Press Release

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fourth Committee

4th Meeting (PM)



The Settlement Plan for Western Sahara must be finally implemented without any further delay, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told this afternoon, as it heard from representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.

The representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia

el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) said that Morocco’s continuing illegal occupation of Western Sahara and its obstruction of implementation of the Settlement Plan were a clear challenge to the principles of the United Nations Charter.  The so-called Framework Agreement would merely have formalized the colonial situation of the country, he said.  Its development, along with other attempts to break down the authority of the Settlement Plan, seemed to be part of a conspiracy within the United Nations against its own instruments and principles.  And the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) seemed to be captive to the will of Morocco. 

Silence on the situation, he said, would only serve to cement intransigence.  The Sahawari people had suffered far too long already.  The Security Council had, in July, reaffirmed that the Settlement Plan was the only valid process for Western Sahara, and that the principle of self-determination was the only basis for a solution to the question.

A number of individuals and representatives of legal, human rights and humanitarian organizations supported an end to the stalemate in Western Sahara from their own perspectives.  The representative of Oxfam Solidarity, for example, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions among Saharawi refugees, said that some donors were growing tired of the situation and begging off.  But, if support was needed for such a long time, it was because the international community was not sufficiently involved in ensuring respect for international law and the right to self-determination.  The refugees had sacrificed whole generations, laying down their lives to enjoy their rights.

On the issue of small island Non-Self-Governing Territories, the representative for External Affairs of the Government of the United States Virgin Islands said that even if most of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were small, that did not mean that their right to self-determination was less

important than those that were considered before.  A comprehensive study on the

implications of the political options for all of the remaining Territories should be performed. 

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda questioned the representative for External Affairs of the Government of the United States Virgin Islands over its application for observer status in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Also speaking this morning were representatives of the European Parliament Intergroups “Peace for the Saharawi People”, the Human Rights League of Spain, the Spanish Federation of Institutions in Solidarity with the Saharoui People, the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, the Defense Forum Foundation, the Renaissance Foundation, the United States/Western Sahara Foundation Church Liaison Office and the American Association of Jurists.

Juan Soroeta Liceras, Professor of International Public Law of the Universidad del País Vasco of Spain; Christina Navarro Poblet, a lawyer from Spain; Claudina Morales Rodriguez, a member of Spain’s Parliament; Frank Ruddy, a retired United States Ambassador; Karen Finkler, on behalf of Joseph Pitts, member of the United States Congress, also made statements.

The Fourth Committee will meet again Thursday, 3 October, at 3 p.m. to continue its work.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to hear representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners.  [For background, see press release GA/SPD/234 of 30 September.]


CARLYLE CORBIN, Representative for External Affairs of the Government of the United States Virgin Islands, said that even if most of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were small, that did not mean that their right to self-determination was less important than those that were considered before.  He associated himself with the remarks of the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), concerning small Territories.

In that vein, he said a comprehensive study on the implications of the political options for all of the remaining territories should be performed.  Regional seminars provided another important way of gaining first-hand information on all the aspects of political development in the small island Territories.  The recommendations of those seminars were critical to a holistic understanding of political dependency, as well as potential remedies for it.

Finally, he said that he sought to join colleagues from the British Virgin Islands and Tokelau in associate membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Similarly, he sought observer status in CARICOM, as participation in regional institutions was important to the development process of small island territories.

PATRICK LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) said he was shocked at the pursuit of such observer status, and asked why it was being sought.

Mr. CORBIN replied that the request had been under discussion since last April.  In addition, similar status had been afforded in a number of other bodies by a number of other parties.

MIGUEL MAYOI I RAYNAL, Member of the European Parliament Intergroup "Peace for the Saharawi People", said that since 1963 Western Sahara had been on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  In 1973, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) was created to fight for the independence of the colony.  When Spain yielded its rights to Morocco and Mauritania, a new era of desert warfare ensued.  Both the General Assembly and the International Criminal Court had favoured self-determination for the Saharawi people.

In 1990, he continued, the belligerents had accepted the Secretary-General's peace plan, which provided for a ceasefire and the holding of a referendum.  Morocco and the POLISARIO Front had signed the Houston Agreements under the aegis of the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, James Baker III.  The United Nations Mission to the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was responsible for drawing up a list of electors, a task it completed.  However, some 130,000 appeals had been made to the electoral list, a delaying tactic devoid of legal or technical basis.

Regarding the Framework Agreement, he said it gave up the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.  The United Nations risked betraying its principles in applying that formula for autonomy.  Security Council resolution 1429 (2002) had reiterated that the solution to the question of Western Sahara must involve the right to self-determination by the Saharawi people.  The United Nations must exert its full authority to ensure that the principles of the United Nations Charter prevailed.  It was a question of political will.  He hoped that before 2010, the "Democratic Arab Saharawi Republic" would be a full-fledged Member of the United Nations.

FRANCISCO JOSÉ ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, Spanish League for Human Rights, said the Saharan people sheltered in the Tindouf camps were running out of food and more than 155,000 of them depended on help given by the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP).  If the refugees did not get a new food aid by November this year, they would only be able to cover 11 per cent of their daily nutrition needs, resulting in harsh and dramatic consequences, in particular for children under

5 years, pregnant women and nursing mothers.  He added that, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 35 per cent of Saharan children suffered from chronic undernourishment and 13 per cent were acutely undernourished.  He urged Western governments, especially Spain, to contribute to the efforts of the WFP and the UNHCR to help the Saharan refugees in Tindouf.

The military attitude of Morocco had long been considered an attempt at genocide against the Saharan people, he said.  He cited a long list of what he called "unpunished infringements of human rights in Western Sahara", which included torture, extrajudicial executions, unfair trials, unlawful detentions, bombardments with napalm and white phosphorous, state of siege, blockade of information and excessive police and military presence, with over 250,000 Moroccan agents and attempts to alter the fundamental nature of the demographic composition of the territory.

He added that the only worthy and legal solution to the conflict was a clear, self-governing referendum backed by the United Nations that enabled the Saharan people to decide freely about their future and their destiny.  The people concerned, who were aware of their historical, moral and political rights, would not accept another solution.  Only a powerful Western policy would stop Morocco’s expanding ambitions.

He also called on the Government of Spain to grant automatic double nationalities to the Saharan people.  He recalled that double nationalities had been given in 1975, but that the war had prevented the people of Western Sahara from taking advantage of it.  In view of the historical debts of Spain to the Saharan people, the automatic concession of double nationalities would compensate for the laziness that had characterized the attitude of the different Spanish governments.  Such a concession would also mean a step forward in the establishment of justice in the political conflict of Western Sahara.

JUAN SOROETA LICERAS, Professor of International Public Law of the Universidad del País Vasco of Spain, said the quest for balance in the Secretary-General’s reports on Western Sahara was completely misguided.  One of the parties, Morocco, was a military occupier that wanted to exploit the resources of a Territory, and the other was the people of that Territory, who had a right to self-determination.  There could not be balance in the outcome in such a case.

He said the census by MINURSO had been fair.  The only problem was Morocco’s strategy to protract the resolution of the conflict and to avoid the self-determination referendum.  He said that options other than the referendum were not tenable.  It was alarming, for example, that partition of a Territory by neighbouring States could be proposed, against international law. 

Withdrawing from Western Sahara without the required referendum would be a major failure for the United Nations.  The only reason it had not been held was the lack of will by Morocco.  He appealed to the Committee to increase its efforts to make sure the referendum was held soon, allowing the Saharawi people -– and only the Saharawi people -– to determine their own future.

CRISTINA NAVARRO POBLET was member of a mission of legal observers who travelled to El Aaiun this year, to witness the criminal trial of 16 Saharawi prisoners accused of demonstrating in favour of the independence of Western Sahara.  She said the oral proceedings lasted more than 17 hours and were held under the pressure of significant police and military surveillance, adding that the legal building was surrounded by several units of police, intervention and army forces.

Based on an analysis of Moroccan legal and police power, the mission observed many formal defects during the investigation and legal proceedings, she said.  Evidence was obtained by illegal arrests, undue prolongation of detention in police quarters, torture and other forms of physical and psychological duress.  She added that there were no guarantees of due process of law and proper administration of justice.  Faced with the complete lack of evidence, the court based its judgement on the acceptance of suspicions that had not been demonstrated during the criminal proceedings and which were seriously questioned by the defence, since they had been obtained illegally.

She said that, although none of the witnesses presented by the prosecution could recognize the Saharawi defendants, the court still condemned nine of them to two years of imprisonment and five to six months and fine.  She added that her mission observed many defects in the proceedings that ought to have led to annulment under Moroccan law, which was applicable in the occupied territory.  Saharawi minors were prosecuted and convicted, contravening articles 138, 139, 140 and 555 of the Moroccan penal code.  The defendants had been arrested in El Aaiun days or even months after the events they had been accused of occurred in the city of Smara, and there were no signatures in the police records of the arrest, in violation of the relevant articles of the law.  Further, family members of the Saharawis were not notified of the arrests and, pursuant to article 91 of the penal code, where family members were not informed, such arrests constituted kidnapping.

Also, she said, the court prohibited references to the identity of persons who tortured the Saharawis, thus preventing subsequent investigation and prosecution of those people for torture.  She called on the United Nations to implement the peace process, enforce required legal regulations, open the territory to international observers and establish conditions to enable MINURSO efficiently implement measures for the safety and protection of the Saharawi people.

Antonio Lopez Ortiz, Secretary of the Spanish Federation of Institutions in Solidarity with the Saharoui People, reviewed the history of Western Sahara and “the illegal occupation” by Moroccan and Mauritanian armies in 1975 that kept the Saharawi people from exercising their right to self-determination, a right that had been endorsed by the International Court of Justice that same year.    Incomprehensibly, a referendum on self-determination had still not been held.  The armed conflict that followed between the POLISARIO Front and Morocco that lasted from 1975 to 1990 failed to resolve the problem.  Then, the United Nations was charged in 1991 with organizing a referendum, which was supposed to take place in 1992.  Instead, 10 years later the problem not only persisted, but threatened to break out into armed confrontation and a truly explosive situation in the region.

He said that thanks to the patient work of the United Nations Mission, one of the key problems in connection with the holding of a referendum on self-determination had now been overcome, namely a census of voters prepared by the Identification Commission.  The census that estimated around 86,000 voters had been published in January 2000.  But Morocco, even with a new king on the throne, was still politically unwilling to respect United Nations agreements and the holding of a referendum on self-determination with all guarantees and integrity.  The Moroccan Government had placed continuous obstacles, provocations and appeals, all aimed at delaying the referendum.  Apparently, they would only accept a referendum that guaranteed Moroccan control of the Sahara.  “Where is the respect for the United Nations’ agreements?” he asked.  Why was the continued mockery of international law tolerated?

Concerned that the Moroccan Government continued to enforce brutal oppression of the people of Western Sahara, he observed that there was no free access to the occupied areas since the Moroccan Government exercised a veto right on the issue.  Western Sahara was an impenetrable wall, a violation of the democratic values of the free world.  How long would that be tolerated?  Why was Morocco not forced to comply with agreements adopted at the negotiating table?  The United Nations was now at a crossroads regarding the resolution of Western Sahara’s self-determination.  It could either take the necessary political and economic steps to convince the Moroccan Government to comply with the peace plan or it should recognize its failure in this process and withdraw with the consequent loss of trust and credibility.

FELIPE BRIONES, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said the framework outlined by the Security Council maintaining the validity of the Settlement Plan and safeguarding the free determination of the people of Western Sahara has placed hope in direct political negotiation between the parties involved in the question of self-determination.  Political negotiation, he said, will preserve the independence option and will not question the census of voters.

He said that, legally, Morocco had no sovereignty over Western Sahara and that it was only a military occupation since 1975, in violation of the Geneva Convention, which set out the principles on the use of armed forces.  Besides, he noted that Spain, rather than Morocco, remained the administrative Power over the occupied area.  Western Sahara thus appeared currently as an unusual case in the world, because Morocco, the country that administered it, had no right whatsoever to justify its presence in the territory.  Also, another county, Spain, which had the administrative Power, continued to neglect its duties under the obligation of international legality.

Western Sahara, he said, being a territory under military occupation, was therefore subject to the parameters of international human rights and the application of article 47 and subsequent articles of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Morocco had subscribed since 1957.  The fact of the status of Western Sahara as a territory under military occupation was evidenced by the ceasefire and the deployment of MINURSO forces.

He said although Morocco, the occupying Power could sign exploration contracts with foreign companies exclusively in Western Sahara, it remained clear that any activity of exploration and exploitation was illegal and in violation of the principles of international human rights applicable to activities concerning the mineral resources in the non-autonomous territories.  It was the responsibility of the United Nations and the international community to prevent the continuing utilization of the plundering of the resources of Western Sahara.  Such plunder was a fundamental strategy in the perpetuation of the conflict.

CLAUDINA MORALES RODRIGUEZ, Member of the Parliament of Spain, speaking on behalf of the Parliamentarian Intergroups, said Western Sahara remained a historic responsibility of Spain, first as its colonial Power until 1975 and for the shameful way it handed over the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in the Madrid Tripartite Accord.  She said that historic responsibility had become more deeply rooted in the Spanish society, adding that there were more than 100 non-governmental organizations in support of self-determination for the Saharawi people.

She said that the level of local councils, activities in connection with the Saharawi question were organized around three main areas:  humanitarian aid and demonstration of solidarity with the refugees in Tindouf; the twinning of towns with the “Dairas” in the Sahara (more than 500 municipalities in Spain were currently twinned with the Sahara); and the adoption in plenary sessions of resolutions supporting the United Nations peace plan and referendum.  A Solidarity Committee had also been created within the Spanish Federation of Provinces and Municipalities, the body charged with coordinating all of the town councils in Spain.  That Committee had drawn up a draft motion stressing the defence of the peace plan approved by the United Nations, and denunciation of any attempt by Morocco to boycott the peace plan and implement the “third way of autonomy”, which presupposed the annexation of the territory into Morocco.

At the national level, she said, there had been more than 10 initiatives regarding Western Sahara within two years.  Some of the most significant initiatives reflecting the position of the Parliament of Spain, were a 29 March Senate resolution that encouraged the search for peace and respect for United Nations resolutions, a lower house proposal on 19 February 2002, in support of referendum and the 7 March 2002 statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs affirming to the Congress of Deputies the commitment of Spain to the United Nations efforts to seek a solution and to the peace plan.

BOUKHARI AHMED, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), said that Morocco’s continuing illegal occupation of Western Sahara and its obstruction to implementation of the Settlement Plan were a clear challenge to principles of the United Nations Charter.  The POLISARIO Front, however, still hoped that the implementation of that plan, along with the required United Nations-sponsored referendum would proceed.

He said that the so-called Framework Agreement would have formalized the colonial situation of the country.  Its development, along with other attempts to break down the authority of the Settlement Plan, seemed to be part of a conspiracy within United Nations against its own instruments and principles.  In the meantime, Morocco continued to obscure the fates of dozens of Saharawi prisoners of war who had disappeared and had been held in medieval conditions.  The MINURSO was looking the other way in that matter, under the curious pretext that human rights was not under its mandate, while the referendum, certainly under its mandate, languished.  That Mission seemed to be captive to the will of Morocco.

Silence on the situation, he said, would only serve to cement intransigence.  The Saharawi people had suffered for too long already.  Recently, after a year of consideration, the legal decision had finally come down which reaffirmed that the Settlement Plan was the only valid process for Western Sahara, and that the principle of self-determination was the only basis for a solution to the question.  The Saharawi people had greeted East Timor’s accession to independence with joy, as it brought that tragic situation to an end.  He called for the international community to now bring to an end the similar tragedy of injustice in Western Sahara.  Its people would never give up its pursuit of sovereignty over its national territory, along with a just and lasting peace.

HILT TEUWEN, Oxfam Solidarity, addressing the humanitarian conditions of the Saharawi refugees said that, after 2000, food aid had been channelled to some 80,000 of the most vulnerable refugees.  International donors had agreed to work with about 155,430 refugees.  On 12 August, some 61 per cent of food goods had been delivered.  Only salt had been delivered on time.  Some 35 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffered from chronic malnutrition.  Adolescent boys and girls were two years behind in growth and schooling.  The UNHCR had also not spent all of its budget.  While the UNHCR was responsible for replacing tents, scarcely half the Saharawi refugee families had tents.

Some donors, including bilateral ones, were growing tired and begging off, saying that support for the Saharawi people had gone on too long, she said.  While that was indeed the case, a different response was needed.  If support had continued for so long, it was because the international community was not sufficiently involved in ensuring respect for international law and the right to self-determination.  Pending a political solution, all Saharawi refugees were entitled to protection and adequate assistance.  She appealed to the Committee to find a just and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara.  The refugees had sacrificed whole generations, laying down their rights to enjoy their rights.

SUZANNE SCHOLTE, Defense Forum Foundation, said that while the United Nations had successfully kept the peace between Morocco and the Saharawi forces for some 27 years, it had failed to follow through on its promise for a referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people.  In February 2000, after an exhaustive voter identification process, the United Nations had published a list of 86,381 eligible voters.  Those voters had proven their eligibility to the Identification Commission.  Fearing that it would lose a free, fair and transparent vote, Morocco purposefully overwhelmed the process by submitting some 130,000 challenges to the Identification Commission.  Rather than examining the voters under the plan agreed upon by both parties, the United Nations had simply stopped the process.

United Nations officials had acknowledged that had the voter challenges been examined, the referendum could already have occurred, she said.  Two years had been wasted at great expense to the United Nations and at great sacrifice to the Saharawi refugees, who continued to live in harsh desert conditions waiting for the United Nations to fulfil its promise and its mission.  To further complicate the situation, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy began trumpeting four options, rather than the one that all had viewed as the legitimate way to resolve the conflict -- the referendum.  It was critical for the United Nations to follow through on the promised referendum as soon as possible.  It was long overdue.

NINA MAY, Chairman of the Renaissance Foundation, said Morocco had delayed the referendum year after year in order to manipulate its outcome.  It had tried to certify people who had not lived in Western Sahara for years, or people who had only passed through.  If Western Sahara had always been a part of Morocco, why had Morocco not prevented Spain from invading Western Sahara to annex it as a colony? she asked.  Why, if they were the same country, was Morocco never considered a colony of Spain?  The boundaries were clearly drawn and could be seen on a number of maps around the world.  Some even referred to the current Western Sahara as Spanish Sahara.  The United Nations had been manipulated and controlled by a country that never had intentions of abiding by the findings of a referendum or acknowledging the certified voters as being eligible to determine their own destiny.

The process had accommodated Morocco's patience by creating what was known as the Draft Framework Agreement, she said.  The problem was that the Draft Framework Agreement contradicted United Nations resolutions on the issue and the verdict of the International Court of Justice.  It appeared that the Secretary-General had given the participants in the conflict four options, without seeking the concurrence of both parties.  Morocco had rejected the options of the implementation of the Settlement Plan, the referendum process and the option of partitioning the territory.  They preferred the Draft Framework Agreement, which guaranteed their dominance over the sovereign nation of Western Sahara.

DAN STANLEY, of the United States Western Sahara Foundation Church Liaison Office, said that 37 years ago Western Sahara was placed on the list of colonized countries and peoples which had a right to freedom.  Now, the promises of the last 40 years seemed as shifting as the desert sands.  Hope had been taken, dignity lost and hearts crushed, and Western Sahara was not yet a free nation.

FRANK RUDDY, former United States Ambassador, said the referendum for Western Sahara had been debated to the point that there was nothing left to say.  In 1994, he had helped begin the registration of voters for the referendum.  He saw first-hand how the Moroccans had manipulated the voter registration, excluded thousands of Saharawis and terrorized the local population of Western Sahara.  When the Moroccans saw the camaraderie of Saharawis from the camps in Algeria and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, they had realized that a referendum would go against them.  They then began a campaign of delay to prevent the holding of a referendum.

The identification began on 28 August 1994 and, as of that date, MINURSO had ceased being a United Nations-run operation and had become the instrument of Moroccan domination of the registration process, he said.  Morocco had tapped United Nations telephone lines, tampered with MINURSO mail and searched the rooms of MINURSO personnel without a peep from the Secretary-General's representative at the time. 

The Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, James Baker III, had been the great white hope to bring the referendum back on track, he said.  After years of shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Baker's solution had been a complete flop.  Mr. Baker had recommended that a five-year period of autonomy would be followed by a referendum.  If the United Nations had not been able to hold a referendum after 11 years, it

would be "quixotic" to think that would change in five years.  The United Nations had talked about self-determination and condemned colonialism "ad nauseam".  No independent journal or paper had supported Morocco.  If a clique of autocrats in a corner of North Africa could halt the United Nations from holding a referendum in a place few people had ever heard of, it said all one needed to know about the moral and legal authority of the United Nations.

KARIN FINKLER, speaking on behalf of United States Congressman Joseph R. Pitts, said that Morocco had ignored the 1975 International Court of Justice ruling on Western Sahara, and obstructed the implementation of subsequent agreements.  Meanwhile, the Saharawi people struggled to survive in refugee camps in the harsh desert.  In addition, exploitation of the resources of the territory without the consent of its people was in violation of international law.

The situation, she said, closely paralleled that of East Timor and she asked why the international community had not responded in the same way, ensuring that the referendum of self-determination was held.  She requested the Committee to remind Morocco of its commitments to the United Nations Settlement Plan and the Houston Accords, and the need for the referendum to take place without further delay.  The appeals process could be finished in a relatively short period of time, if the United Nations strictly adhered to the protocols for the appeals procedure, which had been agreed upon by both parties in the conflict.

GILMA CAMARGO, on behalf of the American Association of Jurists, said she supported the right of the Sahawari people to self-determination.  She called for the holding, without further delay, of the referendum for that purpose.  The development of alternate proposals for the resolution of the conflict must, she said, cease.  A number of Nobel Laureates have called on the Secretary-General for the Settlement Plan to go forward, lest the credibility of the United Nations be lost and thousands of additional lives be lost through continued conflict. 

She said that the innumerable delays in the referendum process had been mere obstructions on the part of Morocco.  She mentioned, in particular, its submission of thousands of additional names for the census.  In addition, she said that the exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara by Morocco was in violation of the United Nations Charter.  She called on the Committee to note the precarious situation of the Tindouf refugees, which would only be alleviated by a just and lasting peace.  Spain, as the former colonial Power, must also take responsibility for that occurrence.

* *** *