camps in Algeria, while Western Sahara's coastal towns now are dominated by Moroccan immigrants. (SPS)

062/090/000 041845 JUNE 10 SPS

Nordic Countries and Western Sahara


Nordic Countries’ solidarity groups reaffirm solidarity with Saharawi people

Copenhagen (Denmark) June 6, 2010 (SPS) - Representatives of solidarity groups with the Saharawi people from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland reaffirmed Saturday in Copenhagen solidarity with the Saharawi people, according to a statement of the POLISARIO front Representation in Denmark.

During a meeting for coordinating the various activities of solidarity for the people of Western Sahara in the Nordic Countries, the participants developed an action plan for 2011 and reaffirmed their full and unwavering solidarity with the Saharawi people.

At the end of the meeting, which was attended by the POLISARIO Front Representative in Denmark, Abba Malainin, the Nordic Countries’ solidarity groups with the people of Western Sahara issued a statement demanding:

- The UN to speed up the decolonization of Western Sahara through the organisation of free referendum of Self-determination that MINURSO has been mandated for almost twenty years.

- The UN to establish a human rights monitoring capacity and the instigation of a Mission of Observation on the exploitation of the territory’s natural resources.

- Morocco to respect the international human rights law in occupied territories, notably the right to freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression.

- An end to the illegal exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara in the illegally occupied territory and the discouragement of the involvement of foreign companies in such activities.

- Given that the EU- Morocco fisheries Agreement including the waters of Western Sahara is in violation of international Law, we demand that Western Sahara Waters are explicitly excluded in the renewal of the EU-Morocco Fisheries agreement that will end February 2011.

- The EU to follow EFTA and the USA, which both excluded Western Sahara from their free trade cooperation with Morocco.

- The Nordic Countries humanitarian assistance to the Saharawi refugees.

- The Nordic Countries to follow the African Union in recognising the Saharawi Republic.

Moreover, the Nordic Countries’ solidarity groups with the people of Western Sahara decided that their next meeting will be held in Helsinki in Finland. (SPS)

062/090/000 060900 JUNE 10 SPS

IV International Art Encounters in the Western Sahara

call: IV International Art Encounters in the Western Sahara

Call for entries
Deadline: 18 June 2010

IV International Art Encounters in the Western Sahara liberated Territories
October 16th – 30th 2010. Tifariti (Free Sahara)


1. The object of this call is the selection of artistic projects and interventions of permanent character to be executed in Tifariti, capital of the Western Sahara liberated Territories, reflecting and activating the cultural, social and geopolitical reality of the Western Sahara.

The central axis of this project is the existence of a 2,700 km wall, seeded by three million mines, that divides Western Sahara in two and splits the Sahrawi population between occupation and exile for the last 35 years.

ARTifariti 2010, IV International Art Encounters in the Western Sahara liberated Territories are organised by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) Ministry of Culture and the Association Friends of the Sahrawi People in Seville (Asociación de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui de Sevilla - AAPSS). ARTifariti is an appointment with artistic practices as a tool to vindicate Human rights; the right of the people to their land, their culture, their roots and their freedom. It is an annual encounter of public art to reflect on creation, and society, and is a point of contact for artists interested in the capacity of art to question and transform the reality. ARTifariti wants to promote inter culture relations, fomenting the interchange of experiences and skills between local artists and international artists from other parts of the world; to contribute to the international diffusion of the Sahrawi reality, causing a reflection from the world of Art and the Culture through direct knowledge, and promote the development of these people through their cultural patrimony.

2. This is an international call. Artists of any nationality, whether individual or collective is eligible to apply. Collectives have to appoint one representative who will travel to Tifariti to execute the work.

3. The call is open to proposals from all artistic disciplines (painting, sculpture, drawing, video, performance art, site specific interventions, interventions in ta social context, etc.). Projects proposing to use local found materials and native resources such as: lsand, stones, , animal bones, recycled materials, construction steel, concrete blocks, bomb shells and other war remnants, local fabrics from jaimas, tinted melfas, etc. are preferred. As proposals for permanent artworks that will contribute to establishing Tifariti as an international cultural centre and a powerful symbol of the hopes of the Sahrawi People and the rest of humanity.

Other selection criteria will be the adjustment of the proposals to the conceptual approach of these encounters (as previously described in point 1), the context in which they are developed as well as their artistic and technical viability, considering the social, geographic and economic reality of the Sahrawi People.

4. A jury formed by professionals from the world of the Art will select a total of six projects based on their artistic merit. The names of the members of the jury will be published in ARTifariti´s Web ( one month before the selection of the projects.

5. The Ministry of Culture of SADR and AAPSS, organisers of the Encounter, will supply the materials and necessary tools for the realisation of the projects.

6. Flights from Madrid to Tifariti, internal transport, artist lodging and subsistence during the duration of the encounter will be provided by the organization. Note: participants will fund their own way to Madrid.

7. Artworks will become part of the cultural patrimony of Tifariti and will be exhibited outdoors at the Museum of Tifariti. Artists will transfer property rights of the work, as well as the publication and reproduction rights in any kind of support to the Ministry of Culture of SADR (by means of written document signed after the communication of the selection), with the aim of contributing to the spirit and reasons that govern the present call. In case the execution of the work obligatorily demands some process of finishing after to the conclusion of ARTifariti, their authors commit themselves to deliver it fully completed within a month at the AAPSS
offices, in order for them to be transported to the Museum in Tifariti.
8. The development and content of the Encounter, as well as the artworks realised, will be shown through mass media and trough the printing of a specific catalogue. For their elaboration, the selected artists commit themselves to transfer to the organization within the maximum term of a month their reflection on their creative experience and their work in a text (one page maximum), as well as other graphic documentation materials related to their creation (including photographs, web pages or action through the net).

9. Touring exhibitions will be organized, inside and outside Sahrawi territories, in order to maximise the spread of the Encounter, and in this context artists are asked to allow the recording and documentation of the creative processes and all the activities that take place during the encounter.

10. Artists who later develop presentations, exhibitions, catalogues or another printed or audio-visual material, as well as actions or any works derived from the artworks selected and developed in these encounter, will mention specifically in the different artistic distribution and promotion means that the work was realised for ARTifariti and, being transferred to the Ministry of Culture of the SADR, as part of the cultural patrimony of the Saharwi People; In the same fashion they shall notify the AAPSS and will deliver such material in order to make it part of the Museum of Tifariti.

11. Presentation of works:

Artists who wish to participate in IV the edition of ARTifariti must present a project that includes the following documentation:

- Author’s name, address, phone number, e-mail and curriculum (max. 2.000 characters).
- Title and illustrated description of the project (max. 4.000 characters)
- Relation of the technical, material and assembly needs, including work’s dimensions (if so) and estimated budget.
- Press and catalogue dossiers, if the artist considers it would aid the evaluation of his /her work and endorsement of the project proposal.

Projects should be send in PDF format to or by mail to:

ARTifariti 2010
Asociación de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui de Sevilla (AAPSS)
Calle Virgen de la Antigua, 4 – Bajo Derecha
41011 Sevilla - España

12. The verdict of the jury will become public from June 30th 2010. The organization will then make contact with the selected artists with the purpose of completing the details of their participation according to the previously specified bases. Artists will carry out their works in Tifariti during the days established for the Encounter, outdoors or in spaces equipped for their creative work. The finished projects will be presented on October 18th.

Artists participating in this call thereby agree with the rules and conditions set above.


The curators of the IV edition of ARTifariti, Alonso Gil and Federico
Guzmán will be available for questions or for extended information at the
following addresses:
Alonso Gil:
Federico Guzmán:

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