FOURTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS QUESTIONS OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA; TOLD SELF-DETERMINATION ONLY ALTERNATIVE IN DECOLONIZATION PROCESS

10 October 2001
GA/SPD/213

FOURTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS QUESTIONS OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA; TOLD SELF-DETERMINATION ONLY ALTERNATIVE IN DECOLONIZATION PROCESS

10/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/213

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

5th Meeting (AM)

FOURTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS QUESTIONS OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA;

TOLD SELF-DETERMINATION ONLY ALTERNATIVE IN DECOLONIZATION PROCESS

In the process of decolonization, there was no alternative to the self-determination of the colonial peoples concerned, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning, as it heard representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners on the questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara.

The Chief Minister said that the real issue for the Committee was whether it believed that the mere existence of a territorial sovereignty dispute was sufficient to override the right to that self-determination.  Contrary to what Spain said, there did not exist, in international law or United Nations doctrine, any principle of territorial integrity that could be applied to decolonization.  For that reason the annual consensus resolution on Gibraltar was fundamentally flawed, since it called for bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom (the administering Power) and Spain (the territorial claimant).  Where did the people of Gibraltar and their right to self-determination fit into that formula?

The Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar said that, although there were differences within the Territorial Government of Gibraltar, there was unity when it came to the question of self-determination.  Gibraltar belonged to its people, and neither Spain nor Britain could give it away.  The Brussels negotiating process contradicted that view, and although the United Kingdom was aware of that, it had agreed with Spain to relaunch the Brussels process and resolve all outstanding differences.  Last week’s mass demonstration proclaimed, however, a resounding “No” to British pressure, “No to Spain” and “No” to the Brussels process

On the question of Western Sahara, the representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) said that the United Nations Settlement Plan, along with its referendum, was the only route to self-determination for the people of that Territory.  Morocco had concluded that the referendum would lead to the independence of Western Sahara, and so it decided to halt implementation of the Plan by presenting appeals to the results of the voter identification process.  Morocco was amenable only to a political solution that would advance its sovereignty over Western Sahara.  That was the purpose of the so-called "third way" or “framework agreement” -- to legitimize a process that was contrary to the right of self-determination.

The worst recent threat to the Settlement Plan came from the framework agreement presented by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, said a representative of a subgroup of the European Parliament called Peace for the Sahawari People.  That agreement represented a solution void of all international legality.  Through it, Western Sahara would be integrated into Morocco under the pretext of receiving greater autonomy.  Such an abandonment of the existing peace plan trampled the United Nations Charter.

Also speaking this morning were representatives of the United Nations Association of Gibraltar, the Secretary of the State Federation of Institutions in Solidarity with the Saharawi People, the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, the Human Rights League of Spain, as well as a Deputy to the Parliament of the Canary Islands and a Professor of International Law of Spain.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday, 12 October.

Background

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/211 of 8 October 2001.]

Statements

P. R. CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that he and his predecessor had appeared before the Committee annually since 1992.  They had deployed arguments and made many pleas and requests -- none of which had even received a response or commentary.  None had even been acted on by either the Fourth Committee or the Special Committee on the situation with repairs to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Special Committee on decolonization).

Instead, he added, the Fourth Committee limited itself to adopting the same annual, tired and self-evidently ineffective consensus resolution, which appeared to ignore everything stated to it on behalf of the people of Gibraltar.  The real issue for the Committee was whether it believed that the mere existence of a territorial sovereignty dispute was sufficient to displace and override the right to self-determination of a colonial people.

In the process of decolonization, he said, there was no alternative to self-determination.  Contrary to what Spain said, there did not exist, in international law or United Nations doctrine, any principle of territorial integrity that could be applied to a decolonization situation.  The annual consensus resolution on Gibraltar was fundamentally flawed because it called for bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom (the administering Power) and Spain (the territorial claimant) to resolve their differences over Gibraltar.  Where did the people of Gibraltar, their wishes and rights to self-determination fit into that formula?  The language of the resolution was one of territorial disputes and not one of decolonization and self-determination, thereby ignoring the inalienable right of the people of Gibraltar.

In July, the United Kingdom and Spain jointly announced that they were giving "a fresh impetus" to discussions between them under the Brussels Agreement to resolve all the differences between them, he said.  The people and Government of Gibraltar did not turn their backs on dialogue with Spain.  However, it had to be a dialogue in which Gibraltar could reasonably be expected to participate with safety and respect for its own position.  It could not be a bilateral dialogue between the United Kingdom and Spain, in which Gibraltar's presence and participation was relegated to some secondary or supporting role.

He asked that the Committee amend the annual consensus resolution so that it recognized the right of the people of Gibraltar to decolonization in accordance with the principle of self-determination and their right to a separate voice of their own in any dialogue about Gibraltar.  Should there be any doubt in the Committee's mind about the right of the people of Gibraltar to self-determination, that question should be referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion.  He also requested that the Special Committee on decolonization visit Gibraltar to establish the true facts and circumstances about the territory and its people.

J.J. BOSSANO, Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, said that if Gibraltar were to be decolonized before 2010, the Brussels negotiating process could not be seen as the only means.  The Special Committee on decolonization must realize that Gibraltar was a colony covered by Chapter 11 of the Charter; otherwise it would not be on the agenda.  Although there were differences within the Government of Gibraltar, there was unity when it came to the question of self-determination.  There was unity around the belief that Gibraltar belonged to its people, and neither Spain nor Britain could give it away.  The Brussels negotiating process contradicted that view, and although the United Kingdom was aware of that, it had agreed with Spain to relaunch Brussels and resolve all outstanding differences rapidly.

The Special Committee, he said, no doubt welcomed the embrace of the Brussels process, as it had supported it in the past, having been told that self-determination was not applicable in the question and that it had to be resolved by reference to the territorial integrity of Spain.  The United Kingdom, on the other hand, drew no distinction between Gibraltar and other British colonies, saying in 1973 that it was up to the people to decide what they considered to be their best interest.  But, it abandoned that approach when it launched the Brussels process, betraying the inalienable rights of the people of Gibraltar.  Since 1974, in fact, the United Kingdom had neither stood up to refute Spanish assertions, nor accepted the people’s rejection of the Brussels relaunch.  The consensus of the people of Gibraltar was that the question should concern the decolonization and self-determination of its people, and their sovereignty over their own territory.  He condemned the United Kingdom for trying to exert pressure on those people to vote against their interests. 

Last week’s mass demonstration proclaimed, he said, a resounding “No” to that pressure, “No to Spain” and “No” to the Brussels relaunch.  There was no prospect of a proposed resolution within the prescribed 15 months.   He did not favor retaining the status quo, however, but wanted agreement on a new constitution with the United Kingdom, which would decolonize Gibraltar and remove it from the agenda of the Special Committee.  The United Nations should be involved in that process, so that the new status would meet its criteria.   Gibraltar is, for the vast majority of its people, their homeland and they would not give up even one millimeter of it, either to oil the European Union’s bureaucracy, to make life easier for the United Kingdom, to repair Spanish pride, to allow an easy success for the Special Committee, or even to obtain economic benefits for themselves.  The Special Committee should demand the same treatment for the people of Gibraltar that were demanded in any struggle for freedom from colonial rule.

BRYAN ZAMMIT, Chairman of the United Nations Association of Gibraltar, said that the people of Gibraltar, through no fault of their own, had become the pawns in what was a very intricate chess game between two high profile players.  Unfortunately, in a game of chess there could only ever be two players at the table.  The scenario that the people of Gibraltar found themselves in was one of constant pressure, humiliation, rejection and of serious concern.

Just recently, he said, the United Kingdom’s Government had been advocating that Gibraltar should not be left out of the "European single sky agreement".  Yet, under the bombardment of internal diplomatic and political pressure from Spain and other European countries that supported Spain, the British Government had given in and the deal that was going to be passed throughout Europe excluded Gibraltar.  That was just the latest of what had become an endless string of pressure that the people of Gibraltar received on a permanent basis.  One example was that Gibraltar could not have an international airport unless Spain had joint control.  As a result, the people of Gibraltar had rejected an airport agreement, for obvious reasons.

He said that there were many forms of exterminating a race of people.  The most politically effective manner was obviously the manner in which it was happening to the people of Gibraltar.  While Gibraltar was a true example of how people should live in peace, its people were being totally victimized, persecuted and ignored.  It was the obligation of the United Nations to protect the citizens of Gibraltar from all that had happened and was happening to them as a people.  If the United Nations continued to ignore their plea, like it had done over the last 37 years, then it was breaking its most fundamental principle.  The United Kingdom and Spain, he added, had a responsibility as full members of the Organization and of the European Union to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and the United Nations had an obligation to enforce and endorse those wishes, at any cost.

ANTONIO LOPEZ ORTIZ, Secretary of the Spanish Federation of Institutions in Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said that his federation represented more than 500 organizations who engaged in humanitarian cooperation with the Saharawi people, and who supported the United Nations peace plan as a suitable framework for holding a referendum on the self-determination of those people and bringing the long conflict to an end.  All General Assembly resolutions since 1960 had reaffirmed the need to decolonize Western Sahara -– the last colony in Africa -- on that basis.  The International Court of Justice endorsed the rights of the Sahawari people to self-determination and independence in 1975.  They were prevented from exercising that right in that same year, when the former colonial power, Spain, allowed the illegal occupation of the Territory by the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies.  The resulting armed conflict between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) and Morocco cost widespread death and suffering.

In order to end that conflict, the Security Council resolutions 658 (1990) and 690 (1991) scheduled, with the agreement of Morocco, a referendum to be organized under the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  In the nine years since then the referendum has not been held and the suffering continued, due to obstacles continuously placed by the Moroccans.  Thanks to the work of James Baker III, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, along with MINURSO, the key problem of the referendum, the census of voters, had been overcome.  The provisional list of approximately 86,000 was published in January 2000.  But the deadlock continues, despite recent consultations and meetings, and despite the succession in the Moroccan Government.  That country was still unwilling to respect United Nations agreements and international law, presenting such obstacles as the 130,000 appeals to the provisional list of voters.

Morocco, he said, would only accept a referendum that guaranteed it control of the Sahara, with no respect for the United Nations agreements.  He asked why such mockery of international law was tolerated and how long the brutal repression conducted by Morocco in the occupied areas would be permitted, which included lack of freedom, arbitrary arrest, torture and fear similar to that which occurred in East Timor.  The only solution was a free and fair referendum on the self-determination of the Sahawari people, with democratic guarantees and supervision.  That was the objective contained in the Settlement Plan and the Houston agreements.  Any other approach was incorrect, and tolerance for the intransigence of Morocco must end.  In addition, the current Government of Spain must play a much more active role in resolving the conflict.  What was needed was respect for the small, heroic Sahawari people, whose only desire was to live peacefully and freely in their own land, deciding their own future.  That desire was fulfilled in Namibia and East Timor; there was no reason for it not to be possible in Western Sahara.

FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said that in his recent reports, the Secretary-General had referred to the Moroccan Government as the administrative Power of Western Sahara.  At the same time, the status of colonial administrator still belonged to Spain, because its obligations as colonial power continued so long as the exercise of self-determination was pending. Morocco's position was that of occupying Power.  In no case did occupation imply a transfer of sovereignty.  Morocco could not waive its responsibility to carry out its obligations under international law.

Under those rules, he said, Western Sahara was a territory with its own legal status. It was a Non-Self Governing Territory according to Article 73 of the United Nations Charter.  Recent reports by the Secretary-General also spoke of the attitude taken by the Moroccan Government, which was offering "some devolution of authority" that would be in keeping with international norms.  That statement had serious repercussions and went against the principle of self-determination.

Neither the Secretary-General nor the Security Council had the authority under the Charter to change the Settlement Plan, he said.  Replacing self-determination with pre-determination and changing the nature of the conflict would mean that Morocco was facing an internal conflict.  The Secretary-General and the Security Council could decide to withdraw MINURSO, but could not ignore the decolonization side of the conflict.  Should the enforcement instrument be withdrawn, there would continue to be a decolonization issue on the agenda of the Committee. 

According to the peace plan, only voters identified by the United Nations could decide whether Western Sahara should integrate with Morocco or become independent, he said.  The Secretary-General had no competence to offer a solution going beyond the implementation of the peace plan.  Anything else could only be proposed by the Secretary-General after both parties had agreed to it.  The inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to express their rights must be preserved.  A fair solution to the Western Sahara conflict must be found.

ANNA BADIA MARTI, Professor of Public International Law, University of Barcelona, drew attention to the international legal aspects of the issue under discussion.  She recalled the history of the situation and said there was no doubt the international legal nature of Western Sahara was based on the principle of self-determination and peaceful settlement of international disputes.  The formal expression of that legal nature had begun in 1955 with Spain providing information on the territories it administered after joining the United Nations, which had brought the “Western Sahara Question” into the realm of international law and under United Nation auspices.

She said the question had stayed so long on the agenda because it was an attempt to dodge the recognized rights of colonial peoples by a principle that accorded obligations not only to the colonial power, in this case Spain, but also to third-party States.  The situation had become complicated because the initial question had not been resolved, but the 1988 Settlement Plan had recognized that the strictest parameters of a decolonization process could not be applied.  The Organization had been charged with organizing and implementing a referendum, but occupation had meant the Geneva Convention applied.  The duality of legal framework deriving from the principle of self-determination and, secondly, from the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes had paralyzed the Settlement Plan process, in particular with regard to the electoral register for the referendum.  The underlying issue must now be resolved.

The Organization was operating on the basis that the Western Sahara question was a self-determination process requiring the participation of both the occupying power and colonial people to carry out, she said.  Yet, no legal binding obligations had been assumed as was usual in a peace process.  Even more importantly, third parties had not been approached to play the role of guarantors in applying the Settlement Plan.

The process should now be approached in the framework of the international legal order, she said.  The principle of the self-determination of peoples should be applied, the legal content of which established inherent rights to all holders and accorded duties to States.  The Fourth Geneva Convention should be applied, as should the principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Overall, the Western Sahara question highlighted the primacy of State interests in the face of international legal principles.  The search for legal mechanisms to limit unilateral appreciation of respect for international law must move ahead to avoid harming the people affected, as well as the international community overall.

JOSE MIGUEL BARRAGAN CABRERA, Deputy to the Parliament of the Canary Islands, said that he would not reiterate the many persuasive arguments that had been made over the years on behalf of the self-determination of the Sahawari people.  Regarding the framework agreement, he said it favoured the integrationist aspirations of Morocco.  The proposal must be rejected and the United Nations peace plan must be pursued, having succeeded, over the past 10 years, in maintaining a cease-fire and negotiations over such matters as prisoners of war and refugees.  Even the composition of the electoral list had been determined; the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy had achieved agreed-upon criteria for concluding the identification process.

Morocco’s attempt to change the appeals process was clearly in its national interest, he said.  The Frente POLISARIO, on the other hand, had shown its determination to proceed with the United Nations plan.  Only the United Nations, through its peace plan, could bring about an end to the conflict.  The Sahawari people were distinct and deserved their own nation, if they desired it.  If conflict should erupt again, after 10 years of effort, it would represent a complete failure of United Nations objectives.  He proclaimed his faith in the Organization, however, and in its ability to bring about a just and lasting resolution to the conflict.

FRANCISCO JOSE ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, Human Rights League of Spain, said that the more time that passed, the greater the hopelessness and fears regarding a fair settlement of the Western Sahara conflict.  The peace plan was completely blocked and the referendum postponed, thereby not providing much hope that the referendum would be held.  While Morocco had presented some 130,000 appeals to the voter identification process, few witnesses and documentary proof had been presented to support those appeals.

Morocco could only be considered an occupying Power, not an administrative Power, as referred to in the report of the Secretary-General, he said.  The Secretary-General should follow the main objective of the peace plan -- especially since neither he nor the Security Council could change the nature of that plan -- demand an examination of the appeals presented and reject the admissibility of the appeals that did not have sufficient support.  The question to be asked was whether it would be necessary for the Frente POLISARIO to take up their weapons and renew their war against Morocco.

He rejected the proposed so-called "third way", whereby Western Sahara would be granted some autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, since it would deny the people of Western Sahara their right to self-determination. The only way was the self-determination referendum.  He also voiced his concern over the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the territory of Western Sahara by Morocco.  In that regard, he requested the United Nations and the Secretary-General to name a committee to monitor the exploitation of those resources.  The solution of the political conflict would serve as a symbol of hope for others being denied their inalienable right to self-determination. 

MIGUEL MAYOL I RAYNAL, a member of the European Parliament, representing the group Peace for Sahawari People, said he was defending the legitimate rights of that people for self-determination.  The United Nations had been recently contradicting its own mission and international opinion on the question.  The worst recent threat, in fact, to the United Nations peace plan and its referendum of self-determination came from the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, in the form of a solution void of all international legality, the infamous “third way” known as the Baker agreement or the framework agreement.  Through it, the Western Sahara would be integrated into Morocco under the pretext of receiving greater autonomy.  Such an abandonment of the existing peace plan trampled the United Nations Charter.  Ambiguous resolutions from the Security Council have resulted, including an extension of MINURSO’s mandate and requests for Morocco to cooperate, but also including encouragement for the framework agreement.

The Frente POLISARIO, he said, does not consider the framework agreement a basis for negotiation, and the referendum has not been gotten back on track.  Mr. Baker merely endorsed Morocco’s proposals.  After so much expense and effort, the United Nations had not been able to organize a referendum under the old plan, thus, there was little hope for another plan to succeed.  It was high time that the 1991 peace plan was implemented.  MINURSO, after all, had drawn up the voter list -- its keystone.  The referendum could be held tomorrow if the political will were there.  In addition, the United Nations should also be protecting the Sahawari people against serious human rights abuses, and Morocco has expressed concern over prisoners of war.  The situation in the refugee camps was still precarious and donors must increase humanitarian assistance.  Reports of corruption in the fishing industry should also be investigated.  But, the strict and comprehensive implementation of the 1991 peace plan, and the holding of a referendum for the self-determination of the Sahawari people, was the only way for a just and lasting solution to the conflict.

AHMED BOUKHARI, Frente POLISARIO, said that MINURSO had published the results of the voter identification operation in February 2000.  That important progress, achieved by the United Nations at the cost of six years of effort and more than $600 million, resolved the principal problem that had arisen along the road to the referendum since 1991.  All that had remained was to apply the remaining phases of the Settlement Plan, following the very detailed Houston agreements, and to set a specific date in the fall of 2000 for the holding of the referendum.

However, he continued, that had not been the case due to the obstructionist manoeuvres of Morocco in interposing 130,000 appeals to challenge the list of voters published by MINURSO.  Morocco, when it had concluded that the referendum would lead to the independence of Western Sahara, decided to halt the process of implementation of the Settlement Plan and the Houston agreements.  That obstacle could haven been sufficiently overcome by applying the protocols and directives, which the United Nations had negotiated with the two parties in April 1999.  Had that been done, the referendum could already have been held and, consequently, a decolonization conflict would have been successfully resolved by the United Nations.

That goal could have been reached except for the fact that the determination of the United Nations had failed, he continued.  Not only did that determination cease to exist, but Morocco, since then, had begun pressing the United Nations towards the search for other solutions contrary to international law and in open opposition to the aim of the Settlement Plan.

The true problem, he said, was the uncooperative attitude of Morocco, which at the meeting of the parties in September 2000, had openly proclaimed the end of its cooperation with the Settlement Plan and declared that it was amenable only to a political solution which would confirm in advance Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.  The purpose of the so-called "third way" was to find a way to legitimize a process whereby, contrary to the right of self-determination enshrined by the United Nations and the Settlement Plan, the future and destiny of a people and of the land which it had struggled so hard to liberate could be determined beforehand.

He said that the draft framework agreement presented by Morocco was contrary to international law and unacceptable in light of the Settlement Plan.  In February, the Frente POLISARIO had presented a set of proposals designed to assist in overcoming the obstacles, real or artificial, which were used by Morocco as a pretext to delay the referendum process.  If they were given honest consideration, those proposals constituted a new opportunity to pursue implementation of the Settlement Plan.

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For information media. Not an official record.