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SA President invites Fellow to SADC Saharawi solidarity summit

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended an invitation to 2013 Fellow and human rights activist Catherine Constantinides to attend the SADC Saharawi Summit in South Africa in March 2019. Catherine has for years worked on behalf of the Saharawi, who live in territory occupied illegally by Morocco. 

The SADC Solidarity Conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic started with a call for unity to ensure the right to freedom and self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. It was attended by several heads of state, who took a stand for the Saharawi and expressed their support for decolonisation of the region and self-determination for Western Sahara on the basis of the values and principles that have guided the quest for independence throughout Africa.

The International Court ruled in 1975 that the people of Western Sahara had the right of self-determination. However, Morocco has occupied Western Sahara and the UN has recognised the people of Western Sahara as the rightful residents of the territory.  Morocco has refused to give the Saharawi their freedom.  Catherine has been directly involved in the struggle for recognition by the Saharawi for years. 

While the SADC conference was under way, moves by Morocco to convene a last-minute competing meeting started a war of words from SADC leaders condemning Morocco for their actions. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni criticised the convening as an 'enemy action' and said that it must stop. Morocco also was criticised by the former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who told delegates that the very fact that Morocco thought it necessary to organise an alternative meeting was an indication that Morocco took the SADC Solidarity Conference seriously. 

In his opening remarks, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Oliver Tambo believed that it was the role of men and women of conscience to give voice to oppressed people everywhere. “The world stood by South Africa, and today we stand with Western Sahara in their quest for self-determination. It has been 43 years since Western Sahara was annexed, and people have lived in the refugee camps since the 1970s."  He went on to say that the plight of the Saharawi is one of the longest-running humanitarian crises in the world.

In February 2019, Catherine headed to the Sahara Desert to run the 2019 Sahara Marathon, which was organised to demonstrate solidarity with the Saharawi and raise international attention. In 2016, she was awarded an Ubuntu Award for diplomacy by former South African President Jacob Zuma in which her work in the refugee camps was emphasised.

AFLI has also published her open letter titled, Who is Mohamed al-Bambary and why should we care? In it, she calls on the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Western Sahara where political prisoners face inhumane conditions and there are frequent human rights violations in the occupied territory. She serves on the Saharawi Human Rights Council and has spent time with Aziz Haider, the founder of the Saharawi Association of Landmine Victims (ASAVIM).

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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

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