2009: Brahim Dahane
In my country, human rights are systematically violated at all levels – socially, economically, culturally and politically.
Brahim Dahane continues the struggle for his people and his country. The major part of Western Sahara has been occupied by neigbouring Morocco since 1975, and his human rights organisation, ASVDH, cannot act freely. - We keep on working, even though we are forbidden to do so by the Moroccan authorities.
A UN force is on the ground since 1991, in part to conduct a referendum on the sovereignty of Western Sahara, but Morocco refuses to respect international law. A large part of the population of Western Sahara has lived in refugee camps in the Algerian part of the Sahara desert since 1975.
In December 2012, the Swedish Parliament ordered the government to acknowledge the Western Saharan state, but the government refused.
- They kidnap people, rape and burn people, they poison wells, and there aren’t many of those in the desert. The torture, the assaults, the imprisonment of individuals, the control of our riches – they abuse us in every way.
Brahim Dahane founded the human rights organisation ASVDH, which works to uncover facts about those who have “disappeared” or died in Moroccan prisons, and about the human rights violations that have been perpetrated in Western Sahara. The organisation fights for the release of political prisoners from prison, and for compensation and rehabilitation of those released. Brahim Dahane has fostered good relations with international organisations and the international press, and as a result has managed to break the silence that surrounds this drawn-out conflict.
What has the Per Anger Prize meant to you?
- This prize showed who we are, it protected me so that people wouldn’t believe the accusations made against me. If I were a spy, a bad man, why would I receive a prize for my struggle for human rights?
However, shortly after Brahim Dahane was awarded the prize in 2009, he was arrested by the Moroccan authorities. For one year and seven months, from October 2009 to April 2011, he was in prison. Not until after his release could he travel to Stockholm to accept his award.
- Of course the prize gave me more power to withstand the treatment in prison that I and my friends had to endure. It was also a big help and a support for my family, the prize gave them moral strength. Even the money was important, my family is poor so the money made life easier for them. I was in prison for a little over a year in Rabat, and then in Casablanca, and my family had to travel across the whole country to visit me.
What is life like today?
- We are continuing our work, organising our meetings, but we do it in each others’ homes since we don’t have a place to meet. We cannot receive any open financing, we cannot approach institutions in order to talk to people, we are not allowed to defend victims in trials.
Up until 2005, Brahim Dahane made a living running a string of internet cafés. But when the police started harrassing his employees, he had to close down his business.
- Now I get by thanks to my family and the support of friends. I have been in jail a number of times, but I have decided to live for the struggle. What will be, will be. I have a son who is six and a half, and I would like to be able to offer him something. But since I am not permitted to work I must continue the struggle for my people. It is what it is.
Are there moments when you have doubts?
- Fortunately, no. I can doubt my own capacity and I can doubt how long this will take, but I never doubt that this is a just cause. Our struggle is just, what has happened to us is unjust, the torture is unjust, all the disappearances are unjust, their invasion is unjust, the slavery is unjust. But I never doubt what it means to be a human being. I have the same rights as all other humans, the right to live free in mutual respect of others.
What gives you the strength to keep up the fight?
- I have many friends in prison who are there without having been sentenced in a trial. I grow strong thanks to my friends, thanks to all the mothers and wives who lend their support. The experiences I have felt with my own body – the torture, the beatings – all of this has made me decide to fight. When I feel tired I think about all that has happened, and then I recharge my batteries and keep going.
The Living History Forum wishes to note that these interviews are based on the personal testimonies of the prize winners. It is not an objective, factual account by the authorities.
Brahim Dahane was nominated by the International Commission of Jurists and received the Per Anger Prize in 2009.
Brahim Dahane has founded the human rights organisation Asociación Saharui de Víctimas de Violaciones Graves de los Derechos Humanos Cometidas por el Estado Marroqui (ASVDH).
The citation of the jury for the Per Anger Prize
“In recognition of having demonstrated unwavering personal courage, employed peaceful means and risked his life in the struggle for human rights during the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over Western Sahara.”
The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.
For exercises, more information on Western Sahara