“Culture is important weapon in freedom struggle” Mandela’s prison-mate tells de

Iconic anti-apartheid fighter Andrew Mlangeni, imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years, has told an audience at the gala opening of the FiSahara film festival that the people of Western Sahara that "culture is an important weapon in the freedom struggle". Speaking last night just 24 hours after news that the UN had yet again failed to include human rights monitoring when extending the mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, Mr Mlangeni’s message was greeted with a standing ovation by a capacity crowd comprised of actors, film-makers, refugees and activists.

The 11th edition of the FiSahara human rights film festival, held in a refugee camp deep in the desert, is hosting over 300 international participants alongside 30,000 refugees displaced from their native Western Sahara for nearly four decades by an unlawful Moroccan occupation. This year’s programme includes over 30 films from around the world including Oscar-nominated documentaries, animations, short films and blockbusters as well as several films made by refugees themselves in the newly established refugee camp film school. There are also film-making workshops led by Oscar-nominated screen writer David Riker, Inma Chaon and Mitko Panov, children’s activities arranged by clowns and acrobrats, camel races and concerts by world renowned musicians Jonas Mosa Gwangwa and Mariam Hassan.

But amid the celebrations there is also a sense of defiance. Mr Mlangeni drew parallels with the Saharawi struggle for self-determination and South Africa’s own liberation struggle and shared the stage with Sidi Mohamed Daddach a human rights activist from occupied Western Sahara known as the “Saharawi Mandela” who spent 26 years in a prison. “As in South Africa, cultural activities are an important way of letting the world know about what is happening in Western Sahara” Mr Mlangeni said.

There was also a palpable sense of disappointment that the UN had ignored the call made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO, to monitor and report on human rights abuses in Western Sahara. MINURSO is the only contemporary peacekeeping force without a human rights monitoring mandate.

It is widely believed that the UN’s failure to introduced human rights monitoring is the result of pressure brought to bear within the Security Council by the Morocco’s traditional ally, France.

Actor Sergi Lopez, famous for his roles in Pan’s Labyrinth and Harry, Un Ami Qui Vous Veut Du Bien, said from FiSahara today:
“I am very proud to have worked in French cinema for over 20 years but I am deeply ashamed that the French government have once again refused to shift one centimetre on recognising the urgent need for human rights monitoring in occupied Western Sahara. It seems the French principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity” come second place to their economic and political interests.”

Maria Carrion, FiSahara’s executive director said today:
“It is ironic that on the same day that this human rights film festival is beginning here the desert, the human rights of Saharawi’s have once again been ignored by the UN Security Council in New York. But this news has not dampened the spirit here. Instead it has increased the determination to continue our activities. It also demonstrates just how important events like FiSahara are in raising awareness of this forgotten conflict and the international community’s abject failure to hold Morocco to account for the ongoing human rights abuses occurring in Western Sahara.”

Jhadija Hamdi, Minister Culture for the Saharawi Democratic Republic said today;
“My people have spent decades struggling peacefully for their universal right of self-determination here in the camps and in occupied Western Sahara. FiSahara is a key event that empowers the Saharawi people through film providing a vital cultural platform for their voices – so long ignored – to be heard around the world.”
The FiSahara Film Festival takes place in Dakhla, one of four refugee camps in south west Algeria, until 4th May. www.festivalsahara.com

For crowd funder visit http://www.indymedia.org.uk/img/extlink.gif http://www.ulule.com/fisahara