Questions of Western Sahara, Turks and Caicos, Guam, Gibraltar Central to Fourth Committee Debate as United Nations Urged Not to ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ to Hardships

4 October 2011
GA/SPD/479

Questions of Western Sahara, Turks and Caicos, Guam, Gibraltar Central to Fourth Committee Debate as United Nations Urged Not to ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ to Hardships

4 October 2011
General Assembly
GA/SPD/479
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

3rd Meeting (PM)

Questions of Western Sahara, Turks and Caicos, Guam, Gibraltar Central to Fourth

Committee Debate as United Nations Urged Not to ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ to Hardships

The United Nations could no longer “turn a blind eye” to the risks posed by a failed State in the Western Sahara, as that would jeopardize global security, the Fourth Committee heard today, as petitioners for Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos, and the United States Virgin Islands took the floor in the decolonization debate.

Petitioners on the question of Western Sahara told the Committee that the people of that territory were suffering in refugee camps in the Sahara desert, where they had been forgotten for decades.  One speaker said that the failure to protect the Saharan people was a violation of international law.  Other countries had calculated their own economic and political interests in the region, but continued to ignore the terrible human costs.  Morocco had been allowed to delay the referendum, and the United States had also decided that the situation could be ignored.

Drawing attention to human rights abuses by both sides to the conflict, one petitioner said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) needed the conflict to go on, ensuring that some of its leaders “continue on as millionaires”.  Meanwhile, the ongoing time frame of the conflict opened more doors to jihadists and international drug traffickers, and the speaker stressed that the international community would be making a “serious irresponsible mistake” by ignoring the Front’s ties to terrorist groups.

Another petitioner said that the whole of Western Sahara was subjected to a military siege and a media blackout, as the Moroccan authorities had made it very difficult to grant access to non-governmental organizations, international media and observers.  Torture was not just limited to the period of investigation, but was a daily practice in most cases throughout the period of disappearance, which ranged from a few weeks to several years.

It was difficult to imagine what it would be like to have been denied contact to one’s extended family and loved ones for more than 30 years, as had been done to many Saharans, the Committee was also told.  In that light, one speaker urged the Committee to intervene on behalf of women and children in the Western Sahara, whose human rights were systematically violated.  For anyone concerned with the plight of the Saharans, a concrete written agreement needed to be reached, aimed at providing educational opportunities for Saharans, as well as immigration status as soon as education was completed.

Still more speakers made a connection between events in Western Sahara and the recent democratic movements elsewhere, saying that North Africa’s Maghreb was “living a new reality”.  The Arab Spring was opening a new future for people in the region.  Such events elsewhere in the Arab world had carried a clear message that the people must speak:  Western Saharans had been promised the right by the United Nations for self-determination, and the time had come for that right to be fulfilled, a petitioner declared.

Speaking on the question of Guam, one petitioner said the Chamorro people had a long history of independence prior to the arrival of colonizers in the sixteenth century.  However, over the last 500 years, they had endured ethnic and cultural genocide at the hands of three sovereign nations.  She appealed for United Nations assistance in the political evolution of Guam to enable the people there to assemble their social, political, economic, and cultural future peaceably.

Turning to the question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, a speaker called attention to the fact that those islanders were not allowed the privilege of absentee balloting, as was accorded to United Kingdom citizens.  He asked if that inequality was due to the fact that the Islands’ residents were of African descent.

On the issue of Gibraltar, that territory’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana said it was incomprehensible that Spain, itself an important democracy, continued to believe and assert that the people of Gibraltar did not enjoy the right to self-determination.  He said that Spain’s historical obsession with the recovery of the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which was lost 307 years prior, could not excuse or justify the undemocratic willingness to do so against the wishes of the territory’s people.

He expressed frustration that as much as Gibraltar wished to be de-listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and as much as it was necessary to modify the criteria to permit it, its continued listing in the meantime did not alter the fact that Gibraltar was no longer in a colonial relationship with its ex-administering Power.

Also speaking to that issue in a right of reply, the representative of the United Kingdom said that, while the people of Gibraltar enjoyed all collective and individual rights ensured by the United Nations Charter and relevant international treaties, independence would only be an option with Spanish consent.

Nonetheless, the referendum organized and carried out by the people of Gibraltar constituted a democratic and entirely lawful act, he said.  The United Kingdom, according to the expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar, retained responsibility for the territory, including for its defence, and he called on the United Nations to take that relationship into account.

The representative of Spain spoke on the question of Gibraltar.

The Vice-President of the government of New Caledonia, Gilbert Tyuienon, spoke on the question of New Caledonia.

Also participating was the representative of Papua New Guinea.

The Committee also heard additional petitioners on the question of Gibraltar, Guam, Turks and Caicos, the United States Virgin Islands, Western Sahara and agenda item 60.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 5 October, to hear remaining petitioners regarding decolonization issues.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of decolonization issues, under its agenda items 56, 57, 58, 59 and 60.  (See also Press Release GA/SPD/478 of 3 October.)

Question of Gibraltar

JUAN PABLO DE LAIGLESIA (Spain) said that the case of Gibraltar was different from other decolonized territories and therefore the solution would also have to be different.  Regarding Gibraltar, the principle of territorial integrity was of great importance, as acknowledged by the successive General Assembly resolutions “adopted year after year” urging both Spain and the United Kingdom to negotiate.

The United Kingdom and Spain had been searching through negotiations for a convenient way to find a solution.  For Spain, the solution entailed a restitution of the territory, the one transferred by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, as well as the land that was occupied later by the United Kingdom without any legal basis.  He stressed that the interests of the population of Gibraltar “are a different issue.”  While, of course, those interests must be taken into account, as far as the negotiation process with Spain was concerned, the United Kingdom, as administering Power, was responsible for the coordination and political pursuit of the interests of the population of Gibraltar. 

However, that in no way implied the acceptance of the right to self-determination in the case of Gibraltar.  He said that such a right was ascribed to the population of a colonized territory and not to the settlers imposed by the occupying Power to the detriment of the native inhabitants.  United Nations doctrine on the decolonization process fully defended the rights of native inhabitants of Non-Self-Governing Territories in relation to colonizing peoples.

Spain believed that a legal approach based on respect of international law highlighted the validity of the Treaty of Utrecht, which, as the United Kingdom had recalled on various occasions, made the independence of Gibraltar unfeasible without the consent of Spain.  Spain also continued to urge for a political solution in the form of negotiation even while continuing to work within the Forum for Dialogue on Gibraltar in order to facilitate the welfare of the inhabitants of Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar.

PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said it was incomprehensible that Spain, itself an important democracy, continued to believe and assert that the people of Gibraltar did not enjoy the right to self-determination.  Denial of the right to self-determination in Gibraltar was nothing more and nothing less than assertion of the proposition that someone other than the people of Gibraltar should be free to decide the political future of Gibraltar, which was not today part of any other country.  No democracy should be able to live with the obvious implications and consequences of that position, and it did modern, democratic Spain no credit whatsoever to perpetuate such an indefensible anachronistic stance.

He said that Spain’s historical obsession with the recovery of the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which had been lost 307 years prior, could not excuse or justify the undemocratic willingness to do so against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.  Contrary to Spain’s assertion, there was no principle of international law or doctrine of the United Nations that enabled a competing territorial sovereignty claim to trump or defeat the right to self-determination.  The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which he said Spain pressed into the service of its cause, was not rejected by Gibraltar simply because of the passage of time.  One could not ignore the changes in international law, democratic principles and human rights during the passage of that time.  Thus, he rejected the 1713 Treaty, because no such Treaty could be upheld or would be upheld if it conflicted with the provisions of the United Nations Charter, regardless of the views of the parties to it.

The Treaty was in irreconcilable conflict with the Charter, and was “long ago dead” in respect of all its other very many provisions and subject matter, he said.  The suggestion that it was still alive, based solely on that single point, which violated the United Nations Charter, was legally and politically insane.  However, the simple fact was not altered by the United Kingdom’s position — to its discredit as well — that the Treaty of Utrecht remained valid.  The United Kingdom, like Spain, also did not have the power or right in international law or under the United Nations Charter to compromise the inalienable right to self-determination.  The United Kingdom simply did not have the right or the power to transact the sovereignty of the listed territory of Gibraltar against the wishes of its people.  Gibraltar was the homeland of the people of Gibraltar, and was neither Spain’s to claim nor the United Kingdom’s to give away.

He said that Spain had recently taken to saying that Gibraltar’s government was hampering talks by insisting on trying to discuss issues of sovereignty.  That was untrue, as Gibraltar’s government was ensuring that sovereignty was not prejudiced or undermined by cooperation agreements.  Spain appeared to unrealistically expect that his government should not do that, and mischaracterized his government’s negotiating position in cooperation agreements as “wanting to discuss sovereignty”.  He said he had not come to seek Gibraltar’s decolonization, as a modern, negotiated, non-colonial status had already been chosen.  That was a fact whether or not current United Nations de-listing rules could accommodate Gibraltar’s de-listing.  As much as Gibraltar wished to be de-listed and much as it was necessary to modify the criteria to permit it, the continued listing in the meantime did not alter the fact that Gibraltar was no longer in a colonial relationship with its ex-administering Power.

FABIAN PICARDO, Opposition of Gibraltar, Gibraltar Socialist Party, said that he represented a new generation of Gibraltar politicians even though he would be expressing the same views as those of his predecessor, Mr. Joe Bossano.  It was only the wishes of the people of Gibraltar that should matter in determining the future of Gibraltar.  The principle of self-determination was more important than any other principle regarding the question of decolonization of Gibraltar.

He said that the principle of self-determination had been upheld in the first Article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in the case of Western Sahara.  The international community should not be duped by attempt by Spain to create a new doctrine that prioritized territorial claims over the principle of self-determination, he said. 

“ Gibraltar will never be Spanish.  No Spanish monarch will hold sovereignty over Gibraltar,” he declared, adding that there would be no sharing or transfer of sovereignty over Gibraltar between colonizing powers.  “Therefore, the consensus decision that you agree each year is a backward-looking road map to nowhere,” he said, adding that the people of Gibraltar had consistently rejected that text because it recalled the Brussels process. 

Looking positively to the future, he said that Gibraltar would be willing to work with the Spanish Government on matters that did not affect the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  Referring to the time when Spain spoke of the people of Gibraltar as “colonials by consent”, Mr. Picardo said that a more absurd proposition could not have been advanced.  Spain should drop its neocolonial claim 307 years after they had lost it.  It had been a truism that the Berlin Wall would never fall, but it had fallen.  Spain’s claim to Gibraltar’s territory was as “brittle” as the Berlin Wall had been.

Mr. Picardo brought up the invasion of Gibraltar’s territorial sea by Spanish naval forces, including, earlier today, an incursion by a Spanish customs vessel.  He condemned this action as a violation of international sea laws.  He called upon the Committee to recognize that the right to self-determination was the cardinal principle that must govern the decolonization of Gibraltar.

Question of New Caledonia

GILBERT TYUIENON, Vice President of the Government of New Caledonia, said that the transition of New Caledonia, in keeping with the Noumea Accord, was taking place in a rigorous fashion and according to schedule.  The transfer of administration would begin at the beginning of 2012, and the Kanak flag was already flying alongside the flag of the Republic on the public buildings of New Caledonia.

New Caledonia was making strides towards achieving a balanced institutional future, and was seeking to strengthen the tools of the country’s decision-makers, who would need to take a stand and cast their ballots when the time came.  This was the first time in 34 years that an independent had been elected to office.  It signalled that New Caledonia had moved beyond a majority/minority mindset, and was establishing a new kind of government.  Headway was not an end in itself, and the country needed to be prepared for its emancipation.

For that, he continued, economic foundations needed to be laid out.  New Caledonia was following favourable economic trends, and was pursuing mass training of young New Caledonians.  Legislative measures in support of local employment were also being put in place, and investments and fiscal reforms were being made for economic development.

Responding to a question posed by the representative of Papua New Guinea, he said that the Matignon Agreement had recognized key components, including the need for New Caledonia to train its own personnel.  The 400-cadre programme, now called Cadres for the Future, was taking place in order to train professionals to be able to exercise all the competencies needed to take on with the transfer of jurisdiction.  Such endeavours were continuing what had already been deemed essential back in 1988 when the Matignon Agreement was signed, and confirmed in 1998.

Question of Guam

EDWARD ALVAREZ, Guam Commission on Decolonization, stated that Guam was a colony which had become part of a body caucus not by choice, and was governed without the right to representation.  Thousands of young people had grown up without hearing a word from their Government.  He was grateful to the [United States President Barack] Obama Administration, which had given permission for funding for education and outreach in Guam, after years of federal silence on the issue.  He was hopeful that exercising the right to self-determination would strengthen Guam’s relations with the United States.

He stated that Guam had a delegation at that forum, but it was not at the United Nations that that issue must be raised.  He requested the Committee to send experts to Guam in order to reignite the discussion on self-determination.  He also hoped that the next regional experts seminar could be hosted in Guam which would enable the international community to see the great potential of the people of Guam.

JUDITH T. WON-PAT, Guam Legislature, began by identifying herself as a descendant of the Chamorro people of Guam, as well as the Speaker of the Guam Legislature.  She petitioned the Committee to insure the rights of the Chamorro people to act freely in determining their political status.  The Chamorro people had a long history of independence prior to the arrival of colonizers in the sixteenth century.  But over the last 500 years, they had endured ethnic and cultural genocide at the hands of three sovereign nations.  In the last 50 years, the Chamorro and other Guam people had witnessed economic exploitation by the incumbent power.

She appealed for the assistance of the United Nations in the political evolution of Guam, enabling the people of Guam to assemble their social, political, economic, and cultural future peaceably.  The Guam legislature had launched a campaign to raise the social consciousness of the Chamorro about self-determination.  It was time to object to conditional representation, as well as segregation of public schools based on status.

In order to bring about the third and final International Decade, she suggested three steps for the consideration of the Committee, including:  to rebuke administering Powers that continued the practice of colonialism; dispatch a special mission to Guam to provide information to the people of Guam on the role of the United Nations in the process of self-determination; and recognize Guam and other non-self-governing-territories as member States of the United Nations.  Full membership not only affirmed the principle of sovereignty, but also served as an admonishment to the administering Powers, she said.

Ms Won-Pat concluded by asking the Committee to act soon so that another generation would not pass without resolution to the problems of the Chamorro, before colonialism withered them down into nothingness.

Question of Turks and Caicos

ALPHA GIBBS, Turks and Caicos Forum, said there was a great disparity by the United Kingdom in the allocation of resources to its overseas territories.  He asked if disparities in that regard existed because the residents of Turks and Caicos were of African descent.  Among critiques of administration of the territory were that citizens of Turks and Caicos did not have access to any avenue of redress for grievances against the interim administration, accountability for public services, and fiscal management.  Further, United Kingdom citizens residing abroad were allowed the privilege of absentee balloting, as was done in many other countries.  However, the United Kingdom did not implement that benefit for Turks and Caicos citizens temporarily absent or residing abroad.

EDWARD BROWN, human rights activist, said that he again wished to draw the Committee’s attention to Denmark’s actions in 1853 to formally sanction a serfdom model of slavery in the Danish West Indies, which were now the United States Virgin Islands.  It was unfortunate that the Danish Government had, in the past three years, avoided resolving the issue.  For that reason, along with the resurgence of neo-Nazi splinter groups and tougher immigration laws, Denmark was “becoming one of the most despised nations on the planet”.  The current political leaders of Denmark and the United States could never negate past mistakes, but both nations had, at a minimum, a moral responsibility to make sure that “those last transatlantic slaves” were officially emancipated from that evil system.

Question of Virgin Islands

CARLYLE CORBIN, International Advisor on Governance and Multilateral Diplomacy, said that the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was an opportunity for the United Nations to overcome what he called “decolonization fatigue”.  Several current colonial arrangements projected the illusion of self-government but, in reality, the administering Power retained complete authority.  Even so, there was the persistent notion that the United Nations need not be bothered with the self-determination of these territories.

He stated that, since the early 1990s, the General Assembly had acknowledged the importance of implementing its resolutions on decolonization, such as political education programmes for the territories and collaborations with independent experts.  Yet the third decade had begun with the recommendation to reduce the resources available for decolonization.  He hoped that the budget could be restored to at least its previous levels.

Noting that the United Nations process appeared to be at a stalemate, he said that, while most Member States of the global South continued to support decolonization, several administering Powers who had announced that Territories under their administration had already arrived at self-determination did not allow the international community to engage in debate on the issue.  It was important to assess the status of those Non-Self-Governing-Territories objectively.

He pointed out that self-governance indicators specifically designed for those small territories and based on international norms had been finalized.  While those territories should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, there should be objective standards against which such reviews would be held.  It was also important to assess the political reality between the territory and its administering Power.  Democratic deficiencies could be seen in such arrangements.

Question of Western Sahara

GALE SHERRILL, Glenpol Outreach Center at the Landing, said she was concerned with the long-term consequences for Saharans in a dispute that should have been settled long ago.  She said it was difficult to imagine what it would be like to have been denied contact to one’s extended family and loved ones for more than 30 years, as had been done to many Saharans.  For anyone concerned with the plight of the Saharan women and children, a concrete written agreement should be reached, aimed at providing educational opportunities for Saharans, as well as immigration status as soon as education was completed.  She also called for an extension of the visiting programmes for the Tindouf camps.  It was in the best interest of all parties to go beyond a seemingly dedicated resistance to take determined steps to find a solution.

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, said that much could be settled if accurate information could be gathered on the Saharan people.  It was necessary to ask difficult questions and demand answers.  Then, and only then, could the international community go forward with a viable solution.  The Polisario had not answered questions in the past.  She asked for an accurate count of the number of Saharans living in the camps, by gender and age group, as reports on those numbers varied widely.  She also asked if the children in the camps were being educated.  According to the refugee study centre at Oxford University, even when questioned about Al-Qaida activity in the camps, the Polisario said their people were not involved.  However, if that were the case, she asked why instances of Al-Qaida involvement continued to be found and why the United States was paying so much attention to the area.  She also asked whether peaceful demonstrations were allowed in the camps.

AMY KARIMI, Borrowed Voice, urged the Committee to intervene on behalf of women and children in the Western Sahara, whose human rights were systematically violated.  In particular, she addressed two key areas of abuse.  First, she denounced the imprisonment and mistreatment of women for the crime of sexual relations outside of marriage.  Outside of the Tindouf camp, she said, women were imprisoned for that crime and kept in the intense desert heat — some alongside their young children.  She called for the reclassification of sexual relations outside of marriage.

Second, she addressed forced marriages, which were imposed by the leaders of the Polisario camps on Saharan boys and girls.  Those leaders, under the guise of marriage, systematically violated the rights of girls as young as 14.  The marriage served a political end, making it invalid; further, birth control had been banned.  She urged the investigation of those harsh and unacceptable practices without delay.  “Take action now on behalf of these women and children,” she implored.

JAVIER BARDEM, a concerned citizen, said he was not affiliated with any political group, but rather spoke because it was the duty of citizens to remind leaders of their responsibilities when injustices occurred.  The people of Western Sahara were suffering in refugee camps in the Sahara desert, where they had been forgotten for decades.  Meanwhile, no one heard of their suffering, and while they had been promised a referendum, they were now still waiting.

He said he had visited the camps, and found the Saharan people to have great dignity and endurance.  However, it was a national disgrace that generations were born, lived and died in those camps.  Last November, a peaceful protest demanding better conditions was suppressed violently by the Moroccan police.  And yet, no one heard of those abuses because journalists and human rights organizations were not allowed to visit the territories.  The denial of the human rights of the Saharan people was routine.

He said the United Nations Mission, there since 1991, did not have the mandate to monitor human rights in Western Sahara.  It was the only United Nations mission in years not to have a human rights mandate, as that was repeatedly blocked by certain Security Council members.  He appealed to the United Nations to immediately administer a monitoring mechanism for human rights in the territories.  The international community could no longer turn a blind eye to the people of Western Sahara.

The failure to protect the Saharan people was a violation of international law, he said.  Other countries had calculated their own economic and political interests in the region, but continued to ignore the terrible human costs.  Morocco had been allowed to delay the referendum, and the United States had also decided that the situation could be ignored.  He urged the United Nations Special Envoy, Christopher Ross, to be given better backing by all countries claiming to support the people of Western Sahara.  Spain bore a particular responsibility, and the parties must be told that enough was enough, and to put an end to further delays and pointless negotiations.  He said that a deadline must be set, and the Arab Spring had carried a clear message that the people must speak.  Western Saharans had been promised the right by the United Nations for self-determination, and the time had come for that right to be fulfilled.

JOSE MARIA GARRE GIL, journalist, said that after several years working on the Saharan dispute — including an analysis of information in the field — the deliberations carried out by impartial parties in Spain would soon be published.  Summarizing those results, he said that the United Nations could not “turn a blind eye” to the risks posed by a failed State in the Western Sahara.  Such a State would jeopardize global security, he stressed.

Moreover, the Polisario needed the conflict to go on, ensuring that some of its leaders continued on as millionaires, while the Saharans suffered in the camps and had their human rights violated.  The continued time frame of the conflict opened more doors to jihadists and international drug traffickers, he said, adding that Polisario leaders were related to terror groups.  The international community would be making a “serious irresponsible mistake” by ignoring those connections.

NOURIA HAFSI, speaking on behalf of the Union Nationale des Femmes Algeriennes, said that, after meeting in Abuja last month, African women stood in solidarity with Saharan women who were legitimately resisting in an effort to establish stability and gain freedom, as well as to shed light on crimes that had been committed against them.  In a world affected by armed conflicts, economic and financial crisis, the first to be affected were women; the Saharan women were enduring the very worst of those conditions.

She, therefore, urged all members of the Committee to rise to the challenge of defending the rights of Saharan women and children, and called on the international community to help put an end to the grave violations of human rights occurring in the Western Sahara.  She also said that resolutions of the United Nations to that effect should be urgently implemented, ensuring that the Saharan people might determine their own future.  Legal experts should be mobilized worldwide to bring those criminals to justice on the global level, and all peace-loving people should exert pressure on the Polisario to end their violations.

SAID AYACHI, President of the Algerian National Committee for Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said that hundreds of Saharans were detained and judged following unfair trials.  They were also imprisoned in detention centres, which practised with impunity the cruellest methods of physical and psychological torture.  The whole of the Western Sahara was subjected to a military siege and a media blackout, as the Moroccan authorities had made it very difficult to grant access to non-governmental organizations, international media and observers.  Torture was not just limited to the period of investigation, but was a daily practice in most cases throughout the period of disappearance, which ranged from a few weeks to several years.  Since the beginning of the conflict, the Saharans had been victims of barbaric operations, wherein tent camps and whole villages had been targeted by bombardments with prohibited materials, such as napalm and white phosphorous.  He asked the Committee to record those blatant, repeated and massive violations of human rights carried out by the Moroccan Administration in the occupied zones.

LATIFA AIT-BAALA, Action Internationales Femmes, said she had come to speak about a Polisario soldier held because he had expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy plan.  That “overly noisy refugee” had becoming a persona non grata after spending more than 31 years in the camps, and was still awaiting a humanitarian solution.  His forms of protest had gone from sit-ins to hunger strikes, all the while he was kept far away from his wife and children who were still in the camps.  He served as a symbol of the democratic awakening in the Arab world, and of an entire population suffering in the camps — a population determined to take its democratic destiny into its own hands.

PEDRO PINTO LEITE, International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, said that since October 2010 many events had taken place that had left Morocco “even more isolated in its stance” on the conflict in the Western Sahara.  First, the Saharan female activist, Aminatou Haidar, had won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, among several others, following her hunger strike in defence of human rights in the territory.  Next, the “brutal violence” caused by the dismantling of a camp in the Western Sahara had sparked condemnation by the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies, and had brought attention to the situation of the Saharans.

Further, he said, the current wave of protests in the Middle East and North Africa had rightfully started in Western Sahara.  There were striking similarities between the situation of Palestine and the Western Sahara, including illegal occupations, “walls of shame”, and the installation of settlers in occupied territories.  Indeed, Israel had assisted Morocco in the construction of its wall of shame.  He said that the gross human rights violations being committed against civilians reminded him of what he had witnessed 12 years ago in East Timor — and they were likely going on as he spoke.

FATMA SAIDA, Association sud pour la protection de l’enfance, said that North Africa’s Maghreb was “living a new reality”.  The Arab Spring was opening a new future for people in the region, she stressed, adding that Morocco had been the first Arab country to implement a democratic transition.  Morocco had a new Constitution, which enshrined human rights for its people, and it was, therefore, an example for other countries to achieve freedom and democracy.

She said that factors that had influenced Morocco’s movement towards democracy included a natural belief that democracy was the cornerstone of a progressive country.  No protests had been needed to reform that country.  It enjoyed a new family code and status for women, and planned to further bolster human development to combat poverty and marginalization and to ensure a decent life for all of its people.  There was also a strong network of civil society organizations in Morocco, which had participated in the movement towards democracy.  Real democracy could only exist when people benefited from their rights and fulfilled their duties, she concluded.

HENRI-LOUIS VEDIE, Professeur-emerite, HEC School of Management, said that there had been economic development in the Western Saharan region.  Before 1976, the area was nothing but deserts of sand.  Since then, roads and airports had been constructed, and access to drinking water and electricity had improved and been brought to some areas for the first time.  In that regard, 90 per cent of the needs of the population in the southern provinces were covered.  The creation of such resources had also boosted employment.  Where there had been nomadic fisherman, more stable prices had allowed for the establishment of fishing villages.  Additionally, there were now hospitals to cover the population’s needs; that had not been the case prior to 1976.  Further, literacy rates had improved, and Moroccan authorities had made investments in the land, such as through phosphate mining, which provided many local employment opportunities.  Much had also been done with a view towards sustainable development, such as the shift to artisanal fishing over industrial fishing, and everything had been done to prevent waste.

FATIMA EL AADLI, Conseil Provincial d’Essmara, said that, since the Western Sahara crisis, Morocco had introduced proposals for a peaceful settlement of the dispute, which Algeria had constantly rejected.  Morocco could not stand still regarding its progress and development, and she stressed the importance of the granting of autonomy.  A democratic political solution involved empowerment and capacity-building for citizens in the south, and it would enable them to participate in local management.  That often scared the enemies of Morocco.

MOHAMMED CHEIKH ISMAAILI, Acteur Associatif à Essmara, said that his brother, Moustafa, had been kidnapped by the Polisario in 2010.  Moustafa had been a prisoner in the Polisario camps and was violently interrogated there.  Last year, before the same audience of the Committee, his father had asked for Moustafa to be liberated, an event which had finally taken place.  However, the leaders still refused to send Moustafa back to his family.  Instead, he had been sent to Mauritania and continued to fight for his return.

For more than a year, Moustafa had been involved in a sit-in in Mauritania in order to conclude that “inhumane situation”, he said, adding that his case had now been taken up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Meanwhile, he had been refused water and electricity with which to charge his mobile phone — his only link to his children and the outside world.  Moustafa’s only crime had been to return to the Tindouf camp, where he was considered a spy and a traitor simply for having a different opinion from the Polisario — namely, supporting the autonomy initiative.  His situation was in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a stance that had been backed by the organization Human Rights Watch.  Moustafa had revealed to the world that many organizations that “paid lip-service to human rights” really did not respect them.

M’BARKA BOUAIDA, Parliamentary Deputy of and Chair of Parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs, National Defence and Religious Affairs of Morocco, said that the origins of the ongoing conflict — to which there was “no end in site” — were completely fabricated.  Morocco had demonstrated its good faith at every turn, and had invested in the well-being of the Western Sahara region.  Further, Morocco was the only country in the Middle East and North African region to “pass the test of revolution”, including by adopting a new Constitution.

She said Morocco was continuing to make headway in the development process, building from one end of the country to the other without any natural gas or oil.  “Let’s stop making political capital out of attempts that are doomed for failure,” she stressed, adding: “Moroccans are Saharawis and Saharawis are Moroccans”.  The resolution of the conflict — which lay in regional integration in the Maghreb — must be reached through direct negotiation, she emphasized.

MASGOULA BAAMAR, Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), said negotiations had entered a new, more sensitive and important domain.  However, there was a serious problem regarding the smuggling of the humanitarian assistance provided by many international organizations to help the refugees bear the harsh conditions in the desert area.  The smuggling had begun as soon as the assistance arrived — whether it was in the form of clothes, food or medical supplies — which were stolen and looted in a pattern of theft that continued throughout the journey of aid to the camps.  The forces all along the checkpoints would take what they needed and more, and whatever remained was given to the leaders of the Polisario, who then proceeded to sell them on the black market throughout the region.  The revenue from those sales was then used to purchase arms, while the rest went straight to the personal bank account of Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz and his coteries.

LORD FRANCIS NEWALL, International Committee for the Tindouf Prisoners, said that Morocco had been trying to extend its hand of friendship to its Algerian neighbours, seeking engagement and a frank and sincere dialogue to resolve ongoing problems and to find a just and final solution to the problem of Western Sahara.  The new Constitution came to consolidate strategic choice and to give more credit to the deep reforms Morocco had already started.  It also consolidated all that Morocco had acquired in human rights and democratic values, and recognized the supremacy of international conventions.  If positive change was supported in the region, a negotiable and peaceful solution should also be supported for the problem of the Sahara, which could only be resolved through engagement and good faith on the part of Algeria.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of his right of reply, addressed the statement made by the representative of Spain regarding Gibraltar.  He said that the United Kingdom would never enter into agreements passing the people of Gibraltar to another country without their consent.  In that respect, he added, reference to the Brussels process must be considered.  The United Kingdom welcomed the fact that all parties continued to contribute to the trilateral process, which represented the most credible and constructive means of resolving the conflict.  The United Kingdom remained committed to that process.

He said that the “real benefits” of the agreements already reached underlined the value of three-way dialogue.  The United Kingdom had no doubt about the sovereignty of Gibraltar over its area and waters.  The 2006 Gibraltar Constitution, which had entered into force in 2007, provided for a strong relationship between the United Kingdom and the territory.  Unfortunately, the “outdated approach” of the “Special Committee of 24” did not allow for recognition of that relationship; its definition of a self-governing State did not take into account the “modern relationship” forged between the two entities.

While the people of Gibraltar enjoyed all collective and individual rights ensured by the United Nations Charter and relevant international treaties, the United Kingdom believed that independence would only be an option with Spanish consent, he said.  Nonetheless, the referendum organized and carried out by the people of Gibraltar constituted a democratic and entirely lawful act.  The United Kingdom, according to the expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar, retained responsibility for the territory, including for its defence.  He called on the United Nations and its bodies to take that relationship into account, concluding that the United Kingdom did not accept the assertion that the people of Gibraltar did not enjoy the right to self-determination.

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