Fifty-eighth General Assembly
5th Meeting (PM)
MOROCCO AND ALGERIA SHOULD NEGOTIATE FINAL SETTLEMENT OF WESTERN SAHARA QUESTION,
MOROCCAN REPRESENTATIVE TELLS FOURTH COMMITTEE
Declares Morocco’s Readiness to Reach Consensual Text on Political Solution
A final settlement of the Western Sahara question should be found through a negotiated political solution between Morocco and Algeria, Morocco’s representative said this afternoon as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its general debate on decolonization issues.
He reaffirmed his country’s readiness to explore, in good faith, all ways and means in order to reach a just, realistic and lasting political solution. In that context, the draft plan proposed by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara should be reviewed and corrected, he said, adding that Morocco was ready to reach a consensual text in its search for a political solution that would entail neither a winner nor a loser.
Senegal’s representative, urging a just and lasting political settlement that would address the legitimate aspirations of Western Sahara’s people, said his country suffered from the current state of affairs because it had fruitful links with Morocco and because of the social and human upheaval that the situation had created. Senegal shared the same roots, cultural heritage and language as the Territory’s population, he added, urging the Committee to demonstrate maturity, patience, calm and selfless devotion in its search for a mutually acceptable settlement.
The representative of Burkina Faso expressed support for the first peace plan proposed by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, saying it would grant broad autonomy to the people of Western Sahara. The latest peace plan did not seem to take into account all components of the Territory’s population and might run the risk of violating Security Council resolution 1495 (2003). Moreover, it had been accepted by only one of the parties to the conflict.
Malawi’s representative described the Western Sahara situation as a sad and disturbing chapter in the history of colonialism in Africa. The delay in holding a self-determination referendum, as provided for in the Settlement Plan, was an infringement on the rights of the Territory’s people. He called on both sides to stick to the Settlement Plan, the recommendations of the peace plan and all relevant resolutions on the matter in order to reach a solution that was acceptable to all parties.
Concluding its general debate on decolonization, speakers welcomed signs of increased cooperation between the administering Powers and Special Committee on Decolonization. Several welcomed the United Kingdom’s organizing of the May 2003 Caribbean regional seminar, held in Anguilla, and praised the dispatch in 2002 of a United Nations visiting mission to New Zealand-administered Tokelau. They urged administering Powers to facilitate future visits as a valuable way to ascertain the true situation in the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Nepal, Haiti, Guinea, Congo and Mozambique.
The representatives of Algeria and Morocco spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Earlier in the meeting, the Committee concluded its hearing of petitioners, who spoke on behalf of Parliamentary Intergroups for Peace and Freedom in Sahara; the Parliament of Spain; the Bar Association of Las Palmas, Spain; the University of Malaga, Spain; and the American Association of Jurists.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, 13 October to take action on draft proposals relating to decolonization. It is also expected to begin its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on decolonization issues and to hear from petitioners and representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories. [For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/259 of 6 October 2003.]
TXOMIN AURREKOETXEA IZA, Member of the Basque Parliament and President of the Parliamentary Intergroups Peace and Freedom in Sahara, said that Western Sahara was the only Territory in Africa that had not yet been able to benefit from the current of justice with which the United Nations and the Fourth Committee had created in favour of the colonized peoples of Africa and the rest of the world. The situation of Western Sahara was the greatest decolonization challenge for the international community.
He said the international community should not sit idly by in the face of the terrible situation of the Saharawi people since the invasion by the armed forces of Morocco. The greatest anguish was that of the people suffering under the repression of the military regime imposed by the Moroccan occupation. Because of that situation, hundreds of thousands had fled their country since 1975 to refugee camps around Tindouf in Algeria. As noted by several United Nations reports, after 28 years of life in the camps, neither drinking water nor an adequate diet could be regularly guaranteed for the refugee population. However the World Food Programme (WFP) and the many organizations involved in humanitarian assistance had underlined the efficacy and transparency of the management of that aid on the part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front).
INES MIRANDA NAVARRO, Bar Association of Las Palmas, Spain, said she was concerned about the human rights situation in Western Sahara, including the rights of detained people and prisoners. The Bar Association had commissioned several Spanish legal experts to attend the summary trials of Saharawi political prisoners held in El Aaiun, the capital of Western Sahara, but they had encountered numerous obstacles and received cooperation from the Moroccan authorities.
During their mission, which had begun in 2002 and ended in June 2003, the experts had attended different trials and observed oral evidence, the work of judges, the King’s Counsel, the lawyers and the police, she said. The physical conditions of the courtrooms followed a medieval justice model. Judges were blatantly partial and their actions showed no regard for the principle of independence. Defence lawyers, however, showed great professional skill. There had been many complaints from the Saharawi population about the use of violence and torture by the police. An excessive number of police guarded the court, often followed and even detained some members of the delegation.
SOLEDAD MONZÓN CABRERA, Member of Parliament, Spain, said that the question of Western Sahara’s future still gave rise to wide-ranging debate in the Parliament. The position of the Spanish Government was to continue supporting the efforts of the United Nations, of its Secretary-General and of his Personal Envoy to find a solution to the conflict.
She said Spain supported any viable solution agreed between the two parties in accordance with international law and did not recommend the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which still carried out essential humanitarian work and sustained the ceasefire. Its intervention would be necessary for the implementation of any of the Personal Envoy’s proposals. The only framework that had so far been approved by both parties was the peace plan, which envisaged the holding of a referendum.
ALEJANDRO JAVIER RODRIGUEZ CARRION, Professor of International Law at the University of Malaga, Spain, said that since 1975, Morocco had been the occupying Power, not the administering Power, of Western Sahara. Morocco had no right to occupy the Territory and its illegitimate occupation had triggered a bloody conflict. Since then, there had been several plans to resolve the conflict. In the mean time, the lack of progress in achieving a settlement was perpetuating the suffering of the Saharawi people. The Committee could not accept the idea that the peace plan might turn into a peace plan for liquidating the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, supported the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence as stipulated in resolution 1514, the United Nations Charter and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1990, and which called for a referendum.
She said that the solution to the conflict in Western Sahara lay in the implementation of the Settlement Plan, through a free and transparent referendum supervised by the United Nations and in the presence of international observers.
All other alternative proposals violated the right to self-determination, as well as the spirit of self-determination. They were a pretext to evade the obligation of the United Nations to defend the right of self-determination for all peoples.
BHUPNARAYAN GHARTIMAGAR (Nepal) said that one of the glorious parts of United Nations history was the role it had played in galvanizing the decolonization process. However, the fact that 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained was a sobering reminder that the world still had much to do. The Committee must, therefore, work with a sense of urgency to accomplish the task entrusted to it.
The activities of the administering Powers relating to the Non-Self-Governing Territories needed to become more transparent, he said. New Zealand’s cooperation with the United Nations visiting mission to Tokelau last year and the United Kingdom’s initiative to organize the Caribbean Regional Seminar this year augured well. A number of commitments to improve the condition of the peoples of the Territories remained unfulfilled. The administering Powers should promote their interests, while at the same time ensuring due respect for indigenous cultures. Nepal appealed to administering Powers to be proactive and lend credence to their intentions by their deeds.
BERTRAND FILS-AIME (Haiti) said his country had always been in the vanguard of movements of emancipation and appreciated the progress made by the United Nations in the struggle for the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples. Calling upon the administering Powers to cooperate in all decolonization efforts, he welcomed the United Kingdom’s cooperation with the Special Committee during the Anguilla regional seminar held in May 2003, as well as the progress made between New Zealand and Tokelau. Regional seminars and visits to Non-Self-Governing Territories were important and the administering Powers should create the social, economic and political conditions that would benefit the non-self-governing peoples.
He welcomed the latest peace plan proposed by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and expressed the hope that the parties would intensify efforts to reach a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict. Noting that in 83 days, Haiti would be welcoming the world to commemorate the bicentennial of its independence, he stressed that the struggle for independence had always been difficult and encouraged all parties to show flexibility in order to enable all peoples to make their own choices.
MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) called on the administering Powers and the leaders of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to increase their cooperation with the United Nations in order to reach mutually acceptable solutions. On the question of Western Sahara, he commended the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy in the search for a just settlement to the conflict. Burkina Faso noted with satisfaction the respect for the ceasefire agreement and the exchange of prisoners and urged the parties to show greater political will to engage in more direct contacts.
He said his country supported the first Baker plan, which would grant broad autonomy to the population of Western Sahara. The latest peace plan, elaborated by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, did not seem to take into account all components of the population of Western Sahara. That proposal might run the risk of violating Security Council resolution 1495 (2003) and had been accepted by only one of the parties. Burkina Faso urged all parties to abstain from any action that could compromise future negotiations.
ALMAMY BABARA TOURE (Guinea) noted with satisfaction that progress had been made in resolving the question of Tokelau. Guinea welcomed the positions of the United Kingdom and United States Governments as contained in the Special Committee’s report, as well as constitutional developments in Non-Self-Governing Territories of the Pacific.
Regarding Western Sahara, he supported Security Council resolution 1495 (2003), which stressed the need for a politically negotiated, mutually acceptable settlement to the problem. The General Assembly must encourage the parties to reach that solution. The Fourth Committee should continue to carry out its work until all vestiges of colonialism were eradicated once and for all.
LUC JOSEPH OKIO (Congo), noting that the Special Committee was working towards the attainment of the fundamental right to self-determination, said the job was far from over. The proclamation of the Second International Decade required the mobilization of the entire international community. Decolonization was an ambitious goal and the necessary resources must be made available. The Special Committee was discharging its mandate with renewed dynamism, he noted, adding that while Congo supported the case-by-case approach, it could only succeed with the full cooperation of the administering Powers.
Expressing gratitude to the United Kingdom for organizing the Caribbean regional seminar, he said it had highlighted the need to inform the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories of their right to self-determination. They could not exercise that right if they were unaware of their options and the necessary resources must, therefore, be provided for information and training by the different United Nations bodies. Visiting missions were the best way to evaluate the situation in the Territories and must be more frequent. The Committee was duty bound to assist the people of the Territories. On Western Sahara, he encouraged the parties to commit to finding a politically negotiated solution.
TARCISIO BALTAZAR (Mozambique) said his country supported the work of the Special Committee, as well as regional initiatives to further the decolonization agenda. Mozambique welcomed the convening of the regional seminar in Anguilla and hoped similar initiatives would take place in the other remaining Territories.
Regarding Western Sahara, he urged the parties to engage, now more than ever, in a constructive way towards its implementation. It was the right time to bring about a just and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara. Implementation of the peace plan was critical to reaching a realistic solution to the long-standing question of Western Sahara.
CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal), referring to the Western Sahara conflict, said his country suffered from the current state of affairs because it had fruitful links with Morocco and because of the social and human upheaval that the situation had created. Senegal urged a just and lasting political settlement that would address the legitimate aspirations of the Territory’s population, which shared the same roots, cultural heritage and language.
He reiterated his country’s support for a solution based on acceptance by all parties and noted that, in its persistent quest for a middle way, the Committee should demonstrate maturity, patience, calm and selfless devotion in order to avoid mechanisms that would discredit its reputation. Despite difficulties, he said, the parties should be encouraged to continue negotiations in order to find consensus.
ISAAC C. LAMBA (Malawi) said the question of self-determination was crucial and should be considered extremely urgent in the twenty-first century. The United Nations had made great progress in ensuring the attainment of self-determination in different parts of the world, especially Africa, where the only unresolved matter remained the question of Western Sahara. Malawi fully supported the right to self-determination, which should not be forced upon people nor constrained.
He said Western Sahara remained a sad and disturbing chapter in the history of colonialism in Africa. Justice delayed was justice denied and the delay in holding the referendum, as provided for in the Settlement Plan, was an infringement on the rights of the people of Western Sahara, who had waited for too long to know the fate of their Territory. Malawi called on both sides to stick to the Settlement Plan, the recommendations of the peace plan and all relevant resolutions on the matter in order to reach a solution that was acceptable to all parties. The Second International Decade had started on a good note with the granting of independence to Timor-Leste. That momentum should not be lost.
MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco) said that a lasting and final settlement of the dispute over the Moroccan Sahara should be found through a negotiated political solution between the two neighbouring countries, Morocco and Algeria. Morocco defended, without any ambiguity, its sovereignty over its entire national territory and it would be desirable that Algeria specify what it referred to as its strategic interests in the settlement of the Western Sahara dispute.
The POLISARIO Front could not claim to follow international legality while violating it through a systematic refusal to allow the UNHCR to take a census of the refugees in the Tindouf camps.
Algeria, he continued, attempted to overshadow its so-called strategic interests under the discreet veil of respect for the principle of self-determination. Morocco, a country partially decolonized in 1956, had led the struggle for the liberation of the African continent. It had tested the referendum system through which a “yes” or “no” vote was supposed to establish harmony in the Sahara. But reality had shown the limits of that miraculous solution, a fact that had been recognized by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, on concluding that the implementation of the 1991 Settlement Plan was impossible.
Morocco, he said, had embarked on the search for a political solution that would entail neither a winner nor a loser. In June 2001, it had accepted to negotiate on the basis of the Framework Agreement despite the rejection by Algeria and the POLISARIO Front. In June 2002, the Security Council had requested the Personal Envoy to propose a political solution taking into account the views expressed by the parties. However, the parties had not been given a chance to discuss any new draft in depth. Such procedure was incompatible with the United Nations Charter. The final objective was not to pocket a resolution regardless of its content, but rather to first agree on the solution. In July 2003 the Security Council had stressed the necessity for the parties to reach an agreement before endorsing any proposal and it was now up to the two neighbours -- Morocco and Algeria -- to assume their responsibilities in maintaining peace and security in the region.
He reaffirmed Morocco’s readiness to explore in good faith all ways and means in order to reach a just, realistic and lasting political solution. The draft plan proposed by the Personal Envoy should be reviewed and corrected. Morocco was ready to reach a consensual text. Reiterating the humanitarian aspect of the conflict, he called for the release of the prisoners from the Tindouf camps.
Right of Reply
The representative of Algeria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the Moroccan delegate had proven that he did not understand anything about the Western Sahara question. The point of the matter was the occupation of a Territory by a neighbouring State. In 1975, Morocco had invaded Western Sahara, subjugated its people and denied them the right to self-determination. Those facts could not be denied. If Western Sahara was still on the United Nations list it was because there was a problem, and Morocco was the origin of the problem. Algeria had supported a principle that was dear to all in the Committee -- the right to self-determination.
He said it was Morocco that, having negotiated the agreement contained in the Settlement Plan, had thereafter denounced it. Now Morocco had rejected the peace plan approved by the Security Council. Morocco had for years been claiming the right of Moroccan settlers to participate in the Western Sahara referendum. Now that the Baker plan gave them that right, Morocco said the peace plan was unacceptable. Morocco wanted a referendum where the choice would be between integration and non-integration. If a referendum led to anything other than a “yes” vote, Morocco would not want such a referendum, because it realized that it would lead to the Territory’s independence.
Regarding Moroccan prisoners of war held by the POLISARIO Front, he said Morocco’s interest in them was new. Morocco had previously denied the existence of any prisoners and was now bringing up the question to divert international attention.
The representative of Morocco said in response that his country had fought for Algeria during its struggle for independence and that Morocco had not wanted to negotiate an agreement on the Sahara until after Algeria had won sovereignty. Those were indisputable facts. The representative of Algeria had no right to distort facts and it was counterproductive to do so.
He said the prisoners in the Algerian camps had not agreed to be tortured for the sheer pleasure of it and that Algeria could not justify their detention for 25 years. He urged Algeria to sit around a table with Morocco and settle the dispute.
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