The United States Institute of Peace Board Should not Include Supporters of Human Rights Abuses

Edward Gabriel is confirmed to serve on the USIP board.

For those new to the topic of Western Sahara, please scroll down to learn from the many resources below. You will find decades of activism and international solidarity efforts opposing occupation all over the world including Western Sahara. This post is a bit different. Some may see this as an internal discussion only of interest to those focused on small details, but we believe small details build to create powerful reality. 

In the United States, citizen activists worked for years to build a degree granting school analogous to the major government funded colleges studying how to make war. Through legislative compromise what was eventually created was the United States Institute of Peace. 

Thanks to activist and scholar Barbara Wien for bringing Stephen Zunes’ recent piece to our attention. Please see excerpts below and read the full piece on TruthOut. 

(Please note this piece was written prior to the Senate vote. Gabriel has now been confirmed.)

Biden’s Nominee for Peace Board Is a Prominent Supporter of Human Rights Abuses

President Joe Biden has shocked the human rights community by nominating Edward Gabriel, a longtime lobbyist for the Moroccan government, to the board of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Having an outspoken supporter of a repressive monarchy in such a position has raised alarms among supporters of the congressionally funded institute that promotes conflict resolution and prevention, diplomacy, mediation, human rights and democracy.

In one of the most egregious examples of Washington’s infamous revolving doors, Gabriel followed his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton to become a lobbyist for the Moroccan regime — essentially switching from advancing U.S. interests in the Moroccan capital of Rabat to advancing Moroccan interests in Washington, D.C.

Of particular concern has been Gabriel’s strident defense of Morocco’s occupation and illegal annexation of the country of Western Sahara.

… Putting someone with such a history of denials of well-documented human rights abuses on the USIP board threatens the integrity of USIP’s important programs in human rights and democratization. As a U.S. government-funded institute, there are certainly limits to how boldly USIP has been able challenge U.S. policies contrary to promoting its stated agenda in support of peace, human rights and conflict resolution. Despite this, its work has at times been applauded by progressive scholars and activists.

USIP’s conflict resolution programs that have addressed the Western Sahara conflict have stressed the importance of including all parties, including the Polisario Front — the internationally recognized representatives of the Western Sahara people and the governing party of the SADR — in the negotiations. Gabriel, however, insists that the Polisario is simply a creation of Algeria. This is incorrect, as the Polisario Front has origins as a clearly Indigenous national liberation movement at a time when Algeria was backing a rival independence group.

Should Gabriel be confirmed, important USIP programs addressing human rights, conflict resolution and international law would be in jeopardy. President Biden’s nomination of a spokesperson for a foreign autocratic government is a threat to USIP’s integrity at a time when more action in defense of human rights is sorely needed.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. His most recent book, co-authored with Jacob Mundy, is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (revised updated expanded second edition, Syracuse University Press, 2022).

Nonviolence International's History of Nonviolent Action in Western Sahara

(Mubarak Awad & Jonathan Kuttab in Western Sahara in 2015)

NVI has been concerned about Western Sahara for over 3 decades. NVI's co-founders Mubarak Awad and Jonathan Kuttab are some of the few Palestinians and Americans who have gone and done solidarity work with them in the occupied territory.

June 2022: International team co-organized by Nonviolence International, interrupts 500 day siege of the Khaya family and after 80 days of a protective presence, accompanies Sultana Khaya to Spain for medical care.

April 2022: In Nonviolent Strategies and Stories in Israel-Palestine and Western Sahara, Michael Beer and Osama Elewat speak with the Metta Center for Nonviolence on the power of nonviolence.

January 2022: Stephen Zunes writes in Foreign Policy in Focus that President Biden's refusal to reverse President Trump's policy on Western Sahara has dangerous global implications. 

Zunes piece in The Progressive warned that the threat of further Russian aggression against Ukraine was real and noted that the Biden administration is in a weak position to lead an international response.

December 2021: Khaya Family Update

March 2021: Nonviolence International is proud to make connections across boundaries that for far too long we have allowed to divide us. This NVI webinar connects those resisting occupation from Palestine to Western Sahara. We believe in the power of active nonviolence and offer this conversation as a way to celebrate brave nonviolent leaders and our shared use of creative Nonviolent Tactics and Training to make us even more impactful. 

(Video above shows Sultana Khaya - while under heavy surveillance - joining our webinar through Salka Barca. Note the 22-minute mark, at which Sultana Khaya dramatically confronts those who besiege her house.)

CNN featured Sultana Khaya’s powerful op-ed on a difficult topic that rarely gets the attention it deserves (Morocco: Western Sahara Activist Raped)

November 2020: NVI's Director, Michael Beer co-wrote this piece calling for an End to the Conflict in Western Sahara) and encouraging the US Government to change it policies towards Western Sahara. 

Nonviolence International supports international law and opposes the unlawful and violent occupations of its neighbors by Israel, Morocco and Russia.

July 2020:  Nonviolence International's statement on annexation

Resources on Western Sahara

Dr. Maria J. Stephan and Jacob Mundy. 

War Resisters International’s January 2021

Statement in the Face of War and Western Sahara Country Profile

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's nine minute video on Western Sahara

Democracy Now's hour long documentary: Four Days in Occupied Western Sahara: Africa's Last Colony. 


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