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- Courage to channel involvement into concrete actions

(image) Elkouria Rabab Amidane winner of the Student Peace Prize 2009

My name is Sigrun Espe, and I am the president of SAIH – the students' and academics' development and solidarity organization here in Norway. This year I have had the great honor of chairing the Student Peace Prize Committee. We were presented with some very good candidates for the prize, nominated by people from all over the world, and after careful consideration the Committee decided to award the prize for 2009 to Elkouria Rabab Amidane for her work for human rights and the Saharawi people. With this I wish present the winner and to sum up some of the committees reasons for choosing Amidane.

When presenting this winner, first of all one must consider the context of Amidane`s work with human rights, the Western Sahara. Western Sahara is an area between Mauritania and Morocco, with a small border to Algeria. Morocco claimed the territory even before Spain withdrew in the mid-70s. In 1975, the international court of justice in Haag accepted the independence movement POLISARIO`s claim for self determination. Morocco did not accept this, and the conflict between the two parties escalated. Many Saharawi were driven east into Algeria, and approximately 170 000 Saharawi still live in refugee camps in the desert. In the 80s, Morocco built a 2 200 km long defense wall strewn with land mines which divides the eastern part of Western Sahara and the refugee camps from the occupied territories.

The UN-brokered ceasefire which started in 1991 was to be the first step on the way to a referendum, but the situation has for a long time been at a standstill, to this day there has been no referendum.

Those who want to study have to move, and the majority goes to Moroccan universities. In the universities, Saharawi students` right to study is one of the important issues the student peace prize winner, Rabab Amidane, is concerned with.

Rabab Amidane is a young Saharawi, and has worked to highlight the many human rights abuses against the Saharawi people in general and students in particular. There are no universities in the Western Sahara. Saharawi students are met with discrimination and abuse in the Moroccan Universities. Amidane has grown up in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, and has experienced the oppression in many ways. When still in school she was expelled for several years after having spoken about Western Sahara and criticized the King of Morocco. As a student in Morocco she has become more and more active in the human rights struggle of her people, and because of this work that she has done, Amidane and several members of her family have been attacked and tortured. In spite of the constant threats of abuse and persecution, Amidane has continued her work.

Amidane stood out as an exceptional candidate for many reasons. I want to mention two of these:

First Amidane has already managed to build up a rather extensive international network, both in Norway and in other European countries. All the political youth parties in Norway, as well as several other Norwegian organizations, have gotten involved in the case. They sent a joint letter to the Norwegian authorities demanding, among other things, recognition of Western Sahara`s diplomatic rights.

Secondly, the methods she uses make her stand out. Amidane works to highlight and document human rights abuses through using video, writing reports and distributing material and information over the internet. Documentation and information are two of the most important and most efficient ways of combating human rights abuses.

In spite of her peaceful methods, Amidane, together with many other Saharawi human rights defenders, has experienced assaults, imprisonment and torture. As a young person, as a student, and as a woman, Amidane meets many different forms of discrimination. The very important work she does to highlight an intolerable human rights situation under these difficult circumstances, is not only an inspiration to many, but also awe inspiring.

Rabab Amidane is an example showing just how important individuals, young people, and students in particular are in efforts for the promotion of human rights and peace.

Students are key resources in the struggle for a better and more just world. Students are important agents of change in their own communities and have a great responsibility. This is not an easy task, and students concerns are often ignored and minimized. In order for students to have their voices heard, they need to be able to take initiative, to have a great personal involvement and dedication, to work independently, even in the face of resistance, and they need to have the courage to channel their involvement into concrete actions, even when danger and threat is imminent.

Rabab has shown such courage, such involvement and such dedication. Amidane takes advantage of her education to reach out to the international community with information about human rights abuses. She has managed to create bonds with students and other human rights defenders in other countries. This is great tool in her work for human rights, for students' rights, for the Saharawi`s right to self determination and for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Considering all this, The Student Peace Prize Committee finds Elkouria Rabab Amidane to be a very worthy winner of the Students` Peace Prize 2009. We hope, and believe, that this prize will be an encouragement and a contribution to further human rights work and to a peaceful solution of the Western Sahara conflict, for the peace prize winner herself, and for other Saharawi who stand alongside Rabab Amidane in this peaceful fight.

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