Fighting Back Against Sexual Assaults in Western Sahara

Hayat Erguibi. Photo courtesy of the Sahrawi Organization of Human Rights Defenders

Hayat Erguibi. Photo courtesy of the Sahrawi Organization of Human Rights Defenders

Many young women in Western Sahara are believed to have suffered sexual assaults and other abuses at the hands of Moroccan occupying forces and police, but Hayat Erguibi is different.  She refused to remain silent.

Given the stigmatism of rape or molestation within the conservative Islamic culture of the Western Saharans or Sahrawis, such humiliation at the hands of foreign occupiers prevents victims from stepping forward. It has also been charged that women are threatened by Moroccan forces if they dare to speak out.

Erguibi so dared.  On Feb. 24, she went to a local human rights organization a statement detailing accusations against Moroccan police of detaining, intimidating and sexually violating her on Feb. 22.   A Norwegian NGO later confirmed the story.

The Moroccan government, responding to the claim, fiercely denied the accusations to Reuters several days later.

But Erguibi didn’t stop there. She has allowed local Western Saharan rights groups to disseminate her photo and a video of her testimony was recently posted (with Spanish subtitles). In her testimony, she recalled that Moroccan police threatened to kill her if she publicized her attack.

Amnesty USA has long been concerned about Moroccan abuses in the part of Western Sahara under its control. Amnesty’s position with respect to the Western Saharan territorial dispute between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front is neutral.

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