Ongoing Stalemate over Status of Western Sahara Creates Breeding Ground for Terrorist Activity, Human Rights Abuses, Fourth Committee Told

7 October 2010
GA/SPD/453

Ongoing Stalemate over Status of Western Sahara Creates Breeding Ground for Terrorist Activity, Human Rights Abuses, Fourth Committee Told

7 October 2010
General Assembly
GA/SPD/453
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

5th Meeting (PM)

Ongoing Stalemate over Status of Western Sahara Creates Breeding Ground

 

for Terrorist Activity, Human Rights Abuses, Fourth Committee Told

 

As Committee Continues General Debate on Decolonization, Petitioners

Warn of Global Community’s ‘Dangerous Lack of Interest’, in Resolving Dispute

Continuing its general debate on decolonization issues today, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) focused its attention on the question of Western Sahara, as petitioners appealed for resolute action on the part of the United Nations and the wider international community to effectively tackle a raft of injustices they believed gripped the region, including terrorism, slavery, natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses.

Erik Jensen, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), said there was a burgeoning of terrorist activity in the region, and recent killings and abductions in Mauritania highlighted its vulnerability to “undesirable elements”.  Such dangers were likely to intensify so long as the Western Sahara issue remained unresolved.

“A peaceful resolution to the conflict was needed in order to bring a normal life and the prospect of a better future for the people of Western Sahara,” he declared, noting that the Security Council had made clear that only realism and compromise would make a peaceful solution possible.   Morocco would be obliged to make meaningful concessions, and the Frente Polisario would need to surrender certain aspirations, he added.

Another petitioner echoed the former Special Representative’s concern that the Western Sahara dispute created a situation ripe for the spread of terrorism, and he warned that the problem had now become an international security issue.  With the current situation, the Al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb could easily penetrate, similar to what was done in Afghanistan, which would lead to enormous violence in the region and could affect countries such as France and Spain.  He said that various intelligence organizations had pointed to links between Al-Qaida and the Frente Polisario in the Maghreb, and said that Osama bin Laden had supposedly given his personal instruction for activities in the Maghreb.

Several speakers cautioned that there was a “dangerous lack of interest” from the international community when it came to the plight of the Saharawis, especially regarding the exploitation of natural resources of the occupied Territories.  They argued that Morocco sold the resources of the Sahara — from phosphates to fish and even sand — without approval and benefit of the Saharawi people.

One petitioner argued that Morocco’s illegal exploitation of the natural resources in Western Sahara was being carried out despite its international obligations and countless General Assembly resolutions, while the international community had decided to avert its eyes.  Pushed by Spanish fisheries and preferred treatment from the French Government vis-à-vis Morocco, the European Union had replaced a respect for legal principles with “ruthless realpolitik”, by signing a fisheries agreement with Morocco that included Western Saharan waters.  In that regard, she urged the establishment of a mechanism to place the proceeds from the exploitations of the natural resources under international administration.

Meanwhile, a petitioner said, those in the Tindouf camps lived a “life of hell”, as the camps were among the most arid places in the world, and those living within them faced torture, violence, oppression and the impact of a blockade set up by the Algerian intelligence service.  Women in the camps had been forced to “accept the status quo”, especially regarding polygamy, and were forced to become “reproductive machines”.

Echoing those sentiments, another petitioner called for international humanitarian non-governmental organizations to help lift the blockade imposed on the population in the Tindouf camps, and allow the people to return to “their motherland — Morocco”.  He further said that the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco was a step forward to ending the Sahara dispute, and would stop human rights violations and miserable circumstances in the Tindouf camps.  The plan was the only reliable, applicable, realistic and innovative solution considered as a matter of preserving sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of Morocco.

One petitioner in particular, a filmmaker who worked in the camps, expressed dismay that Human Rights Watch had found that among Saharawis, “black people were still living in slavery”, both in the Tindouf camps and in areas around Laâyoune.  However, the United Nations was not supporting or investigating these findings.  Even more upsetting, he said, was the dismissal of those instances of slavery as “cultural practices”.  Quoting a character from his film about life in one of the camps, he said:  “What is it called when a white child is taken away from its parents?  Kidnapping.  And what is it called when a black child is taken away from its parents?  They call it a cultural practice.”

Petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Miguel Castro Moreno, General Secretary of CEAS-Sahara; Fatma Saida, from Ligue Marocaine Pour La Protection de L’Enfance, Sara Mesa Flores, Association Canaria de Amistand con el Pueblo Saharawi; Glynn Torres-Spelliscy, Association of the Bar of the City of New York; Rowaida Farouk Mroue, Founder and Director of the International Network of Civic Activists for Supporting Autonomy; Ahmed Boukhari, from the Polisario Front; Antonio Lopez Ortiz, Secretary of the National Federation of Institutions Working in Solidarity with the Saharawi People; Jose Maria Gil Garre, journalist; Moulay Salma Ismaili, the father of a man believed to be detained illegally by the Frente Polisario; Erik Jensen, man of the Identification Commission and Head of MINURSO and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Western Sahara; and Nieves Cubas Armas, Jurists for Western Sahara.

Other petitioners included Lucien Manokou, Institute for Research in Humanities, Universite Omar Bongo; Monsignor Jean Abboud; Raul Ignancio Rodriguez Magdaleno, Observatorio Asturiano de Derechos Humanos para el Sahara Occidental; Roman Lopez Villacaña, from Mexico; Shoji Matsumoto, a specialist of international law; Gregorio González Vega, from Comisíon de Solidaridad y Cooperación con Los Pueblos de la Federacion Canaria de Municipios; Mary Beth Gallagher, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights; Salek Rahal; Jorge Vanossi, professor of constitutional law; Philippe Elghouayel, Together Foundation; Guindo Housseini, Party Convergence for Development of Mali; Fala Bossoula; Stephanie Hammond; Daniel Fallshaw, an Australian filmmaker; Franz Mekyna, Institut Austria Morocco; Maluza Wa Mavula Martin, CIRAC; and Mohamed Hamed Ali, Federacion Espanola de Entidades Religiosas Islamicas.

Petitioners also included Frank Tetzel, a German journalist; Sara Patricia Llorente, a lawyer and professor; Ignacio Marin Orio; Aguila Abba Hemeida; Nicola Quatrano, a judge and president of Observatorio Internazionale; Tim Kustusch, the Organization for Statehood and Freedom; Eric Cameron, World Action for Refugees; Alessandro Fucito; Gustavo Penades; Michelle Dover, Western Sahara Resource Watch; and Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Portavoz de Grupo Parliamentario de la Coalición Democrática en la Cámara de los Representantes del Pueblo.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 8 October, to conclude its consideration of decolonization issues.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues and was expected to hear the remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.

Question of Western Sahara

MIGUEL CASTRO MORENO, General Secretary of CEAS-Sahara, said there were those who thought coming before the Committee was a waste of time, and that nothing could be fixed.  But there was a population calling for justice and if only for that reason, it was a worthy “waste of time.”  He noted the difficult conditions of almost 200,000 refugees, and the fact that organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch repeatedly denounced violations of human rights taking place in the region.  Further, just last month, 30 people had taken part in a protest posing as “human shields” in defence of the Saharawi rights, and were brutally assaulted by Moroccan security forces.  “Forgive my harshness, but outside this emblematic place, we see a dangerous lack of interest,” regarding the exploitation of natural resources of the occupied Territories.  Morocco sold the resources of the Sahara — from phosphates to fish — without approval of, or benefit to, the Saharawi people.

FATMA SAIDA, from Ligue Marocaine Pour La Protection de L’Enfance, lived in “this artificial conflict” while the United Nations had been unable to find a solution in the last 35 years.  She called it a “life of hell,” especially as the camps were in one of the most arid places in the world.  People faced burning temperatures of at least 50º C in summer and 0º C in winter.  Moreover, blockades were set up by the Algerian intelligence service and ultimately, the entire area was left without any prospect for the future.  The Sarahawi people would never live in isolation because they always enjoyed freedom.  What was happening was a horrendous crime that could not ever be justified.  The population was subject to torture and violence.  Women had been forced to accept the status quo, especially regarding polygamy, and had become “machines”.

SARA MESA FLORES, Association Canaria de Amistand con el Pueblo Saharawi, said she lived in the Canary Islands and was fed up with the situation.  The media did not give the issue enough coverage.  And among other grievances, noted that France continually voted against the interests of the Saharawi people and the United Nations was not carrying out its own resolutions.  Ultimately, the Saharawi could not study, move or even say who they were.  She was tired of Saharan children being raped in the streets while parties in New York sat and did nothing.  She called the United Nations Charter “a joke” and said that many people like her would not allow the Saharawi people to be forgotten.

GLYNN TORRES-SPELLISCY, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, said that the Association had been monitoring the situation in Western Sahara, and had sent the United Nations Secretary-General two letters regarding human rights developments within that Territory.  Of concern was the allegation that Western Saharan human rights activists were being persecuted by Moroccan authorities.  Particularly, the Association was concerned about Aminatou Haidar, Chairwoman of the collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders, who was arrested in November 2009 after a visit to the United States.  Human rights must be respected by all parties at all times, he said, and said he had urged the Security Council in a letter to expand the mandate of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to include a mechanism for monitoring and reporting on human rights violations.

ROWAIDA FAROUK MROUE, Founder and Director of International Network of Civic Activists for Supporting Autonomy, said that the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco was a step forward to ending the Sahara dispute, and would stop human rights violations and alleviate the miserable circumstances in the Tindouf camps.  That plan was the only reliable, applicable, realistic and innovative solution considered as a matter of preserving sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of Morocco.  He called on international humanitarian non-governmental organizations to help lift the blockade imposed on the population in the Tindouf camps, and allow them to return to “their motherland – Morocco”.  He further said that members of the Frente Polisario had committed “criminal and terrorist acts”, such as the kidnapping of two Spanish tourists in Mauritania who were then handed over to Al-Qaida.

AHMED BOUKHARI, from the Polisario Front, said that Morocco had invaded his country in 1975 and his groups had been forced to wage a second independence war.  Later, King Hassan II of Morocco realized the illusion of that expansion policy and had said in August 1969:  “Why should we persist in making Morocco appear as an intransigent country that does not want to co-exist with its neighbours?”  Mr. Boukhari said that despite the prolonged injustice derived from the illegal occupation of his country and Morocco’s brutal repression, “we have never insulted the future.”  The region deserved peace and stability to meet the economic and security challenges facing it.  Today, Morocco wanted annexation through what it called “a proposal of autonomy”.  It considered negotiation, led by Ambassador Ross, to serve that end.  Neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly had cited that proposal as “serious and credible”.   Morocco’s current attitude put the United Nations and its friends in a very “embarrassing and untenable situation”.

ANTONIO LÓPEZ ORTIZ, Secretary of the National Federation of Institutions Working in Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said that once again, he was obliged to speak out at this forum to condemn and reject the actions of the Moroccan authorities against the Saharawi people.  He denounced the brutal repression and the systematic violation of the most basic human rights over which the authorities rode roughshod without fear of punishment.  On previous occasions, he had asked for the extension of the prerogatives of MINURSO to monitor and defend the human rights of the people of Western Sahara.  He said he could not understand why that Mission’s mandate did not already cover human rights, despite the general consensus that such a need existed.  He asked:  why it was that, if there was respect for the United Nations agreements, Morocco had been allowed to laugh in the face of international law?  He further asked whether the United Nations was unable to do more than it was currently doing to force Morocco to respect the “rules of the game”.

JOSE MARIA GIL GARRE, journalist, said Western Sahara could not stick with its old ways, but must be up to date and seek international security.  Global terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, were trying to make use of the conflict, and the Frente Polisario was again reverting to violence whenever an international statement on Western Sahara was released that the Frente felt was not in its own interests.  The attitude of the Frente Polisario placed the world in a situation - the development of which would be hard to foretell - but which would surely result in the instability of the entire Maghreb.

He said that various intelligence organizations had pointed to links between Al-Qaida and the Frente Polisario in the Maghreb, and had also it had also been said that Osama bin Laden had supposedly given his personal instruction for activities in the Maghreb.  The problem of Western Sahara had now become an international security issue.  The Frente Polisario constantly threatened to take up arms again, he said, adding that its actions were based on personal and tribal interests, and it acted in a dictatorial manner.  In that situation, Al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb could easily penetrate, as was done in Afghanistan, which would lead to enormous violence.  In light of all that, Morocco’s proposal was the best possible approach.

MOULAY SALMA ISMAILI, the father of a man believed to be detained illegally by the Frente Polisario, said that in 1979 the Frente had attacked and bombed his civilian refugee camp.  He said a bomb had fallen on his house, killing five of his children and injuring others, including his wife.  Still, others had been abducted and transferred to Algerian territory.  Since then, his son Mustapha had been abducted several times, and he did not currently know anything about his whereabouts or his fate.  In light of that, he appealed to the United Nations with the hope that the Fourth Committee would stand by his side in order to ensure the release of his son from “this gang of criminals”.  He further called for the prosecution of the criminals that had killed five of his children in 1979.

ERIK JENSEN, Chairman of the Identification Commission and Head of MINURSO and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Western Sahara from 1993-1998, said he had come to plead for the cause of peace.  A peaceful resolution to the conflict was needed in order to bring a normal life and the prospect of a better future for the people of Western Sahara.  Peace was needed to dispense with the massive military expenditure, to the advantage of all, throughout north-western Africa, and beyond.  There had been alternative peace plans, but ultimately none of them had proven to be mutually acceptable.  As the Security Council had made clear, only realism and compromise would make a peaceful solution possible.   Morocco would be obliged to make meaningful concessions, and the Frente Polisario would need to surrender certain aspirations.

The direct talks, which he had been involved with in 1996, had launched an understanding and had been accepted by both sides that excluded simple independence and straightforward integration.  The Security Council recognized the Autonomy plan as serious and credible, and could be a basis for a solution – but only a basis - as direct negotiations that promoted realism had the best potential to succeed if entered into without preconditions.  Meanwhile, he said, two opposing sides faced each other across a vast desert.  There was a burgeoning of terrorist activity in the region, and recent killings and abductions in Mauritania highlighted the region’s vulnerability to undesirable elements.  Those dangers were likely to intensify so long as the Western Sahara issue remained unresolved.

NIEVES CUBAS ARMAS, Jurists for Western Sahara, said Spain had been monitoring the presence of human rights violations through an independent lawyer in the territory, and international law was constantly being breached, including the commission of crimes such as the increase of colonized people in the territory, attacks on the Saharawi people, torture, abuse, arbitrary detention and refusal of access to work.   Morocco continued to lack jurisdiction over the civilian population in Western Sahara and had no recognized sovereignty based on the Geneva Convention.  Therefore, the starting points were void for procedural and material reasons.  The Moroccan administration process was thus illegal.

LUCIEN MANOKOU, Institute for Research in Humanities, Universit é Omar Bongo, spoke of the use of natural resources and said since 1975, Morocco has invested in the socio-economic development of the region.   Morocco’s presence was originally legitimate and thus it recovered the provinces of the South, and exploited the resources of the area.  In order to ensure all parts of Morocco were able to develop democratically, a special agency was set up to monitor the progress of all development projects.  Exploitation of resources was legal and helped the local people, and from a regional standpoint, they operated as a link between areas.

Monsignor JEAN ABBOUD, said that while he had visited Morocco, he had collected information about human rights violations by Polisario in the Tindouf camp in Algeria.  He noted rape, intimidation, pressure and one person who was seized by Polisario, and another man seized and kidnapped. A rbitrary arrests were also reported.  Persons had been forced to cut, eat and roast their own flesh.  There were people being crucified upside down in a chair. A mong other things, he said that dental torture had also occurred; detainees were branded with hot iron; detainees were forced to eat like animals with hands tied behind their backs; violence was routinely committed against women; and one woman who was forced to take a second husband by Polisario.  Another was seriously beaten and there have been cases of sexual violence and forced labour, he added.

RAUL IGNACIO RODRIGUEZ MAGDALENO, from Observatorio Asturiano de Derechos Humanos para el Sahara Occidental, said that the right to self-determination of the Saharawi had been breached through “bellicose and administrative means”, even through the peaceful protests of the Saharawi.  Owing to the seriousness of the situation, Morocco was pushing back holding a referendum, and the occupied Territories were subject to many human rights violations; this was in defiance of the United Nations Charter.

ROMAN LOPEZ VILLACAÑA, from Mexico, said this issue came up again and again because of the intransigence of the Polisario.  When Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) had been adopted, it aimed to ensure independence for colonies after the Second World War.  Subsequent resolutions recognized co-existence with a common Government.  However, Morocco had ensured telephone contact, land contact, roads, and de-mined them, so the status of autonomy had led to several other resolutions which had been taken up by the Security Council and regarded as an innovative approach.  He urged the international community to follow the example of the Russian Federation and Mexico, where they talked about the rights of indigenous peoples.

SHOJI MATSUMOTO, a specialist of international law, focused on State responsibility.  A series of human rights abuses had been reported, he said, highlighting, among others:  Mustafa Ould Sisi Mouloud was arrested by Polisario, and 20 beneficiaries of the family-visit flights programme sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were prevented from embarking at the Tindouf Camps; and a group of 54 Salam tribe members were arrested.  According to agreed upon rules of international law governing State responsibility, a State is responsible for all acts occurring on its own territory.  At the same time, it was responsible for all persons living on its territory or under its jurisdiction.  Since the Tindouf camps were located in Algeria, the State was fully responsible for what occurred in those camps.

GREGORIO GONZÁLEZ VEGA, from Comis íon de Solidaridad y Cooperación con Los Pueblos de la Federacion Canaria de Municipios, said that from the Canary Islands in recent months, he had seen a hardening of oppression of the Saharawi people.  Repression by police and military officials had been recently experienced by international observers who were assaulted by Moroccan authorities.  If the situation happened with international observers, he imagined what took place if one was a Saharawi.  In the Canary Islands, he observe the practices and watched with “amazement” over the arrest of Ms. Haidar, a renowned activist, who also went on a hunger strike after being detained.  He noted the media blackouts, which prevented information from getting out.  It was now time for MINURSO to be mandated to monitor human rights.  A referendum and compliance with United Nations resolutions were also needed.

MARY BETH GALLAGHER, of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, speaking on behalf of Aminatou Haider, a Human Rights Award recipient, said it was imperative for the United Nations to take an active role in supporting the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.  She also called for a fact-finding mission to Western Sahara to investigate the recent violations of human rights committed by the Moroccan authorities.  Ms. Haider was detained by Morocco in November 2009 for listing “ Western Sahara” as her home on her entry documents instead of “Moroccan Sahara”, but was released after a 32-day hunger strike.

SALEK RAHAL, said the Maghreb region had decided to choose openness, and there had been reform policies implemented to irreversibly ensure citizens all of their rights.  Against that backdrop, some associations had been established to look into the cases of individual human rights violations.  He welcomed the Moroccan plan for autonomy, and said that many from the Frente Polisario had made visits to Western Sahara.

JORGE VANOSSI, Professor of Constitutional Law, said Morocco provided for individual social and democratic rights for all, including for the people of Western Sahara.  As such, it met the needs of a constitutional democracy.  Morocco’s initiatives offered those rights, using legal and effective constitutional entities, to the people of Western Sahara.

PHILIPPE ELGHOUAYEL, speaking for the Together Foundation, referred to reports from journalists regarding conditions of slavery in the camps, saying that democracy and the principles of the rule of law should benefit all Western Saharan people.  There was an urgent need for a new approach to reach a peaceful solution to the dispute, which would guarantee democracy and the rule of law in the territory.

GUINDO HOUSSEINI, Party Convergence for Development of Mali, said it was important to develop South-South relations based on tolerance and compromise.  Settling the question of the Sahara concerned all countries in the region.  He supported all serious and credible initiatives towards a fair and lasting solution, one which would allow the union of the Saharan Maghreb and would help combat drug trafficking and terrorism. 

FALA BOSSOULA said the situation in Western Sahara was exploited by Algeria out of greed because it was looking for access to the Atlantic Ocean.  As a representative of the Western Saharan people in Parliament, she said that thanks to the efforts of Morocco and Western Sahara, the area was achieving growth and development.  Calling for unity in the Arab Maghreb, she said Western Sahara had no identity but the Moroccan identity.

STEPHANIE HAMMOND said that in the final colonial case in Africa, the people of Western Sahara had been relegated to refugee status for over 30 years, after fleeing across the desert from the Moroccan invasion of 1975.  The Saharawis faced stiff persecution if they spoke out against Moroccan occupation. The Moroccan authorities still subjected human rights activists to torture and unfairly imprisoned them.  The resilient people of Western Sahara had formed a stable government with freedoms and equal rights for men and women, even as they faced continued hardship.  Women played a vital role in the Saharawi struggle for self-determination.  An overwhelming majority of elected officials were women, and 35 per cent of the party in exile were female.  That was truly a testament to their desire to return to their homeland, and meant that they did not want their daughters to suffer the same set of experiences as they had.  Retaining the status quo would no longer be sustainable, she said, and asked the United Nations to fulfil its obligations to the Saharawis.

DANIEL FALLSHAW, an Australian filmmaker, said he had come as a petitioner because of a promise he had made to black Saharawis to take their story to the world.  He had visited the camps more than three years ago to make a film about family reunions, and discovered that black people were still living in slavery.  He had been detained, along with his partner, and his footage was confiscated.  One year later, while filming in Laâyoune, he discovered that slavery existed there as well.  People told him stories of being stolen, and of children being taken.  Some of those children were now living in the Tindouf camps, while others still remained, after 30 years, separated from their families, even when they lived in the same city.  As the Frente Polisario had done in the Tindouf camps, he believed that the Moroccan Government tried to cover up that slavery existed in Western Sahara.

He further said that he had taken his concerns to many non-governmental organizations, and the only group that had gone to investigate the situation in the camps had been Human Rights Watch.  Their report, published in 2008, stated that slavery still did exist, and it affected the black population in the camps.  It also stated that Saharawis living in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara said that slavery was found there as well, and that more investigation was needed. He expressed anger at the United Nations reaction to that information, as the only United Nations report that mentioned slavery in the region was from the early 1970s, saying that there were slave markets in the area around Tindouf.  He had brought the issue to the attention of the Organization since 2007, and yet it still denied any knowledge of the existence of slavery.

He went on to say that he showed his film to the entire Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March 2009.  It was felt that something needed to be done, and UNHCR officials had expressed the wish that those plans for action should be included in the film.  However, several months later, he had read a letter from High Commissioner António Guterres to the President of the Polisario apologizing for the film.  That letter said that the United Nations had never addressed slavery in the camps because it had never known slavery to occur there.  This was after UNHCR’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa had admitted on camera that the agency knew slavery existed in the camps and in Western Sahara.

FRANZ MEKYNA, Institut Austria Morocco – Vienna, said that people in all parts of Western Sahara had achieved good living conditions, and that the Saharawi population had enjoyed enormous economic development.  Having visited the region, he said he could see that people were living in full freedom and allowed to express themselves as they wished.  However, he had found that those in the Tindouf camps had no freedom of movement and were subjected to intimidation, indoctrination and human rights abuses.  Former Frente Polisario members had claimed that humanitarian supplies were sold on the black market.  The international community should listen to those Frente Polisario members who had quit, and acknowledge that the majority of Saharawi tribes living in the camps had the aim to realize and establish autonomy according to the proposition to Morocco.  Saharawis should be allowed safe conduct out of the camps, to put an end to their captivity.

MALUZA WA MAVULA MARTIN, CIRAC, said that despite the international community’s agreements, the conflict was seen as far away, regulated to oblivion and lassitude had set in.  However, it was the human dimension to the issue that should get the United Nations and other stakeholders to pursue their promises and show persistence in fulfilling their political commitment.  Human rights violations in the areas needed to be taken seriously.

MOHAMED HAMED ALI, Federacion Espanola de Entidades Religiosas Islamicas (FEERI), said he had come to contribute his “small grain of sand” to help find a solution in Western Sahara.  He expressed deep repulsion at the arbitrary detention of Mustapha Sidi, and said that the Frente Polisario showed intransigence, particularly worrying for a group that claimed to be part of a liberation movement.  Instead, the Frente Polisario was violating the most basic human rights, and international aid for the refugees ended up in the pockets of the Polisario leaders.

FRANK TETZEL said that as a German journalist, he had seen the dispute hamper development of joint ventures, and a real solution to the conflict would contribute North and West peace.  All efforts for a peaceful solution must be afforded full support.  He said:  “It may sound tribal, but stability in the region won’t be possible without peace in the Western Sahara.”  Without peace, there would be no local development.  The Moroccan Autonomy Plan should be seen as a plausible basis for further talks, and urged immediate adoption of it.

SARA PATRICIA LLORENTE, a lawyer and professor, said that in Morocco, there was respect for others.  Yet, the dignity of thousands of Saharawi people was at stake and was being abused by the Polisario.  Her presence brought hope to the Saharawi people, but she said that progress would only be possible if the Polisario would have talks with Morocco and Algeria on the Autonomy Plan.  An independent State was not realistic, and autonomy was the only solution.  It was a “serious and viable” proposal.  And yet, year after year, everyone came to the United Nations to hear statements on human rights abuses.   Morocco was a country of peace and it suffered because Algeria rejected its proposals.  There was an obligation to make the leaders of the Polisario listen.  Indeed, it was imperative that Algeria work with Morocco so there would be peace in the region, and that Sahara could benefit from the Autonomy Plan.

IGNACIO MARIN ORIO said that 10 million euros in ten years had been given to improve the public bus system in Tindouf.   Spain participated “as a State offering relief to a country that did not even exist or was not recognized”.  Nonetheless, the Polisario had always regarded Spain as an enemy and between 1977 and 1986, it had attacked 17 Spanish fishing boats.

AGUILA ABBA HEMEIDA said that the Saharawi people, under the Moroccan authorities, were suffering many human rights violations.  She asked how long the Saharawi had to wait for justice, and when rapes of women would stop.  She said the wish of the Saharawis was a fair referendum; it was what everyone had been waiting 35 years for.  She said she spoke for all Saharawi people in saying “no” to the occupation and Morocco.

NICOLA QUATRANO, a judge and president of Observatorio Internazionale, said that it was time the United Nations took a stand for three activists imprisoned without trial, and who were accused of “assault on the safety and integrity of the Moroccan territory”, which was punishable by death.  It was shocking that they had been arrested in the first place, as they had committed no crimes or terrorism, but were detained when they had returned from visits in Tindouf.  They were stopped and arrested for simply making the trip - a trip the Moroccans viewed as treason.

He said it was the same case for Aminatou Haidar, simply because she refused to state she was Moroccan. That had sparked finger pointing from the whole world, and the Moroccan Government was forced to backtrack. It was time for the United Nations to make freedom of speech possible for the Sahawaris; broaden the mandate of MINURSO; and condemn the illegal occupation of the Moroccan government by imprisoning the people.

TIM KUSTUSCH, from the Organization for Statehood and Freedom, said his non-governmental organization sought to end the political stalemate.  Thus, in consultations with all parties involved, 50 years after resolution 1514 (XV), which said that all people had a right to self determination, the international community did not want to break the status quo.  The United Nations lacked the courage to take a stand; thus, he suggested the following:  the Group of Friends of Western Sahara must put pressure on all parties, confidence building measures needed to be implemented, human rights monitoring must be included in the mandate of MINURSO and Algeria had to be brought along because tensions between Algeria and Morocco were high.

ERIC CAMERON, from World Action for Refugees, noted refugees had been escaping from Tindouf for many years, but flight from the camps had reached new levels.  The total number those who fled the camps was 14,000 and those remaining were being supported by relatives outside.  Regarding the local economy, he knew that the territory’s natural resource exploration was not consonant with international law.  Moreover, his organization had conducted a survey and concluded that 2,700 local employees benefited from industries there.  Specifically regarding the fisheries sector, employees comprised 90 per cent of local staff.  He called on Algerian authorities to refrain from trying to undermine the economic growth of those in the region.

ALESSANDRO FUCITO, said he had known the difficulties of access to health care and education faced by the Saharawis, as well as freedom of speech and living in democracy and peace.  They had faced violent persecution from their leaders.  The city of Naples endeavoured to house Saharawi school children during the summer.   Naples had also helped to grant Italian citizenship to the political prisoner and hunger-strike activist Aminatou Haider.  While there had been many resolutions put forth by the United Nations, none had been implemented to help the Saharawis.  Without implementation, the decisions had admitted “the defeat and futility of international law”.  He further said that MINURSO’s mandate should be extended to verify the full respect of human rights in south-western Sahara.

GUSTAVO PENADES said the international community had brought parties and States together with view to finding a just and lasting solution to the problem of Western Sahara.  Relevant Security Council resolutions had confirmed the Council’s commitment to Morocco’s proposed a state of autonomy within the context of sovereignty by the kingdom.  The initiative by Morocco guaranteed the right for Saharawis to play their own part without discrimination or exclusion, and by which they would be full members of all entities in the region.  That plan could be a decisive step to opening up the door to the future for the people of the region, making peace secure, and aiming to build a democratic society based on the rule of law and full respect for human rights.

MICHELLE DOVER, Western Sahara Resource Watch, called attention to Morocco’s illegal exploitation of the natural resources in Western Sahara, which was being carried out despite its international obligations and a host of General Assembly resolutions on the matter.  The Saharawi had a right to self-determination over their territory and its natural resources, as established by 100 United Nations resolutions.  The international community had decided to avert its eyes in return for economic deals benefiting the Moroccan treasury.  Pushed by Spanish fisheries and preferred treatment from the French vis-à-vis Morocco, the European Union had replaced a respect for legal principles with ruthless “realpolitik” by signing a fisheries agreement with Morocco that included Western Saharan waters.  Her organization urged the establishment of a mechanism to place the proceeds from the exploitation of such natural resources under international administration.

ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Portavoz de Grupo Parliamentario de la Coalici ón Democr ática en la C ámara de los Representantes del Pueblo, said that autonomy was validly seen as a modern means of democracy and self-determination, as long as it included respect for diversity and local management of social and economic matters.  He valued and supported the proposal for an autonomy plan, and was convinced the Moroccan initiative was a result of consultations with the approval of Member States in the international community.  The proposal for autonomy should be the foundation for future negotiations.  That was an ambitious project which provided a real opportunity to stimulate the countries of the Maghreb region to find reconciliation, since they were united by a common historical destiny.

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