Rev. Jackson; champion of voting rights for all — except Saharawis?
Stirring statements on the sanctity of voting rights flowed from President Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman John Lewis during their attendance at the recent 50th Anniversary in Selma, Alabama of the bloody assault on peaceful protestors by racist police that led the U.S. Congress to enact the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.
However, few among the thousands attending that commemoration of the March 1965 “Bloody Sunday” assault in Selma were aware of the fact that President Obama along with Civil Rights Movement luminaries Lewis and Jackson have lent their support to a nation that has ruthlessly suppressed voting rights with extremes of brutality that easily exceed the onslaughts unleashed on American Civil Rights activists during the 1960s.
President Obama, a beneficiary of the Voting Rights Act that expanded voting ballot protections for Blacks along with Rep. Lewis, who was assaulted on “Bloody Sunday” as a young activist and long-time civil rights leader Jackson, have each provided support to Morocco the nation that has defiantly rejected orders from the United Nations to hold a voter referendum in the Western Sahara for 24 years.
The Western Sahara is a natural resource-rich desert nation on the northwest coast of Africa, located south of Morocco. The indigenous population of the Western Sahara the Saharawi endures vicious discrimination from Moroccan authorities similar to the systemic discrimination that hobbles non-Whites across America.
Morocco’s brutal occupation of the Western Sahara has driven hundreds of thousands of Saharawi out of their homeland.
In 1991, the United Nations mandated a voter referendum for the Western Sahara where the Saharawi would democratically decide if they wanted independence or some affiliation with Morocco.
But Morocco’s monarchy which had invaded earlier in 1975 and has blocked that voter referendum, despite making formal agreements to conduct that referendum. Morocco’s illegal armed occupation leaves the Western Sahara with the ugly distinction of being Africa’s Last Colony a status that should outrage democracy-pushing President Obama.
A series of reports from the U.S. State Department since 2007 have detailed extensive human rights violations by Moroccan authorities in the Western Sahara inclusive of brutal beatings, torture and unfair trials for peaceful Saharawi activists producing prison sentences as long as 20-years. Such violations should repulse civil rights legends like Jackson and Lewis.
A State Department human rights report released in February 2014 criticized Moroccan government restrictions on the political rights of pro-independence advocates as one of the most important human rights problems in the Western Sahara.
Moroccan law criminalizes any mention of independence for the Western Sahara. This law is a brutal bar to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association that Americans take for granted.
Nations from South Africa to Scandinavia have called for granting UN officials the authority to monitor human rights issues in the Western Sahara.
Yet, President Obama backed away from supporting that monitoring authority after making a secret deal with the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, in November 2013 according to documents released on the Internet last fall that were hacked from Morocco’s equivalent of the CIA.
American major media ignored revelations in those documents including details of large cash payments from Morocco’s government to U.S. journalists for publishing articles against the Saharawi.
Days after the Selma commemoration, Rev. Jackson traveled to the Western Sahara, to attend a conference in defiance of Saharawi demands for a boycott of that event.
Jackson, while in the occupied Western Sahara, praised Morocco’s monarchy for its promotion of human rights and fights against corruption according to an article published recently on the Huffington Post.
Those assessments attributed to Rev. Jackson in that Huffington Post article conflict with numerous reports about conditions inside the Western Sahara and inside Morocco.
The World Report 2015 released by the organization, Human Rights Watch, stated Moroccan authorities prohibited all public gatherings in the Western Sahara supportive of independence. Moroccan security personnel often forcibly dispersed peaceful Saharawi protestors.
That 2014 U.S. State Department report labeled corruption in all branches of government as a major problem in Morocco and in the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara.
Spokespersons for Rev. Jackson ignored repeated requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Congressman Lewis did respond to requests for comment.
That spokesperson said it was unfair to question Lewis about his backing of Morocco’s autonomy scheme that would deny voting rights to the Saharawi despite the fact that Lewis is lauded as “The voting rights champion” in Congress and his website lists him as a member of the Morocco Caucus in Congress.
Why single him out? Lewis spokesperson Brenda Jones said, noting that many congressional Democrats and Republicans back Morocco’s autonomy scheme. Jones dismissed the findings of gross human rights violations by Morocco asserting the State Department is not an unimpeachable source of information.
Certainly Congressman Lewis, Rev. Jackson and President Obama have a right to support whomever they want; even if that right places them on the wrong side of justice for the Saharawi.
And, its certain that the failure of this trio to use their influence to compel the King of Morocco to comply with international law on the Western Sahara diminishes respect for the “American values” President Obama extols and undermines the Civil Rights legacy that Jackson and Lewis embrace.