Australia: Damage on many fronts in false charge of slavery in Western Sahara

Fetim Sallem.

A documentary on Western Sahara refugees marks a low point, Kamal Fadel writes.

July 1, 2009 -- Last month in Sydney, the notion of democracy took a pounding. The launch of the documentary Stolen at the Sydney Film Festival marked a low point in local film culture, and signified the tenuous grip on truth we now have in contemporary society. That such a film should be financed with about A$350,000 of public money –- through Screen Australia -– and accepted by the prestigious festival raises questions about the nature of reality and on how it is depicted in mainstream media, such as through the medium of the film documentary.

The film purports, in a sensationalistic way, to reveal widespread evidence of racially based slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps on the Western Sahara-Algeria border. Central to the apparent scoop is an interview with Fetim Sallem, a 36-year-old mother of four. She was in Australia to explain her story, which is significantly at odds with the film's take on it (so much so that Fetim requested unsuccessfully to have her interviews removed from the film).

Rather than verifying shaky claims of slavery and then seeking out the source of this possible ill (say in the repressive environment the Saharawi people have endured since the illegal invasion by Moroccan forces in 1975, an event that sent many into the camps that still exist today), the filmmakers of Stolen chose to conflate a few ill-gotten and misunderstood accusations into a tabloid expose. The approach of the film-makers challenges the very basis of the documentary genre and undermines its value as a means of serious scrutiny. In an age when reality TV is nothing of the sort and when celebrity gossip is considered hard news, this is perhaps not surprising. But it is disappointing and very distressing for those who, like Fetim, are vilified in the process.

There are fundamental flaws in the film-makers' storyboard. Fetim is not a slave and widespread slavery simply does not exist in the Saharawi refugee camps. This fact has been confirmed by numerous visits by independent journalists and human rights reporters over the years.

A member of a delegation sent by Human Rights Watch to investigate the film-makers' claims said the delegation ‘‘did not find evidence of forced labour, certainly not of slavery of the kind’’ in 19th century America.

The Saharawi live under great strain and considerable duress, brought about by decades of foreign occupation. A generation has grown up in a refugee environment. Our society is not perfect, our situation not Utopian. None is.

But, slavery is something Polisario abhors and is on the record as opposing. The practice is an unacceptable cultural anachronism and we have outlawed it completely since the inception of our independence movement in 1973.

Polisario has worked hard to address whatever human rights issues we find in our midst and we continue to undermine all forms of abuse and restrictions on liberty. This year, Polisario openly lobbied hard for the United Nations mandate to include a human rights monitoring process in its mission in Western Sahara. This was quashed by France, an erstwhile supporter of the Moroccan occupiers in Western Sahara, using its veto power in the Security Council.

The biggest threat to human rights in Western Sahara is the illegal Moroccan occupation and the failure of the international system –- epitomised by France's blocking actions. These weaknesses ensure the Saharawi remain trapped in a nightmare of Realpolitik, driven to some extent by Morocco's vast propaganda machine. The simple desire, backed by UN resolutions, to allow the Saharawi the right to decide their fate (independence or autonomy under Moroccan administration) in a free and fair referendum remains, inexplicably, unrealised.

Reality is clearly a fungible commodity in the eyes of the makers of this film, for its backers and for the festival organisers. They are reflective of a wider crisis in the ability to discern truth from fiction. They are not alone. There has been a negative impact on the life of Fetim Sallem by the actions of the film-makers and also on the cause of independence in Western Sahara. That’s a reality no one can challenge.

[Kamal Fadel is the Australian representative of Polisario, the Western Sahara independence movement. This arricle first appeared in the Canberra Times and has been post at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Kamal Fadel's permission.]

Fetim Sellami: ‘I am not a slave’

By Tony Iltis

June 21, 2009 -- Saharawi refugee and preschool teacher Fetim Sellami is a central character in the Australian-made documentary Stolen, a film set in the refugee camps in south-west Algeria that have been home to 165,000 Saharawi refugees since their country, Western Sahara, was invaded by Morocco in 1975.

However, when she and her husband, Baba Hocine Mahfoud, attended its June 11 premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, they did not receive red carpet treatment, despite the long distance they had travelled.

Stolen alleges that slavery is widespread in the camps and that Sellami and her family are slaves. She came to Australia to expose the film as a fraud. “The film-makers were surprised, but not happy, to see me because they knew I’d tell the truth”, she told Green Left Weekly.

She said she felt personally betrayed. “I believed the film-makers’ good intentions and I treated them well … I opened my house and my heart to them … I felt very bad [that] my dignity was attacked with baseless allegations.”

Moreover, she was concerned the film undermined the cause of the Saharawi people’s struggle against the Moroccan occupation. “Morocco has taken advantage of the film’s allegations [which are] the first time ever allegations of slavery in the camps have been made.”

She said that the film’s co-directors, Violetta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, had led her to believe they were making “a documentary on family separation, a film about the story of my [UN-facilitated] reunion with my mother, which would help the cause of Western Sahara, highlighting the suffering caused by the Moroccan occupation”.

However, “on their second visit I began to realise they’d changed course. They started asking questions about slavery … I’m not sure whether they came up with the idea themselves or had external influence”.

She sent a signed statement to the film-makers, withdrawing her consent to be featured in the documentary. The film-makers ignored her wishes, claiming she was being manipulated by the Saharawi independence movement, Polisario, which runs the camps. She then sent a video statement to Screen Australia, which funded the film a A$300,000 public grant. But again her statement was ignored.

The true story of Sellami’s separation from her mother is typical of the Saharawi experience. She was three years old and at a neighbour’s house when the brutal Moroccan invasion occurred. Her mother was out of town and the neighbour, a woman called Deido, took Sellami with her when she fled the invaders, effectively becoming her foster mother.

Deido left behind her own three-year-old daughter who happened to be with Deido’s mother at the time of the invasion.

However, in a synopsis posted on the Documentary Australia Foundation’s website in September 2008, Ayala and Fallshaw claimed “it wasn’t the territorial conflict that separated Fetim from her mother. Fetim was born a slave.”

They claimed black Saharawi are held as slaves by their lighter-skinned compatriots who “made the decision to flee to the refugee camps in Algeria taking their slaves with them, separating the black families once again”.

Ayala and Fallshaw’s cinematographer, Carlos Gonzalez disputed the allegations. “During the three weeks I spent there with them I saw absolutely no indication of slavery”, he told the 7.30 Report on June 15.

He returned to the camps by himself and spoke to members of Sellami’s family who said they had been misquoted and mistranslated. Some black Saharawi men said the film-makers had paid them to say they were slaves on camera.

“No, we didn’t pay them any money”, Ayala told the 7.30 Report, but then conceded: “Like, we gave them money when they came to Mauritania, we gave them money to go back to the camps.”

She gave no explanation as to why slaves would want money to return to their cruel masters. She also denied dialogue in the film had been mistranslated.

However, the 7.30 Report had sequences of the film translated by Al Jazeera television. In one scene, in which the film-makers’ subtitles show Sellami’s mother and sister confirming that she is a slave, the Al Jazeera translation shows that they were in fact discussing the film-makers’ misconceptions on the issue.

How involved the Moroccan dictatorship was in making the film is unclear. However, Ayala and Fallshaw admit that some of the footage was transported in Moroccan diplomatic bags. The film’s co-directors, and producer Tom Zubrycki, accused the film’s critics — including Sellami, Mahfoud and Gonzalez — of being manipulated by Polisario. They imply Polisario is complicit in slavery.

GLW journalist Margarita Windisch visited the camps in 2008 as part of a delegation to the congress of the Saharawi trade union confederation, UGTSARIO. She told GLW: “I certainly saw no evidence of slavery. If they wanted to make a film about slavery perhaps they should have investigated conditions of phosphate workers in the Moroccan-occupied zone. Australian companies are involved in this.”

Sellami and Mahfoud’s real lives give credence to Polisario’s claim to have the best-run refugee camps in the world. Mahfoud studied electronic engineering in Cuba and now works in Madrid.

One of their four children has studied in Spain. The family spend their holidays together, either in Spain or in the camps. Their level of international travel should dispel any notion that they are slaves.

When Sellami and Mahfoud confronted Ayala and Fallshaw during the question-and-answer session at the premiere, they were jeered and heckled by the film-makers’ supporters.

“This film is the worst thing that’s ever been made on Western Sahara, a big lie”, Sellami told GLW. “If the film-makers wanted fame or money they should have tried in an honourable way.”

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, issue #799, June 24, 2009.]


I am honored to have had a private screening of the powerfully haunting film that Dan & Violeta created, especially considering all the post screening publicity and how many people are discussing the film online without ever having actually seen it. I realize that personal attacks can be vicious and weigh upon the soul at times. My unsolicited advice for what it's worth, is take solace in a job well done, and continue to stay true to who you are. As cliché as it may sound, the truth shall always prevail, and the truth shall set you free. The film itself is a work of art, and provides the medium for an interesting & provocative story. By following the unintentional storyline as it unfolded in real life, you acted in the honored tradition of true investigative reporters and authentic documentarians. In doing so have apparently struck quite a raw nerve.


I do not understand the media campaign by the Polisario (backed by the Australia Western Sahara Association, including media savvy members of the ALP like Meredith Burgmann and her former chief of staff, Yvette Andrews) to deny the existence of slavery amongst the black African minority in the refugee camps in Tindouf, as portrayed in the documentary, Stolen, made by Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw. The black African population are present in the camps because they came there as a slave class belonging to white Arabic tribes. This is a fact that no one could reasonably deny. UNHCR reports confirm the existence of remnants of slavery amongst this minority population in the refugee camps. Most people would like the rights of these people to be respected however it is deeply embedded in the culture can't be achieved over night. As with other forms of abuse the UNHCR acknowledges that it could take many years to fully eradicate slavery in the refugee camps in Western Sahara. Those who continue to deny the existence of slavery there are doing human rights of people in the camps a major disservice. It is similar to the disservice done by those who deny the existence of child sexual abuse or female genital mutilation. The vast majority of people know that such abuses still exist. Trying to sweep these ugly truths under the carpet is also no lesser an abuse of human rights.


The slavery question is a distraction. What is needed is freedom and self-determination for all Saharawis.

The claims of slavery in Stolen have been shown to have no basis, even to have been deliberately fraudulent, see: evidence brought forward by the 7.30 Report : and further video evidence given on the Sydney Morning Herald website:…

Stolen could have been about the theft of a whole country, and of its resources which are stolen every day : fish, phosphate even sand (to make beaches in Madeira for example) and finite fossil water near occupied Dakhla to grow tomatoes for the European market. That's the true story of what is stolen.

All of this despite over 100 UN resolutions calling for a referendum on self-determnation for the Saharawi people and in contravention of international law which would protect the natural resources for Saharawis, not allow them to be sold for the benefit of the occupying power: Morocco.

Worse still, Australia is one of the receivers of these stolen goods, in the shape of phosphate to fertilise its pastures.


I have had the pleasure of meeting Fetim and her husband Baba and have been deeply disturbed at their appalling treatment by the film makers here in Australia. I speak Spanish, so had no problem communicating with them. JaneAgatha obviously didn't have the same privilege as me (meeting Fetim and Baba), otherwise she might think twice of defending the indefensible - the documentary "Stolen".

When Fetim came to Australia to defend her reputation (eg I AM NOT A SLAVE)and the honour of her people, she received a despicable welcome by the film makers, accusing her of being a mere puppet of Polisario and not speaking in her own words.

Well, she is a slave after all, isn't she? Why should we listen to her, a black woman refugee from Western Sahara, when you can have two educated film makers from the West telling you otherwise???!! And why should we listen to all the other people (of which there are plenty), who have publicly distanced themselves from the film?
Must surely all be POLISARIO operatives -from UNHCR workers to Christian teachers, Saharawis, ALP members and writers. Geewizz if POLISARIO was so powerful and influential, the Saharawis would surely have their country back by now!

Fetim and Baba are very humble and warm people, they are also educated and they have been deeply hurt by the manipulation they experienced at the hands of Violeta and Dan.

There is no question that Fetim's visit to Australia threw a spanner into the works. And just as well they came. Their courageous stance to confront a lie - thousands of miles away, in a foreign land has helped restore their dignity but also ours. Not all of us Westerners lie and use poor people's lives to try and make ourselves famous. It also put Western Sahara and their rightful struggle for independence on the map her in Australia.

Fetim and Baba are two people who have suffered a fate shared by most Saharawis- the forced separation of families by the brutal Morocan occupation. They are enslaved together with another couple of hundred thousand Saharawis in refugee camps in the most inhospitable place on earth. Their freedom has been denied to them by Morocco, the UN and some powerful countries who would rather steal Saharawi natural resources via trade deals with Morocco then grant the Saharawi people the right to self determination.

Life in the camps is hard and many sacrifices have to me made by the people, for no fault of their own - they deserve our full support. Instead we have
two unscrupulous upstarts, prepared to sacrifice the truth for 50 minutes of fame. How low can you get?


Firstly, it seems that Yours Truly would have preferred that the film was about the Polisario's burning cause for self government, rather than what the camp residents freely chose to tell the film makers about embedded slavery in the camps.

As to the 7.30 Report "evidence", I found the film makers' responses to the allegations of the Polisario and their supporters to be highly credible. I cringe when ever I see that photo of Fetim under the statement "I am not a slave" because I feel it is a travesty. From what I've seen I do not believe that anything in the film was falsified. I do not believe that any testimonies were forced or purchased from the film participants. The film makers and producer have said this in their responses and all three are reputable. I find it hard to understand how the AWSA can support such an attack fellow Australians.

As to Margarita's post, I have read reports of meetings with Fetim at Meredith Burgmann's house. I was surprised by what Yvette Andrews wrote; the patent insensitivity of a woman who claims to be a feminist to the disadvantage and suffering that Fetim has clearly experienced. Yvette is on a mission to promote the strengths of disadvantaged women and so goes on and on about how proud and dignified Fetim is. This appears contrived. I know from personal experience that being proud and dignified is not inconsistent with a history of trauma and abuse although Yvette presents it as if it were. I don't doubt that Fetim is proud and independent; nor do I doubt that Fetim's life has been deeply affected by slavery. Yvette's credibility on this issue is pretty well nil.

My interpretation of events is that Fetim's rebuttal (at the behest of the Polisario) was in part motivated by the deep shame she must feel at being identified as a slave; and by the unspeakable nature of slavery to the culture in which she lives. I feel her rebuttal also stems from a desire to please the Polisario and to support their cause; and was probably obtained under pressure.

Fetim seems to feel or has been told by the Polisario after the filming that the film has done the Polisario cause harm. Fetim was also apparently told by the Polisario the absurd allegation that the film makers are Moroccan spies. This may seem relevant to a people who are at war with Morocco however it is not relevant to non-partisan Australians like me who have seen the film. The Polisario obviously believe that the film has harmed their cause and perhaps also that the film makers are Moroccan spies. I do not believe this and I saw nothing against the Polisario in the film.

What has done the Polisario cause a disservice in my estimation is their campaign to silence camp residents who wanted to speak out about the issue of slavery. Having read about the issues since the furore broke out after the film (when I was hoping for the space to contemplate the complexity of the issues of slavery in peace) I'm now convinced that the Polisario cause is lost, totally.

All of the Polisario's former supporters back administration of the area by Morocco - this (as I recall) includes the US, UK, EU and the UN. Australia is not formally aligned with these powers however I assume our government would align with them despite strong support for the Polisario cause from the AWSA, the NSW ALP and AWU. Clearly the Polisario is an organisation that the AWSA have long perceived to be a group of fellow comrades fighting the good fight for freedom and independence. The trouble is that things have changed and what ever the past injustices, that's not all there is to the story now.

The other options for resolving the conflict in the Western Sahara are limited, hence administration by Morocco is favoured by the above powers. Administration by the Polisario on their own is not viable; probably never was and I'm certain never will be. Under 265,000 people is too few people for a viable self-governing country.

The conflict needs to be resolved so that the people caught in the middle of no man's land for 30 years can start putting their lives back together. The Polisario are standing in the way by refusing to compromise and by refusing to give up on their lost cause. The AWSA, as long time Polisario supporters, are finding it hard to accept what the rather obvious fact that the world has changed and there is a need to consider practical issues of survival and human rights over utopian dreams of liberation and freedom.

World history and politics have always been for more complex than what those who pursue liberation causes seem to believe, admirable as the principles of freedom and self-determination may be; and (Yvette please note that whatever you wrote in your Masters) the Western Sahara is not East Timor; and self government is not going so smoothly in East Timor either, which has probably not gone unnoticed and has not helped the Polisario cause.


I spent three years walking through the Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali and
Niger with camels. In my daily interactions in nomadic tents. Nowhere did I find
the practise of slavery more prevalent than in the Western Sahara, and Mauritania.

I feel sad the subtleties of the issues have yet again been subsumed by the
political arm of the Saharawi movement. As with many nomads who still live
a traditional life in the Western Sahara, I have little time for the
machinations of the Polisario. There is not a Saharawi nomad alive who
wouldn't acknowledge - openly - the reality of slavery both as a tradition,
and ongoing practice. To attempt to sweep it under the carpet in the name
of political interest is tragic.


Western Sahara and East Timor

What has really been stolen?

His Excellency, President Jose Ramos-Horta

speaks on the parallels between the two nations


Followed by a Q & A with

Kamal Fadel

Western Sahara Representative to

Australia & Ambassador to East Timor

Janelle Saffin

Federal Member for Page

& chaired by

Lyn Allison

President of the Australia Western

Sahara Association

A short documentary on Western Sahara will also be shown.

Thursday 23rd July

5.30 to 6.45pm

Kino Cinema 2

45 Collins Street, Melbourne

Tickets: $10

Advanced bookings:

(Collect tickets by 5pm and pay at the door)

Enquiries: (general and media)

Georgia Vlassopolous: 0425 702 975

  • Jose Ramos-Horta
  • July 22, 2009

As I visit Australia again, to attend this week's opening of the Melbourne International Film Festival, I have been confronted by the outcry over the film Stolen, which will screen at the festival and which represents, in microcosm, the importance of truth in the struggle for justice. The film, which makes claims of widespread slavery in the Western Saharan refugee camps, represents many of the ugly realities of this central dynamic. It is a scenario I know only too well.

I have followed closely the question of Western Sahara for decades. In our years of struggle for independence, strong friendship and solidarity grew between the Timorese and the Saharawis. I have met many Saharawis and visited the Saharawi refugee camps and liberated areas twice. I did not see any form of slavery in those camps. Rather, what I know of the Saharawis is that they are enlightened and committed to their cause of freedom.

The situation of Western Sahara is perhaps not well known to Australians. For East Timorese, there are ties which make a mutual understanding easier to find. Both East Timor and Western Sahara were colonised by Iberian powers - Portugal and Spain, respectively; both have been identified by the United Nations as being ready for decolonisation; both were invaded, post-European withdrawal, by regional powers in 1975; both peoples have been subjected to widespread human rights abuses; and both have been caught up in global political trends not of their making.

But East Timor and Western Sahara have also diverged. We achieved independence in 1999, and the Western Saharans have not. This is inexplicable: before our independence we actually had less formal international backing, were less regionally recognised and were more internally divided than the Saharawis.

The other important difference between our histories is that East Timor is predominantly Christian, while the Saharawis are Muslims. As a result of this, Western Sahara has been erroneously cast as a hotbed of Islamic terrorism and as a potential base for al-Qaeda. This form of knee-jerk racism has ensured that Western Sahara's illegal occupier, Morocco, has been able to play the security card and has gained enough traction to deconstruct the UN's formal decolonisation agendas which served us so well.

Stolen emerges as a stark example of the implications of this reality. It is easy to cast societies seen through the lens of bigotry as backward and to manufacture spurious storylines to suit a certain need when the politics of the moment encourage it.

In the situation that Western Sahara finds itself now, and in which East Timor faced before independence, is one which tilts in favour of those who represent the status quo. BothIndonesia and Morocco were or are able to manufacture a range of reasons to deny these peoples a free and fair act of self-determination.

Australia's role in freeing the East Timorese from the yoke of Indonesian rule was, and is, central. I know from my many dealings with many Australians that this country promotes the very highest standards in human rights and democracy. I have no reason to change that view.

I also know that truth is a highly traded commodity in the market of decolonisation politics. The prevailing state interests of the ruling power of the day - Indonesia then, Morocconow - will always bend truth to suit the political imperatives of the day. The uneven balance of resources, as well as the ability to obtain better access to geo-political power structures, further benefit the coloniser.

As we are learning in East Timor, freedom demands responsibility. The ability to use democracy's openness can never be an excuse for shoddy views or irresponsible behaviour. Being nominally free to commit acts of injustice, artistic or otherwise, is not a reason to do so.

As a friend of the Saharawis, I ask all Australians to take the time to understand the issues surrounding Western Sahara. I implore all to search for the truth with vigilance and commitment, lest lies become manifest and the vested interests of certain powers be allowed free reign in the marketplaces of ideas and power.

The world must support the independence of Western Sahara as a bridge between the Maghreb and the rest of Africa and as an enlightened Muslim nation bringing the Islamic world and the western democracies closer.

The Government and the people of Western Sahara deserve at least that much. As for East Timor, the worldwide support of the people, quite apart from governments and world organisations, has been, and remains significant. Those connections count and the value of ensuring truth and fiction remain separate is vital.

Jose Ramos-Horta is President of East Timor.


Also appeared in: The Sydney Morning Herald

News and Features - Opinion

Timor's link to a Saharan struggle

Jose Ramos-Horta

22 July 2009


I think JaneAgatha has let the cat out of the bag -firstly we should NOT attack fellow Australians (but its ok to attack Fetim) and secondly that POLISARIO and ALL the Western Saharan people beliving in their right to freedom and self determination should get real and on with the job....that is let the powers to be oppress them.

JaneAgatha also seems to suggest that East Timor's current problems are related to self government and not consequences of a brutal history of colonialism, occupation and exploitation of their natural resources -including Australia? Maybe we should advocate Iceland to be occupied then since its self government let it to bankruptcy....

just out of curiosity -why do you think the film makers are any more credible then Fetim, her husband Baba, the POLISARIO, the UNHCR worker and every body else who distanced themselves from the film? Are you by any chance related to any of the film makers, JaneAgatha?



I do sound like a negative old grump some of the time don't I!

I'm not attacking Fetim as you have alleged unfairly here. I'm sure she's a beautiful person. I'm all for her; only want the best. I hate to see how she's been used in the media.

I had not responded to what you had said: that the films supporters had "howled down" Fetim and her supporters. I've seen this line pedalled elsewhere by Yvette. That you have repeated it here suggests that it is becoming something of a myth in your camp, with a view to discrediting the film makers whose honesty and integrity I do not doubt.

I was there in about the 3rd or 4th row and was not aware of any animosity being shown towards Fetim or her supporters from the pro-Stolen people who were there. The reports I've heard are that the taking of sides either for or against the film was about 50:50. The most sensible thing that was said on the night was by Bob Connolly and I don't doubt his impartiality. Bob Ellis after all is just one of your old ALP cronies.

Although I hardly know the film makers and don't know the producer, I can read and judge for myself. I don't see the film makers as any more ambitious or desirous of fame than any other film maker might be. What the Polisario and their supporters have alleged about them here and elsewhere is not only ridiculously implausible, it is slanderous and un-Australian.

I feel the film makers have shown great courage and determination. I respect them for this. I would not be surprised if they deservedly received credit for what they have achieved in the face of a dirty campaign against them. As others have said, in time the truth will come out. To me this is obvious. I'm amazed that you and others can't see the truth for yourselves already. You are after all intelligent and well informed people aren't you?

I have made up my own mind about what has gone on in relation to the Polisario and AWSA media campaign against the film. No one has asked me to speak up however I have felt compelled to because I have been so shocked to see so many people who I would otherwise have considered upstanding members of the community to jump in boots and all and be so wrong about the film - apparently because they have taken on face value what the Polisario have told them. They have been wrong to trust the Polisario. The Polisario have not been at all honest or ethical in the tactics they have used in their efforts to suppress the film. How can their cause then be so worthy when they are so dishonest themselves?

If not for the stand taken by the Polisario I would have taken it on faith that their cause was a worthy one. On the basis of the campaign they have conducted against the film I have come to believe differently. I now feel this quite strongly. Even were Hose Ramos Horta to come out strongly supporting the Polisario cause, I would not and could not support them now. I can understand that it would be harder for people in AWSA to change their minds about the Polisario, given all the fund raising they must have done for them over the years. Perhaps the Polisario are fighting so fiercely and unscrupulously now because they can see that the battle is already lost and that their cause is in its death throes. I don't doubt that it is. I've long held the view that when people don't fight fair they generally lose out in the long run.

You wouldn't happen to be a friend of Yvette and Meredith by any chance, would you Maragarita????


The supporters of Stolen here are completely avoiding the issue. They openly admit that they know little -- or even care about -- about the people of Western Sahara whose lands have been stolen and have been driven into refugee camps in Algeria. Instead, the makers of Stolen have made a film that claims that the liberation movement fighting for the rights of the Western Saharan people is somehow complicit in slavery.

In the climate of widespread Western anti-Arab, anti-Muslim racism a film that makes the overgeneralisation that slavery is rampant will get an audience and funding. The problem is that while nobody denies that such practices exist in that region, the filmmakers have sought to claim that they continue in the Polisario refugee camps, where the progressive liberation movement is actively, and successfully, campaigning to end it, as the Polisario makes clear.

The woman featured has been set up and had words put in her mouth by the filmmakers, but has now exposed their ruse. There are also questions about the filmmakers cooperation with the brutal Morrocan dictatorship, which invaded Western Sahara and oppress the Western Saharan people -- and has an interest in slandering Polisario.


I can't do anything else but laugh at all of you. Are you all blind or have a selective reading capacity? Please read the Human Rights Watch report and stop all the domesticity that unfortunately is the characteristic of Australians.

I am going paste it here just for you all:

“In sum, credible sources testified to Human Rights Watch about vestiges of slavery that continue to affect the lives of a portion of the black minority in the Tindouf camps…”

In reply to by Erika Van Loon (not verified)


Selective reading? ``Credible sources'' (who exactly?) ``vestiges'' ``a portion''. Lots of weasel words there that indicate slavery is not widespread or tolerated in the refugee camps run by Polisario. That is the issue of course, the Stolen filmmakers have sought to slander the very organisation that are trying to liberate their country from the US-backed Moroccan dictatorship (why was their focus not on slavery in Morocco or Moroccan-occupied and controlled areas?) and also stamp out the ``vestiges'' of slavery -- very successfully -- where they can. But their porkies were exposed when the ``slave'' they tried to hang this slander on spoke out clearly!

In reply to by Les Boyd (not verified)


There is an implication that is not spelt out in your post :-) that US support for Morocco is malign and possibly motivated by greed.

Under Morocco on Wikipedia the information is there for all to see: that the US treaty of friendship with Morocco dates back to the 1600's. Morocco was the first country to recognise the US and the first place to have a US consulate. The treaty with Morocco is the US Government's longest lasting diplomatic friendship.

Further to that the kingdom of Morocco is ancient and has for most of its existence held sovereignty over the area that has been described by the Polisario as illegally occupied.

Not everything in world history and politics revolves around the Polisario cause nor is it deliberately designed to thwart it, despite what the Polisario and their supporters may have to say about this.

At last, Jane has come clean. She supports Morocco's illegal rule over Western Sahara, and therefore the denial of the Westrn Saharan peopl'es right to self-determination.

I guess that is why she and others are so keen to believe misinformation about the liberation movement Polisario. It is clear that Polisario is opposed to slavery and is doing everything it can to end it. In the camps it runs, it has been very successful.

If slavery persists in Western Sahara (and in Morocco) that is clearly the responibility of the Morocaan occupation forces. So why target Polisario and its camps?

In reply to by Erika Van Loon (not verified)


Erika could have at least have continued the quote so that it was not twisted to sound like HRW was blaming Polisario for ``vestiges of slavery'', because the reason there are only ``vestiges'' in Polisario-run (i.e. democratically controlled by the Wester Saharan people) camps, not full-blown slavery like in other parts of the region, is because Polisario is working to wipe it out.

Straight after Erika's quote, it goes on:

``The issue of slavery in the Tindouf camps deserves closer scrutiny than Human Rights Watch has been able to undertake. It bears mentioning that Sahrawis in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara told us that residual practices of slavery can be found there, as well.

``Responding to questions about slavery, the Polisario has acknowledged the survival, `to a limited extent, of certain practices related to antiquated thinking' and said it was `determined to combat and eradicate them whenever they emerge and no matter what shape they take.' We welcome this statement and urge the Polisario to be vigilant in pursuing this objective.''

In fact the HRW report is actually very much at odds with the hysterical anti-Polisario tone set by some people in this thread. The section of the report that deals with these issues is at

One more extract: `` Polisario officials emphasized that although Sahrawi tribes had practiced slavery in the past, the Polisario has been committed to eradicating it. President Abdelaziz told Human Rights Watch, `If you find any evidence of slavery, bring it to our attention.' Justice Minister Hamada Selma said, `Since the beginning of the revolution, we have completely forbidden slavery. Not merely through legislation, but through a campaign of consciousness-raising and investigation. Since 1976, not a single case involving slavery has been brought before the institutions of the Justice Ministry.' He added that you will find white and black families linked to one another through the relationship of `nasib,' [kinsmanship] but `this cannot be equated with slavery.'[279]

``While visiting the camps, Human Rights Watch interviewed approximately eight black-skinned Sahrawis about the issue of slavery, in the 27 February camp and El-Ayoun camp. Their testimony was consistent and can be summarized as follows: Black-skinned Sahrawis constitute a small minority of the population in the camps. Some members of that minority are `owned' by `white' persons or families. An `owner' previously enjoyed broad rights, de facto, over the `slave,' but today, those `rights' are limited largely to one realm: the `owner's' ability to grant or withhold consent for a `slave' woman's marriage, a consent without which a religious judge (qadi) will decline to perform the marriage. As one Sahrawi put it, `I don't really know if I'm a slave or free until my daughter tries to get married.' A male `slave,' on the other hand, faces no such constraint when he wishes to marry.''

This is ``vestiges'' that HRW is referring to. Polisario should be congratulated for being the only force actually combatting and reducing such backward traditions, not condemned and vilified. There is still obviously work to do, but a free and independent Western Sahara will spread these gains across the country.


with regards to your question
I dont know either Yvette nor Meredith, I live in Melbourne and am NOT a supporter of the ALP - far from it in fact.
And I dont care if something is un-Australian but i am concerned that Fetim, as the subject of a film she has distanced herself from, did not get the opportunity to be part of the official question and answer session.


I hear what you're saying however having seen the story of what happened as portrayed in the film, I came away with a sense that Fetim was put up to the retraction by the Polisario after she had freely participated in making the film.

Hence I am convinced (as no doubt others are too) that her participation in an official question and answer session would not be valid and would constitute a further abuse of a woman who has already experienced long term subjugation as Daido's slave.

Having read up on the issue of slavery in North Africa since seeing the film, I would like to know the answer to a question: whose goats was Fetim tending? Based on what I've read I would assume that the goats belonged to Daido and that being Daido's slave, it was Fetim's role to tend them.


The issue discussed her is the fraudulent act of the filmmakers and the mishandling of over AU $300.000 of Australian public money were used to make this film. The filmmakers have constructed a whole story that has no relation to reality.

For example:

-Wrong subtitles

-miused testimony of a UNHR official who has since distanced herself from the film and the filmmakers.

-No releases or consent were obtained from the subjects of the film! and those who asked to be excluded from it were just ignored.

-fabricated scenes and allegations

-Misuse of copyright material without permission.

The filmmakers have since decided to delete that material which belonged to Carlos Gonzales a US filmmaker. So the version of the film that is going to be shown in Melbourne is not the same that was screened in Sydney!

Who knows what else will be deleted from the film in the future? ...etc


Sally, firstly, thank you for acknowledging that the practice of slavery exists in that region. I'd come to feel that the anti-Stolen campaigners had become stuck on denying the existence of slavery altogether, and that this was diverting attention from issues that merited attention.

I disagree with you that the film over generalises or makes false claims. As I've said before, the film does not portray the Polisario as complicit in the continuance of slavery in the camps; nor that slavery is rampant there although its continuance on any level would be cause for concern for anyone interested in human rights issues, as Violeta clearly is.

According to Wikipedia on slavery in modern Africa, in neighbouring Mauritania those currently affected by slavery are estimated to be 20% of the population or about 90,000 black Mauritanians. Others have attested that they are aware of similar issues in the neighbouring region where the Saharawi camps are.

However, the extent of slavery in the Polisario controlled camps has not been documented and remains unknown. By their actions the Polisario have shown that they would prefer that its extent remain concealed forever. It was beyond the film makers to estimate accurately in their brief time visiting certain households whereby they brought the issue to light in the face of intense opposition.

By their actions the Polisario appear complicit if not in slavery then in human rights violations and deceitfulness: in seeking to stifle the freedom of expression of camp residents; in having detained the film makers; in having sought to confiscate and destroy the film; and more recently through a somewhat transparent media campaign waged on Australian soil, to publicly discredit the film and the film makers.

This media campaign includes a video of retractions by people who appeared in the film and others which, given the context of its making and circulation accompanied by blanket denials that slavery exists in the camps, appears contrived or forced or both.

I doubt that the Polisario intended to come across as a repressive and deceitful regime however the truth is out there now and they are the ones who appear to have a case to answer; and it is not the first time they have given others cause for concern that they are repressive and corrupt.

The media campaign has done the Polisario and Western Sahara cause great harm. As noted earlier by someone on Bob Ellis' blog, the Polisario probably need to reconsider who is doing their PR. Who ever has been doing it so far has let them down badly; perhaps did not do their homework on the slavery issue first and have not given them good advice.

From where I see it, the loss of credibility of the Polisario and their supporters is irretrievable.


Australian journalists� allegations against POLISARIO: political campaigns for whom?


One Hump or Two Website, run by an American young activist investigated the allegations spread by two Australian journalists, Mr. Daniel Fallshaw and Miss. Violeta Ayala on what they called slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps.

The two Australian journalists visited the Saharawi refugee camps at least twice to work on a documentary about the UN supervised family exchange program.

They found residence in the camps at a Saharawi family and started speaking about slavery in the camps, accusing POLISARIO of kidnapping them last May before they denied that again and said they were only interrogated for few hours by POLISARIO officials.

Miss Ayala who presents herself as a freelance, came to the camps as a journalists in the Australian television SBS and pretended to be working for Aljazeera International too, but when asked SBS revealed that they stopped to employ her because she caused a lot of troubles and she was not credible.

She travelled to Mauritania using the name of SBS though she worked no more for the Australian television, and had apparently had problems with the Mauritanian authorities because of her methods. She worked in the same subject, slavery.

After the scandal she caused in the camps, and after it was clear that she was making up the story of her kidnapping in the camps, she suddenly flew to New York, exactly when POLISARIO Front and Morocco were having the first round of negotiations in Manhasset

The Saharawi delegation was surprised during the first press conference to hear Miss Ayala asking about slavery in the camps and about her �stolen tapes�, instead of asking about the negotiations and the political developments.

She did similar campaigns in Europe, this time with the involvement of the Moroccan organisation �Sahara Marocaine�, which is headed by a former Moroccan secret agent who is using this so-called organisation to spread the confusion about the conflict in Western Sahara and campaign against the Saharawi refugees and POLISARIO Front.

Ayala and her friend seemed to have stopped been journalists and launched a political campaign against the POLISARIO Front, basing their attacks on what they pretend to be slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps.

Other sources asserted that the couple was completely taken in charge by the Moroccan services, and that their trips and works are funded by strange would-be organisations such as Together Foundation, which is now hosting their campaign against POLISARIO Front.

The same sources even asserted that the couple is completely at the sold of the Moroccan secret services, who are campaigning especially in the USA, and who are creating many fake organisations and using American Lobbying firms to distort the reputation of OLISARIO Front using many subjects for this end.

During his visit to Australia and New Zealnad, Mr. Malainin Lakhal, the Secretary General of the Saharawi Journalists and Writers Union, who met the couple in the camps, declared he was surprised by the allegations the two Australians made on behalf of the refugees they are pretending to defend.

The Saharawi activist met with journalists in Australian SBS, including colleagues of Ayala who work in the DateLine program, for which Ayala was only working as a searcher and trainee, he informed them about what Ayala and her cameraman were doing, and they clearly said that they were not surprised and that she is used to making up news and false information.

They told him about many troubles she caused for the SBS television, including her trip to Mauritania using their name, her use of SBS official email, and her use of a false identity as a journalist for SBS.

They further stated that she is not even a journalist, asserting that she only had a training opportunity in SBS, and used the facilities this Australian Television gave her to pretend she was.

For further information on the two journalists and the suspicious organisations funding them read One Thump of Two article about the issue:



Suspicious slavery allegations from Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala revive Koalagate

Remember the Australian filmmakers Polisario detained in May? They said Polisario was mad at them because they had uncovered evidence of slavery in Tindouf. At the time certain blogs threw fits at the idea of Polisario holding slaves, but then the story went cold.

Now, though, the filmmakers, Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala, have released a press release through the "Together Foundation" that got picked up by a bunch of websites including AOL News, Yahoo, and Forbes. The press release expands their claims and introduces some new characters to the drama, namely, the Together Foundation. Their allegations might be true, but I�ve done some digging and it looks fishy.

First, I called Philippe Elghouayel, the contact listed on the press release (you can too: 914-231-6804). Philippe was less than pleased to talk with me. The first thing he said was "Where are you calling from?!". I deal with a lot of PR flaks working for the Voice, but I�ve never had one react like that. After I said I just wanted to find the Together Foundation�s website because it didn�t come up in Google searches, he snarled it at me. I�ll probably be paying Philippe a call again soon.

Anyway, check out their website. It�s an organization that�s existed since 2005 and is dedicated to ending slavery in Tindouf, but I�ve never heard of them before, and no one else I�ve talked to has either. The Foundation�s mediocre website says it�s going to launch an expedition to Tindouf to investigate slavery. I emailed them to sign up--why don�t you?

Looking at their website, I�m thinking "clumsy hatchet job", but where�s the Morocco link? Check out the About page, which lists 5 people associated with the Foundation. Turns out Philippe�s their president and Gregory Temkin (also written Tyomkin in the press release) is the vice-president. The board of advisors has three members: Emily Toll, Steve Pershing, and Talal Belrhiti.

At this point, the only people I�ve found information. But what information it is! Philippe Elghouayel was the head of the UN Development Program�s Russia Office and was linked to fraud (credit to Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame). Talal Belrhiti is where the real juice is, though.

Talal Belrhiti is also the director of the Maghreb Center, a group that supposedly aims at increasing Maghreb harmony. It�s not officially run by Morocco. But I attended one of its events at Georgetown that touched only briefly Western Sahara using milquetoast Jacques Rousselier. Its website doesn�t list Western Sahara as a Maghreb country and autonomy fan I. William Zartman is on the advisory board. So I think it�s fair to say it leans Morocco�s way on Western Sahara.

The real question about Talal Belrhiti is why he�s running the Maghreb Center at all. According to his LinkedIn profile he�s a grad student at the University of Virginia. Maybe he�s a prodigy, but doesn�t it seem like a legitimate organization (read: not a Moroccan front) would have someone a little more distinguished at its helm? No knock to Talal Belrhiti, of course--according to his students, he�s "a total heartthrob".

Even more damning of his and the Foundation�s connection to anti-Western Sahara sentiment: check out this article he wrote for The National Interest (another popular I. William Zartman habitat) bashing autonomy.

People are saying Morocco�s agents in the US are tied to this. For his part, Robert Holley of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy pleads ignorance. If he�s telling the truth, that doesn�t mean Morocco�s hands are clean--there�s a bizarre interlocking web of PR and lobbying firms that are working for Morocco outside of the MACP.

Right now, it�s a lot of potential links but nothing definite as to who�s backing these allegations. As More as I find it. If you have any information about the Together Foundation and its members or slavery in Tindouf, please comment or email me.

تمت طباعة هذه الصفحة من موقع اتحاد الصحفيين والكتاب الصحراويين 08/07/2009

Les, I've read One Hump or Two and this does not look like anything I have seen posted there.

What you have copied and pasted initially gives the impression that it was authored by Will Sommer, owner of One Hump or Two. However the broken English gives it away as from a non-English speaking source, not Will's blog. I wonder does Will know that he has been quoted in this way?

I can see from the bottom that what you have posted comes from UPES, which I understand to be an organisation supporting the Polisario or Saharawi independence cause. Conclusion: it looks like another bizarre concoction by the Polisario, of a kind that I'd rather not see aired in Australian media.

While I've realised lately that our standards of journalism are pretty appalling, they are nowhere near as misleading as this sensationalised and slanderous report.

This is not North Africa.

In reply to by JaneAgatha (not verified)


Jeez, having been caught out backing a film that has been exposed as either a shabby sensationalised beat-up or a crude anti-Saharan propaganda piece, you seem to want to spin a giant red-baiting conspiracy theory against anybody who differs with you.

Yes, I posted something from the pro-Polisario UPES site, whose writer probably does have English as a second-language (I'll resist saying more about the blatant prejudice you display over that). But that post includes, with a link, the One Hump or Two post it is commenting on. Please go to… if you doubt it. Clearly, you couldn't be bothered clicking on it a seeing that indeed comes from that source.

Perhaps that gives readers some idea of the investigation you put into the claims of the makers of Stolen before becoming their cheer squad here.


Dear JaneAgatha
The goats are Fetim's. If you had asked her at the premiere she would have told you so. But that's beside the point. Daido- Fetim's supposed slavemaster, is according to Fetim her foster mother and she loves her; but that's another fact that ruins a good story.

Anybody who believes Stolen's assumptions better not get filmed helping out your ailing foster mothers or community members - it could turn you into an instant slave.

I'd prefer a reliable source. Fetim was brought here by the Polisario for the express purpose of denying slavery.

Few reliable facts have emerged from this debate however they include:

Slavery is practised in the Saharawi refugee camps.

Daido raised Fetim as her slave owner not as her foster mother.

In reply to by JaneAgatha (not verified)


My statement above was not that clear. Margarita has claimed that Daido is Fetim's foster mother not her owner and cites Fetim as her source.

Fetim tells us in the film that she was brought to the camp by Daido, because she had been given to Daido by Daido's father, as Daido's slave. All indications are and I believe it to be true that Fetim was raised as Daido's slave.

Fetim's accustomed role as Daido's slave would be to tend Daido's goats. In the film she is shown tending goats as if this is her accustomed role.

JaneAgatha, you need to understand that what you saw in the film is not correct. You should know that the subtitles you've seen are wrong. This has been reaffirmed by an independent translator as stated in the ABC TV 7.30 Report. Unless you also question the ABC and claim that it is not reliable.

Do you know for sure that Fetim has no goats? How do you know that the goats belong to Deido?

In reply to by Sally (not verified)


Sally, I paid close attention to the discussion about the sub titles. I feel too much was made of a relatively minor issue. Translations are often disputed.

In their interview the film makers cite a paper trail that attests to the authenticity and independence of the original certified translations. They invite those who question the translation to take it up with the translators.

The discussion on the 7.30 Report which I have viewed on the abc website several times has not changed my impression of what the film is about; however it has caused me to question the impartiality of the 7.30 Report's reporting on this issue.

JaneAgatha, you didn't answer the question about who owns the goats.

The translation is not only disputed but it has been shown that most of the subtitles were just made up to fit into the fabricated story. They were independently verified to be wrong.

I don't think you will be convinced of anything except that the film is good and should be accepted without any questons.

No matter what facts are given to you will just dismiss them and find an excuse to justify your ill-conceived stance. It's a shame.

JaneAgatha, I wonder if one day the filmmakers told you that they made a mistake what your response/reaction would be?

Dear friends,

I think this aspect of the thread is exhausted. Readers can follow the links and judge for themselves the accuracy or otherwise of the subtitles, and I suppose the relationship of the goats to the principals. No more on this please.

Also, let's keep our focus on the political issues at stake and not personal assessments of the character and motives of each other.


The Moderator


My first language is Spanish while I haven't watch the film, I did watch the 7:30 Report, black people there were clearly denouncing slavery. The translations in Spanish appeared to be correct to me. I do not agree with the way things are mixed up here. I do support the Polisario's fight for their homeland but I don't support slavery. One thing has nothing to do with the other. It's time we get our act together and fight to eradicate slavery in the refugee camps.


Although I live at a distance and have had little to do with my nephew, Dan Fallshaw, and his family for many years; having heard about the film in the weeks prior and being able to be in Sydney at that time, I went to the screening. I found it to be a compelling film about an important and interesting subject. I felt that the visuals and sound track were stunning.

However I was rather stunned and remain shocked by the stand taken by Meredith Burgmann and others following the screening given that the issues portrayed are far from black and white. Having been so stunned at the time, I approached and spoke to Meredith on the night after the film. Meredith was walking down to the front to speak further against the film, following Meredith’s loudly and derisive denial the existence of slavery in the camps and accusations of dishonesty and fraud against and film makers from a few rows behind me.

I said to Meredith that I felt it all depended how you defined the word, slavery. It also depends on whether you are referring to current slavery or the effects of a long history of slavery. I felt the issues are complex; too complex to capture in the catch cry "I am not a slave". Clearly Fetim has had a long relationship with Daido who is the only mother she knows and no humane and reasonable person would want to interfere with that.

Despite the complexity and my limited understanding of the issues initially, I have felt compelled to speak out on this issue because I know that my nephew, Dan, is a sensitive, intelligent and honest young man just like my bank manager father once was and like the rest of my family are.

I have also felt compelled to speak out because I have had trouble coming to grips with how certain elements within the NSW ALP have used their not inconsiderable influence and connections in a bid to crush Dan and Violeta and their work.

Dan and Violeta made many sacrifices to bring this film to fruition and they did it with open hearts and the best of intentions. They had a small budget and told the audience after the screening that they have each been living on a shoe string of $15,000 pa for the last 3 years.

I'm still struggling to understand the motives behind the AWSA’ bid to destroy Dan and Violeta's work and their hard won achievements against so many odds.

I feel that the film’s opponents have been wreaking devastation upon truth and integrity, not to mention human rights. I'm only on the sidelines and even I feel utterly annihilated. Imagine the effect on the film makers to see fellow Australians treating them this way. I have lost all faith in some of our political leaders who I may otherwise have trusted and supported; to see ALP cronies behaving this way has enabled me to come to see the full extent of the destructive effects of ALP cronyism.

I have been changed forever. I cannot rest having seen what has been going on in the media over this film. I've never seen such a disgrace in my life. I'm only a little person and I cannot and will not rest on this issue until I see justice for the film makers and for the Saharawi slaves who sought to speak out in the film and whose voices the anti-Stolen campaigners would crush, including Fetim's.

The negative media campaign against Stolen in my view negates any of the good that prominent anti-Stolen campaigners might otherwise have been seen to have achieved in the past in relation to human rights issues, including feminism.

What I see is a cruel, hard and unscrupulous campaign to have victory over others at any cost; including others less fortunate and less powerful than themselves.

Whatever the anti-Stolen campaigners might have said publicly on this issue, their behaviour in relation to the Saharawi cause appears as empty and as meaningless to me as the farce I've seen played out in the media.

If I can see this, others will see it too.


The 1926 Slavery Convention describes slavery as "...the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..."

HRW Report 2008 says:
``While visiting the camps, Human Rights Watch interviewed approximately eight black-skinned Sahrawis about the issue of slavery, in the 27 February camp and El-Ayoun camp. Their testimony was consistent and can be summarized as follows: Black-skinned Sahrawis constitute a small minority of the population in the camps. Some members of that minority are `owned' by `white' persons or families. An `owner' previously enjoyed broad rights, de facto, over the `slave,' but today, those `rights' are limited largely to one realm: the `owner's' ability to grant or withhold consent for a `slave' woman's marriage, a consent without which a religious judge (qadi) will decline to perform the marriage...''

If this is not slavery, then someone maybe Les could explain me what it is?

I think the pro-Stolen lobby is becoming a victim of its own fevered imagination and it anti-Polisaio propaganda. The debate is about the accuracy of the film, specifically the claim that the person featuring in it is a slave. She says she is not, travelling to Australia to say so, and the filmmakers and their supporters have disregarded her objections and refused to allow her to put her side of the story at the gala launches of this film. There is evidence of fabricated subtitles and cooperation with anti-Saharan Moroccan entities.

When critics have pointed to this, and the underlying lie that slavery is rampant in the Polisario-run camps, the Stolen lobby has dishonestly chanted that Polisario denies the existance of slavery in the region, denies that there remains ``vestiges'' of it in its camps and, as the lie gets ever bigger, is responsible for and is a supporter of it!

As their campaign has gone on, as if to rationalise their defence of a deeply dishonest film, it has more and more evolved into an anti-Polisario campaign (one of its supporters here openly defending the brutal Moroccan occupiers against Polisario's freedom fight).

The facts are that Polisario does not deny the existance of slavery in the region, and does not deny that it has not been entirely eliminated from the camps.

But the truth is, which the Stolen lobby can't bring itself to admit, that it is Polisario that is the leading organisation actually doing something to eliminate the ``vestiges'' of slavery in the areas it controls.

See for more on this.

Thanks Les, you confirmed my doubts, there is in fact slavery in the camps.

'The facts are that Polisario does not deny the existance of slavery in the region, and does not deny that it has not been entirely eliminated from the camps'

But I've seen in the film, a Polizario Rep in New York saying that there wasn't slavery in the camps. Maybe they are changing their line as they catching up.

Have a look at the following link:…;

Here is a manumission document dated June 13, 2007 purporting to free a slave (taharir rak’ba) among the refugees in the Polisario camps around Tindouf. It is signed by an official representative of the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs of the Sahirwiya Democratic Arab Republic, the Polisario’s government-in-exile.

Why people need manumission documents if the Polizario are opposed to slavery? Shouldn't manumission documents be illegal?

This is becoming circular, Erika. You introduced the HRW report (, accept its findings. Slavery has been all but wiped out, apart from vestiges, by Polisario in the camps its runs. It is continuing work towards 100% removal. Doesn't Polisario deserve our support for that?

Your objection clearly is not to slavery but the Polisario Front and its struggle for freedom from Morocco's brutal invaders.

To refresh your memory:

``Responding to questions about slavery, the Polisario has acknowledged the survival, `to a limited extent, of certain practices related to antiquated thinking' and said it was `determined to combat and eradicate them whenever they emerge and no matter what shape they take.' We welcome this statement and urge the Polisario to be vigilant in pursuing this objective.

``Polisario officials emphasized that although Sahrawi tribes had practiced slavery in the past, the Polisario has been committed to eradicating it. President Abdelaziz told Human Rights Watch, `If you find any evidence of slavery, bring it to our attention.' Justice Minister Hamada Selma said, `Since the beginning of the revolution, we have completely forbidden slavery. Not merely through legislation, but through a campaign of consciousness-raising and investigation...''

Les, I have no interest at all in the politics of the place. What is 'vestiges of slavery'. When the genocide happened in Rwanda, the UN came saying that instances of genocide were happening, a million people were killed.

I watched the film and found it delicate and compassionate by the way it also shows slavery in the territory occupied by Morocco. Slavery is a human rights crime.

Bob Ellis

A still from the film Stolen by Sydney film makers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw

In Stolen a camel is chosen, dragged bellowing toward a truck, seen travelling many miles with a quirky expression on its likeable, nose-wriggling face, then later by moonlight, shrieking and hooting, its throat cut, gushes its blood towards Mecca in accordance with the provisions of the Law. After this we see dancing and ululating veiled black women at a reunion party in which the camel, drained of its blood, is roasted and eaten in the first such feast in the village in 30 years.

This sequence was made possible by Violeta Ayala, the co-director, giving the hungry villagers the price of the camel, something they otherwise could never have afforded, and suggesting they enact for the cameras this ugly, disturbing, highly cinematic ritual.

Why do we see this? The film is supposedly about the persistence of slavery in the refugee camps of the Saharawi people in sand-swept Algeria. Why show this? We do not usually see headless, flapping, blood-spurting turkeys before Thanksgiving dinners in Hollywood films. Why do this? Why show it? Why cause it to happen, as the director in her narration admits she did?

I got into a loud fight with her and her co-director, saw in video interviews what the film's subjects thought of it, interviewed one of them myself (with, admittedly the help of a Polizari lawyer, Kamal Fadel, who is also the attache for East Timor), and became pretty depressed that this film exists, and has been premiered, and I'll tell you why.

It's because we see and are told almost nothing of this culture that slaughters a camel once in 30 years and practises, allegedly, slavery. We do not know how they feed themselves or school themselves, what creed they practise, what church or mosque they attend, how their economy works, who they marry, how many spouses they have, what age they marry, if girls can choose their spouse, how often they pray, how their economy works, what sort of health care they get (good, I later learned, and totally free), if they can vote in elections, if they are semi-fascist or semi-communist or communitarian, and so on.

We are not even told that the central character, Fetim, has a husband, Baba, who works in Spain, has an engineering degree from Cuba and sends her money from Spain. She is presented as a single mother and (it is rumoured) a slave.

Baba and Fetim attended the film's world premiere and showed their passports to the audience and said the whole family holiday frequently together in Spain unharassed by the Polizario, and how can this be?

Slaves with passports? What is this? Slaves flying Qantas and staying unpoliced with Meredith Burgmann, the former President of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, in Glebe?

"There's no reason slaves can't fly overseas", said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. "Slavery is a state of mind."

"Slavery can be mental", Violeta Ayala said. "I never said Fetim is a slave", Dan said. "Other people in the film do."

A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? "I never said she was a slave", Dan said. "The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind."

But no-one is shown shackled in the film. No-one is shown being spoken to harshly. No-one is shown being humiliated in any way. The only person (and he is treated as a person) who is humiliated in the film is the camel, whom the directors paid the villagers to humiliate and murder in front of the camera.

Murder is my word; I withdraw it; murder is unfair.

Why did they do this? Was it to show they were bad people, capable of not only ritually killing a camel but even, possibly, slavery?

In the Nazi film The Eternal Jew laughing rabbis cut a cow's throat and the blood gushes copiously and they laugh some more - gaily, wickedly, unpleasantly. Is this the same propaganda trick? I doubt it.

The young Bondi couple that made this film seem too naïve, too unprepared for the great world for that.

For if indeed the people they show on screen are slaves, they have endangered their lives - by showing their faces and alleging they collude in a monstrous illegality that could see their owners gaoled or incite them persecutors into honour-killing them for letting it out.

If they are not slaves they will have brought shame on their community with this blood-libel, this heinous falsehood and their community will shun them hereafter. Or am I wrong?

But the on-screen Saharawi are saying in interview after interview that they did not say this, they did not say they were slaves, and their words were manipulated or falsified. And their words in the film are being deciphered by a man from Al-Jazeera and a man from the UN to see if they match the subtitles.

If the spoken and printed word do not conform (one apparently says not 'Fetim is a slave' but 'Violeta wants us to say Fetim is a slave'), a lot of slander will have occurred, and the publishers of it, whoever they are, will be liable, I imagine, for a good deal of negotiated retribution. And so will the forgers of the subtitles, whoever they are.

Will Dan and Violeta go to jail? Probably not. Should they? I'm not sure.

If they had made a film saying cannibalism persisted in certain Maori encampments in New Zealand, and this published rumour was false, they would have committed (I think) no less grave a crime. And I'm not sure any apology would have allayed it.

There may be other explanations for what has thus far occurred at this Sydney Film Festival (the organisers refused to screen Fetim's friends' and allies' 15-minute rebuttal though they had 30 hours before the festival finished to check it out and do so), a film about slavery in which no slavery is seen.

But none of them will recover, I fear, the $230,000 or so (which could I imagine buy back a whole lot of slaves) of government money spent thus far on this ill-informed, ill-evidenced and arguably addled rumination.

Or am I wrong?

Bob's review has been thrashed out on his blog. The posts are there for all who may want to read them, and I strongly recommend that they do.

While Bob's review is highly critical of the film, his colourful report on the camel slaughter sequence also serves as an invitation to others to see the footage of the quirky and likeable camel for themselves.

Bob's review needs to be read with caution, because from what he says he seems to believe that the film is fraudulent and that the film makers have knowingly deceived people. By asking repeatedly: am I wrong? Bob hedges his bets however.

Yes Bob you are wrong. The proof is in the viewing, where black residents from Saharawi refugee camps are seen speaking freely, simply and powerfully in their own voices about their experiences of slavery.


Initially I thought this film was about the 'Stolen Generation' and couldn't quite catch up with the debate. After reading various media reports, I started to think that Stolen in the Sahara wasn't so different than the Stolen Generation.
What I found most disturbing is that no journos had asked Fetim's mother, her side of the story? Do we know how she feels about Fetim? As a mother myself, I would like to hear from her.

I remember the Bringing Them Home Report saying something along the lines, many children who were stolen, didn't know what exactly they are, they’re white or they’re black. Where exactly they belong.

That alone explains to me, why the lady Fatem came to Australia.

In reply to by Bella (not verified)


It's explained in the second story above: ``The true story of Sellami’s separation from her mother is typical of the Saharawi experience. She was three years old and at a neighbour’s house when the brutal Moroccan invasion occurred. Her mother was out of town and the neighbour, a woman called Deido, took Sellami with her when she fled the invaders, effectively becoming her foster mother.''


I'd like to comment on some factual errors made by JaneAgatha.
On the one hand we have "Under 265,000 people is too few people for a viable self-governing country.". I've just done a 30 second search and discovered a number of independent countries with populations of less than 250,000, including Monaco(32,719),Vatican City(824),Nauru(13,918),Andorra(89,000) and there are many more. A nation state is not determined by population size but things like commonalities in culture, language and geographical region oh and of course a peoples "utopian dreams of liberation and freedom"(which apparently have nothing to do with human rights??).
Secondly, there is the statement "Under Morocco on Wikipedia the information is there for all to see: that the US treaty of friendship with Morocco dates back to the 1600's". I just checked Wiki and The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship was signed by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the Moroccan king Muhammad III in 1786. The USA didn't exist in the 1600's. Anyway that USA supports a dictatorship is nothing new nor is it motivated by anything other than greed. Just look at the last 200 years of Latin American history.Is it "that US support for Morocco is malign and possibly motivated by greed", well yes it is.

The wonderful thing about minor inaccuracies is they can be relied upon to call forth responses from people who tend to see things in terms of "right" and "wrong" or "black" and "white".

The viability of small countries, while perhaps more a matter of opinion than fact is certainly a worthy subject for discussion and is relevant to the Polisario cause. It didn't take long to find information on the subject. I need to correct myself: the proposed Saharawi Republic would meet many people's definition of a 'micro' country.

Andrew S. Downes (2004) puts the case that countries of less than 10 million are economically vulnerable in a globalised world, particularly as they became politically independent. See below.

Extract from World Trade Review, 2004, Vol. 3, Issue 3, 416-417

With rapid changes taking place in the global trading environment, there has
been concern within several international arenas and academia about the future of small developing countries (SDCs). Although the discussion relating to the effects of country size on economic growth and development began in the early 1960s with the publication of Kuznets’ (1960) article and Demas’ (1965) monograph, there has been a recent flurry of writings on small developing countries in the context of the new global order. For example, the World Bank in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat (2000) undertook a major study of small states and their ability to meet the challenges of a changing global economic environment. Kennes (2000) and Salvatore et al. (2001) have also analyzed the challenges and opportunities facing small countries in the global marketplace. The Commonwealth Secretariat had previously arranged two expert panels to examine the vulnerability of small states in a global society and also the future of small states in overcoming their vulnerability (see Commonwealth Secretariat, 1985, 1997).

The ongoing interest in ‘small’ countries stems from a number of factors. First, these countries make up a significant proportion of the membership of international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Although there are different views relating to the criteria for determining the size of a country, in this commentary, a country with a population of 10 million or less is regarded as being ‘small ’. Some commentators have used alternative classifications such as ‘small’, ‘very small ’ and ‘micro’ using various population demarcation lines. The large number of small developing countries in these organisations gives them a significant degree of voting and hence bargaining power. Second, with limited natural and human resources and relatively small domestic markets, questions have been raised about the ‘viability ’ and ‘vulnerability ’ of these SDCs. The early discussion on small countries focused on their ‘viability ’, as many of them became politically independent. In recent years, the emphasis has been placed on their ‘vulnerability ’ (economic, social and environmental) as these countries experienced severe natural and man-made shocks (e.g., hurricanes, oil price increases). Third, these SDCs are largely dependent on external economic activities for their survival – imports and exportscapital inflows, skilled labour and aid. The economic structures of SDCs are largely undiversified, with several of them being dependent on one or two main
areas of activity (bananas, sugar, tourism, minerals) to generate growth and


"The proof is in the viewing..." No the proof is in Fetim and others saying that they were misrepresented, misquoted and mistranslated in this fraudulent film. All this racist garbage that the film-makers' supporters are coming out with ("Fetim has a white heart" — give us a break!) is just a nasty way of serving a nasty end: prettifying Morocco's brutal occupation of Western Sahara. "stolen" does for documentary film-making what Helen "Demidenko" Darville did for historical literature.

It stands to reason that those so keen to make sure Fetim's real words aren't heard are also opposed to the Saharawi people being allowed to speak through a referendum on independence. The UN has called for such a referendum, Morocco, a tyrannical monarchy that is a war-on-terror ally of the West, has blocked it from taking place. This is the real issue behind the slander in "stolen" and in the contributions from the film's supporters on this thread.


Hang on a minute Tony! There's something wrong with your statement. Everyone involved wants Fetim's words to be heard. However, there's a double bind - with Fetim caught in the middle.

The film makers and many film goers and senior people in the Australian film industry want Fetim's words in the film to be heard: about her experiences of slavery.

The Polisario and AWSA/ALP faction want Fetim's words of rebuttal of slavery as they have been presented in the media to be heard: denouncing the existence of slavery in the camps and denouncing the film makers as fraudsters.

These two statements reflect the crunch of a bitter debate that addresses a question as to how, when, where and orchestrated by whom ought Fetim's words be heard.

Within the context of the screeing of a film at a film festival, I will leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about the answer to that question.

Tony has also presented unfounded assumptions that people who want Fetim's words in the film to be heard are: racist; support Morocco's brutal occupation of the Western Sahara; and oppose independence for the Saharawi people; which is over complicating a debate about a film screening somewhat.

Tony's statements reflect film makers and film participants, including Fetim, innocently embroiled in someone else's bitter war; which has little or nothing to do with the issue of slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps.

I will leave it for others to decide how relevant Tony's statements about the "film makers' supporters" are to answering the question as to whether or not a film in which Fetim speaks about her experiences of slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps is fraudulent, or not.


Even Obama thinks a Western Sahara state could be viable. Maybe JaneAgahta could teach him a lesson or two about her expertise on viability of small states (or their right to be free indeed).

A potential policy change would indeed be a very positive step forward for the suffering Western Saharan people and end their REAL enslavement brought about by the occupation and lack of action form Western powers

1- WORLD TRIBUNE: Obama reverses Bush-backed Morocco plan in favor of Polisario state…


I don't want to be at odds with you over the Polisario cause particularly. I'm sure that on many issues you and I would agree. I loved the piece you wrote on the ALP for the Socialist Alliance; pure eloquence and fun.

I've no history of allegiances in regard to the Polisario cause, other than my own observations and research in recent weeks as a result of which I've formed a highly negative view of them.

This article which I have just re-read is far from a straight forward endorsement of a Saharawi Republic by Obama. Personally I feel the recommendations of the UN Security Council have strong foundations. (In recent years I've been researching world economic policy and such, although not in this region.)

Even were a Saharawi Republic to go ahead, I feel that it's chances of thriving would be low, primarily because the Polisario do not appear to be operating democratically, whatever lip service they may pay to democracy. One of the things that article I posted says is that small states do better when they are run democratically. I can't see that happening in Tindouf based on what I've seen of how the Polisario works; suppressing free speech of camp residents and controlling their movements, in the name of their cause.

My observations are that the Polisario have stooped to any underhanded means to further what they regard as their cause. I feel they would have been better off leaving the film and film makers alone. The film is not adverse to their cause; quite harmless to it in fact. The way they are conducting themselves in this country is however adverse to their cause: parading Fetim around to pedal their propaganda, which is so sad for her.

Because the film arrived in New York at the time the last lot of UN talks were taking place the Polisario seem to have gained the mistaken impression that it was a well-timed Moroccan ploy to thwart them. The Polisario seem so blinkered by their own war and their desire to win it that they have a limited perspective on what is going on in the wider world.

I feel confident that no power would win a viable independent state through corrupt and coercive means such as the Polisario have shown.

Someone in one of the discussion forums implied that the Polisario are not very rich or powerful, however they seem quite rich and powerful to me; which suggests they have backing from elsewhere, presumably from Algeria as many have claimed.

My understanding is that the other powers involved in the negotiations do not want Algeria having a strong influence in that region, hence if they were aware of this, once all the issues are investigated and on the table, they are unlikely to support decisions that would see that happen. I'm assuming that those involved in the negotiations would know a great deal more about the politics of this region than we would ever hear about.

Hence I will await what eventuates in relation to the presumed US support for a Saharawi free state, while trusting that if the Polisario are seen in their true colours there will be limited prospects that they will succeed.

The people in Australia who are supporting the Polisario seem to be motivated by high level socialist and humanitarian ideals that are foreign to the Polisario; whatever rhetoric they may use to win Australian support. I hope that the Australians who are supporting the Polisario at some stage come to see the Polisario in their true colours; although this may take some time. I say all this with confidence because I know that the film makers are honest, which throws the actions of the Polisario into an entirely different light.

Janice, you have not been to the Saharawi refugee camps and I doubt if you ever met a Saharawi or read any book about Western Sahara.

It seems to me that you've been looked over the internet and probably came across some of the Moroccan propaganda about the Polisario.

Allow me to state to let you know that:

-Western Sahara is a very rich and is a large territory (resoruces include: phosphates, fish, iron ore, zink, gold ...etc and great potential for oil and gas). The territory is the same size as that of Great Britain.

-The Saharawi republic is a member of the African Union and is recognised world wide by over 80 countries countries such South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

-Polisario is the only independence movement in the world that has introduced democratic means while still in a liberation war: There is a Parliament in the camps and liberated territories and a government that is elected every three to four years. Polisario hold its National Conference every 3/4 years and elects its leadership through a democratic vote.

With regard to the film, the filmmakers have, in conjuction with Morocco, embarked on a campaign against Polisrio for the past two years, such a campaign continues. The Moroccans have offered the use of their diplomatic bag, facilitated visas to Mauritania and transported the filmmakers to the US and organised their tour to New York and Washington.

This what the filmmakers said during a press conference organised by the Moroccan in New York:

"The slaves explain clearly that they do not have any rights, are not allowed to possess anything or to decide on their own fate. They are simply considered as the property of their masters and are part of the “furniture”. But, pursues Violeta Ayala, “the worst of all, slavery is regulated and protected by the law. It goes beyond social and cultural customs”. Source:

"We felt obliged to the Saharawis to bring their case to the US, world media and the human rights groups, explains Fallshaw. Therefore, we had very productive presentations and briefings with the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Human Rights Watch DC Office".

Check out: Blogger cracked pro-Moroccan propaganda campaign…

JaneAgatha would do well to read Stephen Zunes (, professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Plenty of choice when you click on "recent publications". As a talking head in a film called Africa's Last Colony by Shantha Bloemen and JoMarie Fecci, he says the Saharawi Republic is "the most vibrant democracy in the Arab Islamic world". There's the opinion of one expert for you.

The president of the Saharawi Republic is elected directly as well as the parliament, which has more women MPs than we do. And at grass roots level, every adult in the camps is a member of one of the committees running the camps.

James Baker, former US Secretary of State who undertook from 1997-2003, as the UN personal envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara, to create a peace plan said after failing due to Morocco's blocking of his plan, that Western Sahara was definitely a viable state. It's wealth is one of the things Morocco has long coveted (and which it currently exploits). The East Timorese leadership always considered that Western Sahara would gain independence well ahead of them, because it was so well-organised and so much further ahead in developing their government.

A vote of self-determination for Saharawi people is classed as an inalienable right in international law. The Polisario have a just cause. While it doesn't mean they are perfect, they do not deserve to have their cause thwarted in the way that the film-makers have attempted to do "for Morocco's political gain", as they say in the film.

Finally, if it was a coincidence that the film arrived in New York at the time Western Sahara was on the agenda of the Security Council. Then there have been similar coincidences on at least 3 previous occasions.



Please recommend some books on the Poliario cause and I will read. I have read some things already on the Internet, including by Margarita Windisch.

I'm a long time experienced academic researcher. I know how to check the veracity of sources. I'm well aware of Moroccan propaganda and also of the Polisario's propaganda. These two parties are engaged in war and any underhanded means goes in what either party seeks to portray in order to justify themselves and their cause. It is not possible to trust what either group says.

I'm aware of the rich resources in the Western Sahara and realise that this prize is in large part behind the conflict.

I'm aware that none of the major powers in the world recognises the Saharawi republic, including Australia.

I've read/heard Meredith Burgmann on democracy in the camps, however when the Polisario seek to detain and silence Australian journalists and suppress free speech/put words into the mouths of camp residents: in the camps, on film and on Australian soil it suggests rather loudly to me they are going through the motions of a democratic process only. It appears rather that camp residents are not free; that they are controlled heavily by the Polisario.

You link the film makers with Morocco in what you write here, although it would be clear to anyone who knows what really took place there that the film makers have no relationship with Morocco other than having accepted their offer to get the film out; a film that the Polisario tried to suppress. The film faithfully portrays what occurred.

The Polisario have gone overboard denying that any slavery at all exists in the camps. They seem to feel that any evidence of slavery would reflect negatively on their reputation and would adversely affect their campaign for self government; hence when the issue of slavery was raised the Polisario sought to annihilate the reputations of Australian film makers in order to clear themselves of any perceived fault.

The film portrays that the practice of slavery and the resultant social relationships would take a long time to eradicate fully; and that the issues are complex, due to the relationships of dependency between slaves and their owners or former owners. The Polisario's blanket denial that any slavery at all exists in the camps is clearly false.

Slavery has long been practised by these people. A few on this page have recently admitted that vestiges of slavery exist in the Saharawi camps. This fact would be obvious to anyone who researched the issue from reputable sources and yet the Polisario, their Australian supporters and their hostages from the camps have issued blanket denials of the existence of slavery loudly and publicly in the Australian media.

Any free person who cares about humanitarian causes, on learning about the practice of slavery for the first time would be alarmed and it is understandable that they would seek to bring this human rights abuse to the attention of the relevant authorities.

It is understandable too that they would feel outrage and would want to go public were they to find that the UN refused to openly address the issue; the latter because the Polisario control the camps and the UN fears that were they to address the issue openly, the UN too would be barred from the camps. This in large part due to the fact that the Polisario are comprised of white Arabic ruling classes not black slaves; and that for the white Arabic peoples the subject of slavery is taboo i.e. not to be spoken about. No wonder black Saharawi camp residents have been afraid to speak about slavery.

In speaking out about human rights abuses the film makers did not deliberately set themselves against the Polisario; they were speaking out for the human rights of the black Saharawi slaves.

Since the journalists made the issue of slavery public the Polisario have very publicly set themselves up against the film makers in a dirty campaign of propaganda and "LIES" (to quote Kamal).

I remain outraged that the Polisario have brought their war and associated propaganda campaign to Australian soil. I feel even stronger outrage to see that prominent Australians, among them human rights activist, Meredith Burgmann, have been actively supporting a campaign by the Polisario that is designed to harm innocent Australians and to supress the free speech of the black Saharawi slave class.


How dare the film-makers, and their troll/s on this thread, accuse others of silencing black Saharawi people. Fetim Sellami and Baba Hocine Mahfoud told the same story to everyone they spoke to while in Australia, ie. that the film is a fraud; that they are not slaves; that Deido is the woman who saved Fetim's life by taking her when the brutal Moroccan invaders came; and that they want their country back. The film-makers responded with a nasty campaign of slander.

JaneAgatha/Janice Forbes claim/s that they/she/it is not pro-Moroccan but then puts up posts suggesting that Western Sahara would not be a viable nation. Why are they/she/it opposed to a referendum? No doubt, for the same reason that they/she/it are opposed to anyone hearing what Fetim Sellami has to say, demanding instead they watch their film, made with Moroccan assistance, that misrepresents and mistranslates her.

The assistance given to making the film by the brutal Moroccan tyranny is not a small matter.

PS. This is from some of the garbage that the film-makers have been putting around the internet for a couple of years: "She has the typical attitude of a white Arab. She likes to be the centre of attention and manipulates everyone around her. Deido is a fervent supporter of the Polisario and nothing makes her happier than money." Yet, they claim they are not racist!


Janice and other apologists of Stolen are trying to divert attention from the problems related to "Stolen". This is a very old tactic.

Let's recap the discussion about "Stolen":

There are many serious issues related to "Stolen". Many of people who appear in the film have denounced the tactics used by the film-makers and the way they are depicted in the film. These people include the main character and alleged slave, Fetim Selami who travelled to Sydney to be at the permiere and UNHCR Deputy Director, Ursula Aboubaca.

Here are some of the factual problems with "Stolen":

• Seriously mistranslated sub-titles verified by an independent translater commissioned by the ABC’s 7:30 Report.
• Distorted scenes with invented sub-titles.
• Set-up scenes where participants were directed to discuss slavery
• People paid to make statements they have later retracted, see:…
• Completely fictional events
• Use of copyright material without permission.
• Use of interviews without consent and signed releases.
• Manipulated interviews including with the UNHCR official.

There is also the clear Moroccan connection who provides significant assistance to the film-makers including sending their tapes out of Mauritania in a diplomatic bag. In return the film-makers go to New York to do publicity as they say “for Morocco’s political advantage”. Since then they have been several times. The producer of "Stolen" has admitted that the Moroccans have at least provided air tickets for travel to the USA!

Enjoy watching the film in Melbourne!


Fetim and Baba "told the same story to everyone they spoke to while in Australia". This is to be expected in an orchestrated media campaign and was after all the sole point of their visit to Australia; to support the cause for Saharawi independence by speaking out in a manner that was calculated two discredit two Australian film makers who had filmed interviews with black Saharawi slaves, about their experiences of slavery.

I formed the view that Western Sahara is not ready to be a nation on the basis of how the Polisario's representatives and their hostages have behaved themselves in Australia.

The film as I understand it on the basis of media reports and credits, was made with Australian funding, not Moroccan; this too was made an issue of in the Australian media - along the lines that they should not have been funded and should pay the money back.

If not for assistance from Morocco the black Saharawi slaves would not have had the opportunity to speak about slavery on film. The truth that appears to have come out is that black Saharawi are a subjugated class who do not feel safe to speak in the presence of the Polisario unless they are saying exactly what the Polisario want them to say.


I've watched Stolen at the SFF and the film shows that slavery exists on both sides of the political conflict. Don't you remember, the woman that lives in Western Sahara and didn't see her mother for many years, the man on the window. Then the Moroccan police comes to the house and the Moroccan Spy order the filmmakers out. Then they steal their tapes and they left Morocco...
Did we watch the same film?


July 13, 2009

Questions persist over the veracity of a slavery film, writes Louise Schwartzkoff.

THE disputed documentary Stolen is full of mistranslations and incorrect subtitles, a translator who worked on the film, Oumar Sy, says.

The Bondi filmmakers, Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, claim slavery exists in Western Saharan refugee camps.

Controversy surrounded a screening of the film at last month's Sydney Film Festival, when one of the main subjects, Faitim Salam, left the refugees camps at Tindouf in Algeria to protest against the documentary's claims.

Ayala and Fallshaw stood by the film, saying it had been verified by three separate translators including Sy, who works as a Hassaniya Arabic to English translator for the United States Immigration Court.

Sy went through the film with the documentary makers in February, pointing out several mistakes in their subtitles.

He said Ayala and Fallshaw wrote down his corrections and promised to alter the subtitles. They arranged to meet for a screening of the final cut, but cancelled the appointment.

"They told me they would send a copy of the film for me to check, but they didn't," Sy says from New York. "They didn't respect their commitment to me. I was surprised and disappointed."

He saw the final version of the film for the first time last week and was shocked at its inaccuracy. "There is still a lot of work to do on the film," he says. "The translation I put on paper was correct. I went through [the film] minute by minute, but a lot of the mistakes have not been changed."

In one scene Salam's mother and sister appear to confirm that she is a slave to her white foster mother. More recent translations show they are discussing Ayala, who they say has misunderstood the family relationships.

Another problem was that some of the film's dialogue was in a local dialect that Sy could not understand. "If you don't live locally, you cannot understand what they say," he says.

In an email to Sy on Thursday, seen by the Herald, Ayala and Fallshaw accused the translator of "negligence".

They say he failed to tell them his concerns about the translations and has damaged the film's credibility. In a statement, they suggested Sy's comments were part of an ongoing campaign by the organisation that runs the refugee camps, the Polisario Front, to undermine the film.

"If he had concerns, there were many opportunities to clarify these for us at the time," the filmmakers say in the statement. "We asked him if he was sure all the translations were correct; he signed a letter to say this."

They say only a small amount of dialogue was in question and most of the talk about slavery was in Spanish. "There are millions of Spanish speakers who will be able to hear for themselves key conversations about slavery used in the film."

A translator from Australia's National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters will check the film before its next screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on July 31.


To put the record straight: I am no troll of the film makers. I am not working with them in my responses. This is my own perspective. You may note that what they say is different from what I say. In Australia we do not have to all tell the same story or collude behind the scenes about what to say to people.

The truth is so obvious to me that I feel compelled to speak out in the interests of honesty and fairness. I continue to puzzle over why the Polisario's Australian supporters can't see what's really been going on in the camps and in the media campaign; and why the Polisario's Australian supporters don't recognise the shocking plight of the black Saharawi slave minority. Spanish speaking people and those who know slavery exists there can see the truth.

Just because the black Saharawi are a minority does not mean that these human rights abuses should be tolerated, let alone actively supported by Australian human rights activists.

The film makers are young and their experience is limited. Possibly they didn't handle sensitive issues (for the Polisario and their blinkered supporters, or Morocco) in the best possible way, however which ever way the truth comes out it is still the truth; and it is powerful and hard to suppress. At some point in this sorry saga I feel confident that the truth of these matters will prevail.


11 July 2009
Statement by the makers of Stolen.

Re: Translations

We stand by the references to slavery raised by people interviewed in our film.
A small amount of translated conversation is being criticised, yet another example of the Polisario's attempt to undermine the film.

More than seventy per cent of the discussions about slavery are in Spanish, with the remainder being in Hassaniya. So there are millions of Spanish speakers who will be able to hear for themselves key conversations about slavery used in the film.

The issue of slavery was raised to us in Spanish over many conversations, that’s how we became aware of it in the first place.

Hassaniya is a dialect of Arabic. It has no written form and as such only an interpretation can be made which is a subjective skill. That is why we have now sought advice from a recognised NAATI translator.

Oumar Sy in New York only verified the film’s translations, he did not translate the film. If he had concerns, there were many opportunities to clarify these for us at the time. We asked him if he was sure all the translations were correct, he signed a letter to say this.

He had a further opportunity to raise this with us when we sent him the final version of the film with subtitles. He did no such thing.

We do not understand his most recent actions. He had more than 4 months to contact us with any concerns. The first we heard of his concerns he copied the email to the New York and Australian representatives for the Polisario. Why?

This is disappointing, however, it should not be allowed to overshadow the important issues the film raises.

Dan Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala

Tom Zubrycki


Thanks for posting this quotation which is enlightening. I was not aware they had said this.

However you have selectively quoted from a longer piece, which looks like it's by the film makers although that would need to be verified by them given all the lies and fabrications floating around.

It reads better in context. I found it here:…

From what I've learned lately white Arabs regard the black slave class as subhuman not the other way round.

This argument represents an interesting shift in the discussion: accusing the film makers of making racist remarks against white Arabs within the context of a two page testimony to the existence of black Saharawi slaves where the white Arabs are identified as perpetrators of racism.


When asked about her experience with Australian filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, [Fetim Sellami's] demeanour darkened. "We welcomed them into our homes. We fed them. And they made up terrible lies about us."

Fetim Sellami travelled to Sydney from a remote refugee camp in North Africa infuriated by their controversial documentary, Stolen, that claims she is a slave. Far from being a slave, Fetim is a kindergarten teacher.

"Despite my written request to you for my formal clearance to use my voice or face in your documentary in the Tindouf camps you went ahead without my clearance ... The release form you gave me for signature is still with me."

She went on to write:

"I strongly protest the way you manipulated my one hour interview ... into the short compilation of sentences ...

"I stated clearly from the very beginning, and on several occasions throughout the interview, that never any case of slavery [in the camps] has been brought to the attention of UNHCR which obviously you did not like and made you very aggressive ...

"While you continued to focus on slavery practices in the camps only, I explained that slavery is an issue to be seen in a regional, traditional and cultural practice which will take a long time to completely eradicate. This was the only moment I mentioned the camps as, per se, they are part of the sub-region.

"Again you manipulated these statements in the most abusive way and took them out of their context for your own purposes."


Correction my earlier post, those quotes were from another person that the Stolen makers misquoted and set up, Deputy Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Middle East and North Africa, Ursula Aboubacar.

The point is, Stolen is a frame up of the Western Saharan people's liberation movement Polisario and its just fight against the illegal occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco. Slavery is outlawed in the camps run by the liberation movement, and to a very large extent has been wiped out. Yet all the film's defenders drip with Cold War malice towards Polisario, the only political force that is actually fighting to eliminate such vestiges of backward cultural practices in the camps. The statement posted by one the filmmakers' aunty makes it clear that in their deeply prejudiced eyes, they dishonestly charge that Polisario is responsible for and seeks to cover up such practices, which is the opposite of reality, as Human Rights Watch and the UNHCR confirm.

It's like blaming the NAACP in the United States for continuing racism in the US South! But as all the evidence mounts about how this film was concocted and people's interviews were twisted and manipulated to serve the anti-Saharan cause, all they can fall back on is repeating over and over again the filmmakers' lies about Fetim and slanders against the Polisario Front.

Here's the full article from New Matilda (

Slaves To The Story?

By Yvette Andrews
andrews stolen

The documentary Stolen created a storm at its Sydney screening when the central character arrived and claimed she had been falsely portrayed as a slave. Now, a UNHCR spokeswoman says her interview for the film was also manipulated
Fetim Sellami immediately reminded me of the strong, gracious women I had met in the Western Sahara refugee camps in 2004 when I toured there with then-president of the NSW Upper House, Meredith Burgmann. Sitting on Burgmann's couch in inner city Glebe — where she stayed while in Sydney — Sellami chatted happily in Hassaniya with her husband and smiled at our clumsy attempts to communicate.

However, when asked about her experience with Australian filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, her demeanour darkened. "We welcomed them into our homes. We fed them. And they made up terrible lies about us."

Fetim Sellami travelled to Sydney from a remote refugee camp in North Africa infuriated by their controversial documentary, Stolen, that claims she is a slave. Far from being a slave, Fetim is a kindergarten teacher.

The film has caused a furore over its allegation that slavery — black Africans owned by Arab families — is common place in the refugee camps where 165,000 Saharawi refugees have lived since Morocco invaded their country of Western Sahara in 1976. The camps are administered by the Polisario, the Western Sahara liberation movement.

Historically, slavery existed in the region but it is now outlawed throughout North Africa, although there are still concerns about residual practices especially in Niger and Mauritania. Like everyone else with a connection to the camps, I was shocked when I heard about the allegations of entrenched slavery and was keen to know more.

However, what is presented in Stolen is not a rigorous account of a serious issue. Rather, evidence is mounting that the story is concocted and that the filmmakers' approach was unethical.

The furore presents real problems for the film's producer, Tom Zubrycki, and the funding body, Screen Australia, who invested over $250,000 in the project.

Sellami is not the only one furious at the filmmakers' tactics. Deputy Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Middle East and North Africa, Ursula Aboubacar's interview was used in Stolen to give credibility to the slavery claim.

I felt uncomfortable about the way the interview had been used — it was clearly heavily edited and the only time slavery was mentioned was by the filmmakers themselves — so I wrote to Ursula to ask her how she felt about the film. She sent me a copy of an email she sent to the filmmakers on 21 June 2009. It was titled "protest".

In it she claims the filmmakers used an interview with her without her consent. "Despite my written request to you for my formal clearance to use my voice or face in your documentary in the Tindouf camps you went ahead without my clearance ... The release form you gave me for signature is still with me."

She went on to write:

"I strongly protest the way you manipulated my one hour interview ... into the short compilation of sentences ...

I stated clearly from the very beginning, and on several occasions throughout the interview, that never any case of slavery [in the camps] has been brought to the attention of UNHCR which obviously you did not like and made you very aggressive ...

While you continued to focus on slavery practices in the camps only, I explained that slavery is an issue to be seen in a regional, traditional and cultural practice which will take a long time to completely eradicate. This was the only moment I mentioned the camps as, per se, they are part of the sub-region.

Again you manipulated these statements in the most abusive way and took them out of their context for your own purposes."

A statement distributed after the film's release by Ayala, Fallshaw and Zubrycki as a response to the film's critics states that "UNHCR state in the film that they know slavery exists in the camps". But Ursula Aboubacar makes it clear she didn't.

Ayala told that there was "nothing untoward" about the interview with Aboubacar. She explains the process like this: "We requested an official on-camera interview with UNHCR in Geneva to talk about our discovery of slavery in the camps. Ursula was presented to us as their spokesperson. The interview was done in December 2007.

"We provided Ursula with a release form. She answered that she didn't need to sign it because she was appointed by UNHCR to do the interview … We intend to show the whole unedited interview to the High Commissioner in Geneva.

"Ursula is not the only person at the UN that we've been in contact with. We screened the film to the High Commission for Human Rights in New York … [and to] all of Ursula's colleagues in New York [before it was released]. They did not raise any issues with the way that Ursula was portrayed." (Ayala provided this transcript of the interview with Aboubacar, as it appears in the film.)

But the list of allegations against the makers of Stolen grows daily. Most of the Saharawi people in the film, including Fetim Sellami who spoke publicly at the film's premiere, have now made statements withdrawing from the film (Sellami also told me she had never signed a documentary release form). Some of the English subtitles were also found to be false by an Al Jazeera interpreter commissioned by the 7:30 Report.

Carlos Gonzalez, the American cinematographer who worked with Ayala and Fallshaw on their second trip to the camps, was so disturbed by their subsequent actions that he returned to the camps. He recorded on-camera admissions by interviewees that they were directed by the filmmakers to say what they did and that their statements about slavery were untrue.

The film's supporters howled down Sellami's appearance at the Sydney Film Festival as a cover up organised by the Polisario and Gonzalez has been labelled a Polisario operative.

The film is also exploitative: Sellami's teenage daughter appears to be used in the film to stir up debate about the slavery issue. Her parents were so concerned by this manipulative approach that Sellami's husband, Baba Hocine, tells me he wrote to Tom Zubrycki in 2007 stating that "no information may be used under any circumstances if it affects in any way my children who, being minors, should be protected everywhere in the world."

Incidentally, Baba Hocine, a Cuban-trained engineer who lives and works in Spain earning money to send back to his family in the camps, was also interviewed for the film. But his story did not fit the film's depiction of Fetim Sellami and he is not mentioned once in the final documentary.

Part way through the film, Ayala and Fallshaw insert themselves into the drama and the political conflict. They flee the camps after hiding their tapes in the desert and claiming to be detained by the Polisario. They meet a Moroccan official in Paris with whom they discuss their discovery of slavery. They agree to travel to New York with him and take up his offer to send their retrieved tapes out of Mauritania via a Moroccan diplomatic bag. To the apparent surprise of the filmmakers, their footage is then screened as propaganda on Moroccan TV before their film is released.

Australians from the Australian Western Sahara Association who were concerned by the activities of Ayala and Fallshaw wrote to Screen Australia over a year ago. Most never received a response. A year later, and just weeks before the film's premiere, the Polisario Representative in Australia, Kamal Fadel, eventually met with Screen Australia's CEO and as a result received a written response.

In it, Screen Australia acknowledged the seriousness of matters related to the accuracy of the film's claims about the Polisario's laws on slavery, the treatment of Sellami, and the involvement of Morocco. Screen Australia expressed its faith in Tom Zubrycki and assured Fadel that these matters had been raised with the producer, and that they would be addressed.

Despite the numerous concerns, however, Zubrycki never went to the camps to test the filmmakers' claims for himself. The end result is a film that undermines the integrity of an industry that Zubrycki himself has worked so hard to build. At what point is Screen Australia required to justify why public money allowed this film to go ahead and why they chose to ignore credible warnings that their own policies were being disregarded?

Ayala and Fallshaw say they have been victims of a concerted campaign by the Polisario to discredit their revelations about the extent of slavery in the camps and that the Saharawi people who are now coming forward to retract their statements are doing so under duress.

They stand by their story citing a Human Rights Watch report produced in 2008. However, while the report stated that no evidence of slavery or domestic servitude was found in the camps, it identified some vestiges of related practices in the form of permissions for marriage. When questioned about the Human Rights Watch report on ABC radio, Ayala explained that you had to "read between the lines" to appreciate the full extent of the problem.
Stolen is not a controversial documentary. Stolen is a hoax — a case of two young filmmakers fudging the facts about a place so remote that they thought they could get away with it. Film festivals should be very wary of screening it and Screen Australia should answer some serious questions about why it was ever funded.

In reply to by Les Boyd (not verified)


I recommend that readers follow the link to New Matilda where they can also read the commentary on Yvette Andrews' report. Yvette's piece is informed by a belief that slavery is not practised in Tindouf; and that all black residents there are entirely unaffected. This version of life at Tindouf reads like a fairy story.

However Yvette's piece was written a good two weeks ago. There has been much discussion of these issues since then with wide input, including from people on the other side of the world who have posted quotations from the UNHCR. These posts seem to have resulted in acknowledgements that slavery is an issue, in wider the North of Africa at least.

Perhaps as a result of this discussion and information sharing the Polisario's Australian supporters have looked at the issue again; with minds just a teeny tiny little bit open to the possibility that slavery is practised in Tindouf; as portrayed in the film.


CARLOS GONZALEZ, CINEMATOGRAPHER: During the three weeks I spent there with them I saw absolutely no indication of slavery.

MATT PEACOCK: Serious doubt has now been cast on the filmmakers' claims by Carlos Gonzalez, who's worked extensively in the area, and was the filmmaker's cameraman on the second of their three visits*. He was so shocked by their revelations that he retraced the filmmakers' steps and says he found a completely different story.

CARLOS GONZALEZ: During a trip to the camps I talked to those they claimed were slaves and found out they felt used and misled by Violeta and Dan. They feel they're being completely misrepresented in the film.

MATT PEACOCK: In 'Stolen' Fetim Sellami's daughter Leil certainly appears to suggest slavery that is still practiced in the camp.

But both mother and daughter later told Gonzales their conversation was mistranslated and referred to the past when slavery was practiced.

FETIM SELLAMI (subtitles): She has edited my words so that it suits her purposes. For example, I said there are no rights, but I meant in the past. The world has developed and after the revolution people have equal rights now.

LEIL SALLAMI (subtitles): She made it up. She gave people money. She went asking around giving people money. She got the words that she wanted. But they were all lies.

MBAREK: (subtitles): They said, if you don't talk to us, we can talk to - we have money, we can talk to any black person.

MATALA: (subtitles): She tricked us; she made us say things that we shouldn't have said. She gave us money, you understand?

VIOLETA AYALA: We didn't pay anyone to be in the documentary. You know, I gave Matala, we gave T-shirts and things like this.

MATT PEACOCK: But no money?

VIOLETA AYALA: No, we didn't pay them any money. Like, we gave them money when they came to Mauritania, we gave them money to go back to the camps.

KAMAL FEDAL, POLISARIO LIBERATION FRONT: So there are a lot of misleading, misconception and lies.

MATT PEACOCK: Kamal Fadel, Polisario's Australian representative, claims that the film twists the truth and that his organisation is totally opposed to any form of slavery.

KAMAL FEDAL: The Polisario made sure from its beginning to fight the slavery that was or the vestiges of slavery that were left from the Spanish period and to educate people, to unite them and to give them an opportunity to play a role in the society, but also in the struggle for independence.

MATT PEACOCK: What makes Kamal Fadel angry is that he believes some of the film's subtitles are completely wrong.

KAMAL FEDAL: Everyone who comes, because people are really interested in coming that they will have enough food and enough drinks for the part.

MATT PEACOCK: But this says quite the opposite, it says, "There's no difference between anybody, black and white." There's no reference in what they're saying to that? You're sure?

KAMAL FEDAL: Yes, I'm sure.

VIOLETA AYALA: An American Government court certified translator give us a certification, and he says that anyone who can doubt the translations could call him. He works for the American Government, he's a professional translator that studied in a big university.

MATT PEACOCK: The 7.30 Report has obtained an independent translation of key sequences in the film from an interpreter for the Al Jazeera television network based in Doha. In this scene Fetim Sellami's mother and sister appear to confirm that she was a slave to her white foster mother, Deido.

But the 7.30 Report's interpreter translated the same scene quite differently as Fetim's sister talks about the filmmaker, Violeta Ayala.

INDEPENDENT TRANSLATION (subtitles): Bottom line, she is tracking the history of Fatim. Frankly she thinks Deido owns her. Not true. Fatim told me that someone came to her and told her that she (Deido) has kidnapped her.. She didn't kidnap her.

MATT PEACOCK: We invited the filmmakers to comment on camera about this and other apparent discrepancies in the translation, but they refused, instead issuing a statement that the film had been independently verified by three separate translators, and describing Carlos Gonzalez's interviews as a "pastiche of misinformation released by Polisario to attack the film."

CARLOS GONZALEZ: I went to the camps to find out what was going on. I have absolutely no allegiance to the Polisario. I have allegiance to the truth. I went to find out what the truth was.

TOM ZUBRYCKI, PRODUCER 'STOLEN': Certainly I think the film points to a certain degree of embedded slavery in those camps.

MATT PEACOCK: Tom Zubryski is an experienced producer who stands behind his two young co-directors.

Are you sure it's 100 per cent correct?

TOM ZUBRYCKI: I'm totally convinced. The references to slavery came from people who gave their statements impromptu. They were unsolicited.

MATT PEACOCK: But other prominent Australians remain unconvinced, like Meredith Burgmann, the former president of the NSW Upper House and anti-apartheid campaigner who's visited the camps.

MEREDITH BURGMANN, FMR PRESIDENT, NSW LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: The place is crawling with United Nations' officials, with refugee agencies, with NGOs. There are delegations coming from Europe all the time. It's a very open and transparent place, and if there were 20,000 slaves there, we would have seen them.

MATT PEACOCK: That's a view echoed on the ground by some aid workers themselves.

AID WORKER (subtitles): There are 6,000 people. 6,000 volunteers, aid workers, experts, visit the camps each year. 6,000 people!

That only Violeta, among all those people, found this out - it seems unbelievable, honestly.

JESSICA VANDEN HUEVEL, ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHER: And I've been teaching in the school for two and a half years. I've never seen anything remotely resembling slavery among the people.

VIOLETA AYALA: The film is getting a lot of attacks because it's a film that exposes something that this government, the Polisario in Morocco, have been trying to hide for a very long time.

MATT PEACOCK: While the controversy rages around her, Fetim Sellami insists she is a free woman.

FETIM SALLAMI: I'm not scared of any one. I have total freedom.


This man features in STOLEN!!! So there is hope in the camps!

Anti-slavery candidate fans hope
Nick Meo in Nouakchott, Mauritania
July 13, 2009

A YEAR after she ran away from her master, Barakatu Mint Sayed prays that next Saturday's election will mark the beginning of the end of slavery in Mauritania.

Like thousands of other slaves and freed slaves across the Saharan country, her hopes are fixed on a man born to slave parents, who has sworn to put an end to the practice if elected president. Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, 66, a former public servant, has promised that in power he would punish slave owners and do everything he could to free their human property.

His prospects of winning power are growing by the day - and he is being hailed as Mauritania's brightest star by his supporters. "He is the Obama of Mauritania," said Boubacar Messaoud, an architect and veteran anti-slavery campaigner in the north-west African state. "He is going to bring change, and he represents social justice and equality."

Mauritania is one of the last places where slavery is still widespread. Officially it has long been abolished, but the law has never been enforced, and there are an estimated 600,000 slaves, almost one in five of the country's 3.2 million people.

Change will come too late for Mrs Sayed, a black African from the country's Haratine caste who was born into slavery about 40 years ago and is illiterate.

But she knows Mr Boulkheir's victory could transform the future for her daughter and grandchildren, whom she had to leave behind in captivity when she finally escaped."All that is needed to free the slaves is will power," Mr Boulkheir said.

Telegraph, London…

This is getting more ridiculous! Why should the election of an anti-slavery campaigner in Mauritania offer hope to the Western Saharan refugee camps in Algeria? The Western Saharans' refugee camps are already run by ANTI-slavery campaigners -- the liberation movement Polisario! Another example of the bizarre anti-Polisario fever of the Stolen cheer squad. Facts don't matter it seems.

But this does beg the question, why have the Stolen filmmakers chosen to target the refugee camps, creating the utterly false image of them being the epicentre of slavery, when as the article above makes clear that ``Mauritania is one of the last places where slavery is still widespread. Officially it has long been abolished, but the law has never been enforced, and there are an estimated 600,000 slaves, almost one in five of the country's 3.2 million people"?


The filmmakers didn't go to the camps to make a film about slavery, they stumbled upon. Stolen denounces slavery in the Polisario Camps, in the Moroccan Controlled Western Sahara. It also features the man in the above article from Mauritania. He says in the film, that all the governments try to cover it up, including Morocco, Polisario, Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan, Mali and Senegal.


For those Spanish speakers invited to listen to testimonies of slavery in the film, Stolen, please also listen to this evidence: And make up your own minds about what is the truth.


13 July 2009

Government is urged to remove its name from discredited film

Melbourne Film Festival should withhold screening

Government backing for the controversial Australian film “Stolen” must be withdrawn until a thorough investigation of its backing is conducted, say those working for the film's subjects.

The film has been backed by Screen Australia, using federal government money, to the tune of around $300,000. The imprimatur of Screen Australia and of the Australian Government are prominently displayed on the film's opening credits.

“We urge the Government to remove its name from this controversial film” said Kamal Fadel, Western Sahara Representative to Australia and its Ambassador to East Timor.

The film makes claims of widespread slavery in the refugee camps of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The camps, which are self-run with the support of the Frente Polisario, have existed since the mid-1970's when many fled the illegal invasion of the area by Moroccan forces.

The claims have been attacked as being false by those in film who are said to be slaves and the film-makers have been accused of manufacturing fiction to appear as facts.

Fadel says the case against the film's veracity is mounting.

“Already we have seen a letter from the a high level official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees who has said the film-makers completely misrepresent the situation and that important facts have been at best misunderstood and at worst completely manufactured to back the claims the film makes.”(1)

“Now, as the report in today's Sydney Morning Herald reveals, the film's official translator has sought to distance himself from the film. He says his corrections were ignored and that he did not approve the final cut of the film.”(2)

“This should be a very serious blow to the credibility of the film” says Mr. Fadel.

Yet, the film, which was controversially launched at the Sydney Film Festival in June, is scheduled to screen in the documentary section of the Melbourne International Film Festival in early August.

Polisario and a range of other bodies believe this has been in contravention of Screen Australia's own terms of engagement.

“We believe this should be the subject of an investigation and we call on the federal Arts Minister, the Hon, Peter Garrett to initiate such a process immediately,” adds Mr. Fadel.

“We have no problem with this film being seen by the Australian public,” notes Mr Fadel.

“But we object to it being seen as a depiction of reality when it clearly is not, and we believe, as a result, the film should be withdrawn as a government-backed project.” Mr. Fadel adds “we call on the Melbourne Film Festival to reconsider the screening of the film until its translation is independently verified by a native speaker of Hassania from Western Sahara. The film as its now does not also fit the category of a documentary”.

Kamal Fadel, Western Sahara Representative and its Ambassador to East Timor.


The discussion has become one-sided. I'd like to introduce some balance by posting an excerpt from a report entitled, Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps, by Human Rights Watch (2008), as follows:

For the refugee camps in Tindouf, the focus (of concern) is freedom of expression and of movement. We found that at the present time, the Polisario effectively marginalizes those who directly challenge its leadership or general political orientation, but it does not imprison them. It allows residents to criticize its day-to-day administration of camp affairs. In practice, camp residents are able to leave the camps, via Mauritania, if they wish to do so. However, fear and social pressure keeps those who plan to resettle in Western Sahara from disclosing their plans before leaving.

The rights of residents of the Tindouf camps remain vulnerable due to the isolation of the camps; the lack of regular, on-the-ground human rights monitoring; and the lack of oversight by the host country of Algeria to ensure the human rights of Sahrawis living in Polisario-run camps on Algerian soil. The United Nations Security Council should establish a mechanism for regular observing and reporting on human rights conditions both in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf refugee camps."

Let's hope this happens. The report also notes the limited documentation of slavery although blacks interviewed had confirmed that is was still practised.

From here, should you want to read more:


You have a very odd idea of ``balance''. In previous posts you have remained silent on Morocco's invasion, occupation and human rights violations in Western Sahara. You have praised Morocco's ``assistance'' to the Stolen makers discredited frame-up of the Saharan people's independence fighters, and stated your opposition to the Western Saharan people's goal of an independent Western Sahara.

You then post a selective excerpt of HRW's relatively innocuous criticism of Polisario's camps (they supposedly ``marginalise'' critics -- whatever that means -- but POlisario don't imprison them, they allow them to criticise the running of the camps, they don't prevent them coming or going) but you REMAIN SILENT on the reports far more serious criticisms of Morocco! As is the custom of Stolen's increasingly anti-Polisario crusade, you turn the victims into the culprits.

Why not also quote this from the HRW report intro?: ``We found that Moroccan
authorities repress this right [the right of persons to speak, assemble, and associate on behalf of self-determination for the Sahrawi people and on behalf of their human rights] through laws penalizing affronts to Morocco’s
`territorial integrity', through arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, restrictions on associations and assemblies, and through police violence and harassment that goes unpunished.''

I suggest you read the following:

At the last Security Council meeting in April, 14 out of the 15 countries were in favour of extending the mandate of the UN mission for Western Sahara, MINURSO to include human rights monitoring in both the refugee camps and the zones of Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation. Because the one against was France (influenced by Morocco) and because of its veto power, the proposal lapsed.


Les, Getting back to my post which is about a Human Rights Watch report on the Polisario's violations of human rights.

You appear to disagree, which could lead me to assume that you do not regard it as an issue that the Polisario seek to limited freedom of expression and freedom of movement of camp residents, and effectively marginalise those who challenge their leadership or political orientation.

The Polisario's tactics as referenced above appear consistent with what Kamal is doing here in Australia; seeking to marginalise the film makers because their film has challenged the Polisario's official story of life in the camps.

Or, am I wrong?

Janice, You are wrong and frankly your dishonest vendetta against the Western Saharan people's freedom struggle is getting very tedious.

1) The Human Rights Watch report you quoted from is also -- the majority of it -- is about Morocco's appalling human rights violations against the people of occupied Western Sahara. You choose to ignore  that. It like pointing fingers at Fretilin during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor but remaining silent about Jakarta's crimes, or like accusing the ANC of human rights violations in the 1980s while saying nothing about apartheid. As someone has just pointed out, Polisario SUPPORTS the HRW recommendation that its camps be monitored by human rights observers, but which has been blocked by Morocco's supporters.

2) The report you posted talks about vague claims of critics of Polisario being ``marginalised'' -- but not jailed, not prevented from making criticisms, not being prevented fom coming and going from the camps. This pales into insignificance compared to what HRW accuses the Moroccan occupation forces of doing (even though the pro-US HRW treats them with kid gloves).

3) It seems your definition, as applied to the filmmakers' plight, of ``marginalisation'' is that the film has been criticised as inaccurate, that participants were tricked and some paid for, that it is full of lies and distortions, its subtitles are fabrications and that it has been made with the assistance of those who are the worst human rights violators in Western Sahara, and who benefit by the slander against the freedom movement led by the Polisario Front. Sorry Janice, but for the truth about this film to be exposed is not a human rights violation, it is democracy. As all these are exposed, I hope the film Stolen is very much marginalised, as it deserves to be.

So yes you are very wrong.



“Dear both of you,

I understood that despite my written request to you for my formal clearance to use my voice or face in your documentary in the Tindouf camps you went ahead without my clearance, which I formally want to protest about. The release form you gave me for my signature is still with me.

Although I did not see the final version as shown in the Australia film festival, I had the opportunity through other channels to view the one you showed to our colleagues in the NY office which also may have ended up being the final version.

I strongly protest about the way you manipulated my one hour (or longer) interview in your film and the short compilation of sentences (in 2 minutes) of what I said.

As you will recall and recorded I assume, I stated clearly from the very beginning and on several occasions throughout the interview that never any case of slavery has been brought to the attention of UNHCR (which obviously you did not like and made you very aggressive creating a very stressful interview situation, at least Violeta, not Dan). I also stated: IF there would have been any cases about that practice in the camps being brought to the attention of UNHCR we WOULD have brought it to the attention of the police forces in the camps as an abuse of human rights, but as this never happened, there was no need for it.

While you were continuing focussing on slavery practices in the camps only, I explained to you that can not be an issue to the camps only, but it’s an issue to be seen in a regional, traditional and cultural practice which will take long time to completely eradicate. This was the only moment I mentioned the camps as, per se, they are part of the sub-region. Again, you manipulated theses statements in the most abusive way and took them out of their context for your own purposes.

I am ready to clarify and correct this to whom ever is asking me.

Ursula S.Aboubacar
Deputy Director
Bureau for Middle East and North Africa”


The UN lady, Ursula S.Aboubacar, is careful how she minces her words. She refers to slavery existing in Tindouf, while seeking to minimise the issue, by dismissing it as a traditional cultural practice in the wider sub-region.

From what Ursula says, the persistence of slavery is old news to her, however it would be alarming news to most Australians. Like myself, people in Australia are interested to know that someone has made a film on this subject; and many would want to inform themselves by seeing the film.

Ursula's letter provides one side of a story. In the interests of natural justice the film makers side also needs to be heard. It didn't take long to turn up a link to a brief transcript posted on the Internet late last month, of a verbatim report from the interview Ursula refers to in her letter. It is here:

The transcript indicates that the film makers had gained the impression that in said interview with Ursuala, Ursula was paying lip service to the issue of slavery and was seeking to minimise the problem. It is obvious that Ursula neither owns the problem nor does she identify any plans for addressing it despite being asked repeatedly about this.

Ursula's response suggests that addressing human rights abuses of refugees is not the role of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees); which may have come as a surprise to the film makers, just as it has been a surprise to me, given that the UNHCR website says:

The protection of 34.4 million uprooted or stateless people is the core mandate of UNHCR.

In future I will look more carefully at reports like the one below, which refers to the UN as corrupt, unco-operative and ineffective; and which appears to be from a reputable source:…

I don't believe Ursula S.Aboubacar is trying to minimize the issue, she's well aware of the practice in that sub-region. What she's objecting to is how her words have been manipulated.
Slavery in that sub-region (Morocco, Mauritania) does exist in one form or another, and one does not need to falsify anything to come up with a worthy documentary, a simple visit to the phosphate mines in Morocco will suffice.


From Newmatilda:

I happened to be in the Sydney Film Festival audience on the night of the screening of Stolen and remained for the Q&A. I had no particular reason to be there: I might easily have gone to another film. But I came out of it feeling disturbed and uneasy. I had seen something that purported in the narration and subtitles to be an uncovering of widespread slavery in a particular camp in the Western Sahara. I had seen nothing much that supported this. I had seen a woman who was shown in the film as a teacher taking food to a neighbouring household, something you would see in all Australian country towns and in the cities too. I had seen an old woman ask a younger woman to help her find her shoes so she could cross what was presumably very hot sand and join a celebration. It was all in the spoken words in the film. And these, as the weeks have gone on, have come more and more into question, it seems.

The 7.30 Report showed, in comparative subtitles, that there were real doubts about their translation. I then read what I thought was a strong piece by Yvette Andrews above, in which she quotes at length a woman named Ursula Aboubacar, a UNHCR representative in the area who insists that her words were used selectively in the film and to support a case for slavery in the camps that she and the other UNHCR workers had not seen any evidence of in many years working there. I can’t say I now remember all details now of what was said at the Q&A, but I do have a memory of Violeta Ayala saying either then or later that the translations of the subtitles had been certified and verified by a translator in New York. This translator proves to be a man named Oumar Sy who was quoted in the Herald on Monday July 13. According to the writer of the piece, Louise Schwartzkoff, Oumar Sy has now said that ‘Stolen is full of mistranslations and incorrect subtitles’ and there are quotes in the piece to support his contentions.

Nothing I have read in the responses to Yvette Andrews, including those by Tom Zubricki and another good documentary maker, Curtis Levy, seems really to answer this problem, and the allegations against the film, and against the professional honesty and integrity of the makers of it, are now quite serious. I think there was mention somewhere of other tapes that the filmmakers have of footage that was shot in the camps. If there was truly slavery visible there – and it seems undisputed that there is slavery in other parts of Africa, including neighbouring Mauritania – I think that they should now produce these other tapes and have the words said in them independently translated. There must also be further footage of Fetim and her family. We were surely not seeing a ratio of 1:1 in what was screened. Or are these other tapes mysteriously missing? (We were told about mysterious and even sinister events in the film, but I couldn’t, as I watched the film, much make sense of it all.) However one big question remains for me, which is that the repeated assertion by Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw that there are 20,000 slaves in the camp is surely not supported by the filmmakers’ observations of a single family over a few weeks alone and by the visual evidence — or lack of it — we saw in the film. Or is that really all there is? I think it is time that we knew this.




Thursday 6 August 2009 @ 6 for 6.30 pm


Upstairs function room of the Toxteth Hotel, 345 Glebe Point Road, Glebe


Western Sahara: What has really been stolen?

Developments surrounding a locally-produced film Stolen have aroused interest in the people of Western Sahara and international politics which continue to deny them the right to self determination.

§         Why has the Moroccan-annexed colony been denied the agreed United Nations - process of self-determination?

§         Why do countries such as Australia continue to buy phosphate and other resources plundered from the occupied territory but with no returns to the Saharawi people?

§         How do film makers and other media represent issues such as these to Australian audiences?

Meredith Burgmann will be Participating Chair for this session

Fatima Mahfoud a representative of the National Union of Saharawi Women, and a strident advocate of women's rights in Western Sahara, Fatima will share her experiences of life in the refugee camps where her people have been living in unbearable conditions for 34 years whilst their families remain trapped in the territories occupied by Morocco where they suffer human rights abuses

Kamal Fadel Polisario representative to Australia and Ambassador to Timor Leste

Yvette Andrewsmaker of Western Sahara documentary It’s a long way to Tifariti

Lyn Allison former leader of the Australian Democrats, and current President of the Australia Western Sahara Association (TBC)


THAT!  has brought “pub talks”  back to Glebe and this event is raising funds for Australia Western Sahara Association (


Join us for dinner after for a “buy one get one free” meal deal



Donation:       $10/ $5 for Benefits recipients, full-time students, unwaged

Convenors:    Kate Barton,  Helen Randerson,  Annaliese Monaro


Inquiries:   or  Tel:    9518.5560

Sahrawi people would not accept under any pretext violations of human rights, President of Republic affirms


President of the Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz affirmed Thursday in a letter to participants of Human Rights Day, organized at the headquarters of the political Direction of the Polisario Front, "the Saharawi people would not accept, under any pretext, violations of human rights."

"The SADR and Polisario Front will not accept under such pretext violations of human rights", adding, "respect of human rights is everyone s responsibility and its violation constitutes an infringement of the rights of the society and humiliation that must be rejected and condemned in accordance with the Statute of the Republic. "

"The Saharawi society is today, a society conscious of the importance of promoting values of human rights and rejects all forms of segregation and discrimination, racism or slavery," the President of the Republic stressed.

He expresses his commitment to the principles of equality, tolerance and human rights, based on civilization and establishment of the rule of social justice, fundamental rights of citizens and preservation of human dignity.

The President recalled that Morocco persists in its flagrant violations of human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara in defiance of international laws and conventions, according to dozens of reports of international organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Front Line and Amnesty International.

He also paid special tribute to the Saharawi population in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, southern Morocco and Saharawi students in Moroccan universities leading the intifada of independence, expressing solidarity with Sahrawi political prisoners, including Yahya Mohamed Al-Hafedh Iaaza. SPS


Western Sahara — what has really been stolen?

Cate Lewis
19 July 2009

The documentary film Stolen is now largely discredited. It has been in the press recently for its controversial claim that slavery still exists among Saharawis in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

The film implied the Saharawi liberation organisation, the Polisario Front, permits the practice of slavery in the refugee camps. However, from its formation in 1973 the Polisario stated that all Saharawis were equal and addressed any residual issues brought to its notice.

Since its premiere at the Sydney film festival in June, a lot of evidence has come to light against the film’s claims. On June 13, the 7.30 Report revealed the film’s subtitles distorted some of the dialogue in crucial ways.

One subtitle translated a Saharawi woman saying: “Fetim is a slave”. However, an independent translation revealed she actually said: “Violeta wants us to say Fetim is a slave”.

The film’s translator, Oumar Sy, only recently saw the final version of the film and has withdrew his certification. He told the July 13 Sydney Morning Herald that the filmmakers, Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, had not corrected the subtitles despite his advice they were wrong.

The camera operator who worked on the film with Ayala and Fallshaw on their second visit to Western Sahara also sharply criticised the film’s claims. He returned to the camps to take video testimony from some of the main characters in the film and UN aid workers who live in the camps.

Fetim Sellami, who is portrayed as a slave in the film, said she had withdrawn her consent to appear in the film, yet the filmmakers went ahead regardless. She said she felt tricked and betrayed by Ayala and Fallshaw, whom she had welcomed into her house and introduced to her family.

In June, she travelled to Sydney to denounce the film as a fraud and declared she was not a slave.

Several young men who appear in the film have since revealed they were offered money and gifts to make allegations about slavery for Stolen.

Some were paid up to 4000 euros to make the false claims. One man claimed two men working forthe Moroccan government offered him money to make the statements. The footage can be viewed at

Given the false claims in Stolen the Melbourne International Film Festival should not run it. The Polisario Front asked the festival to not screen the film, pending investigations into its accuracy. But like the Sydney film festival, the Melbourne film festival organisers have refused this request.

For many years, the Moroccan government peddled the myth Saharawi refugees were hostages of the Polisario Front and held against their will. But this claim has little support internationally. The newer claim that Polisario endorses slavery is another case of false Moroccan propaganda.

It is designed to distract from the real issue — the legitimate right of Western Sahara to self-determination and freedom from Moroccan occupation.

Saharawi refugees live in extreme conditions in a harsh desert, behind a Moroccan built military wall, while Morocco steals their natural resources.

The documentary made a bogus claim about “stolen” children, and ignored a stolen country and its stolen resources.

[Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor Leste will speak in Melbourne on July 23 at a meeting titled “Western Sahara and East Timor: What has really been stolen?”, 5.30pm, Kino cinema 2, lower ground level, 45 Collins St, Melbourne. A short documentary on the theft of Western Sahara’s natural resources will also be shown. Entry $10. For information, email .]


From the Metro Magazine 161.77 by Maryella Hatfield


A FILM like Stolen (Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, 2009) explores complexities that exist within the issues that are increasingly affecting us all. Camps in Western Sahara are a microcosm of the massive sweep of displaced persons the world over, people who are seeking refuge from political, economic and historical conditions that are not of their own making. Ayala and Fallshaw’s original plan was to tell the story of a family reunion in one of the United Nations-sponsored refugee camps as a way of exploring the territorial issues. Then their documentary took an unexpected turn, and this is where the making of the documentary took an unexpected turn, and this is where the making of the documentary started to become a subject of the documentary itself.

Once a Spanish protectorate, the Western Sahara is now a territory in dispute between Morocco, Mauretania and Algeria. The Polisario who claim to represent the Sahrawi people – or ‘people of the Sahara desert’ who have ancestral tribal claims to the area – are demanding full independence.
The people in the camps are of mixed heritage, however, and the product of complex and extremely contentions relationships that have developed over centuries.

The biggest surprise to the filmmakers was discovering that their main character, Fetim, a young black African woman, was still ‘bound’ to a Berber-Arab family as a slave. The shocking revelation let them down to a path that they never expected to follow. It radically changed the story of their film, making it more of a political thriller than the poignant human story they had originally intended.

In the year or so since production, Fetim, had withdrawn her consent to be part of the film. She recorded a statement to that effect, which the filmmakers included at the end of their film. Fetim appeared in person during the post-screening Q&A session at the festival – not to support the filmmakers, but to denounce them and deny she was a slave.

Stolen and this incident raise many pertinent questions for filmmakers, for those who take part in films, and for audiences.
For a start, whose truth is presented in any documentary? Is the filmmaker’s truth or that of the participants? At what pint does the filmmaker decide that their belief in the bigger picture is best serve by completing and showing the film regardless of a participant’s consent? What is the legal position for the film’s investors?

Media around Australia reported the confrontation the following day and many would have been left with the impression that Fetim had been done a terrible injustice. But with the controversy in mind, a second viewing of the film revealed how a highly complex political situation was very much being played out in personal relationships.

Fetim, a young black mother, is filming going about her everyday life as she prepares to be reunited with her mother, Embarka, whom the UN is bringing from Morocco. Preparations are in full swing for a party to welcome Embarka but they reveal to what extent an Arabic woman, Deido, is involved. An explanation is given – that many years before, Fetim had been offered as a young woman to look after Deido’s son. The way it is explained is light, almost dismissive, and doesn’t reveal the reality of Fetim’s situation and how much work she does for Deido’s family.

When Embarka finally arrives, we see Fetim having to search for Deido’s shoes, which she lost just minutes before. Deido then takes it upon herself to hold the party in her tent, but only invites her own family, excluding Fetim’s extended family and friends. This is where the film comes into its own. We see the expressions on the faces of Fetim’s family and friends as they are pushed to the side. We see Fetim’s cousin decide to organise another gathering, an this time Fetim’s family dance and laugh joyfully together.

Deido discusses the film crew in Arabic with her friend, who asks, ‘Why are they always filming?’ Deido’s reply is telling: ‘Be careful what you say, they know everything but they can’t do anything.’

Soon after, Ayala and Fallshaw go to the UN to report what they have begun to discover and the extent to which slavery still exists even in the refugee camps. Not long after that , they find themselves on the run, pursued by the Polisario, and having to bury their tapes in the sand, not sure if they would ever be recovered. The cloack-and-dagger tale of the documentary subsequently criss-crosses Europe and the United States as the filmmakers try to recover their tapes with varying degrees of help and obstruction from undercover Moroccan agents, ambassadors and the UN.

Meanwhile we see scenes filmed in Morocco with Fetim’s cousin and brother, who make the arduous journey across the desert from the camps to explain in detail the extent to which they are sill slaves, the way liberation papers work and how the courts will rule in favour of the masters.
The filmmakers, and indeed the viewer, realise how difficult it is for thoe who stayed behind. We hear a heartbreaking phone call from Fetim’s daughter Leila telling Ayala: ‘We trusted you as if you were our family, in trying to do good, you did bad, now the police are all over us.’ Ayala tearfully responds that this was the last thing they ever wanted.

And this is part of the difficulty of knowing how much of Fetim’s denunciation genuinely comes from her, and how much has been coerced. Does she risked losing her three children if she challenges Deido’s mastery of her? What is the role of the Polisario in bringing Fetim to Australia? Who engineered Fetim’s denunciation included at the end of the film?

Until this questions are fully answered, there should be no surprise to see Fetim’s impassioned plea to distance herself from the story, calling the filmmakers liars and cheats. Considering the stakes, she might well be fighting for her children and her life. There are many resonances for Australian audiences here, with stolen children, displaced peoples, political disempowerment. It seems a story that is still to be fully played out.

* Maryella Hatfield reflects on some of the Nominees for the inaugural Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize at the 2009 Sydney Film Festival.

"Once a Spanish protectorate, the Western Sahara is now a territory in dispute between Morocco, Mauretania and Algeria." With this statement Hatfield reveals how much she knows about Western Sahara: nothing at all. Algeria has never claimed Western Sahara while Mauretania renounced its claims in 1979.
"And this is part of the difficulty of knowing how much of Fetim’s denunciation genuinely comes from her, and how much has been coerced." Try asking her.
"Does she risked losing her three children if she challenges Deido’s mastery of her?" 1. Fetim, her husband and children have regularly holidayed together in Spain. If they were slaves they could have escaped. 2. The truth about Fetim's relationship with Deido is that Deido brought her up after she was separated from her mother by the brutal Moroccan invasion. The film Stolen and Hatfield's review horribly slander both women to prettify the invasion and ensuing occupation.

The ethics of documentary film

Kamal Fadel

A refugee from Western Sahara passes Polisario President Abdelaziz Mohamed's residence in the '27 February Refugee Camp' in Tindouf region of south-west Algeria. Picture taken October 2005

The Melbourne International Film Festival, which begins today, will be screening a highly misleading and fictionalised film account of life in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. The film screens, inexplicably, as a documentary.

This film, Stolen, vilifies its subjects, presents falsehoods as facts and insults a population of refugees who struggle under the shadow of a militarised occupation. It was funded by Screen Australia and its inherent fabrications are damaging Australia's image and cultural standing.

The young filmmakers of Stolen have "discovered", they said, widespread race-based slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps. These camps have existed since Morocco's abrupt, illegal invasion of Western Sahara in 1975. The people in them, the Saharawis, have been in an international limbo for a long time now.

The referendum on their independence that the United Nations promised them has been repeatedly postponed because of the Moroccan monarchy's political agenda, which is like that of many a previous as colonial power in Africa in the past two centuries.

Thousands of independent journalists, human rights organisations, and well-known world leaders have visited the refugee camps over the past three decades. The UNHCR has a permanent presence there. None of these varied witnesses have spotted any evidence of the slavery.

Not only has all such evidence been ignored, but those who are in a much better position to offer real insights have seen their words twisted, blurred and turned upside-down by the film-makers.

One such victim is Ursula Aboubacar a senior UNHCR official. Her interview was manipulated and included in the film without her clearance or informed consent.

More recently, the film's official translator, Oumar Sy, has backed away from the project, saying his corrections were ignored.

In his letter to the filmmakers he offers a detailed description of the young film-makers' bizarre methods.

He writes: "I did not certify that the translations, from Hassaniya into English of the final version of the film called "Stolen", directed by Ms Violeta Ayala and Mr Dan Fallshaw, and produced by Mr Tom Zubrycki, are correct".

According to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald, on 13 July 2009, a "translator from Australia's National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters will check the film".

But NAATI confirmed to me on 16 July that there are "no accredited people for Hassaniyya" - the language spoken in the film. The organisation added "it is important to note that NAATI does not normally get involved in the provision of translating or interpreting services as we are only the national accrediting body".

I am quite certain the filmmakers will not rectify the wrong and invented subtitles, not only because there are so many of them, but also because those mistranslations go to the heart and substance of the film. Any changes of any of the subtitles will tend to destroy the whole film and its premise.

As an example of the invented subtitles:

The film subtitle says:

Fatma: There was nothing unusual about Deido taking Fetim. Deido is her master. And obviously controls her.

Correct translation: Bottom line, she is tracking the story of Fetim. Frankly, she thinks Deido owns her.

Embarka: Not true. (She doesn't own her).

Fatma: Fetim told me that someone told her [Violeta] that Deido kidnapped Fetim. But she did not kidnap her.

There are other such examples of startlingly incorrect translations in the film.

Screen Australia's Terms of Trade state that it "expects all successful applicants to act fairly and reasonably to third parties involved in their project. Fairness and reasonableness includes...respecting intellectual property of all relevant persons whether those rights be copyright, moral rights or indigenous rights".

The Saharawis interviewed in the film have been so distressed they have sought to have their appearances in the film removed. They have been ignored by the film-makers. Many of those interviewed did not give their informed consent or sign releases to use the material in which they are featured.

There are also verifiable examples of some scenes being faked or set up without proper notification.

In these instances, alone, it seems clear Screen Australia's own standards on fair and reasonable dealings have not been met.

A further issue for Screen Australia and the federal Arts department to consider is the connections that have developed between the film-makers and the Moroccan government, an undemocratic monarchy.

The storyline of Stolen includes an apparent "escape" and smuggling out of the tapes of the interviews. This stunt – no such escape was ever needed and the film fictionalises the events surrounding it – was aided by Moroccan diplomats (who, for instance, paid for the young film-makers' side trip to New York) and was done in return for their working, or so I believe, for Morocco's political advantage.

As such, we have a political plot-twist which does not seem to be in Screen Australia's brief and would not, presumably, be in Australia's wider interests in an era in which it is striving to seem less racist than in previous times.

Given the myriad of problems with this film, we believe its back story requires a serious investigation.

We have requested the federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett facilitate this.

Until informed conclusions are reached, the government should remove its imprint from the film.

We feel this can be done appropriately. We are not seeking to censor this film, or prevent any interested or curious person from seeing it as it is. We are simply raising our concerns that its fundamental content is false, that taxpayers funded it, and that it wears the Australian Government's imprimatur.

And we are asking that anyone viewing it should know how it was made – as a fiction, not a documentary, and as a fabrication not a legitimate, ethically-produced government-backed project.

The slavery allegation is libellous, and should be corrected and withdrawn.


Report on flaws in Stolen handed to Minister Garrett

The Federal Government will today be presented with a damning critique of the Australian film Stolen and asked to disassociate itself from the film.

The critique uncovers serious misleading and deceptive practice on the part of the film makers and, on this basis alone, the Australia Western Sahara Association said, the Commonwealth crediting should be removed before its MIFF screening tonight.

Lyn Allison, President of AWSA said “The credibility given by the Commonwealth crest to the false claims of widespread slavery in the Saharawi camps should be of great embarrassment to the Minister and Screen Australia.

“The film was funded as a documentary but turned out to be a fiction. Now the real story behind its production needs to be told.”

The critique, collated by AWSA, documents untruths and basic errors identified by independent translators, witnesses and individuals used in the film. It cites “…. questionable methods and unethical practices from pre- to post-production.”

The full critique is at:

“Australia's standing as a trusted producer of documentary work is challenged by Stolen carrying the Government's seal of approval and its $300,000 of support.”

The critique details statement retractions, payments for false statements, a lack of release forms and standard interview permission documentation, manipulation of subjects, contradictory translations, fictitious scenes and questionable funding arrangements.

“AWSA offers this analysis of Stolen in defence of the dignity of the Saharawi people.”

“Unfortunately, Stolen does not help Australians understand or care about the plight of the Saharawis or their legitimate struggle for self-determination,” said Ms Allison.

For comment: Lyn Allison: 0407 691 512
For background:



Philippe Mora

Wednesday, 26th August 2009


Philippe Mora opens his diary


I was in Sydney’s Chinatown, enjoying delicious steamed lobster with ginger and attending the recent Film Festival, when I got a dramatic phone call. An old friend and cameraman for three of my films, Carlos Gonzalez, was calling from Los Angeles to say that a West Saharan woman, Fetim, from Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria, was flying in to Sydney to denounce a film portraying her as a slave. Carlos was a friend of Fetim, and he asked me would I meet her at the airport. He said the family was very distressed at the allegations and felt betrayed by the Australian film-makers who had lived with them on the pretext they were making a documentary about a family reunion.


Frankly, after decades of battles I have issue fatigue. But I knew Carlos had impeccable credentials on this issue, known as the Forgotten Conflict. He had risked his life in 2006 to go into occupied Western Sahara to film interviews with indigenous children who had been allegedly tortured by the Moroccan occupiers. (Morocco had invaded in 1975.) He was arrested and interrogated for eight hours on 3 June 2006 by Moroccan police and intelligence officers, including the notorious alleged torturer Mohammed El Hassouni, known as ‘Moustache’. He was then promptly deported and denounced in the Moroccan press, to our great amusement, but not to his, as being a spy for Hugo Chavez and Mossad. Since I knew he was neither but a director of children’s shows for Nickelodeon in Hollywood and a generally standup fellow, I agreed to help his incoming ‘slave’ friends.


Fetim and her husband Baba arrived chainless early in the morning and I greeted them with Kamal Fadel, the Australian representative of the Polisario, the political organisation that had flown them out. Charismatic, smart and open, I immediately liked Kamal and his two guests. Slaves with passports! They headed for friends in Glebe, where all slaves hang out when they’re in Sydney.


Then the whole thing blew up. Fetim’s dramatic denunciation of the film Stolen that night at the festival ended up on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. The ABC’s 7.30 Report went after the flaws in the film. Stolen received a barrage of blistering criticism for mistranslations, re-enactments, lack of releases from leading participants, Mondo Cane-type sensationalism, blurring of facts, maps and history. One of the film-makers’ aunts vigorously defended the film on blogs. Meanwhile I had re-connected with old mate, wit, great writer and political connoisseur, Bob Ellis, and as an unlikely Poirot and Sherlock Holmes duo we made some inquiries. An angry UN interviewee cried foul at the film, as did a key translator. Ellis and I exchanged opinions on the film way too rude, if not obscene, for publication in this august magazine. The Morocco-Polisario conflict underlying the debate was not a left-right debate as the film-maker’s aunt tried to make out. In fact, James Baker, no pinko, had tried to help the Polisario with vigour in the Nineties.


Producer Tom Zubrycki announced people were trying to ‘do a job’ on the film. He backed out of an interview with me. We met tyro filmmakers Dan Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala in a bar and complained the problem was that people were jealous of them, that Ellis had fought with his wife (sic), that slavery is a state of mind, and other irrelevant inanities. Ellis, like a cultural Grim Reaper, said to Fallshaw, who blanched: ‘You are going to jail, son.’


The story continued last week when a revamped version, with piquant deletions, was shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival with a disclaimer belatedly added by co-financier Screen Australia. Questions about whether Polisario-haters in Morocco contributed funding to the film remain unanswered.


Other serious queries remain about this film, and as a sometime documentary film-maker I maintain that fakery and fraud, if that is what this is, hurts us all as film-makers, journalists and film-goers. It’s my opinion, for example, that it is either dishonesty, negligence or incompetence not to get releases from people one is portraying in a film making such grave allegations. I am no saint, but certain standards should be de rigueur. Perhaps there was acute First World arrogance in this situation. A few Australians pontificating about alleged slavery and really hurting people in the guise of helping them is a bit rich. An Italian NGO in the camp described Ayala as a ‘mythomaniac’.


By contrast, a recent positive highlight was vicariously going into orbit and repairing the Hubble telescope. My wife Pamela and I met six of the astronauts who fixed it in May at a special event at the Academy in Beverly Hills. The astronaut film-makers took up 30 cameras including an IMAX 3D camera that could only film for eight minutes. At a mission cost of US$1.1 billion to fix the Hubble, the eight-minute film element must be the most expensive movie ever made. The bemused astronauts, dressed in Jetsons-style retro blue overalls, mingled with us Hollywood types over drinks and snacks. We watched extraordinary footage of the mission with the jubilation of being in space popping out of the screen.


I am working on a 3D film about the life of Salvador Dali with producer Fred Bestall of Delux Films in Luxembourg, so I am immersed in notions of surrealism. I don’t think one needs to contrive surrealism because arguably life itself is often surreal. A Daliesque thought: perhaps molecules from the hands of refugees on my hand rubbed off on the Hubble mission astronaut’s hand? The Hubble is searching for the origin of the universe, the refugees search for justice and food for their children. Do these connections mean anything or are they random events? Is all this surreal? Dali himself said: ‘I don’t do drugs. I am drugs!’

Interview with Ursula Aboubacar, the UN officer who claimed that never any case of slavery has been brought to the attention of UNHCR in the camps.

Violeta: You are there since 1991 and until now you have done nothing with regards to this?

Ursula: No that is not correct, there have been prosecutions because of this, there has been police officers tracing people who had slaves and this is what I have received as reports...
No body is denying the existence because again this human rights abuse is specific to this culture...

If we just bring it from the outside, the reaction would be immediately defense, the Polisario would say 'no, it doesn't exist'

See it for your self:

Permalink - November 16, 2009.

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) — In the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting with Moroccan King Mohammed VI last week, a prominent human rights activist was detained on her arrival in Western Sahara, which Morocco controls.

Aminatou Haidar was held overnight Friday and deported to Spain's Canary Islands, after stating on Moroccan entry forms that Western Sahara was her country of residency. Saharans have been locked in a struggle with Morocco since 1975, when former colonial ruler Spain precipitously withdrew under pressure from the Polisario Front independence movement. Morocco seized the phosphate-rich territory shortly afterwards.

Polisario suspended armed conflict against Moroccan control in 1991, and peace talks under United Nations auspices have dragged on ever since. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Ross, the Secretary General's special envoy, has been working to start a possible fifth round of negotiations.

When Haidar was detained, she was returning home after receiving the Civil Courage Prize from the Train Foundation in New York on October 21. She was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award last year, The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders website lists as among her other recognitions: the 2007 Silver Rose Award (Austria), the 2006 Juan Maria Bandres Human Rights Award (Spain), and nominations for the European Parliament Sakharov Prize in 2005, for the Amnesty International USA's Ginetta Sagan Fund Award, and for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

Morocco 's invasion of Western Sahara forced refugees to flee to camps along the border in neighboring Algeria. Now numbering some 160,000, the refugees subsist partly on United Nations rations. A generation of children has grown up in the camps, but many have attended special programs in countries such as Spain and Norway, where activist NGOs have supported Polisario's calls for an independent referendum to determine the territory's future.

The African Union has accepted the Saharan-declared state as a full member, prompting Morocco to withdraw – making it the only nation on the African continent not belonging to the pan-African organization. Over 45 countries have also recognized the Saharan state.

The visit of Secretary Clinton to Morocco has stirred renewed controversy over U.S. policy, with the Moroccan American Center for Policy - a registered lobby group for the Moroccan government - hailing Clinton's remarks during a press conference as supporting Morocco's plan for "autonomy" for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. In the past, while leaning towards Morocco as, first, a cold-war ally and, subsequently, an ally against terrorism, successive U.S. administrations have preserved a careful verbal neutrality.

Although Clinton said that U.S. policy has not changed, human rights groups are expressing concern at what they see as a lack of pressure to resolve the issue peacefully, particularly as Morocco has stepped up a publicity campaign in Europe and North America amid new crackdowns in the territory. The Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, which issued a statement calling for Haidar's release, says that h er arrest "follows a spate of recent arrests and confiscation of the travel documents of several Sahrawi activists by Moroccan authorities" and says seven Sahrawi activists who visited Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouff, Algeria in last month face charges before a military tribunal.





فارة الجمهورية العربية الصحراوية الديمقراطية

دار السلام




 دار السلام


13 July 2010

Press Release


The Embassy of the Saharawi Republic to the United Republic of Tanzania welcomes the decision by Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), to remove the so-called “Stolen” film from the program of its 13th Festival which is taking place in Zanzibar on 10-18 July 2010.

ZIFF’s Board decided not to screen “Stolen” during the Festival after close and thorough consideration of all the information and representations made by the Saharawis affected by the film including the family of Fetim Sellami a key figure in the film.

The Saharawi Ambassador to Tanzania, H.E. Mr. Brahim Salem Buseif said that “the Saharawi people are deeply grateful to the Board of the Festival for their wise and fair decision”. He added that “this film aims to create confusion and spread lies about a people who have suffered a great deal during the past 35 years. It also aims to hurt the Saharawi legitimate struggle for freedom and dignity.”

“Stolen” purports to have discovered modern-day slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria. But authorities such as the United Nations have worked in the Saharawi camps for decades and have found no evidence of such unfounded allegations. Human rights organizations, NGOs, and thousands of journalists and foreign visitors to the Saharawi camps have never found evidence of slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps.

“Stolen” is full of misleading and deceptive allegations and there are many serious flaws in the film such as mistranslations, invented subtitles and fictitious scenes.

The Producer of the film Mr. Zubrycki admitted recently that there were some scenes of the film where re-enactments were shot in Australia, yet they weren’t stated on screen as being re-enactments. He also admitted that the film’s tapes were not buried in the desert as claimed in the film.  

Morocco invaded and illegally occupied most parts of Western Sahara (the SaharawiRepublic) in 1975 and continues to plunder its natural resources including phosphates and fisheries. Because of that occupation, almost every Saharawi family is separated with members on each side of the military wall which seals the occupied territories of Western Sahara from the outside world. Morocco continues to undertake horrendous human rights abuses and hamper United Nations efforts to organize a referendum of self-determination in the Territory in accordance with international legality.

The Saharawi Republic is a founding member of the African Union (AU) and enjoys close ties of friendship, cooperation and solidarity with the United Republic of Tanzania.


For further information regarding the film “Stolen” please check:


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