Kerry Kennedy, of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, recently visited the Western Sahara and refugee camps in Algeria. She penned a piece about her visit for the Huffington Post, which relays a harrowing tale of secret police possibly harassing and beating a woman, something she observed while travelling with her 17-year-old daughter and RFK Center colleagues in El Aaiún, Western Sahara, a disputed territory in Morocco.
Her companions included Aminatou Haidar, an ally of the Algerian Government masquerading as a human rights activist. Her campaigns to help the indigenous Sahrawi, while well-intentioned, often seem clouded by political motivations rather than driven by facts. In the refugee camps, thousands are held hostage by the Western Sahara Polisario Front (a separatist group) and their Algerian patrons. Their status as hostages is often overlooked by Haidar and the RFK Center. The diplomatic relations between the Polisario and Moroccan government are in a a constant state of tension, as citizens are held in the balance. Haidar relies on the Kennedy Center for visibility and credibility. With Kennedy's visit, she received just that.
A source within the Moroccan government, not authorized to speak on the record but with direct knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's visit, expressed concern for the peace process. "Kennedy and her team, after asking for Moroccan assistance to organize the trip, refused to meet with anyone not supportive of the Polisario." Further, the official was adamant that the Moroccan government communicated to Kennedy and the RFK Center they were "welcome here (Morocco,) could stay as long as they want, and we are pleased to arrange meetings with Moroccans and Sahrawis with differing views than those within the Polisario."
Morocco is an American ally and has been recognized by both Democratic and Republican administrations as helpful to fighting terrorism and spreading democracy. Stability is desperately needed in the Sahel.
The Moroccan government, supported by the U.S., France, and other allies, has tried to bring an end to the suffering across the Sahel. The Polisario has been linked to al Qaeda in the Maghreb, AQIM, and other troubling violations.
Kennedy's status as a human rights activist conveys a credibility to her claims. As an advocate for humanitarian causes, I empathize with Kerry Kennedy's espoused desire for justice and for peace. But the facts in the Western Sahara do not support Kennedy or Haidar's assertions.
As advocates, we want to shed light on suffering, and use that light to bring transparency to the diplomatic process and to our understanding of complicated foreign political problems. Some of us feel obligated to serve, and in developing relationships with diaspora and local actors, we become overwhelmed.
Kennedy isn't just a lone advocate though; she is representing the RFK Center, which develops and advocates for specific policies. She must be held accountable for the positions she advocates, and when spreading propaganda for a foreign entity like the Western Sahara's Polisario or Algeria's government, the honest thing to do would be to register as a foreign agent.