FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2008
US Western Sahara Foundation Lauds Seoul Peace Prize Committee for Recognizing Sahrawi Human Rights Activist, Suzanne Scholte
Carlos Wilson, Executive Director of the US-Western Sahara Foundation, today lauded the Seoul Peace Prize Committee for awarding human rights activist, Suzanne Scholte, the Seoul Peace Prize for her work for the Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara and the North Korean people.
"For the Seoul Peace Prize Committee to bestow this honor on a Sahrawi human rights activist is a great honor to all of us involved helping the Sahrawi people," said Wilson. "This prestigious award given by some of the most important leaders in Korea will raise international awareness of this little known issue that has huge global significance."
Citing the areas in which Scholte has been active, Wilson said, "Moroccan-Occupied Western Sahara, where Sahrawis have no rights and are brutally treated by Moroccan authorities, and Kim Jong-il's North Korea continually make the top ten list of the world's worst regimes rated by human rights organizations."
As part of her efforts for the Sahrawis, Scholte has sponsored over 45 Congressional fact finding missions to the Sahrawi refugee camps which has led to great activism by Americans on behalf of the refugees. She has also organized 9 Capitol Hill forums and receptions, and testified before Congress and the United Nations calling for a referendum on self-determination.
Inspired by the Sahrawis' noble struggle, Scholte said she would accept the award on behalf of the "Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara, who are seeking self-determination and the right to live as a free people through peaceful and democratic means" as well as the North Korean defectors.
When the first hearing on the North Korean political prison camps was held in 1999 representatives from two different embassies attended: the embassy of the Republic of Korea and the embassy of the Sahrawi Republic. Sahrawi Republic Ambassador Moulud Said personally attended the hearing because, like the Korean people, the Sahrawi people know first hand the pain of a divided country and separated families. When Morocco invaded the Western Sahara in 1975, thousands of Sahrawis fled. During its occupation Morocco built a berm dividing the country, and like Korea's DMZ it is impassable, littered with land mines and soldiers separating families and preventing the Sahrawis from escaping to their loved ones in the free part of Western Sahara.
A detailed description of Scholte's work on Western Sahara and the issue follow below.
For further information contact, Carlos Wilson at csahrawi@....
Description of Suzanne Scholte's efforts for the Sahrawi People as President, Defense Forum Foundation and Chairman, U.S. Western Sahara Foundation
-organized 45 Congressional fact finding missions to the Sahrawi refugee camps since 1993
-established the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation as a project of DFF in 1999
-sponsored 7 Capitol Hill Forums on Western Sahara (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004)
-sponsored 4 Congressional receptions focusing on Western Sahara (2002, 2006, 2007, 2008)
-organized the first Christian prayer service held in the refugee camps (2002)
-testified before the United Nation's fourth committee on Western Sahara (2002, 2004,2005, 2007)
-organized and testified before Congressional hearings and briefings (2005, 2007)
Since 1993, Suzanne Scholte has been working to raise awareness of the issue of the Western Sahara and the plight of the Sahrawi people, in her capacity as President of the Defense Forum Foundation (DFF). Scholte has worked closely with Ambassador Moulud Said of the Sahrawi Republic and Carlos Wilson, who has been active in the Sahrawi cause since 1975 and heads the US-Western Sahara Foundation.
Scholte believes that the Sahrawi people offer the greatest opportunity for the establishment of a pro-west, Muslim democracy, in North Africa, which can serve as a beacon of hope to that region and to Muslim leaders who believe in freedom, democracy and human rights.
In 1993, there was little awareness of the issue of Western Sahara in the United States or among the Members of Congress, but as a result of Scholte's efforts there is now solid support for the referendum for Western Sahara in the United States Congress, on-going projects by American organizations and citizens to help the Sahrawi refugees, a Congressional Caucus on Western Sahara, a working group on Western Sahara composed of NGOs and Congressional staff, and the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution in support of the referendum.
The following is a summary of Scholte's work for the Sahrawi refugees over the past 15 years:
Forty-Five Congressional Fact Finding Missions Organized: Since 1993, Scholte has organized 45 trips for hundreds of American citizens to visit the Sahrawi refugee camps. These missions have been composed of key Congressional staff members, journalists, leaders of Christian humanitarian organizations, and other non-governmental organizations. Nearly every American who has become involved in the Sahrawi issue was first inspired through these fact-finding missions and every major project being undertaken by Americans for the Sahrawis was inspired by these missions. For example, the following programs were established by individuals participating in these fact-finding missions:
--Sahrawi Children Summer Sponsorship Program and Left Behind Project: a program to allow Sahrawi children to come visit the United States during the summer and a program for the children left behind in the refugee camps; Janet Lenz leads these programs.
--Sahara Marathon: established in 2001, has now become an international annual event in which athletes from around the world compete to publicize the plight of the Sahrawi refugees; JEB Carney established the marathon
--English School: established to teach English to the refugees; Steve Hagens established the school
--Humanitarian Shipments: Several individuals and organizations have been involved in sending humanitarian food aid and medical supplies to the camps; Carlos Wilson and Nancy Huff have been the main organizers
--Water Drilling Projects: were begun to help Sahrawis with irrigation and wells; Odo Sidahaya and Lifewater conducted the projects
--Prayer Trips to Western Sahara: the first Christian prayer service in the refugee camps for the Sahrawis was held in 2002 and has led to regular prayer events. Dan Stanley leads these efforts
Establishment of the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation
Scholte established the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation in 1999 with Carlos Wilson, who serves as Executive Director, and a distinguished Board of Advisors including Congressman Donald Payne and Congressman Joseph Pitts and Ambassador Frank Ruddy. The purpose of the Foundation is to: 1) raise awareness of the issue of the Western Sahara and the need for a free and fair U.N.-sponsored referendum for the Sahrawi people; 2) provide a network for a far-reaching and ever-growing group of individuals and organizations across the United States that wish to see a free, fair and transparent referendum for the Sahrawi people and support the United Nation's activities to resolve this conflic! t peacefully; and 3) promote and coordinate humanitarian efforts for the Sahrawi refugees.
Scholte and Wilson through the US-WS Foundation have sponsored letter writing campaigns, petition drives, humanitarian aid, and other grassroots activities to promote the referendum on self-determination and other activities. Wilson in addition leads efforts internationally that aim at blocking Morocco from exploiting the Western Sahara's natural resources.
Seven Capitol Hill Forums Organized: Scholte has organized seven forums on Capitol Hill on the Western Sahara issue. Speakers have included Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz and Ambassador Moulud Said (1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004) as well as former MINURSO Deputy Chairman Ambassador Frank Ruddy (1995, 1997), Congressman Donald Payne (1999) and MINURSO military personnel: Navy Commander Doug Dryden (1997) and Air Force Major Scott Tate (1999), and Ambassador John Bolton (1998).
Four Congressional Receptions Organized: Scholte has organized four Congressional Receptions to focus attention on the Western Sahara issue. The first was held in 2002 to honor the Noble Peace Prize nomination of Sahrawi Republic President Mohamed. In 2006, Scholte organized a reception to honor Aminatou Haidar, a Sahrawi human rights defender who was one of the disappeared and survived Morocco's black prison. Haidar is known as the "Sahrawi Ghandi" for her peaceful efforts a! dvocating for self-determination and human rights. In 2007, Scholte organized a reception for the Sahrawi refugee children who were visiting Washington DC for the "Be Their Voice Rally" for Western Sahara at Lafayette Park. In 2008, she organized a reception to see the photographs of the refugee camps taken by Spanish photographer Nacho Hernandez.
First Christian Prayer Service in the Refugee Camps: Scholte helped organize with Dan Stanley of Mann Church a delegation of Christians from all over the United States to visit the camps and have a prayer service with and for the Sahrawi people and for the liberation of their homeland. It was the first Christian prayer service held in the camps and included Christians from the USA, Spain, and Muslims from Algeria and the Western Sahara.
Testimony Before the United Nations' IV Committee: Scholte has personally testified, and also organized others to testify, before the United Nations IV Committee (Decolonization Committee) in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007. (She missed testifying in 2006 due to Hwang Jang-Yop's visit to the USA and in 2006 due to Yoduk Story, as the IV Committee only hears testimony in early October.)
Congressional Briefing and Hearing: Scholte helped organize a Congressional hearing on the Western Sahara in 2005 in which she helped arrange the witnesses and submitted testimony and a Congressional briefing in 2007 in which she helped arrange the witnesses and served as moderator.
Background on Sahrawis and Western Sahara:
Western Sahara is the only colony in Africa that has not been de-colonized, because it was invaded by Morocco when Spain withdrew from the territory in 1975. Most of the Sahrawi people live in refugee camps in the Sahara desert located outside Tindouf, Algeria, awaiting a referendum on self-determination that was first promised by Spain in 1974; reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1975 (the day Mo! rocco invaded their country); and then promised again by the United Nations (UN) when it arranged a cease fire between the invading ! Moroccan army and the Sahrawi. The Sahrawi believe in freedom, democracy, and human rights, including equal rights for women and religious freedom. Although living in refugee camps, the Sahrawi have established the Sahrawi Republic and elect their leaders, including president, camp governors and administrators, through democratic elections. Unlike most Muslim societies, women serve in leadership positions and enjoy equal rights. The Sahrawi have adopted a constitution modeled after the American constitution and have pledged to have religious freedom when they return to their homeland, even inviti! ng Christians to establish churches in Western Sahara when it is free. (Their tolerance of religious freedom and respect for human rights has led the Saudi government to ban them from Mecca, where Muslims are requ ired to visit during their lifetimes.) While most Sahrawi live in refugee camps in Algeria, a significant number live in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, where they have been brutally treated by the Moroccan authorities leading Freedom House to name "Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara" as one of the world's ten worst regimes.
The Sahrawis renounce all violence and have worked for their rights through peaceful means relying on the rule of law to gain their long sought vote on self-determination.