28 September 2000


Press Release
GA/SPD/185/Rev.1*



SPECIAL POLITICAL AND DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS ON WESTERN SAHARA

20000928

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning continued its debate on decolonization questions and heard petitioners on Western Sahara, with petitioners criticizing the delays in implementing the Settlement Plan and requesting that the right of the people of Western Sahara to self- determination be respected.

A representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguira el Hamara and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), Salem Bouseif Brahim, told the Committee that Morocco had refused to coooperate with the United Nations because it had determined that a fair referendum in Western Sahara would lead to Saharawi independence. Morocco favoured pseudo-solutions that would lead to Moroccan sovereignty. However, such solutions would impugn the credibility of the United Nations and result in a resumption of open-armed conflict, since Morocco’s defiance of international law included serious repression, as reported by international organizations.

Morocco had broken with the Settlement Plan for Western Sahara when it came up with new criteria for the right to vote in the Territory's self-determination referendum, he said. It was unfortunate that Morocco had the support of a European country that was a permanent member of the Security Council. The United Nations should not allow itself to be intimidated and diverted. Having succeeded in Namibia and East Timor, there was no reason why it could not succeed in Western Sahara.

Another petitioner, however, Mohamed Salem Ali Omar Bahia, one of two tribal chiefs who addressed the Committee, stressed that he was testifying freely and he had been abducted by the POLISARIO and imprisoned for 15 years. He was presented in front of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in order to take an oath, but was told by the POLISARIO to exclude the majority of candidates from different tribes. He could not lie, however. The POLISARIO wanted to submerge the referendum in appeals.

He requested observers to witness the memorials to people who had been shot and were tortured by the POLISARIO. Many had been imprisoned by Algeria, he said.


_________ * Reissued to correct misleading headline, for which the Department of Public Information sincerely apologizes.

Fourth Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/SPD/185/Rev.1 6th Meeting (AM) 28 September 2000

Hundreds of persons had been imprisoned and tortured. He was also certain that there were only 35,000 people in the camps, the ones who had been born since 1975, rather than the claimed 200,000. The aid for 200,000 persons, which had been demanded, would profit Algeria and the heads of the POLISARIO.

This morning’s meeting was suspended for 10 minutes over the right of Mr. Brahim to speak in place of the scheduled petitioner, Ahmed Boukhari. When Mr. Brahim took the floor, the representative of Morocco noted, on a point of order, that the request for hearing had originally been made by Mr. Boukhari. If he was not present, the Committee should go on to the next petitioner.

Jelena Polic (Croatia), the Acting Chairperson, replied that Mr. Brahim was also speaking on behalf of the POLISARIO. There had been many cases in which petitioners had been allowed to speak in place of other representatives of their organizations.

The representative of Morocco responded that the United Nations did not recognize the POLISARIO, upon which Algeria’s representative said that the Chairperson’s response was clear. The POLISARIO was the other party in Western Sahara’s self-determination referendum and any representative of that organization could take the floor as a petitioner.

After the Chair asked Mr. Brahim to withdraw temporarily, the Algerian delegate expressed shock at the ruling and asked the Secretariat to explain whether or not representatives of the POLISARIO, a signatory to many agreements with the United Nations, could replace one another. He formally requested that the petitioner be allowed to take the floor as per the initial ruling.

In the ensuing debate, several delegations offered their views on whether or not to allow the petitioner to speak. Speaking in the exchange were the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Namibia, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Guinea, Senegal, Ghana, United Republic of Tanzania, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Angola and Jamaica.

Following a 10-minute suspension of the meeting, the Acting Chairman said she had been informed that Mr. Boukhari would not be present and that Mr. Brahim would speak in his place.

Other petitioners speaking this morning were representatives of: the city of Mans, France; International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara; Human Rights League of Spain; and the Human Rights Study Group of the French National Parliament.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 29 September, to conclude its general debate on decolonization questions and take action on related draft resolutions.



Fourth Committee - 3 - Press Release GA/SPD/185/Rev.1 6th Meeting (AM) 28 September 2000

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its hearing of petitioners and its general debate on decolonization issues.

(For background information, see Press Releases GA/SPD/182 and 183 of 25 and 26 September.)

Petitions

ROBERT JARRY, Mayor of Mans, France, recalled his country’s indirect military involvement in the Western Sahara dispute through the supply of heavy weapons to Mauritania, and said that it had resulted in a denial of the rights of the Saharawi people. That involvement had strengthened his conviction against neo-colonial adventures. A change of policy had come with the election of President François Mitterrand in 1982.

He said that Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s election in 1997 had seen a new determination by the United Nations to relaunch the peace process, demonstrated by the Houston Agreements of that year mediated by his Personal Envoy, James Baker III. The accession of a new Moroccan sovereign in 1999 had similarly led to new expectations, but those had been dashed by Morocco’s imposition of unacceptable conditions.

Due to the lack of respect being shown to the Saharawi people, there was a great risk that armed conflict could resume, he said. Young people in the refugee camps were losing faith in the promises of the United Nations and were ready to fight, since they were tired of living as refugees. There was, therefore, an urgent need for serious efforts to implement the Settlement Plan. The self-determination of the Saharawis must be protected. They must be permitted to move from the status of victims to that of protagonists, and have the opportunity, as free people, to determine their own future.

FELIPE BRIONES, of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said that, given the deadlock over voter identification, the situation in Western Sahara was the worst in recent years and could undo all the advances made since 1988. He urged, therefore, the immediate application of measures, not all of which were in the peace plan. Those included the release of Saharawi prisoners of conscience, a strict defence of human rights against the “timorian” repression tactics of Morocco, and the effective opening of land, sea, and air access to the region and their control by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for the democratic implementation of the referendum. An international presence was essential during the census phases.

In addition, he said, the exploitation of the natural wealth of Western Sahara by Morocco should be stopped until the legitimate administration of the area was established through the referendum, as it amounted to pillaging. The United Nations, finally, should not relinquish its leading role in bringing about the referendum and the complete Settlement Plan. The European Parliament, as well, should make the same level of commitment to the self-determination of Western Sahara as it did for East Timor, since they were parallel situations, and the Special Committee on decolonization still considered Spain the Administering Authority, defining Morocco as the “occupying country”.

ELHASSANE ZAHID (Morocco), in questioning the petitioner, maintained that a petitioner must try to bring facts to the Committee, not allegations without foundation. It was appreciated by the international community that Morocco was among the countries where basic freedoms and human rights had seen very considerable progress. He asked about the situation of human rights in the Tindouf refugee camps, and whether or not there was free movement and expression in the camps. The proof to the contrary was that people had risked their lives to escape from them.

Mr. BRIONES said that the criticism was not a question and referred to the reports of international bodies that had been produced, when access was possible. He knew of no human rights violations in the Saharawi camps, institutionalized or in practice.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said that the question was very clear. What could the petitioner say about freedom of expression and movement in the Tindouf camps? The petitioner should not try to confuse the Committee by getting into other questions, or by saying he was not familiar with the human rights issues in the camps. He should be, since he was here to testify on human rights subjects.

Mr. BRIONES replied that there was full freedom of circulation and movement in the refugee camps, even for those who had opted to give up the position they had kept for years.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) replied that it had been heard that people could not take their families with them. He wanted to know whether those people could return to the camps if they wanted to, and pointed out that the petitioner did not mention freedom of expression.

Mr. BRIONES said that, concerning family reunions, only a very small number of people had fled the camp. But, the delegate seemed to have forgotten their repression in the area for 25 years.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco), on a point of order, said that the petitioner was attacking a sovereign State.

Mr. BRIONES said that was the kind of action that should serve to demonstrate what that regime was capable of.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) requested the Acting Chairperson to call the petitioner to order, or else to silence him.

MATIA MALUMBA SEMAKULA KIWANUKA (Uganda), Chairman, asked the petitioner to answer the question without casting aspersions on the Kingdom of Morocco.

Mr. BRIONES said that he was not present to attack any Kingdom, but to defend international law. He did not know, he said, of any violations of human rights in the Saharawi camps.

FRANCISCO JOSE ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, Human Rights League of Spain, said it was intolerable that nearly 200,000 refugees remained in the camps at Tindouf, Algeria, one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The extent of repression by the Moroccan security forces in Western Sahara included extra-judicial summary executions, torture, arbitrary detentions, state of siege, blocking of information and subversion of the Territory’s demographic composition.

He said that, despite Morocco’s deliberate efforts to obscure information, there were figures indicating that more than 500,000 Saharawis were still missing since 1990, many of whom were in secret detention centres where many Moroccan dissidents were also held. Those centres continued to operate and some security agents were licensed to conduct secret detentions. The Moroccan courts had never investigated or prosecuted any State official on charges of torturing detainees.

The common factor in all those human rights violations was impunity and the passivity of the international community in the face of obstructionist measures by Morocco, he said. The Human Rights League of Spain agreed with a report from the Canary Islands that a resumption of the armed conflict was imminent. The United Nations, whose credibility was at stake, must apply the necessary measures to ensure implementation of the Settlement Plan.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said the petitioner’s information was completely false and contrary to available United Nations statistics, which identified 20,000 and not 200,000. Other figures on record, which were not completely clear, may involve some 100,000.

He said the petitioner had given no credible reference whatsoever for the alleged human rights violations. Could he tell the Committee about the authorization required for the movement of refugees between the Tindouf camps that was issued by the security services guarding the camps? Could people move between camps and go abroad freely? Were they free to leave the camps and join family members in Morocco?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ said he had been speaking of 200,000 people living in refugee camps and not those covered in the electoral census. Every year, many of them, including 12,000 children, left for Europe or elsewhere for medical treatment, study or other reasons. People wanting to visit the camps could do so freely. The Committee should visit Tindouf to see the human rights violations in the camps. As an international observer in East Timor, he had seen the massive violations of human rights there and hoped that the same level of abuses would not be allowed at Tindouf.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco), on a point of order, said that contrary to the Committee’s principles and rules, the petitioner had begun to address issues that were completely outside the topic. If he could not answer the delegate’s questions, he should say so. Mr. RODRIGUEZ said that the representative of Morocco should not take up the Committee’s time with distractions. He had not referred to 200,000 participants in the census, but 200,000 people living in the refugee camps.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said the Committee had heard the petitioner’s accusations against Morocco. He should be asked to leave the chamber as he was no longer making any useful contribution.

JELENA POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, then asked Mr. Rodriguez to withdraw.

SALEM BOUSEIF BRAHIM, on behalf of POLISARIO, began to give his petition.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco), in a point of order, noted that that they did not have the statement by that petitioner and the request for a hearing had not been noted. Rather, there had been a request to speak from Ahmed Boukhari.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, replied that Mr. Brahim was also speaking as a representative of POLISARIO.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said that there was no POLISARIO recognized by the Organization. If the party was not here, the Committee should go on to the next petitioner.

Mohamed BELAOURA (Algeria) said that the answer by the Chair was clear. Further, he would like to recall that the POLISARIO is the other party in the referendum on Western Sahara, and any representative of this organization might take the floor to take the petition.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, said that were many cases in which representatives of other petitioners had been allowed to speak.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said petitioners are not organizations who are speaking as individuals. That something might have happened before inadvertently, did not make it legitimate. There was a name there without reference to any other name. He moved to have the situation resolved by the Legal Department. Morocco had never accepted the practice in that connection.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, said that she heard the arguments and intended to get back to them, but not at that moment. She asked the petitioner to withdraw for the time being.

Mr. BELAOURA (Algeria) expressed shock that the petitioner was requested to withdraw and asked the Secretariat to explain whether or not POLISARIO, a signer of many agreements with the Organization, was an organization that could have representatives that could replace one another. He formally demanded that the petitioner be allowed to take the floor as in the initial ruling of the Chair.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said that the discussion had nothing to do with the question of whether POLISARIO was a party to the negotiations.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, then requested another petitioner.

PATRICK LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) expressed puzzlement, because of the established precedent of representatives of organizations presenting petitions on behalf of others. To have the petitioner withdraw was embarrassing and unfair. He urged that this petitioner be allowed to speak.

GEORGE LISWANISO (Namibia) completely agreed with the representatives of Algeria and Antigua and Barbuda. He urged that the representative of the POLISARIO be allowed to speak.

DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) added his voice in support of allowing the representative of the POLISARIO to speak.

PETER DONIGI (Papua New Guinea) said that representatives of the POLISARIO had the right to speak, as they had always been given the floor. It was incongruent for the Special Committee on decolonization to recognize them while the Fourth Committee did not. The organization’s standing had been recognized last week when the Committee had approved its representative’s request for hearing. It did not matter whether the person who had requested hearing was the one who appeared before the Committee or whether it was another representative. Was Morocco’s objection against the individual or against the POLISARIO?

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said Morocco had never opposed the right of a POLISARIO representative to speak. But one representative could not address the Committee when another had made the request. It was a matter of principle, and not against any individual.

BALLA MOUSSA CAMARA (Guinea) said that if the petitioner wished to address the Committee, he must make a request. He could not speak in the place of another person. It was not the petitioner’s turn to speak and the Chairperson’s ruling was normal.

ABDOUL DEMBA TALL (Senegal) said he supported the Chairperson’s ruling.

YAW ODEI OSEI (Ghana) endorsed the position of the representative of South Africa that the petitioner should be allowed to speak.

Mr. MANGACHI (United Republic of Tanzania) said it was not merely a procedural question, but, rather a very substantive one. Somebody must take responsibility for disallowing the voice of an oppressed people. It was very painful to refuse the voice of the POLISARIO. Whatever procedure would be followed should facilitate the POLISARIO to speak.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said it was a question of procedure, because Mr. Boukhari had made the request and was absent. Mr. Brahim had not made a request and should do so. He could not speak in the place of the person who had made the request.

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said the decision was inexplicable. All the parties in the situation should be heard. The Committee had heard a good number of petitioners since yesterday, including those from Gibraltar, Guam and elsewhere. One of the main questions before the Committee was the opportunity to hear from people from the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Mr. MOTSI (Zimbabwe) agreed with the representative of South Africa that it would be only fair to allow the petitioner to speak.

MARIO AUGUSTO (Angola) said he endorsed all those who had said it was only right to give the petitioner the floor.

JOAN THOMAS (Jamaica), agreeing with the Antigua and Barbuda delegate, said that Jamaica could, nevertheless, appreciate Morocco’s concerns.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, said that she had never intended to disallow the petitioner. Morocco had questioned the fact that the individual speaking was not the one who had made the request for hearing. While the Bureau clarified the matter, he was requested to withdraw for the moment.

She then said she had seen a letter to the Chairman from the New York office of the POLISARIO stating that Mr. Brahim would speak in place of Mr. Boukhari, who had made the request for hearing. The Committee could decide either to suspend the meeting for five minutes or to continue with the next speaker.

Mr. BELAOURA (Algeria), saying he was ready to cooperate with the Chair, noted that precedents did exist for people to speak in place of other representatives of their organizations. It would be a great pity if the Fourth Committee, for procedural matters, failed to hear the representatives of liberation movements or other struggling peoples. Preventing the petitioner would compromise the purpose for which the Committee existed.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, said that there had been clarity on precedents. What she had been missing at the time was the letter that notified the Committee that Mr. Brahim would be presenting the petition under discussion.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco), in a point of order, said he had the memorandum from the POLISARIO before him, dated 13 September, which did not mention Mr. Brahim.

Ms. POLIC (Croatia), Acting Chairperson, then called for a 10-minute recess.

When the meeting resumed, the Acting Chairperson said that she had been informed that Mr. Boukhari would not be present and that Salem Bouseif Brahim would take his place and speak.

SALEM BOUSEIF BRAHIM, on behalf of the POLISARIO, recounted the history of the conflict in the Western Sahara, saying that Morocco had broken with the peace plan when it came up with new criteria for the right to vote in the referendum. It had transferred many thousands of settlers in an effort to fraudulently annex the country. A long time had passed and many resources had been committed by the international community in an effort to bring about a legitimate referendum. That was what should occur. Only actual residents of Western Sahara should be allowed to vote. The United Nations had solved the problems and the referendum could have been held at various points, in a way that was suited to the international community.

However, he said, Morocco had repeatedly obstructed the process and ignored the United Nations resolutions, which clearly warned that the right of appeal should not be used to completely redo the process. Morocco refused to cooperate with the United Nations, because it had determined that a fair referendum would lead to Saharawi independence. It, thus, favored pseudo- solutions that would lead to Moroccan sovereignty. However, pseudo-solutions would also impugn the credibility of the United Nations and return the situation to open armed conflict. That was an imminent possibility, since Morocco’s defiance of international law included serious levels of repression, as reported by international organizations. Those cited the forced disappearance of 1,500 persons and other mass violations of human rights and basic freedoms, and, in general, a repressive process that was consistently excessive.

Morocco, he said, was making clear efforts to have the United Nations bury the peace plan and void all recourse other than the use of force. It was unfortunate that Morocco had the support of a certain European country that was a permanent member of the Security Council. The United Nations must persuade Morocco to proceed in good faith. The referendum as already agreed upon was the only just way to put an end to the conflict. If the United Nations could not do that, it was merely protecting a colonial situation and it should withdraw. However, it was preferable that it stepped up its efforts to bring about the referendum. It should not allow itself to be intimidated and diverted. It had succeeded in similar situations in Namibia and East Timor, and there was no reason that it could not succeed in Western Sahara, as well.

RICHARD CAZENAVE, Groupe d’études parlementaire sur les droits de l’homme of the French National Assembly, said that he had been strongly affected by reports of the human rights situation in the Tindouf refugee camps. In the Western Sahara capital of La’ayoun, people had given him accounts of imprisonment without trial or attorneys and shown him marks of torture. One individual said he had been kept blindfolded for seven years. There were many missing people whose relatives did not know whether they were alive or dead.

The people in the Tindouf camps were hostages, he said. The daughter of one woman had been taken from her at birth in 1971, and she had not seen her again until 1995. Many women reported forced marriage and a lack of civil status for women. In such a situation, the United Nations and the international community must be concerned with the human rights situation in the field and the manner in which international humanitarian assistance was used.

Mr. BELAOURA (Algeria) asked whether the petitioner had visited any refugee camps, whether in Algeria or Mauritania, and how many times he had visited Morocco. Did his group concern itself solely with the human rights of

the Saharawi people in the refugee camps, or did it also consider the human rights of those under the occupation?

Mr. CAZENAVE said he went wherever he was invited or wherever he was alerted to serious human rights abuses, not only Western Sahara. He had strict criteria for accepting such invitations. Visiting Morocco in April 1999, he had met Saharawis who had recounted their experiences in the refugee camps. He was ready to go to Tindouf, if an invitation met his criteria.

GAOUTAH MOHAMED AHMED BABA, a tribal chief, said he would like justice and help for his population. Its wealth and honour had been taken away and they suffered much. The United Nations came and established tribes and the sub- tribes, categories that were not known by the POLISARIO. The POLISARIO said they would represent the population. His people were asked by them to take an oath on the Holy Koran in front of MINURSO. Then they were sent along with some observers who had lists of some people that they knew, but most of whom they did not know. He stressed the suffering of the Saharawi population, whose wealth was taken from them. The international humanitarian supplies were sold by the POLISARIO in other countries and only the dregs reached the population. He requested that observers be sent to see what was happening in the camps.

MOHAMED SALEM ALI OMAR BAHIA, a tribal chief, said he was abducted by the POLISARIO and put into prison for 15 years. He was presented in front of MINURSO in order to take an oath, but was told by the POLISARIO to exclude the majority of candidates from different tribes. He could not lie, however. The POLISARIO wanted to submerge the referendum in appeals. He requested observers to witness the memorials to people who had been shot and were tortured by the POLISARIO. He stressed that he said this freely. Many had been imprisoned by Algeria. Hundreds of persons had been imprisoned and tortured. He was also certain that there were only 35,000 people in the camps, the ones who had been born since 1975. There were not 200,000 people there. Others had been presented to the United Nations, but they were not legitimate. The aid for 200,000 persons, which had been demanded, would profit Algeria and the heads of the POLISARIO.

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