Testimony of Erik L. about the case of Mohamed Lamine Haidala and Western Sahara « Freedom and dignity, not fridges and deals »
(oral statement at the room XI, Palais des Nations, United Nations, Geneva, on june 25, 2015 at 16.30)
Good afternoon, my name is Erik and I have been a witness to some parts of this story. I swear that I am completely sincere and unbiased, this is my testimony.
(0/ The context)
I am a kind of globe-trotter, I have very good friends in Morocco, I like Morroco, and it is very embarrassing to make this testimony today, but I always place the truth above all, and also I do not confuse things and I am sure that more than 95% of the people of Morocco are not responsible for the Western Sahara problem.
Before going to El Aaiun, I asked my Moroccan friends if it was dangerous for me, and they said « no problem, as long as you don’t mention Western Sahara ».
I thought that it was easy to avoid this subject, and anyway I had no reason to get involved into that.
(1/ The 1st encounter with « Salim » (in the inter-city bus))
At the beginning of january, I started my trip from Agadir to El Aaiun, by bus. It is a very long journey, lasting about 12 hours.
After 2 or 3 hours, a young man stepped into the bus, and sat in the chair before me.
There are occasions in life when you come across people who definitely stand out of the crowd, who are like « shining ».
He was very slim, he had no luggage at all, he had only a T shirt, shorts, and sandals. He was giving me an impression of physical vulnerability, very quiet and almost shy, but at the same time with a feeling of self-confidence and great mental strength.
During a stop, I offered him some food but he declined politely.
After some time we started to talk. He told me that he was going to El Aaiun.
He finally invited me to the seat next to him, and even accepted some food.
When I took my french-arabic language book, he was very unhappy when he saw the Moroccan flag printed on it, and he told me that the Moroccan are bad with his people and that he hates Morocco.
He was just released from jail, where he spent several months.
He wrote the phone number of a friend on a paper, because he did not have one.
During our translations, he said strongly « ana hrr » (which means « I am free ») with huge enthusiasm and happiness.
When the bus approached Western Sahara, he was more and more excited, looking through the windows, showing me some wild camels, talking about his land…
The night came, the sunset was beautiful. At some point, I noticed that he was sleeping, with his head on my shoulder. He was looking so fragile.
When I made some pictures of the landscape, he asked me to make a picture of him, he watched it,
then he asked to make another one with a smile, and he like it.
When we finally entered « his country », it was very moving to see his happiness of being back in his land, that he had never left before his detention.
I remember also when he took a banana, and he cut it in two, kindly presenting me with the first half, slowly with a very delicate attention, almost like with a baby. No bad thoughts in all this, we were in the world of true values and humanity, and I ate the half banana like a precious gift.
He never tried to take advantage of me.
During the trip, there were 5 police checks. Always only checking me, the only « westerner » in the bus. They were always asking my profession and my reason for coming, and later on I understood that they were concerned by journalists.
We finally arrived ; his mother was waiting for him, and he was glad to introduce us.
So my first day in Western Sahara was unforgettable. I have had the luck of travelling with a genuine Saharawi, I would meet him again, he would show me his city and his country, and he was outstanding.
His name was Mohamed Lamine Haidala, known by his friends as « Salim ».
(2/ The 2nd encounter (in the street))
Unfortunately, the phone number was not working anymore and after a few days I almost forgot Salim. But one week later, I found him again, by chance, in this big city. We sat in a cafe, with his best friend, Talal, and we talked.
(3/ The 3rd meeting (shops))
I saw them another day, and Salim decided to buy new clothes. He was very single minded when chosing something, he did not try several things, and he did not pay attention to suggestions. He was acting like someone really independant, who knows what he wants, and who does not expect or wish help from others.
(4/ The announcement of his death by his best friend (Talal))
After a few weeks, I received a Facebook message from Talal, saying « Salim is dead »… I could not believe it.
I discovered the story that you all know, the « death of Haidala ». I was shocked. I was revolted. I cried. Probably Salim was not a saint. But this is not a reason for killing him. There are various versions of the story of the attack, but all I see is that he was alone against several persons, and that they brutalised him with instruments. I see pure hatred and violence, not a case of self defence.
I think that his personnality, his pride, his ideas about his country, all that was very annoying for the Moroccans. He was weak physically, and they targeted him where he was weak.
He was 20 years old, full of life, full of hope for his country.
(5/ The 1st meeting with his mother (and family))
I did not spend a lot of time with him, but he marked me, and his death even more. At this point, I could not remain indifferent to the Western Sahara issue.
I decided to contact his family.
We went to the house of some relatives, because the family houses were constantly guarded by the police (which I confirm, and I did not see that anywhere else in the city).
The mother of Salim did not seem very affected, she was almost smiling. I expected to see a devastated mother, but she was incredibly strong. Like her son.
I said that it is not logical that Salim died after one week, because right after the attack he was standing on his feet, and talking. Usually when you go to hospital for such wounds, not so serious, you go better, not worse.
In my opinion, there is a very high probability that his death results from the lack of appropriate treatment, or worse, bad treatment.
I suggested to try and make an independant autopsy, but they told me that they did not have access to the body.
They also told me that Salim was terrified at the idea of the police coming, because he said that they promised him « next time, we will kill you » or something similar.
They also told me that a local chief offered a lot of money to get the agreement of the mother to close the case.
When I said to myself, in spanish, « I can’t believe that he is dead », his 8 years old brother said in spanish « Yes it’s true, he is dead. He was very kind ». With his little child voice, it was moving.
(6/ The attempts to join the MINURSO)
I wrote to the MINURSO, but my email was rejected by the system, two times.
Then I phoned, and someone told me to talk to M. Enrico Magnani, « next week ».
But on Sunday, the body was buried, rather secretly, and I thought that it was too late, and that I was too much interfering into things that were not my business, and rather dangerous, thus I started to try and forget all this.
(7/ The 2nd encounter of his mother)
After 3 months in Morocco, I had to go out of the country.
I was walking towards a travel agency, and a woman called me in the street « Señor, señor ! ». I pretended not to hear, but she came closer and removed partly the tissue hiding her face, and I could recognize the mother. We talked about the situation. At the end, I mentioned that I was planning to go maybe to the Canaries, and she gave me the email and phone of her husband, who was living there. This is how I got in touch with the people here in Geneva, recently.
(8/ The trip to Las Palmas)
When I was in El Aaiun airport waiting for my flight for Las Palmas, I noticed two people talking in english, and I asked to one of them if he was from the MINURSO. He said yes. Then I said « Do you know Enrico Magnani ? » and he showed his colleague and said « it’s him ! ». Then I discussed with Mr. Magnani, who explained me kindly that anyway the MINURSO has no means and no rights (or both) to make the autopsy. He gave me his card.
(9/ Life in El Aaiun)
The people in El Aaiun are really very kind and helpful. Moroccans or Saharawis. They explain that Morocco makes lots of efforts for the region, building roads, schools, hospitals etc. Personnally I think that it is normal if they consider it as their country, why would there be less schools and hospitals than in other regions ?
The Moroccan civil servants (or militaries) are not very happy because they pay a special tax for Western Sahara.
Many unemployed Saharawis receive a pension from the state, like 150€, which is an average monthly salary of someone working hard. Of course the Moroccans are not very happy with that, because they don’t have this right. But the Saharawis say also that it’s much more difficult for them to find jobs, which seems true, as I saw them only in low level jobs.
Many Moroccans don’t seem to like the Saharawis, and I’ve never met a Saharawi telling me that he likes the Moroccans.
They clearly feel that their country is occupied, and the sight of the Moroccan flag everyday and everywhere seems like an insult for them.
(10/ The desert)
I’ve had the luck of spending time in the desert, with Saharawis.
We had very interesting talks, I found them very sensible, sensitive, and spiritual. I think that in general the Saharawis are not materialistic, they are attached to their freedom more than to possessions. They live under tents, they have a very simple life, with their camels, their goats, their tea.
(11/ My thoughts about the situation)
Now in conclusion, what I think about all that :
A- At first there were only Saharawis, and then Spain came, and then Morocco, who said « From now on, it is our country, and those who are not happy you go away, at the end of your desert » ;
B- It is right that Morocco makes efforts and investment in the region, but what I see is that the Saharawis NEVER asked for all that. I find it unjust to force people to accept a deal, on top of that if it is unwritten, and after decades ;
C- Morocco needs the phosphate, which counts a lot in its economy. And maybe the Saharawis need the support of a powerful state, otherwise they may be invaded again by another country ;
D- But the situation is not balanced. Morocco can do all they can to try and deny the existence of Western Sahara, but they cannot deny the fact that a great part of the Saharawi people is suffering ;
E- I think that the MINURSO is useful, because without them the situation would be worse. But what’s the point in an organization trying to setup a referendum since more than TWENTY years ? Maybe their mission should be changed ;
F- I think that both people are manipulated in this story. Many Moroccans and Saharawis are like enemies now, whereas in fact they are brothers, according to their religion and their origins. I think that if the political conditions were different, they could live peacefully together, without all this suffering and frustration ;
G- The former king said that « all is negotiable, except the flag and the stamp », then why not doing fair arrangements, for example with a 50/50 rule everywhere, with half of the civil servants, police, military etc. being Saharawis, and why not the two flags together, side by side, or other innovative ideas. This is not impossible with a political vision and decision.
(a camel tied to a morrocan hospital en El Aaiun)
In my opinion, the biggest error is the belief that money and materialistic matters can buy people acceptance. Many people, yes, but not the Saharawis. You cannot buy people whose biggest need is freedom and dignity, not fridges and deals.
To the spirit of Salim, Mohamed Lamine Haidala :
From where you are now, you can help and inspire your people much better
than you could do on the ground.
You are now free and invincible, like the wild camel.
I admire the courage and the strength of you and your mother.
No one should accept the oppression of the weakest by the strongest.