MAINTAINING FOCUS ON WESTERN SAHARA, FOURTH COMMITTEE HEARS 23 MORE PETITIONERS

10 October 2007
GA/SPD/373

MAINTAINING FOCUS ON WESTERN SAHARA, FOURTH COMMITTEE HEARS 23 MORE PETITIONERS

10 October 2007
General Assembly
GA/SPD/373
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fourth Committee

4th Meeting (PM)

MAINTAINING FOCUS ON WESTERN SAHARA, FOURTH COMMITTEE HEARS 23 MORE PETITIONERS

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of decolonization items this afternoon, hearing 23 petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, against the backdrop of recent negotiations between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) regarding the disputed Territory.

A clear divide emerged between those who welcomed Morocco’s autonomy proposal as the only hope for a lasting solution to the conflict and those who greeted that proposal with scepticism and maintained that a referendum of self-determination was the only solution to this decolonization issue -– on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since the 1960s. 

Khaddad el Moussaoui, who had participated in the proposal’s development as Vice-President of Conseil consultatif des affaires sahariennes (CORCAS) Maroc, said that the proposal would allow the Saharawi people to take care of their own affairs.  It had been subjected to broad national consultations, in the context of a democratic, inclusive and transparent framework.

Morocco’s autonomy proposal, which had been submitted to the United Nations Secretary-General in April, was a “laudable and democratic proposal that has been largely approved by the international community”, said Lord Newall, President of the International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners.  It would allow for a final agreement to be submitted for a referendum by the Saharawis.

Other speakers said that Morocco’s proposal did not adequately reflect the principle of self-determination, which was a basic human right.  It also did not meet the criteria for “negotiations without preconditions”, as called for in Security Council resolution 1754 (2007).

Norman Paech, a member of the German Bundestag and a professor of international public law, said that by limiting its willingness to negotiate to a form of autonomy within the Moroccan borders and under the rule of its King, Morocco was imposing preconditions.  “A right of self-determination that was limited to autonomy within another State, and that excluded from the outset the possibility of independence, was no such thing”, he said.

Several speakers focused their concerns on humanitarian aid intended for the refugee population, which they said was being diverted by the POLISARIO leadership and their Algerian authorities.  Petitioners called for an international commission to investigate such criminal practices, including one who said that humanitarian aid -- like food and baby milk – was being sold at exorbitant prices by POLISARIO and their Algerian “masters”, who had sunk to an “all-time low”. 

Another speaker noted that, although urgent appeals had been made to the international community to assist, it was difficult to plan a course of action without having conducted proper assessments.  Algerian authorities had systematically refused to allow the humanitarian organizations to conduct a census in the camps, to establish the exact number of people needing help.

A parliamentarian from Belgium said his Government had launched a humanitarian mission comprising Belgian officials and others that would begin work in Western Sahara this week.  He pledged to return next year to report the findings.

Also speaking today were the Deputy of Seine-Maritime and Mayor of Gonfreville l’Orcher, France; a representative of the Italian Interparliamentary Group for Friendship with Saharawi People; a member of the Association of the Friends of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic; President of the Jaima Saharawi Associal of Reggio Emilia, Italy; Chairman of the Surrey Three Faiths Forum; the former President of the Belgian Interparliamentary Group for Peace in the Western Sahara; and Vice-President of the National Coordination of Forza.

Also:  Policy Adviser and Chairman, Action Internationale Femmes; Assistant at the Centre of International Law and the Political Science Faculty of Université Libre de Bruxelles; the former President of the Canary Islands; a representative of the International Relations Commission of the Municipality of Naples; three students; President, Women Centrist Democrat International; President, Eusko Alkartasuna; a member of Universidad Autonoma de Madrid; and Vice-President, European Free Alliance.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 11 October, to continue its general debate on decolonization.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to hear petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in Press Release GA/SPD/371.)

Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

JEAN-PAUL LECOQ, Deputy of Seine-Maritime and Mayor of Gonfreville l’Orcher, France, expressed hope that the Moroccan and Saharawi people would begin a dialogue in good faith.  The town of Gonfreville, and that of J’refia, a Western Sahara village, were “sister cities”, and his townspeople were in solidarity with the Saharawi people of J’refia, residing in Tindouf camps.  The Secretary-General’s efforts in fostering dialogue between the two peoples were laudable, and it was now up to the international community, and the countries that maintained privileged relations with Morocco, to ensure the success of those negotiations.

He said that the 30-year silence of Governments, political parties and media made the Mediterranean basin a dangerous place, and the Maghreb, an unstable one.  The silence had been all too accommodating for Morocco, which had occupied the Western Sahara for 30 years, while blocking all attempts to implement an earlier settlement plan proposed by the international community.  In addition, the Moroccan autonomy proposal would disavow previous commitments by the Moroccan Government, and such irresponsibility was unacceptable.

While having accepted the settlement plan suggested by the United Nations, Morocco had proceeded to postpone the date of the referendum by blocking the identification of voters, he said.  Also, Morocco had left the Organization of African Unity because it recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic; Morocco never failed to prohibit any mention of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic within the international organizations where it belonged.  Particularly worrying was the repression of Saharawi citizens, who dared to fight the “Moroccanization” of the Sahara.  It was time for the Committee to insist on an end to Morocco’s intransigent policies.

Lord NEWALL, President of the International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners, said there had been many instances of human rights violations by the Algerian military, not only against the people in the Tindouf camps and the former Moroccan prisoners, but also against their own compatriots.  Those violations had taken place after the suspended 1991 elections, and which, in turn, had resulted in a bloody civil war that cost the lives of more than 200,000 Algerians.  Turning to the Moroccan initiative, he said it was commendable because it guaranteed the Saharawis democratic self-rule and the promise to run their own affairs in the economic, administrative and social spheres.  Furthermore, the initiative had been adopted by the Landers in Germany, by various regions in Spain and, to a certain extent, Britain.  He reminded the Committee that the Moroccan initiative allowed for a final agreement, stemming from ongoing, un-sponsored, direct negotiations, to be submitted to a referendum for the Saharawis.  In fact, it was a “laudable and democratic proposal that has been largely approved by the international community”.

Turning to Moroccan prisoners in Algerian prisons in Tindouf, he said that they had been jailed in inhumane conditions for more than 25 years and were considered the longest-serving war prisoners in the world.  Those who died were buried in the desert, and their families were calling on Algerian authorities to allow them to repatriate their bodies.  He hoped the remains of those Moroccan prisoners of war were returned speedily.  He called on those same authorities to compensate those who died in Algerian prisons, and to respond favourably to the families of the “disappeared”.  “After all, Algeria has earned $70 billion in oil revenues this year and could well afford to house and feed the refugees, and compensate families for the suffering and violation of human rights of their loved ones.  This is not happening”, he said.

CARMEN MOTTA, Italian Parliament Intergroup of Friendship with Saharawi People, said that the Italian Chamber of Deputies had approved a motion in July to support the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.  It followed a series of parliamentary initiatives and missions to Western Sahara and Algerian refugee camps, and testified to the Italian Parliament’s concern with the matter.  Since there was no administrative authority to oversee the Territory’s social and economic development, or to guard the rights of its people, that task should fall to the United Nations.

She said that the Secretary-General should ensure that the world received impartial information on the health, education and socio-economic conditions of the Saharawi people.  Such information should be transmitted to the Fourth Committee, the Security Council and other interested intergovernmental organizations.  The United Nations should also act as an advocate on behalf of the Saharawi people, on the issue of human rights and exploitation of natural resources.  The United Nations should formulate an economic development programme for the Saharawi people, because, up to now, the Organization’s assistance programmes in the area had been modest.  Independent information, advocacy and stepped-up assistance from the United Nations would support the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy and demonstrate to the Saharawi people that their plight had not been forgotten by the rest of the world.

ALAIN DAUGER, Association des amis de la R épublique arabe sahraoui d émocratique et Comit é limousin de solidarit é avec le peuple sahraoui, said that the trampling of the elementary right of a people, such as what was ongoing in Western Sahara, was a challenge for the United Nations.  Western Sahara was a country in which the rights had been confiscated -- first and foremost, the right to self-determination.  The occupying Power, Morocco, had sought to justify itself for more than 30 years, yet no nation recognized Morocco’s sovereignty.  The Saharawi people, split in two halves, continued to suffer.  The exiled civilian population suffered from lack of food, and were vulnerable to diseases.  The Territory’s natural resources had been plundered by the occupying Power.  In the occupied Territories, the Moroccan forces humiliated the population, including through torture, intimidation and disappearances.

He said that since the Saharawi people claimed no rights, but those that were theirs, had demonstrated their respect for the law by disavowing terrorism, had demonstrated their ability to organize in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) and had proved their patience and determination in resolving the crisis by entering into recent negotiations in Manhasset, he urged the Committee to make several recommendations to the General Assembly.  Those recommendations were:  not letting the question of Western Sahara pass in silence; recognizing the issue as one of decolonization; and allowing the Saharawi population to be effectively protected until a solution that conformed to international law was established.  He expressed the hope that the founding principles of the United Nations Charter would prevail.

NORMAN PAECH, member of the German Bundestag and professor of international public law, said the conflict in Western Sahara was one of the last colonial conflicts awaiting resolution.  Although the International Court of Justice, in 1975, had called for a referendum in which the Saharawi people could determine their future on the basis of the right to self-determination, efforts since then  -- including by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and the peace plans proposed by the United Nations Special Envoy James Baker -- had not led to the referendum.  Moreover, independent observers, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International, deplored the miserable living conditions of the Tindouf camps’ 90,000 refugees, the existence of countless anti-personnel mines and sub-munitions, which infested the country.  Contact between families was continually disrupted by the Moroccan military.

Against that background, he said, Security Council resolution 1754 (2007) was welcome.  It called on both parties to enter into “negotiations without preconditions in good faith”.  It deserved the international community’s support because it did not release the United Nations from its obligations, and it called for the people of Western Sahara to be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination through a referendum.  Noting that both sides had submitted proposals, he said that Morocco, by limiting its willingness negotiate to a form of autonomy within the Moroccan borders and under the rule of its King, was imposing preconditions.  A right of self-determination that was limited to autonomy within another State, and that excluded from the outset the possibility of independence, was no such thing.  It would only BE worthy of the name if it allowed the people to take a free and unrestricted decision about their political status and economic, social and cultural development.  Only if both sides gave that right the significance accorded to it by international law would the negotiations bring the hoped for success.

CINZIA TERZI, President, Jaima Saharawi Associal of Reggio Emilia, Italy, said MINURSO had done little to mitigate the human rights situation there.  In 1996, MINURSO was accused by Amnesty International of being a “silent witness” to human rights violations against the Saharawi civilians, and behaved like spectators in May 1995, October 1999, and the summer of 2005, when peaceful demonstrations in El Ayoun, Western Sahara, were violently suppressed by Moroccan security forces.

She said that Morocco kept tight control over the flow of information, inside and outside Western Sahara, and that, after the 2005 intifada, many foreign politicians and activists were blocked at the airport.  But the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited the Tindouf refugee camps in May 2006, had declared that almost every violation of human rights towards the Saharawi people stemmed from not applying the right to self-determination.  In a report that was not made public, the High Commissioner asked the international community, acting through the Security Council and the Secretary-General, to arrive at a political solution acceptable to both sides.  Indeed, some European countries had encouraged Morocco’s “politics of occupation and human rights violations” in Western Sahara.  There was no hope of security and economic development in the Maghreb region until the conflict was resolved.

SYDNEY S. ASSOR, Chairman, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, began by addressing a comment made by a previous petitioner on microcredit, to which he said the people of Western Sahara did not benefit from such a facility.  Next, he asked for Algeria to open its refugee camps to observers, and, finally, on a comment regarding Morocco’s “medieval Government” -- he reminded those present that elections had been held there three weeks ago, resulting in three opposition parties sharing power.

He went on to express hope that the United Nations would enact a similar initiative to that of the European Union, which was opening a permanent base in Tindouf to oversee the distribution of aid to the detainees of POLISARIO.  So much aid had been rerouted, leaving many in despair.  The Organization should also insist that the Algerians and the POLISARIO accelerate the course of implementation for such an initiative, so as to bring succour to the detainees, especially with winter fast approaching.  He also invited those who had read the plans for the autonomous region to help with its acceptance and implementation, so that he did not have to continue to beg to be allowed to visit the detainees.

As for those that had not read the plan, he asked them to do so.  In so doing, they would then see how much Morocco had invested in order to reach a fair solution to the problem.  Indeed, the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on negotiations on the Sahara region had shown much progress, and there had been the positive appreciation of the Moroccan initiative.  On the basis of that, he appealed to the Committee to end the despair, intemperate action of jailers, hunger and disease.  Because he had so frequently reminded the Committee of the catastrophic food shortages in the Tindouf Camps, a problem “created by the POLISARIO and Algerian authorities”, he said he would not list the many organizations that had identified the misappropriation and rerouting of humanitarian aid.

JACINTA DE ROECK, former president, Belgian Interparliamentary Group for Peace in the Western Sahara, said that, while a new dynamic existed in the Western Sahara conflict since the Moroccan autonomy proposal was introduced in the spring, she expressed some reservations about the proposal and its presentation by a Moroccan delegation dispatched to explain it to European leaders, the Belgian Parliament among them.  Yet, the world should not look back, but aim for a future solution.

Unfortunately, she said, the question of Western Sahara still lacked support in the international political world.  There was much ignorance on the issue, and the political attention span of many politicians reached no farther than “their own backyard”.  Still, it was the solemn duty of the international community to motivate, make aware and incite the rest of the world -– particularly the younger generation -– to support the Saharawi people in their fight for self-determination.  Most Saharawis, whether under occupation or in exile, were determined to fight for that inalienable right.  Morocco should respect human rights, democracy and international law, and make them the foundation of their autonomy proposal, instead of following the path of oppression and violating international law, as it had done thus far.  The rest of the world should stay focused on that conflict, increase pressure on Morocco to meet its social, political and legal duties, and make the world remember that the issue was all about the simple right of each people to decide their future.

MIRCO CARLONI, Vice-President, National Coordination of Forza, Italy, said the question of Western Sahara still inflamed relations between the Maghreb countries, and hindered development between northern and southern countries of the Mediterranean basin.  The United Nations referendum process had met insurmountable obstacles due to the “particularities of the Saharawi population”, which was concerned with the referendum and its operation.  To overstep that stalemate, the international community had called on the two parties to enter into negotiations.  While POLISARIO and Algeria had adopted an uncompromising stand, Morocco had shown great willingness to enter direct negotiations, and had proposed to grant the Saharawis autonomy with a parliament, a government and a judicial organ within the framework of Morocco’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said that the recent rounds of negotiations in Manhasset between the two parties were a positive step, and the leadership of POLISARIO and Algeria should act with more flexibility.  The next round of negotiations should bring hope for the autonomy plan and the subsequent establishment of stability and union in the Maghreb.

There had been massive human rights violations, forced deportations to Cuba, torture, summary executions and inhuman treatment suffered by the population of the Tindouf camps, he said.  Humanitarian aid for that population had been embezzled and resold on the black markets in neighbouring countries, for the benefit of POLISARIO leaders, while the people of the camps lived in precarious conditions.  He called for the UNHCR to conduct a census of the Saharawi people.  He also called for the United Nations and the international community to:  give support to the negotiations, leading to a self-determination referendum; to put an end to the inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment in the refugee camps; allow non-governmental organizations to have access to the camps, and lift the blockage imposed on Tindouf camps; and allow the Saharawi to return freely to their homeland.

REBECCA HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) said she rejected what had just been said about Cuba, characterizing the remarks as “slander” and “a lie”. Some 500 students studied in Cuba at different levels, which was reported in document A/62/68/Add.1 before the Committee.  Instead of insulting Cuba with such comments, it would be a better use of time to urge Member States to follow Cuba’s example and offer more educational opportunities to people in Non-Self-Governing Territories.

LATIFA AIT-BAALA, Policy Adviser and Chairman, Action internationale femmes, voiced concern over the suffering of black ethnic minorities and clandestine immigrants in Western Sahara, who were made into slaves.  The Manhasset negotiations presented an opportunity to end their tragic situation.   While waiting for those negotiations to succeed, the humanitarian issue must be dealt with immediately.  Despite POLISARIO’s declared intentions, they had been unable to eradicate slavery, or to deal with the issue of racism.  Information on the issue was repressed.  According to a report by Reporters without Borders in May, two journalists, who went to the Tindouf camps to work on a film, had been stopped by POLISARIO.  Their materials had been confiscated and detained, and they had been freed only through MINURSO’s intervention.

She said that members of her own organization had witnessed scenes of slavery, and it called upon humanitarian organizations to denounce that practice in Tindouf.  Images from the camps that were broadcast abroad did not often reflect the reality.  Indeed, the POLISARIO information services within Western Sahara had the mission of imposing one way of thinking upon the inhabitants, with Saharawis offering opposing views of being pegged as agents of Moroccan and Mauritanian authorities and hunted down.  The United Nations should ensure the protection for civilian populations, and end the practice of slavery in those camps.  The perpetrators should be brought to justice.

TANYA WARBURG, Director, Freedom for All, said that since the Committee had met last year, a new dynamism had been injected into the long-running Western Sahara conflict with the Moroccan proposal for autonomy.  It aimed to establish a “pragmatic, permanent” solution, and create lasting peace and stability.  It also conformed to international standards and was supported by an overwhelming majority of Saharawi people.  It was the best means of solving the conflict and ending the appalling human rights abuses in the Tindouf camps, where Saharawi refugees had been imprisoned, and denied the most basic human rights and protections afforded by United Nations conventions.  She called for an international commission to investigate the human rights violations and dispense justice in those Algeria-based camps.

Noting the ways in which the Moroccan autonomy proposal would uphold the basic human rights and freedoms of the people in the camps, she said the long-suffering refugees were entitled to expect that the international community would come to their aid by supporting the “innovative and far-sighted” Moroccan proposal.  Currently, families were forcibly separated in the Tindouf camps, and children were sent abroad, as a means of enforcing compliance with POLISARIO’s totalitarian and authoritarian power.  Such actions contravened many articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Fear, intimidation and arbitrary punishment pervaded the camps; and freedom of movement was restricted.  The sale of humanitarian aid at exorbitant prices by POLISARIO and their Algerian “masters” had sank to an “all-time low” this summer.  Saharawi refugees who had escaped the camps had attested to a growing sense of despair at the extortion and exploitation of goods, like food and baby milk, by the POLISARIO leadership.  She called on the Committee to promote a peaceful, political solution to end the Saharawi refugees’ sufferings through negotiations between POLISARIO and Morocco.

VINCENT CHAPAUX, Assistant at the Centre of International Law and the Political Science Faculty of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, said Morocco’s continued presence in Western Sahara was a breach of the right to self-determination.  Accordingly, every State within the international community was obliged to end that act of violation of international law.  Such an obligation was neither moral nor ethical, but juridical.  There were those who would argue that international law did not actually require States to put an end to the violation, but that argument was fallacious.  Such an obligation was “an obligation of means”, not a soft obligation.

Certainly, in cases where there was no available means to act, a State could not bear responsibility for not having reached the objectives the norm demanded, he continued.  But on what material weakness could all the States of the globe lean on to convince international law to absolve them from having to put an end to the occupation of Western Sahara?  Indeed, once combined, the resources of all States would easily solve the problem.

JANE BAHAIJOUB, Chairman, Family Protection, said she was encouraged by the United Nations-sponsored talks between the conflicting parties, since she had always said that a political solution was needed in Western Sahara.  While a political settlement was being negotiated, the plight of the civilian population in the Tindouf camps -- who lived in inhumane conditions -- must be addressed.  Algerian authorities had systematically refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UNHCRto conduct a census in the camps, to establish the exact number of people there and their origin.  She asked why.

She said that the Saharawis were a nomadic desert people, and enforced confinement was a violation of their human rights.  Also, there had been a constant problem of food supplies to the camps, and urgent appeals had been made to the international community without proof of the number of people to be fed.  Algerian authorities were strongly requested to provide refugees with travel documents, so they might choose where to live, and be allowed to “vote with their feet”.  Answers must also be given regarding the fate of disappeared prisoners in the camps, estimated to be between 350 and 500.  The uncertainty of their fate had profound psychological and physical impacts on families and friends.  She reiterated a request to recover the bodies buried in 49 graves near the main prison, “Hamdi Ba Sheikh”, near the POLISARIO headquarters at Rabouni.  Those must be recovered by the victims’ families, and repatriated to their country.  She appealed to Member States to help end the conflict by considering the merits of the proposed autonomy statute for the Sahara region.

DENIS DUCARME, a member of Belgian Parliament, said his statement was delivered in the spirit of his Prime Minister’s recent statements to the General Assembly on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Any developments in the Maghreb should uphold that Convention.  The Government of Belgium had recently heard from a number of Saharawis, who testified about violations of the rights of the child -- testimony that spoke of, among other things, forced labour, political indoctrination, and the military training of children, all of which should be dealt with in more intensive manner.  His small country should fully shoulder its responsibility.  Towards that end, the Government had set up a humanitarian mission, which would be “neutral and objective”, and composed of Belgian officials and others interested in the rights of the child.  It had begun work this week.  It would also include a team of psychologists, and be coordinated with the Governments of Algeria, Morocco and Cuba.  He pledged to return next year and report on the findings, which would also be published.

Ms. HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) again took the floor to reject what had been said about her country.  Certain comments raised by the previous speaker were simply lies, fabricated to offend the generous people of Cuba.  Her country attached a particular importance to education, believing it to be a moral duty of all Member States to offer educational opportunities to Non-Self-Governing Territories.

She said that, every year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Member States to offer education opportunities to students of Non-Self-Governing Territories, including Saharawi students -- past ones included 57/134, 58/105, 59/130 and 60/113.  Each year, the Secretary-General requested Member States to report on the implementation of those resolutions.  Cuba did so every year.  More than 500 Saharawi students were studying in Cuba, as reported in document A/62/68/Add.1.  Cuba offered such opportunities in solidarity with the peoples of the world.  Some 31,000 youths from the developing world studied free of charge there.  In 2007, 2,000 foreign students graduated from Cuban universities, and there had been 47,000 students in all from 120 countries, most of which were African.

Mr. DUCARME said rules of courtesy did not allow anyone to call a parliamentarian such as himself a “liar”.  He had simply reported testimony gathered by private individuals, which were certainly valid.

The CHAIRMAN of the Committee then reminded the speaker that he did not have the floor.

Ms. HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba), raising a point of order, said the speaker did not have the right to the floor.  She asked that that be reflected in the records, and said that such acts should not be repeated in future.

The CHAIRMAN then gave the floor to the next petitioner.

LORENZO OLARTE CULLEN, former President of the Canary Islands, said that Cuba, Venezuela, the Saharawi people and the Canary Islands had always been brothers.  Noting the history of the events that had led to the Madrid Accords, he said the agreement had been signed with respect for international standards.  In the Canary Islands, the Saharawi issue had always been followed and the Tindouf refugees had been offered aid.  Those subsidies had never been given to help the Frente POLISARIO.  Hopefully, the Saharawi people would not fall into a cycle of violence, but they would only be able to avoid it if they felt they were being considered on an equal footing with other parties.

He felt that King Mohammed’s autonomy proposal was “courageous”, and offered an arrangement that was unprecedented in Morocco.  He expressed solidarity with the people of Algeria, who had welcomed part of the Saharawi people to their country, yet added that the desire for lasting peace might find difficulty in Algeria’s position.  In any case, full cooperation with the United Nations was essential.  An autonomy statute with full competence and statutes for an associated State should respect the tenets of democracy, and must include an elected parliament, a government headed by a president freely elected by that parliament, and a higher court of justice comprised of Saharawis.  Other basic institutions should eventually be created, including an ombudsman for human rights and freedoms and an economic council, although prior negotiations were needed to constitutionally include those.  The autonomous region would need a fiscal regime similar to the one enjoyed by the Canary Islands.

KHADDAD EL MOUSSAOUI, Vice-President, Conseil consultatif des affaires sahariennes (CORCAS) maroc, said that Morocco, heeding the Security Council’s calls, had proposed an autonomy statute that would allow the Saharawi people to take care of their own affairs.  That initiative, prepared through CORCAS, had been subjected to broad national consultations, in the context of a democratic, inclusive and transparent framework.  The membership of CORCAS was broadly representative of the region, and could give views on all matters affecting the Territory.  Among other things, its work included proposing policies to allow for the return and reintegration of Saharawi refugees, promoting reconciliation among Saharawis, and ending conflicts. 

He said that the autonomy statute prepared by CORCAS had been presented to the King for approval, before being presented to the United Nations.  The President of CORCAS had then been received by the Secretary-General and the Security Council, as the head of a body representing the majority of Saharawis.  Subsequently, Morocco had participated in two negotiating rounds, in a spirit of openness.  The last legislative elections in Morocco had clearly showed that Saharawis were willing to adhere to the democratic process of the country, and had sent a clear signal to the international community regarding their support for the initiative.  POLISARIO, on the other hand, had said it wanted a referendum, but that would simply prolong the suffering of the people and risk bringing instability to the Maghreb.

ALESSANDRO FUCITO, speaking on behalf of Rosa Russo Iervolino, Municipal Advisor and President of the International Relations Commission of the Municipality of Naples, said Naples had recently been welcoming Saharawi children and promoting a better understanding of their situation.  It awarded an honorary citizenship to Aminattou Haidar, a leader of Saharawi people, once imprisoned by Morocco.  The children that they hosted frequently came from refugee camps and were not welcome in Moroccan schools.  They were deprived of food and lived in unsanitary conditions, not for the lack of resources, but because of the absence of State institutions, which were only possible where there were recognized States.

He asked that United Nations decisions regarding the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people be acted upon and that a referendum be held.  Only through the exercise of international law could people be granted the possibility of living in peace.  Not to insist on those international rights would signify support for those who chose conflict and violence.  He also asked that the Italian representatives at the United Nations intervene on the basis of those principles, and that the international community pursue the concerns raised in the Secretary-General’s report concerning human rights violations.  For that to happen, the mandate for MINURSO should be extended to include vigilance on issues of human rights.

AGAILA ABBA HEMEIDA, a Saharawi student in the United States, said that she had been born in a Saharawi refugee camp, which had been in existence for 32 years and was one of the largest in the world.  Like thousands of other Saharawi people, her life had been greatly affected by the conflict in Western Sahara.  She had lost her father, her health had been threatened and her family had suffered in the refugee camps.  Saharawis in the occupied Territory had suffered, as well.  People had been tortured, imprisoned and humiliated by the Moroccan police, and that treatment was becoming a daily occurrence.  The occupation, which had started with the Green March in 1975, had bombed, shut, raped, burned and destroyed the Saharawi people and land.  It had forced the nation’s separation, with half in the occupied Territories, half in the refugee camps – both waiting for the promised referendum of self-determination.  That promise had initially given them hope, but that had been crushed.

Despite the nightmare and dark history of the past, she said that the Saharawi people still waited in the desert heat for the promise of a referendum.  Its truth and principle of justice against colonialism gave them hope still.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had once said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”  The Saharawi people also had a dream of seeing their colourful flag rise again and of freedom reigning in their capital city, in a free Western Sahara.

ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, President, Women Centrist Democrat International, said attention must be given to the civilian population, which had suffered considerably.  The question of Western Sahara should have been resolved by the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion, which recognized ties of loyalty and sovereignty between the people of the land with the Kings of Morocco.  Unfortunately, the matter was used by Algeria as a political instrument against Morocco.

She said that the inhabitants of Saharawi camps had risen up many times against POLISARIO, to protest their precarious living conditions.  The Territory was a “marketplace of deceit”, where the trafficking of clandestine immigrants, cigarettes and other things prospered.  She was particularly outraged at POLISARIO’s persistent policy of sending children to Cuba, despite repeated calls by non-governmental organizations to end that practice.  Although she welcomed Cuba’s offer of educational opportunities, in the case of the Saharawis, children as young as seven years old were forcibly removed from their families to live in Cuba under Algeria documents.  By the time they reached 26 or 27 years of age, they had lost their traditional ties to home and family.

Now that Morocco had put forward a proposal to grant autonomy to the region, the United Nations and the international community were duty-bound to lend it some support, she said, appealing to the international community to pressure Algeria to find a solution to the problem.

Ms. HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO, while acknowledging the respectful tone taken by the previous speaker, said she regretted that the discussion had become a diatribe against a policy of her country.  In Cuba, all students were guaranteed equal conditions.  Cuba’s educational institutions promoted multiculturalism.  Furthermore, a requirement of granting scholarships to students was their commitment to return to their country of origin.  Finally, Cuba had a national commission that accredited degrees obtained by students, and many countries recognized those degrees, although there were exceptions.

BEGONA ERRAZTI, President of Eusko Alkartasuna, denounced the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, and called for the exercise of a democratic referendum for free self-determination, which would counter the “false proposal” for autonomy made by Morocco.  She refuted several points made by prior petitioners that Western Sahara was a Territory waiting for decolonization.  Morocco was not an administering Power, but an occupying Power.  That occupation had not been authorized by the United Nations; historical fact had not legitimized Morocco’s occupation.  Only military force had been used to legitimize it.  The POLISARIO Front was a liberation front that had been recognized as the only legitimate representative of the Saharawi people by the United Nations.

She said that respect for the rights of the people of Western Sahara must be considered, foremost among them, the right to self-determination.  A recent report by the Human Rights Commission mentioned the stepping-up of human rights violations by Morocco.  Indeed, the repression exercised by Morocco was systematic.  Violations, such as the denial of freedom of movement and expression, was documented in Amnesty International reports.  She called on MINURSO to monitor respect for human rights by Morocco in the occupied Sahara.

GILONNE D’ORIGNEY, a student, said the Government of Spain, which she called the administering Power of Western Sahara, should reassert its authority and put an end to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, “one of the vilest and grossest violations of human rights and humanitarian law today”.  Nothing short of a vote for self-determination by Saharawi would satisfy the process of self-determination.  The Saharawi should be allowed to choose between several options of statehood, including independence.  Morocco was “not the legitimate business partner” for transactions in the Territory; Spain was.  Despite claims that an independent Western Sahara would become a breeding ground for terrorists, the Saharawi and POLISARIO had never engaged in terrorist acts against its people.  However, the same could not be said of Morocco. 

She asked the Committee if it remembered East Timor and the work it had done to make that country free.  The occupation in Western Sahara must end.  The Saharawi should vote in a referendum.  Morocco should allow human rights organizations to access the Territory.  Countries who supported Morocco should reconsider their alliances and decisions.  Noting that many of the Committee’s members represented countries who had “walked the road to freedom and escaped colonialism”, she also asked the Committee if that road belonged only to a few.

BERNABE LOPEZ GARCIA, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, said that, although there had been many missed opportunities in the past to promote peace in the region, the talks in Manhasset showed that a consensus could indeed be reached, provided the parties involved acted with courage.  The initiative should not be viewed as a manoeuvre to preserve the status quo.  While it was true that, in the past, relevant parties could have taken steps to lay a foundation for a united Maghreb, the Madrid pact of 1975, for instance, merely replaced one dictatorship with another.

He said that the parties to the current negotiations should remember to ask for the right of return, amnesty for those who had participated in the war, the return of all prisoners, while preserving a link between the region and Morocco.  Also, although Morocco had promised, in principle, to a general amnesty, it should also promise to put an end to the repressive policies practised in the region.  It should, for instance, help identify disappeared persons and restore dignity to the communities that had been subjected to forms of collective punishment.

ANA MIRANDA, Vice-President, European Free Alliance, with responsibility for the Galician Nationalist Bloc, expressed solidarity between the people of Galicia and the Saharawi people, and POLISARIO, their legitimate representative, and called on the United Nations to pursue a solution to the question of Western Sahara with greater urgency.  The question of Western Sahara was a decolonization matter that demanded a forceful political answer through the self-determination of the Saharawi people, and not via cosmetic political measures that shamed the United Nations position in the world.  Western Sahara was a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and Morocco had no title of sovereignty.  Its annexation of the Territory was a clear violation of international law.  A referendum of self-determination was not negotiable and would be the definitive decolonization of the Spanish colony.

She said that the Saharawi people were an exiled people, who had been deprived of their land, sea, air and natural resources.  The European Union was not free of responsibility in the matter.  For example, it had engaged in fishing agreements with Morocco.  Also, the exiled children in Tindouf’s refugee camps survived in precarious conditions, and the international community was complicit in allowing that situation to continue.  The Saharawi children must be allowed to live, grow up and be educated in their own country.

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