With hopes of spreading awareness about the little-known independence struggle of the Western Sahara, Ahmed Boukhari spoke to students Monday night about his involvement in a movement to gain independence.
Boukhari, representative of the The Polisario Front to the United Nations, spoke to Middle Eastern Studies Professor Hamid Abdeljaber's class, "United Nations and the Middle East," on Livingston campus.
"Many people have not heard, but the Western Sahara has been struggling for independence for so many years," Boukhari said. "It is the last decolonization conflict in Africa."
The Polisario Front is a national movement working for the independence of the Western Sahara from Morocco.
The conflict began in 1963 when the U.N. called for Spain to exit the Western Sahara, he said. Instead, Spain gave the territory to two countries it invaded and occupied in 1975 — Morocco and Mauritania.
The Moroccan government has used force to contain political dissent in the Western Sahara since then, he said.
"There have been massive human rights violations," Boukhari said, as he passed around a booklet containing photographs of victims of Moroccan repression.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch have published reports of victims being abused through arrests, unfair trials, police violence and torture, he said.
Economic interests also play a role in Morocco's occupation of Western Saharan territory, which is rich in natural resources, Boukhari said.
"We have the resources for independence — we just need cooperation," he said.
The issue presents a debate on democracy, and democratic processes alone can bring change in the region, Boukhari said.
"We are still struggling for our independence," he said. "I believe it can be achieved through a peaceful means."
Although the Polisario Front renounced war, Boukhair said they are not going to abandon their right to be a free nation.
Although the United States supports the U.N., President Barack Obama's administration is not taking sides on the issue and is not taking any direct action, he said.
Many issues arose at a question and answer session, including the topic of the conflict's media coverage in the United States.
"The American mass media are not interested," Boukhari said. "There is no terrorism involved, so they are not interested."
Some audience members said Boukhari's talk achieved its goal of spreading awareness about the conflict.
"It does not get a lot of attention from the government or the media here in the United States, and, as a result, many Americans are unfamiliar with the question of Western Sahara," said Patricia Moscato, a University alumna working with Abdeljaber as a volunteer assistant for the U.N. Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations program.
Some students also said they appreciated that the ambassador came in to speak with them and found it nice to hear about the conflict from someone directly involved.
"We had read about the conflict in class, but it was really interesting to actually hear him talk about it himself," said Tazeen Shiliwala, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Boukhari said dedicating a department at the University to focus on the issue would further heighten its understanding.
"Many universities specialize in specific conflicts," he said. "Something like that would be a great step."