5 October 2006
General Assembly
GA/SPD/344

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Fourth Committee

5th Meeting (PM)


FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES DECOLONIZATION DEBATE, HEARING

 

PETITIONERS FROM WESTERN SAHARA, NEW CALEDONIA


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization issues this afternoon, hearing petitioners address the Questions of Western Sahara and New Caledonia.


While some petitioners applauded the United Nations for its actions in Western Sahara, many felt the Organization had failed to fulfil its promise of a referendum by which the Saharawi people would exercise their right to self-determination.


Several speakers expressed their disappointment that the United Nations had shown too much leniency with regard to violations of its resolutions and international law.  A representative of the Saharawi Children’s Programs said she was painfully aware of the broken promises that had continued to force the people of Western Sahara to suffer under inhumane conditions, waiting for their promised right to determine their own future.


Many speakers were in favour of a proposal for autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.  Another speaker, a deputy in the Parliament of the Canary Islands, said the proposal was very positive and did not mean the yielding of any political aspiration by any party.  It would establish an alternative mechanism in a democratic framework.


A number of speakers alleged that children were being “deported” to Cuba for “study”, where they were held incommunicado and indoctrinated.  A member of the Belgium Parliament said an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 children were in Cuba, and called into question the nature of European humanitarian assistance to the camps in the area of education.  Another speaker said that such deportations were used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) as a means of pressure to keep their parents in the camps.


However, Cuba’s representative rejected those allegations, saying her country had offered scholarships to students from Non-Self-Governing Territories, a fact that was reflected in the Secretary-General’s report on the issue.  There were now more than 500 university-level Saharawi students in Cuba.


Petitioning on the question of New Caledonia, a representative of the Comité Rheebu Nuu warned that, although New Caledonia was on the path towards decolonization, there was a risk of partitioning the Territory.  The political architecture allowed for power-sharing among the provinces.  The northern part of the country was inhabited mostly by the indigenous Kanak people, while the southern and richest part was populated by descendants of settlers.


Other petitioners included representatives of Swedish Western Sahara Committee; International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners; Action Internationale Femmes; Unity and Reconciliation Association; Freedom for All; Spanish Human Rights League; Spanish Institutions in Solidarity with the Western Sahara; Observer Mission in Western Sahara; Surrey Three Faiths Forum; Family Protection; Council of Rome; Sahraouie Human Rights Association (ASDH); Christian Democrat and People’s Parties International; European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center; and Parliamentary Group “Peace for the Sahrawi People”.


The representative of the United Kingdom spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


The Fourth Committee will meet again tomorrow, Friday, 6 October, at 3 p.m. to hear more petitioners, conclude its debate on decolonization issues and take action on draft resolutions on the matter.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization issues, hearing petitioners on the questions of Western Sahara and New Caledonia.


Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara


JANET LENZ, Director, Saharawi Children’s Programs, said that, in her eight years working in the Saharawi refugee camps, she had become painfully aware of promises broken.  A cruel game involving political powers and hidden agendas about stealing natural resources had been going on for 15 years, but the Saharawi people had remained a nation and retained their identity as a people.  They had played by the rules and respected their promise to the United Nations and Morocco.  However, Morocco continued to violate the Saharawi’s most basic human rights.


She said that, after 15 years, the promised referendum was still not a reality and, yet, the Saharawi voted every single day with their own lives.  Each “missing” Saharawi, each Saharawi prisoner of war, each peaceful demonstrator and each Saharawi living in a refugee camp had cast a vote for self-determination, with or without a referendum.  The tragedy of Western Sahara was an opportunity for the United Nations to show the world that it was possible to stop the game.  “Let the people of Western Sahara vote,” she said.


PRUDENCIO JAVIER MORILLAS GOMEZ, an academic, said the case of Western Sahara was unique.  The administration of one territory had been yielded to two former colonies, Morocco and Mauritania, without decolonization; a situation that had brought no benefit to anybody.   Morocco could not develop while annexing Western Sahara.  Comparing the situation with that of East Timor under Indonesia, he said the latter had lost capital and sacrificed its people in a situation that had created fertile ground for fundamentalism and terrorism.  The same thing should not happen to Morocco.


He said that, if one wished really to fight international terrorism, one should look at Western Sahara.  The decolonization process was at an impasse, not because of doubt over Moroccan sovereignty, but because an international political class believed Morocco would crumble if it abandoned Western Sahara.  However, that policy created a fertile ground for fundamentalism.  Many terrorists captured in Iraq were from Morocco, where drug cultivation flourished.  This could lead to narco-fundamentalism in the Strait of Gibraltar.


JAN STRÖMDAHL, Swedish Western Sahara Committee, noting that the Western Sahara situation had been a burning question for two generations, said the Security Council and General Assembly had established the Saharawi right to self-determination.  This confirmed that the occupation contravened international law.  Morocco had abandoned mutual agreements each time a solution had been in sight, and both Moroccans and Saharawis advocating independence had been brutally punished.  A 40-year-old Moroccan forced to spy for the police had eventually escaped and sought asylum in Sweden, where he had since been kidnapped twice and tortured.


Noting that the Baltic States had been recognized after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he said recognition should strengthen the Saharawi people as the first step towards United Nations membership.  The Swedish Western Sahara Committee called for a halt to Moroccan excesses against civilians; the release of Saharawi prisoners; the demolition of the “wall of shame” dividing the territory; a halt to extradition and the stealing of such Western Sahara’s natural resources as fish, oil and sand; an increase in human aid to refugee camps; support for POLISARIO; and Morocco’s departure from Western Sahara.  Hopefully, this would inspire other non-governmental organizations.


LORD NEWALL, International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners, said several unsuccessful attempts had been made to meet with Algerian authorities and the POLISARIO leadership.  There were questions to be answered by both parties, who were responsible for the flagrant violation of international law, especially the Geneva Convention.  While the release of Moroccan prisoners was to be applauded, others in the Tindouf camps had disappeared or been subjected to ill treatment.


Calling for an international inquiry that would highlight the situation of those who had disappeared and inform their families, he asked that the bodies of dead prisoners be repatriated.  Released prisoners were subjected to violations on Algerian territory, including hard labour, and they demanded compensation from the Algerian Government.  The international community should look into the plight of Saharawis living in the Tindouf camps, since it was intolerable to remain silent.  There was no viable solution to the Western Sahara dispute, except in the framework to a negotiated political settlement between Morocco and Algeria.


LATIFA AIT-BAALA, Action Internationale Femmes, said there had been 30 years of silence regarding the Moroccans held in the Tindouf camps, where the human rights situation was horrible.  POLISARIO’s leaders behaved like dictators and treated the population inhumanely.  Those responsible for the situation had grown rich by diverting aid and exploiting children.  A popular insurrection had been launched in May by those clamouring for better living conditions and freedom of expression.


She said she was surprised at the international community’s silence and lack of concern over the situation of the Tindouf population.  The camps were fertile ground for trafficking in any kind of illegal material.  The situation was dangerous for peace and security in the region.  Protection was needed against violence and genocide.  The Committee, the Security Council and the international community must exert pressure on Algeria to enter into direct negotiations with Morocco.


ISAAC CASTELLANO SANGINES, Deputy of Parliament of the Canary Islands, said the islands were not only feeling the effects of conflicts in Africa, but also the results of killings owing to the political instability in the region, as well as attempts to reach the islands, which had turned the ocean into a cemetery.  The artificial division of Africa by colonial Powers had left a complex reality, in which the parties involved defended their own interests, none of which had to do with the best interest of the Saharawi people.


He said the right to self-determination must be made compatible with the need to preserve territorial integrity.  Political normalization had been blocked because a solution that satisfied both parties could not be found.  It was essential that all parties feel involved in the solution to the conflict.  The proposal to give broad autonomy to Western Sahara within Morocco’s territorial sphere was very positive and did not mean the yielding of any political aspiration by any party.  It would establish an alternative mechanism in a democratic framework.  An agreement must be reached on the scope of autonomy and the situation of the refugees.


SANDRA CIOFFI, Unity and Reconciliation Association, said it was important to find a political solution, in order to guarantee the dignity of refugees in the Tindouf camps, who suffered from the scarcity of food assistance.  Non-governmental organizations and other international bodies must know the exact number of people requiring assistance and it was, therefore, important to evaluate their needs.  The Unity and Reconciliation Association called on international organizations to carry out a census in the camps, as there was no prospect for a short-term solution to the humanitarian problem.


Those offering assistance needed free access to the camps, she said, adding that serious reflection was necessary to ensure that humanitarian aid arrived according to real needs.  The international community must tackle the humanitarian situation by working with the countries concerned, while the Committee did everything possible to carry out negotiations aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the suffering of those in the Tindouf camps.  The persistence of the problem could contribute to terrorism, organized crime and clandestine migration, which were challenges not only for the Mediterranean region, but also for Italy, where people continued to arrive because their lives were in danger.


TANYA WARBURG, Freedom for All, said that for more than 30 years, the Algerian-backed POLISARIO had violated the most basic human rights by denying the Saharawi people detained in its camps the right to live as families, travel freely and express their views.  The population was subjected to restrictions and repression, living in constant fear of violence and arbitrary imprisonment.  The refugee camps were located in a military zone, even though the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had, in 1987, calledupon States harbouring refugees to maintain the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps.


She said the absence of basic human rights, the harsh living conditions and the repressive POLISARIO regime had provoked serious riots in the Tindouf camps during the summer.  The uprising had been brutally suppressed, with certain tribes being singled out for especially severe punishment.  Freedom for All urged the international community to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate the plight of refugees, determine the extent of human rights abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice.


FRANCISCO JOSE ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, President, Spanish Human Rights League, recalled that some days ago, a commission of European parliamentarians had been barred from the occupied Territories.  About 500 Saharawi people were on hunger strike and it was hoped that it would not result in any deaths, as this would harm Morocco.


He said a national hearing had been held in Spain about the massacre of Saharawi people in 1975 and, hopefully, this crime would not go unpunished.  An invasion could not be allowed to gain legitimacy.  It was regrettable that the Government of Spain had not been more forceful regarding the situation in Western Sahara, and the Committee was urged to take action.


TXOMIN AURREKOETXEA IZA, Coordinator, Spanish Institutions in Solidarity with the Western Sahara, said the Saharawi had complied with all international laws and continued to be committed to winning their freedom through a referendum on self-determination, relying solely and exclusively on dialogue and peaceful means.  A solution should be based on the 1975 ruling of the International Court of Justice, which decreed that there existed no ties of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and Morocco, and that the 1960 resolution 1541 should be applied.  The Saharawi nation was no longer willing to remain “on bended knees before the Moroccan invader” and was taking to the streets in an orderly and peaceful manner.  The invader’s response had been the ruthless repression of all members of Saharawi society, including through imprisonment, torture and disappearance.


He said the Saharawi remained hopeful that the United Nations would proceed unwaveringly in implementing its own resolutions and allow them to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.  Tens of thousands of men and women were languishing under the brutal repression of Morocco’s military occupation, while hundreds of thousands more lived in the refugee camps around Tindouf.  The international community had abandoned the civilian victims of that cruel and unjust situation.  The genocide of the Saharawi would already have taken place, were it not for the efforts of POLISARIO, the Governments of Algeria and others, and independent humanitarian organizations.  The Security Council was urged to enforce its own resolutions and the Government of Spain should perform its duty of overseeing the decolonization of what continued to be a Spanish colony.


MARIA INES MIRANDA NAVARRO, Observer Mission in the Western Sahara, denounced Morocco’s practices against the Saharawi people.  Regarding the trials of 14 Saharawi human rights defenders, the Observer Mission had lodged a complaint over Morocco’s lack of competence owing to the nature of the crimes alleged, the fact that the place where they had been committed was outside Moroccan jurisdiction, and the fact that those charged were from a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  Amnesty International was an observer.


Noting that uniformed police had barred Saharawi people from the trial chambers, she said that, in some cases, Spanish jurists had not been able to enter the halls, despite approval to do so from the highest authorities in Morocco.  Only the official Moroccan press had been allowed in.  The health of those on trial had worsened because some had been burned and tortured.  All those on trial had said they did not recognize the legitimacy of the Moroccan court and had expressed support for POLISARIO and the independence of Western Sahara.  The trials had contravened international and domestic Moroccan law.


SYDNEY S. ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, said the Committee had been made aware of a catastrophic food shortage in the camps, following a decision by the World Health Organization and the UNHCR to reduce food subsidies.  Relief organizations had concluded that the number of refugees in Tindouf was inflated and vast amounts of food aid had been re-routed by POLISARIO and used for other purposes.


He said the Saharawi had not benefited fully from benevolence, but were experiencing starvation.  To make matters worse, at a time when POLISARIO was calling for more aid, it was spending more than $800,000 on military exercises, more than UNHCR spent on refugees.  POLIASRIO’S actions, encouraged by Algeria, had led to Saharawi consternation.  Algeria had constantly rejected requests for a census that would evaluate the real needs in the Tindouf camps, and refused to allow aid supervised by international organizations.  Algeria must lift its blockade, enable international organizations and media to visit the camps, and allow the free movement of inmates, who should have the choice to return to their country.


JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, said last year had seen the end of the plight of Moroccan prisoners of war, but some questions remained concerning the 350 and 500 prisoners who had disappeared from the Tindouf camps.  The uncertainty of their fate had had a profound psychological impact on their families and friends.  The Government of Algeria, host to POLISARIO, had been asked about these disappearances on its territory, but that request had been ignored.  The final settlement of the conflict could only be negotiated between the Governments of Morocco and Algeria, and the Algerian authorities had the responsibility to investigate the disappearance of the Moroccan prisoners.


She said several appeals had been made to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and UNHCR, but the Algerian authorities had consistently ignored calls to address the issue.  This was in serious breach of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention.  Moreover, the bodies buried in 49 graves near the main prison at Tindouf must be recovered and repatriated to their countries of origin.  There was also an urgent need to look into the plight of the civilian population in the camps, where people lived in inhumane conditions and were subjected to human rights violations in addition to restrictions on free movement and expression.


SAMUELE PICOLLO, an Italian Councilman from Rome, said the Western Sahara question affected the countries of the Mediterranean area, as well as those of the Maghreb.  Territorial integrity had always been a pillar of Moroccan policy, and Morocco had recovered Western Sahara in 1975, following an International Court of Justice opinion and the signing of a tripartite agreement with Spain.  However, Algeria had become involved in the conflict with the establishment of POLISARIO, but the self-determination referendum advocated by that country would not resolve the question, regardless of the results.  Efforts by various international bodies had also not led to any tangible solution.


The repercussions of the problem were terrible, he said, noting that the Maghreb was living in a state of latent war.  While the project for a Great United Maghreb, the dream of generations in the region, had remained an illusion, Morocco had shown its seriousness in striving for a solution.  Despite the stubbornness of the Algerian leaders, Morocco continued to pursue efforts to establish a democratic State capable of facing the challenges of the times.  The Moroccan proposal to grant Western Sahara broader autonomy within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty deserved the international community’s attention, while Algeria and POLISARIO must enter into direct negotiations with Morocco for a mutually acceptable resolution.


NICOLA QUATRANO, an Italian judge and president of a penal college who had helped establish an international observatory that monitored court cases in the Maghreb, Western and Central Africa, recalled that, last April, in Laayoune, he had met people who had been in Moroccan prisons.  Morocco was repressing those calling for self-determination; a right that had been recognized through the establishment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Part of that Mission’s mandate was to help the self-determination process.


He said he considered imprisoned Saharawi as prisoners of conscience, some of whom had disappeared or been tortured.  Saharawi people taking part in peaceful demonstrations had been wounded by police.  International jurists had seen trials conducted outside the law and without due process.  MINURSO’s purpose was to supervise a referendum, a task that should also include overseeing respect for human rights in the Territory.  There should be respect for the human rights of demonstrators, as well as those arrested and detained.


MOHAMMED EL MOJAHDI, Sahraouie Human Rights Association, said he had spent several years in concentration camps and police centres, and had never dreamed he would have the chance to plead his case to the Fourth Committee.  In the period following Spanish colonization, the situation in Western Sahara had not changed in the direction that the Saharawi had hoped.  Regarding the source of the current dispute, Morocco had violated human rights, but its errors had gone beyond those with which the international community was familiar.


He said Morocco had attempted to follow developments in human rights as part of a global project, including its establishment of the Reconciliation Commission.  It was regrettable that the Western Sahara question was still on the Committee’s agenda, but it should follow the unique experiences to be found in the camps.  It was possible to bring the parties together in the Committee next year so they could outline their positions.  Reconciliation was possible, as was a consensus solution.  Efforts by Morocco’s young King had allowed for a qualitative leap that had made it possible to move along the path of democracy.


DENIS DUCARME, member of the Belgian Parliament, said that, over the past 30 years, many violations of human rights had been committed in the region; a legacy of colonization by Spain that had been followed by the “Green March” in 1975.  POLISARIO had opposed a Western Sahara under Moroccan authority and had gone to war.  That conflict had ended in 1991 with a ceasefire and the promise of a referendum, which the United Nations had failed to organize.  The release of Moroccan prisoners of war had revealed human rights violations like torture and forced labour.  In contrast, Morocco had established a Commission in 2005 to review violations perpetrated on its territory, a significant step in the right direction.


He said that, in the Tindouf camps, children under 10 years old were taught on the basis of the revolutionary ideas of POLISARIO.  Many were then sent to Cuba for “study”, and were unable to contact their families for 10 years.  It was estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 children were in Cuba.  The nature of the European humanitarian assistance in education should, therefore, be called into question.  It would be an illusion to believe that a political settlement could be brought about without giving sustained attention to the question of human rights.


REBECA HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) rejected allegations against her country, saying they were “nothing but a lie”.  Cuba attached special importance to education and considered it a moral duty to assist Non-Self-Governing Territories. It had, therefore, offered scholarships to students from Non-Self-Governing Territories, as reflected in the relevant report of the Secretary-General.  In accordance with numerous Assembly resolutions, there were now more than 500 Saharawi university-level students in Cuba.  Instead of spreading lies, the petitioner should urge States with greater economic means to follow Cuba’s example.


ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Christian Democrat and People’s Parties International, said the question of Western Sahara should have been resolved after the 1975 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which recognized the bonds of sovereignty between the Saharawi and the people of Morocco.  While self-determination was a sacred principle, it could not be used by any party as a pretext to attack a country’s territorial integrity.


Only now had people started to understand Algeria’s “scandalous” involvement in the matter, she said, noting that country’s treatment of the number of refugees on its territory as a “state secret”.  The refugees had been delivered into the hands of POLISARIO and Algerian intelligence agents.  The fact that children from the camps were being deported did not seem to interest the international community or non-governmental organizations.  According to testimony, hundreds of children had been torn from their families every year and subjected to indoctrination.  POLISARIO used deportation as a means of pressure to keep their parents in the camps, but POLISARIO could do nothing without Algerian consent.  Without Algeria, the question of Western Sahara would not have existed.


CLAUDE MONIQUET, European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre, said his organization had carried out a survey on allegations of human rights violations brought against POLISARIO.  Over the last 30 years, its leadership had been responsible for several waves of repression that had impacted the Saharawi refugees, supposedly under its protection.  POLISARIO had acted in an undemocratic manner, as demonstrated by extrajudicial arrests, repression and its ability to operate outside legal systems.  Those held had no right of defence, had not been told of the allegations against them and had been tortured to elicit confessions.


He said his organization had found conditions that went beyond comment, including ditches in a courtyard, described as “tombs”, that held people deprived of nutrition and appropriate medical care.  People regarded as dangerous were dealt with in the same manner.  That and other experiences had shown that, despite certain improvements, those conditions continued today.  POLISARIO did not offer the minimal conditions to make it a valid interlocutor.


JACINTA DEROECK, Parliamentary Group “Peace for the Saharawi People”, said that, since May 2005, violence had become a fact of life in the occupied Territories.  Citizens were repressed, and those held were tortured.  Western Sahara had been closed to non-governmental organizations and other international bodies.  Having been invited to visit the occupied Territories, Laayoune and the Black Prison, she had been allowed to stay in Laayoune for only four hours under strict guidance.


She said that, while Morocco gave the impression of seeking a solution, it did not support a referendum, but rather, autonomy under the Moroccan flag.  The United Nations should not allow the Western Sahara question to be stifled in silence.  The Territory was autonomous and should be decolonized.  The Saharawi should be able to express their will in a referendum.  Those in the camps were the legitimate inhabitants of Western Sahara, and Morocco should respect that.


Petitioners on Question of New Caledonia


RAFAEL MAPOU, Comité Rheebu Nuu, said New Caledonia was on the path towards decolonization, a process that should end in 2014, but questioned whether that process was being following in good faith by France, the administering Power.  The forthcoming seminar on decolonization could be held in New Caledonia and a special rapporteur should evaluate the situation of the indigenous people, the Kanak.


He said that the decolonization process was paradoxical, because a kind of recolonization was taking place at the same time.  The political architecture in New Caledonia allowed for power-sharing among the provinces.  The northern part of the Territory was inhabited mostly by the Kanak, while the southern, and richest, part was populated by descendants of settlers.  The administrative mechanism established for the provinces carried the risk of partition.  The environment was being threatened as New Caledonia was facing the problems of industrialization, with the multinationals “at our gates” and economically plundering the Territory.


Right of Reply


KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said her country enjoyed cordial relations with Spain.  Following negotiations between United Kingdom and Gibraltar, the parties had agreed on a new draft constitution for the Territory. The United Kingdom-Gibraltar relationship was non-colonial in nature, and the new Constitution would shortly be put to Gibraltarians in a referendum.  It was the United Kingdom’s view that the delisting criteria used by the Special Committee on Decolonization were outdated, and that the principle of territorial integrity was not applicable to Gibraltar.


She said that, as a result of the trilateral dialogue involving United Kingdom, Spain and Gibraltar, the first package of agreements had been announced on 18 September and covered issues including the Gibraltar airport, cross- border flows and telecommunications.  On the question of sovereignty, the United Kingdom would never enter into arrangements by which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes.  In light of that commitment, the Government of United Kingdom would not enter into sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar would not be content.


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