PETITIONERS IN FOURTH COMMITTEE COMMEND UNITED NATIONS ACTIONS ON WESTERN SAHARA, BUT SAY IT HAS FAILED TO DELIVER ON REFERENDUM

GA/SPD/315
7 October 2005

PETITIONERS IN FOURTH COMMITTEE COMMEND UNITED NATIONS ACTIONS ON WESTERN SAHARA, BUT SAY IT HAS FAILED TO DELIVER ON REFERENDUM

07/10/2005
General Assembly
GA/SPD/315
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixtieth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

4th Meeting (PM)


petitioners in fourth committee commend United Nations actions on Western sahara,


but say it has failed to deliver on referendum

 


Speakers Focus on Human Rights Violations, Plight of Refugees, Deportations


As it continued its general debate on decolonization issues this afternoon, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard petitioners address the situation of Western Sahara, many of whom commended the United Nations for its actions in the Territory, but felt the Organization had failed to fulfil its promise of a referendum by which the Saharawi 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.  The representative of the Asociación de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaúi de las Palmas de Gran Canaria, said the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been stripped of its prestige in all sectors of the Territory.  Its members had not impeded repression of the Saharawi people by Moroccan police, and they had remained unconcerned about the situation in the prisons.  Other speakers expressed their hope that MINURSO’s mandate could be changed so that the Mission would not have to remain impassive while grave human rights violations were being committed, and so that it could implement the long overdue self-determinationreferendum.


Many speakers called upon the Government of Morocco to stand by the commitments it had made before the United Nations, and to help Western Sahara find its way to self-determination.  The Saharawi people continued to suffer as a result of the delay in implementing the United Nations Settlement Plan, the Houston Accords and the Baker Plan.  There had been no referendum because Morocco had reneged on each of those agreements.  There was now a stalemate because Morocco would not allow a referendum and the Saharawi people would never give up their dream of returning to their homeland as a free people.


Other speakers pointed out that the Moroccan authorities had erased the border between their own country and the occupied Territory on all maps.  Moroccan leaders claimed that Western Sahara was the Southern Province of Morocco or Moroccan Sahara, and had had maps designed accordingly.  It was hard to find any correct maps and facts relating to Western Sahara and Morocco.


Attention was also focused on the harsh living conditions in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria.  The representative of Freedom for All, said fear and suspicion pervaded the refugee camps, run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), with the refugees living in constant fear of arbitrary punishment and abuse.  The camps’ revolutionary councils wielded supreme power and any suspicion of dissent was publicly and brutally punished, often with torture and imprisonment.


Speakers also said that humanitarian aid, provided by the international community for the welfare of the refugees, was sold illegally and the funds used to purchase weapons.  And apart from the systematic violations of human rights and diversion of food aid, Saharawi children were often deported to Cuba, Libya, Angola and Mozambique.  Other speakers called for an international inquiry into the fate of many people who had disappeared from the Tindouf camps.


The political aspect of the conflict could not be solved without dialogue between Morocco and Algeria, several speakers felt.  A new framework for a solution should first of all direct the two countries to the negotiating table.  Morocco and Algeria must find a solution together.  To continue to allow the situation to worsen would allow extremism to grow in the region.


Other petitioners speaking today included representatives of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara; International Platform of Jurists for East Timor; WE International, Liga Pro Derechos Humanos; Belgian Committee of Support to Western Sahara; Oxfam Solidarity and the European Coordination of Support for the Saharawi People; Manna Church of Raeford; Defense Forum Foundation; Swedish Western Sahara Committee; University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; Cynthia Basinet, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; Tray Hicks, on behalf of United States Congressman Ted Poe; L’université de la Sorbonne; Asociación Saharaui de Derechos Humanos; Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Canarios;Movimento Canario de Solidaridad; Teach the Children International; Family Protection; Saharawi Children’s Program; International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners; Christian Democratic Women International; and the Surrey Three Faiths Forum.


The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 10 October, to continue its general debate on decolonization and hear further petitioners.


Background


As it considered decolonization issues this afternoon, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was expected to hear from petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.


Statements by Petitioners


FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said Morocco was not cited as the administrative Power of Western Sahara on the United Nations list of Non-self-Governing Territories and it, therefore, had no sovereignty over the Territory.  Morocco was simply an occupying Power and its continued presence in Western Sahara was illegal.  The list of its human rights abuses in the occupied Territory was long.  The arbitrary arrests, torture and lack of guarantees before the police and the courts persisted in the persecution of Saharawi civil rights leaders through criminal trials.


The United Nations should be responsible for the eradication of those practices, he continued.  The dispute over Western Sahara was the last great process of decolonization.  The General Assembly had declared the period 2001-2010 as the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and the moment seemed to have come for the United Nations to demonstrate that the declaration was more than a mere manifestation of intentions, devoid, once again, of content.


SERGIO DE LA ASUNCION ALFONSO MIRANDA, Associacion de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui de las Palmas de Gran Canaria, described a visit to the capital city of Western Sahara, El Aaiún, by a group of Spanish priests in August 2005.  El Aaiún was a besieged city, with military troops on all street corners.  Any type of peaceful meeting was quickly suppressed.  During their visit, the priests had held many meetings with Saharawi activists, former prisoners, relatives of missing and imprisoned persons and victims of repression.  They had heard many distressing tales of torture, rape and hellish prison conditions.  The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been stripped of its prestige in all sectors and the kindest expression that had been heard about it was that it was “like tourists on a trip”.  It had not impeded the repression by Moroccan police, but had looked the other way, unconcerned about the situation in the prisons.


PEDRO PINTO LEITE, speaking for the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor and Stichting Zelfbeschikking West-Sahara, stressed the similarities between the cases of East Timor and Western Sahara.  As in East Timor, a free and fair referendum in Western Sahara was the only real solution and the only legal option.  Over the last year, pressure upon Morocco had grown because of mounting repression in the occupied Territory, including arbitrary arrests, torture and pillage of the Territory’s natural resources.  An important event in June was Kenya’s decision, following that of South Africa, to establish formal diplomatic ties with the Saharawi Republic.  Morocco had considered that decision to be “in flagrant contradiction of international law”.


Among examples of similar reactions to criticism, he cited the Moroccan claim that photos from the infamous prison in El Aaiún were forged.  Convinced that the international community would have no other choice but to accept a fait accompli, the Moroccan authorities had erased the borderline between Morocco and the occupied Territory on all maps.  They had successfully applied pressure on the organizers of an exhibition in the Netherlands, on the occasion marking 400 years of relations between the two countries, to change an accurate map in the catalogue with the Moroccan version.  It was to be hoped that the mandate of MINURSO could be changed, so that the mission did not have to remain impassive while grave human rights violations were committed and could implement the long overdue referendum on self-determination.


DAVID J. LIPPIAT, WE International, said the United Nations had the ability to work towards a resolution of the Western Sahara crisis, but, thus far, had failed to do so.  The Organization had shown constant leniency towards Morocco’s flagrant violations of its resolutions and international law.  Morocco professed a willingness to discuss a solution, but when it came to negotiating an open referendum or taking action, they did nothing.  In that context, it was important to emphasize that no country or international organization had ever recognized Morocco’s sovereignty or its illegal occupation of Western Sahara.


Amnesty International had reported that hundreds, if not thousands, of Saharawi had been imprisoned or had disappeared, he continued.  Further, in the last few months, there had been a cycle of protest and repression, as the Saharawi demonstrated against the Moroccan Government.  Several international delegations seeking to investigate the situation had been turned back at the airport.  The United Nations should take action and impose a solution.  Why should the Saharawi people have to suffer and wait without seeing anyone act on their behalf?   Western Sahara belonged, and would always belong, to the Saharawi.


FRANCISCO JOSE ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, Liga Pro Derechos Humanos, said many experts had described the military attitude of Morocco in the Western Sahara as attempted genocide.  The long list of human rights violations could indeed be interpreted in that light, including, as it did, torture, arbitrary arrests, lack of freedom of expression, as well as a settlement policy aimed at distorting the demographic situation in the Territory.  On the request of prisoners in the Territory, he had led a delegation of non-governmental organizations, but had not been allowed to land.  That was another sign of Moroccan impunity.


He said that a fair solution could only come from a referendum on self-determination that was transparent and held under the auspices of the United Nations.  Saharawi political prisoners had held a 51-day hunger strike.  The wife of one of the leaders of that hunger strike had reported that she had been raped repeatedly by Moroccan troops, and that “MINURSO was on holiday”.  Hopefully, the United Nations was not on holiday and the Committee would visit the camps and prisons.  The Committee should not allow a military invasion to be legitimized.


SEPP VAN DER VEKEN, Belgian Committee of Support to Western Sahara, drew attention to UJSARIO, the national youth organization of the Saharawi, which was trying to provide programmes to teach young people how to take up their responsibilities in the future.  In order to create a generation that could take up their responsibilities and pass on traditional, as well as democratic, values, that generation must believe in their ability to do so.  However, for most Saharawi youth, there were few opportunities, and since there were virtually no paid jobs in the camps, there was little pressure on young adults to shape themselves into the future leaders of society.


It was important to keep working in the camps in order to give younger people a chance to explore and develop their talents, he continued.  If the international community was willing to help Saharawi society and its younger generations, however, it had to face the core of the problem.  As long as the Saharawi could not exercise their right to self-determination, it would be nearly impossible to keep the younger generation motivated.  As long as the young Saharawi people had no perspective beyond the scope of living in refugee camps, they could not be expected to take up their responsibilities.  Members of the Fourth Committee must make full use of the possibilities afforded to them in order to help the young Saharawi to make use of theirs.


HILDE TEUWEN, Oxfam Solidarity and the European Coordination of Support for the Saharawi People, expressed her dismay at the humanitarian situation in the Saharawi refugee camps.  The refugees in the Tindouf camps, as well as those in areas controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), continued to live in harsh conditions.  The situation had worsened considerably and the contributions by international agencies had not been adapted to any change in quality or in quantity.  A nutritional survey carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP) in early 2005 had found that 74.2 per cent of pregnant women in the camps were anaemic and 28.6 per cent of children were underweight.  If the food situation did not improve, the refugees would have to resort to a subsistence lifestyle instead of being able to live dignified lives.  The representatives of the international community were obliged to apply international law and to fight for the self-determination of the Saharawi people.


DAN STANLEY, Senior Pastor, Manna Church of Raeford, said he had been praying for the independence of Western Sahara since 1999.  The time was well past for a final resolution to the legal right of the Saharawi people to go free.  He had had two Saharawi individuals live with him for short periods of time and had been to the Tindouf refugee camps several times to pray with the Saharawi about their situation.  They were unique, warm, loving and forgiving people that the world needed to know and recognize.  The United Nations must end their tragedy and enforce the decolonization of Western Sahara.


SUZANNE SCHOLTE, Defense Forum Foundation, said that while the United Nations was to be commended for its 1991 intervention that had brought about a ceasefire, it had failed to fulfil its promise of a vote on self-determination.  Through that failure, the very purpose of the Fourth Committee had been undermined.  There had been no referendum because Morocco had reneged on every agreement.  There was now a stalemate because Morocco would not allow a referendum and the Saharawi people would never give up their dream of returning to their homeland as a free people.  Morocco’s brutal occupation had repeatedly led to its being listed as one of the world’s worst regimes by Freedom House.  It was time to end that stalemate by calling on Morocco to withdraw from Western Sahara.


She said that failing to get Morocco out of Western Sahara would mean that invasion and aggression were the means to achieve one’s ends.  It would prove to the Saharawi that laying down their weapons had been a terrible mistake, that the United Nations was not serious about its own purpose, and that placing trust in the Organization had been a huge mistake for the Saharawi.  The Decolonization Committee must aggressively take up the issue.  Past actions by the United Nations had led Spain to withdraw from Western Sahara, but its lack of follow-through had led to an even worse condition for the Saharawi.

JAN STRÖMDAHL, Swedish Western Sahara Committee, said that recently, Moroccan representatives had been arguing very aggressively, perhaps because they were frustrated as they had failed to find supporters and had lost their last real argument when the POLISARIO Front had released their last prisoners of war.  Moroccan leaders claimed that Western Sahara was their Southern Province or the Moroccan Sahara, and had had maps designed accordingly.  The Swedish Committee had investigated the matter and had found that it was hard to find any correct maps on facts relating to Western Sahara and Morocco.  Moroccan leaders also maintained that the dispute was between Morocco and Algeria, claiming that Algeria just wanted to border the Atlantic Ocean.  The truth could be found easily in United Nations resolutions and in the Settlement Plan signed by Morocco and the POLISARIO Front.


He said Moroccan leaders nowadays accepted the existence of the POLISARIO Front and the refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria, but preferred to describe the camps as prisons for poor South Moroccans sequestered by force.  Several groups of journalists and politicians wishing to visit Western Sahara, including a Swedish group, had been stopped or thrown out.  His own organization had demanded a meeting with some Saharawi, but after a short meeting, the Saharawi had been arrested.  First, Morocco must end its repression of the Saharawi in the occupied area, release political prisoners and allow international observers and independent journalists to work freely.  An international commission must be formed to investigate human rights conditions in the camps and in the occupied area.  Then, a political negotiated solution must be realized without delay.


RAFAEL ESPARZA MACHIN, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, said the referendum promised 14 years ago had initially been based on a list of the Spanish census.  However, there was no certainty that that list was correct.  Certain pro-Moroccan groups had been excluded.  The current situation was better, as the Baker Plan had tried to change the situation.  That plan had been accepted by the POLISARIO Front but not by Morocco.  However, it did not address the root of the problem, namely how to get Morocco and Algeria to the negotiating table.  A new framework for a solution would first of all direct the two countries to the negotiating table.


That framework should also establish autonomy for the Territory within Morocco, as had been done in the Canary Islands, he said.  After that phase was completed, the problem of the Saharawi refugees could be addressed.  Once the second phase was completed and separated families had been reunited, social and harmonious development could be pursued.  That proposed solution would be a win-win situation for everyone.


CYNTHIA BASINET, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, read out the following quote.  “As a single mother, I understand only too well what lack of security can do in undermining what the Saharawi believe in and wish for as a society.  Their ability to withstand all for 30 years in the pursuit of self-determination is truly a role model for us all, as we enter the new millennium.  For they had displayed faith, honour, compassion and resourcefulness in the face of such opposition.”  That quote was as applicable today as when originally released in 2001, shortly before and after her visit to the Saharawi refugee camps.


TRAY HICKS, speaking on behalf of United States Congressman Ted Poe, said the Saharawi people continued to suffer as a result of the delay in implementing the United Nations Settlement Plan, the Houston Accords and the Baker Plan.  As the Committee considered the question, it should keep in mind the facts of the case, as well as precedent.  The International Court of Justice had said that there should be a referendum.  The United Nations had passed resolution 60 and established MINURSO.  A Special Envoy of the Secretary-General had been sent to both parties to negotiate a referendum and the right to self-determination.  Yet, the matter was still unresolved.


One must also keep in mind that other countries were waiting to see the precedent that would be established in the case, he said.  There were quite a few border conflicts around the globe, including those involving Eritrea and Ethiopia and Nigeria and Cameroon.  If the international community failed to back up its word regarding the agreements on Western Sahara, why would other nations take it seriously in other border conflicts?  The United Nations risked giving the impression that it was not resolute.  The Committee should consider the facts and the precedent that would be established, and bring about a just resolution to the matter.  Tens of thousands of Saharawi had already voted with their feet and now lived in refugee camps.  “Don’t allow this generation of Saharawi to live and die in the unforgiving Sahara desert while their future is held hostage by foreign Powers”, he added.


FIDELIS IDOKO (Nigeria), commenting on the statement by Tray Hicks, said that although he had made a valid presentation on Western Sahara, the example of Cameroon and Nigeria did not fit in.


AYMERIC CHAUPRADE, L’université de la Sorbonne, said the situation was the product of the cold war, when Morocco had belonged to the Western camp.  The borders of pre-colonial Morocco were far broader than they were today.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its territory had stretched all the way to the River Niger.  In discussing the problem of Western Sahara, therefore, there was a need to take into account the pluralistic nature of the Saharawi people.  The Moroccan State was the expression of an ancient political will, and to cut it off from the south would be to cut if off from its African identity.


Global Islamism had money and third-world thinking, an ideology that was very seductive to those who lived on the margins, he continued.  The POLISARIO Front could no longer deny that it had been penetrated by extreme elements.  That was an urgent situation, and Morocco and Algeria must find a solution together.  To continue to allow the situation to worsen would allow extremism to grow in the region.


MANUEL NICOLÁS GONZÁLEZ DÍAZ, Asociación Saharaui de Derechos Humanos, said the question of Western Sahara was part of the greater process of decolonization of Northern Africa, which was still incomplete.  Since 1975, after Spain was no longer the administering Power, the rights of the people of Western Sahara had been violated.


He said that under the influence of the cold war, an armed conflict had emerged, of which the civilian people of Western Sahara were the main victims.  Because of geographical proximity and colonial history, the Canary Islands were severely impacted.  The United Nations should resolve the problem on the basis of autonomy.  The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy should close the issue so that decolonization in Northern Africa could be completed.


MARÍA DOLORES TRAVIESO DARIAS, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Canarios, spoke of the human rights abuses that the Saharawi population were experiencing.  The Moroccan administration was exercising brutal repression in Western Sahara and the lack of freedom, torture and arbitrary detention had been on the agenda since 1975.  In the last three years she had visited the region at least 10 times and had had the chance to conduct many interviews.  Hundreds of people had disappeared, women had been raped, and children were traumatized.  The Saharawi population continued to ask for the fate of more than 500 missing persons.  They were peacefully seeking respect for their fundamental rights and respect for legality.


PABLO RODRÍGUEZ RODRÍGUEZ, Movimiento Canario de Solidaridad, said that Western Sahara, only a few hundred kilometres from the Canary Islands, was a serious situation, which could become irreversible if there was no urgent action.  It was unacceptable that the matter had not been resolved after 25 years.  Only a few people had been able to gain access to the Territory as the occupying Power prevented entrance to outsiders, including representatives of Spanish institutions.  That was indicative of the attitude of the Moroccan authorities.  Western Sahara had become a flash-point as people might conclude that the only way to resolve the situation was to take up weapons.  The Saharawi people had trouble maintaining hope after 25 years.


He said the situation in the Tindouf refugee camps was very delicate as some 200,000 refugees lived in the desert.  All institutions that cooperated tirelessly in the area were to be applauded, but the task of caring for the refugees could only be concluded after the decisions of the United Nations were carried out.  It was time for the Organization to comply with its own resolutions, peace plans and interventions, otherwise, it would become merely a consultative forum that could provide no solutions.


NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, said she had watched over the years as the men and women in the Saharawi refugee camps had lost hope, leading to despondency and a breakdown in family structure.  The women had suffered as they had taken up strong family roles in the absence of their husbands.  A recent report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that children were approximately two inches shorter than their parents had been at the same age, which was attributable to nutritional deficiencies and harsh environmental elements.


She said she understood that the United Nations had the will and the power to resolve the situation, but the push and determination to go to the next level was absent.  Members of the Fourth Committee were willing to listen to the cry of the Saharawi for help and they should provide the framework for a speedy referendum, as well as exert pressure on Morocco to agree to a referendum.  They should see to it that the Saharawi children and their families left the refugee camps and returned to their homeland quickly and peacefully, and facilitate more trips to Western Sahara in the interim to allow the families in the camps to visit their relatives in Western Sahara.


LORD NEWALL, International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners, said that as the Chairman of that body, his first role had been to visit Western Sahara, speak with former prisoners of war and families and listen to testimonies and experiences.  They had told of many human rights abuses, harsh living conditions, torture and frequent solitary confinement.  After the flagrant disregard and violation of international human rights law, there was an urgent need to clear up the matter.


First, there must be an international inquiry into the fate of many people who had disappeared from the camps at Tindouf in Algeria, he said.  Second, those responsible for the violations of human rights, including torture, must be brought to justice, and third, compensation must be provided by the Government of Algeria for the torture and abuse suffered by the victims while held on its territory in illegal imprisonment.  Finally, the bodies of those who had died on Algerian soil while in prison must be recovered.


JANET LENZ, Saharawi Children’s Program, said she had visited the refugee camps 17 times and for the past six summers, her organization had coordinated the visits of roughly 200 Saharawi children who stayed with host families across the United States.  Those children had candidly expressed their thoughts, feelings, experiences and knowledge of the world they lived in.  The organization had built an English school in the camps at the invitation, and with the cooperation, of the POLISARIO Front.  The war had not stopped, the ceasefire was not a reality, Morocco had not honoured the agreement, and attacks continued.  Today’s warfare was more subtle, fought by political manipulation and skilful use of the media, backed by limitless financial reserves.


She said that while the POLISARIO Front was not perfect, it was not responsible for forcing its people to live in the desert as refugees.  That responsibility rested on Morocco’s shoulders, and on all those nations that continued to look the other way, allowing the lies of Morocco’s leadership to stand as truth.  After 14 years, the promised referendum was still not a reality, but the Saharawi people had voted loud and clear, with their lives and imprisonment.  They wanted nothing more than true freedom in their homeland and under their own rule, not the freedom of a regime that had forced them from their homes.  That choice, “kissing the hand of the king who tried to destroy them”, was no choice at all.


JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, expressing concern over those who had disappeared from the prisons and camps, said their fate was unknown and their disappearance an outrage.  It constituted a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention and international law.  The exact number of the disappeared was not known, but was believed to be between 260 and 600.  The families of the disappeared were unable to go through the natural grieving process and could not start to rebuild their lives.  Fourteen years had passed since the implementation of the 1991 ceasefire and the explicit call by the United Nations to solve the question of the disappeared.


She said the Algerian authorities had been asked to account for the hundreds of people who had disappeared, but they had failed to do so.  They also had a responsibility to open an investigation into the Moroccan prisoners missing from the Tindouf camps.  An independent investigation should be launched to clarify the circumstances of the forced disappearance of military and civilian persons.  All the necessary measures should be taken to identify individuals responsible for inflicting torture and death and bring them before a court of law to be sentenced according to the seriousness of their crimes.


She called upon the humanity and compassion of the international community, and all those who had successfully campaigned for the release of the Tindouf prisoners, to now turn their attention and renew their efforts in demanding to know the fate of the disappeared, so that their families could know the truth, bury their dead, mourn the loss of their loved ones, and strive to move forward with their lives.


ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Christian Democratic Women International, said she was surprised that the question of Western Sahara had been inscribed on the agenda once again, while it should rest with the International Court of Justice.  According to Islam, ties of loyalty made the sovereignty of the State official.  International law could not overlook that reality.  The Saharawi people had failed in their obligation to show loyalty to the King of Morocco.  The right to self-determination should not be used as a pretext to abandon unity.  Why did Algeria want to limit the existence of the Saharawi people only to the Moroccan part of the Territory?  Was there a difference between the Moroccan and Algerian Saharawi?  It was time to end the masquerade and bring the Algerians to the negotiating table with Morocco.


Drawing attention to the situation in the Tindouf refugee camps, she said that testimony by survivors who had managed to flee was almost unbearable.  One of the most tragic examples of the situation there was the deportation of children from Tindouf to Cuba.  Those deportations were not mentioned in the media and did not seem to interest non-governmental organizations.  Apart from the systematic violations of human rights and the diversion of food aid, the separation of children from their families was another tragedy.  Upon arrival in Cuba, the children’s travel papers were taken away.  Apart from indoctrination and military instruction, they were exploited as labourers and servants.  When they returned to Tindouf, often after 10 years, the shock was terrible.  Sometimes their parents had died and they had lost the habits and culture of the Saharawi.  The political aspect of the conflict could not be solved without dialogue between Morocco and Algeria.


TANYA WARBURG, Freedom for All, said fear and suspicion pervaded the POLISARIO refugee camps, with the refugees living in constant fear of arbitrary punishment and abuse.  The camps’ revolutionary councils wielded supreme power and any suspicion of dissent was publicly and brutally punished, often with torture and imprisonment.  To maintain and consolidate power, the POLISARIO Front separated husband and wives; children were removed from the care of their parents and siblings were separated.  Separated from their husbands, women were unprotected and often forced to remarry against their will and/or to bear different men’s children.  Young women were removed from familiar environments and systematically raped, remaining isolated until they gave birth.  All boys from the age of 15 lived in military camps and were trained to fight.  Humanitarian aid, provided by the international community for the welfare of the refugees, was sold illegally and the funds used to purchase weapons, in contravention of article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Even more shocking was the deportation of young children aged 7 and 8 to Cuba, Libya, Angola and Mozambique, she continued.  That was done as a punishment and a means of ensuring compliance.  While in exile, those children were often exploited, with many being forced to work in agriculture, tobacco factories, or as domestic servants.  Some of them eventually returned to the POLISARIO camps, but often encountered problems in adjusting and reintegrating into Saharawi society.  The children and victims of conflict in Western Sahara looked to the United Nations to help end their suffering.

SIDNEY ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, drew attention to the POLISARIO Front’s embezzlement of aid meant for refugees.  It had been proven that funds for the refugees had been illicitly rerouted for the benefit of the POLISARIO Front and the Committee should grant his organization the possibility to investigate further in order to identify the guilty and restore honesty.  There should also be a lifting of the blockade of the refugee camps.  An audit of the monies handed over and proper accounting procedures were needed.


He said that food donated by international non-governmental organizations had found its way to the markets of Nouadhibou in Mauritania.  Rerouting of aid had even been reported in the Algerian press.  Better management of that aid must be implemented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and not by remote control from Algiers.  The POLISARIO Front squandered more money on military projects than UNHCR spent globally on refugees.  An immediate investigation into the misappropriation of humanitarian aid was required.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.