Friday, September 18, 2009

"Stolen": Stolen Truth??

I am an Associate Professor of anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, I have been conducting research in the Sahrawi camps since 2002. My research involved several visits to the camps during which time I lived with Sahrawi families. The last time I was there was May and June 2009.

As some of you might know, anthropological research involves participating in the daily life and activities of ordinary people. I have done that many times and have lived with numerous families: I slept in their tents, ate their food, helped in cleaning, shopping, etc. I joined members of the family when they visited other families, or travelled to other camps. We talked and discussed life in general, political issues, social and cultural life, past and present, and of course personal matters. In other words, families were hospitable and adopted me as one of them for the period I was there.

Surely, if there was any form of slavery, I would have observed that by now, that is seven years of work among the Sahrawis. I have talked to and interviewed so many Sahrawis, young and old, men and women of all backgrounds, would it not be almost impossible for anyone, let alone an observant anthropologist to note there was "slavery"?

I have written several articles on Western Sahara refugees, mostly about the success of the Polisario in acting as a catalyst in building a new society, based on popular participation and democratic principles. In fact, a central principle in the Polisario's Program of National Action was the prohibition of slavery, or any forms of exploitation and oppression (see the Sahrawi Constitution, ch. 26/27, since the early seventies). It also played a significant role in advancing and supporting Sahrawi women's struggle for equality.

Anyone who knows even a little about the Sahrawi struggle for independence, is sure to realize that "Stolen" is a cheap piece of propaganda and baseless allegations. Indeed, it has nothing to do with the realities on the ground. It is appalling that the film-makers, like vultures, have instrumentalized and abused the suffering of the Sahrawis, and worse their hospitality to produce falsehoods. I am certain, however, that the facts will be exposed and the film will be forgotten as an unsuccessful attempt at distorting the Sahrawi history and reality.

Randa Farah,Ph.D.
University of Western Ontario,
Anthropology Department
London, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Real Ugly Truth about the Movie :" Stolen"

Stolen has been discredited and many queries about the bona fides of the film remain unanswered including false translation, no legal releases, paid interviewees, protesting interviewees, blurred maps, history and countries, the Moroccan involvement and many other issues. After its screening in Sydney in June this year Stolen was modified and shown during the Melbourne International Film Festival in July. The reasons for the changes made to the film are due to serious problems related to its production.

Due to serious copyright infringements, like illegally using interviews shot by other film makers, the film has been changed since its Sydney screening. However, the mistranslation, invented subtitles and scenes remain in the film. A disclaimer was added to the film since its screening in Sydney which states that the content of the film does not reflect the views of Screen Australia or the Australian Government.

However, the mistranslation, invented subtitles and scenes remain in the film.

The film purports to be an expose of slavery in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, where thousands of Saharawis, displaced by the Moroccan invasion of the Western Sahara, currently live. The film, alleging that so
me of these refugees are sla
ves has already caused great personal distress and sadness to the very refugees it purports to be helping. One of them, a key figure in the film Fetim Sellami, flew to Sydney and denounced the film when it was shown.
Fetim Sellami and other Saharawis included in the film did not give their informed consent to the film Stolen. Fetim has been destitute in the refugee camps all her adult life. Therefore, she is a powerless victim to the manipulation and deception of those behind Stolen.

A senior UN official, Ursula Abouchar, who appeared in the Sydney version has denounced the filmmakers for falsely using her interview and abusing what she said by editing and she has not given consent to her interview as the release the filmmakers gave her to sign is still with her.
In the film, there are inaccurate subtitles as well as distorted scenes with invented sub-titles. The translator, Oumar Sy, who the filmmakers claimed certified the translations for the subtitles, has denounced the filmmakers as falsifying what he said. The issue of translation in subtitles is very important since it reveals the essence of the allegations [of slavery] to be completely false.

Locations are muddled so that the film indicates, for example, that what occurs in Mauritania, another country, also occurs in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf- Algeria.

The filmmakers, with these unfounded allegations, have abuse
d the human di
gnity of fine people already living in difficult circumstances, causing great distress to families and children.

For anyone interested in the film they can check a document a prepared by the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA). It is a detailed report and critique of Stolen, investigating the questionable methods and unethical practices from pre to post production used in the making of the film: and (

These are interesting links:

- (This is an interesting program on ABC TV 7.30 Report)


-denied-582354.html (people talking about the cash for comment)


721-dryz.html (Article by HE Jose Ramos Horta) (Recent article in the Spectator).


This is a summary of a document prepared by the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA). It is a detailed report and critique of a STOLEN, investigating the questionable methods and unethical practices from pre to post production used in the making of the film. The document can be accessed here:

ER : the translation of the dialogue (which is roughly one third Spanish and two thirds Hassaniya, the local dialect of Arabic) is seriously misleading in places, seemingly invented to suit the plot.

u CONSENT : the main subject Fetim Sellami, the alleged slave, realised that she and her family were being manipulated to speak on camera about slavery and their words were mistranslated and taken out of context. Feeling insulted and greatly hurt by the allegation, she withdrew all interviews with her and her family from the film. This was not done. None of the participants has ever signed a release form.

u REWARDS : the filmmakers deny that people interviewed were paid with money, however, generous gifts were given by the filmmakers to the subjects, (eg Matala and friends received a 2nd hand car). Violeta Ayala, one of the directors of the film admitted giving money to the Saharawis who came to Mauritania. Three young men, who travelled to Mauritania on a second visit, say they were paid 4000 euros .

u MISUSE OF MATERIAL Instances include: using copyright material without permission, use of interviews without consent, misuse of an interview with a United Nations High Commission for Refugees staff member, misuse of the US-based translator’s certificate. These are serious professional concerns.

Oumar Sy, Mauritanian translator in New York, asked by the film-makers to certify the translations in20the film, wrote on 9 July 2009:

“I would like to reaffirm that I did not certify that the translations, from Hassaniya into English of the final version of the film called “”Stolen” directed by Ms. Violeta Ayala and Mr. Dan Fallshaw and the produced by Mr. Tom Zubrycki, are correct.”

HE Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, President of Timor Leste, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, when asked about Stolen in Melbourne 23 July 2009 said:

“I was in the camps and I am not naïve - I am always a very curious person… and at the Sahara camp I went visiting people in tents and talked with so many people……this is the first time I heard of it in the camps. It is totally an absurdity and made up, I guarantee you.

The Polisario is one of the most genuine liberation movements and very humanitarian.

I know when someone is deceiving me. I know how to ask questions and I would never, never turn a blind eye if I knew of any abuses in the Saharawi camps because I would be an accomplice by supporting a movement that I knew was committing these barbarities so it is totally unheard of. My experience being there – the experience of the UNHCR, International Red Cross, numerous NGOs, European parliamentarians, US Congressmen – was that no one was ever told about this.”

0AMr. Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees in a letter to the President of the Saharawi Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, 22 June 2009:

“We regret that in the film of Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, the comments of an official of the HCR have been presented out of their context. In the complete interview, of about 90 minutes long, with Mrs. Aboubacar, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau, the latter reiterated strongly that if certain residual practices of slavery could still prevail in the sub-region of West Africa, she had no knowledge of such practices in the refugee camps of Tindouf.

The HCR has not seen the film before its release, and has not approved its content or conclusions either. The film does not reproduce faithfully the opinions of the HCR.

As you are aware, the HCR has established for a long time a presence in the refugee camps of Tindouf. It does not have any information that practices similar to slavery have taken place in the camps. In fact, no occurrence of this practice has been brought to the attention of the HCR. Had that been the case, I can assure you that the HCR would have raised the matter with the authorities concerned.”

Ms. Ursula Aboubakar, UNHCR, Deputy Director, Bureau for Middle East and North Africa, wrote to the filmmakers on 21 Jun 2009:

“I understood that despite my writte
n request to you for my formal clearance to use my voice=2
0or face in your documentary in the Tindouf camps you went ahead without my clearance, which I formally want to protest about. The release form you gave me for my signature is still with me.

Although I did not see the final version as shown in the Australia film festival, I had the opportunity through other channels to view the one you showed to our colleagues in the NY office which also may have ended up being the final version.

I strongly protest about the way you manipulated my one hour (or longer) interview in your film and the short compilation of sentences (in 2 minutes) of what I said.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ted Kennedy awarded the UNHCR Nansen Award Refugee Award

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced today that its annual Nansen
Refugee Award will be awarded to the late Senator Edward Kennedy for his
achievements as an unparalleled champion of refugee protection and assistance.
For years Kennedy fought for the rights of the Saharawi people and refugees
around the world. Press release, 15 Sept 2009. Published: 15.09 - 2009
13:32Printer version Press release, Norwegian Support Committee for
Western Sahara15 September 2009
"Ted Kennedy was a steadfast defender of the Saharawi people’s right to
determine its own future, in line with UN resolutions and international law. We
are very pleased that the UN High Commissioner honors Kennedy’s effort for
refugees around the world", said Ronny Hansen in The Norwegian Support Committee
for Western Sahara.
Some of Kennedy's Western Sahara statements
"Due to serious violations of the peace plan by the Government of Morocco, the
[MINURSO] observers have been prevented from fostering an atmosphere of
confidence and stability conducive to holding a free and fair
referendum"Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee, 1
Oct 1992.
"The ongoing crisis in the Western Sahara raises serious questions regarding the
Government of Morocco's willingness to honor its international commitment to a
free and fair referendum in the Western Sahara."Statement, January 1994
"The International Court of Justice, the Organization of African Unity, the
United States, and many nations throughout the world have not recognized
Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara, but the Moroccan occupation
continues."Statement, June 1999
"Morocco gained the respect of the international community when it agreed in
1991 and again in 1997 to allow a referendum on the future of the Western
Sahara. These actions demonstrated an impressive commitment to the right of
self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara. The referendum is an
important part of the peace process, and I hope that it will take place as soon
as possible."Press release after meeting between Kennedy and King Mohammed VI,
22 June 2002.
See also statement from 2000, in which Kennedy demands that US Secretary of
State submits report to the Senate on progress of referendum.Time and again over
several decades, Edward Kennedy championed the Western Sahara cause in the US
Senate and the White House. He repeatedly criticized the US for not doing enough
to pressure Morocco and strengthen the UN effort.
In 2000 he debated the issue directly with the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI. “The
referendum is an important part of the peace process, and I hope that it will
take place as soon as possible”, Kennedy said in a statement after the meeting.
In announcing the 2009 Nansen award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António
Guterres said: "Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who
suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights. Year after year, conflict
after conflict, he put the plight of refugees on the agenda and drove through
policies that saved and shaped countless lives."
The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organization for
outstanding work on behalf of refugees. Funded by Norway and Switzerland it was
created in 1954 in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, the legendary Norwegian polar
explorer and scientist, and the first High Commissioner for Refugees. In this
role, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.
Kennedy made an enormous effort to put the Western Sahara issue on the political
agenda. In 2008 he helped award the Saharawi human rights activist Aminatou
Haidar the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
"We have lost a loud and clear voice for the Saharawi people, but rejoice today
in celebration of his life and service", said Hansen.
See UNHCR statement here: Contact: Ronny
Hansen President, The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Phone: +47 94 25 02 70
The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara is a membership based NGO
that works to promote the Sahrawi population’s right of self-determination and a
free Western Sahara. For more information, visit:
“As US. citizens, we are fortunate to live in a country founded on human rights
principles and the right to a government of our own choosing. Our democratic
ideals have inspired peoples in all hemispheres around the world. Elections
during the past twelve months in Russia, Burundi, Cambodia, Paraguay, and Yemen
are examples of the world-wide trend away from authoritarianism and toward
representative government. Sadly, this trend has not yet reached all regions of
the world. The indigenous Saharawi people in the Western Sahara have waited more
than 18 years to regain their right to self-determination. Hopefully, that right
will soon be restored to them. Since Morocco's invasion of the Western Sahara in
1975, King Hassan II has staged a long and costly war against the Saharawi
people to obtain permanent access to that territory's valuable natural
resources.” Ted Kennedy in the US Senate, January 1994.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ngiya El Hawassi's Testimony

My name is nguia el hawasi
I was arrested several times, and the latest abduction was conducted on August 27th, 2009. Last Thursday, I was on a visit to Hasanna Aliya, saharawi activist, who was tortured by Moroccan police in the city of Tantan
After I left the house along with my friends Hayat Rguibi and Sadani Aliya. After getting out of the house, a police car stoppd nearby and was a Landrover model 110.Tthe officeron-board was Aziz Anouch and his colleague officer Khalid Barakat forced me into the car, and then drove me to the bank river of Sakia El Hamra near the middle school Allal ben abdalla .
They handed me over to other police officers in plain clothes who joined us soon after my abduction. They blindfolded my eyes, and began to beat me brutally while using verbal abusive, cursing.

Many other police agents joined the existing police gang namely agents belonging to DAG, DST Moroccan secret services .
I did not see them, but I distinguished their voices and they asked my many questions such as:
What are the dialogues that take place amongst the Sahrawis on the return of the saharawi weld swilam From the refugee camps?
I told him I was not in the city of Laayoune at this time. I was in the city of Agadir .
Then they asked to me: What do you think regarding this subject of defectors?
I told him that the Polisario was very democratic, and they do not know any form of dictatorship, and that Polisario gives everyone the right to go wherever they like and not like you you Moroccans who Prevent us from traveling to Britain, and kept us at the airport in el Masira in Agadir,. We were going to join a program to talk together on behalf of the young Sahrawi generations in the occupied Territory, and you the Moroccans, you showed the world that you are dictators. You did not let us travel, and traveling is a human right. After I told them these Answers, they went mad..
They said that the Saharawi human rights activists who Incites us to engage in peaceful Demonstrations, and they are the ones who support us and who
give us national flags to raise during the demonstrations.
I replied that nobody does Incites us, and we do all this only for the defense of our cause and our right and we simply express our views. It is spontaneous.
Then they asked me about the peaceful Demonstrations that I supposedly organized in the neighborhood of Matallah district in Laayoune and who was in it. The officers beat more in an attempt to tell them the names of persons involved.
I told him that the Saharawi people all take part in the uprisings, and I do not know any one of them. There young people, children and women and I was there to express my opinion and I had my flag Like all the Sahrawi.
He told me now we will record a video, and we need you to say that the Sahrawi human rights activists who Incites you in these Demonstrations are just a group of separatists.

After refusing to say these lies, I was asked to strip off my clothes and I refused. They took me down from the car and torn down my clothes leaving me naked in front of their ferocious eyes. All this was done while they were video-taping everything. They beat me in every part of my body. Under the psychological and physical torture and agreed to what was asked to say.
They gave only me my malhfa( Sahrawi Cloth) , and put the folding on my eyes again and more torture followed.

When they filming me , there was a man who asked me all these questions while hiding his face, and they called him by his alias name so that I could not identify him, I am sure he was a VIP government servant. They say that they were filming me to show the world that they maintain security. They threatened me to publish it on the net and expose my body to all the world to scandalize me.

We call upon international organizations to intervene to stop violations that occur daily in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, where the Moroccan authorities have also a former political prisoner Loumadi Abd Salam, Who was arrested just two days before me plus what they did to Hayat Rguibi and Hasanna Aliya just recently, and Naama lasfari. Morocco has violated human rights in many ways, where the Moroccan forces filmed sessions of Sahrawi citizens under torture and pressure. We do not bear all this and we are being watched in every place and our houses are besieged and controlled. We can not tolerate this situation anymore. The Minurso are there but doing nothing at all to help us. They do not do anything to stop the ongoing violations of human rights, and we urge the United Nations to intervene to stop the torture exerted on our people. We need international monitoring and protection. The International community is doing nothing so far to stop this drama. We ask all civil societies in the world and all defenders of human rights to help us and to stop the mass violations committed by the Moroccan occupation forces towards the people of Western Sahara.