|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-eighth General Assembly
4th Meeting (PM)
Debate on Decolonization Continues in Fourth Committee, as Speakers Greet
Decision to Reinstate French Polynesia on Agenda after 60 Years
Petitioners for Western Sahara, Guam Address Meeting
A 60-year-old injustice had been corrected when French Polynesia was re‑inscribed on the United Nations-identified list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told today as it continued its annual decolonization debate, informed by both fresh perspectives and traditional takes on one of the Organization’s foundational pursuits.
Welcoming General Assembly resolution 67/265, by which the question of French Polynesia was reinstated on the agenda of the Special Committee on Decolonization was Oscar Manutahi Temaru, member of the Assembly of French Polynesia, who said that the Territory’s unilateral omission six decades ago without Assembly approval had led to its isolation from the decolonization process. Instead of self-determination, the unilateral actions of the administering Power had been hidden from “the watchful eye of the United Nations”.
Another petitioner from French Polynesia, Richard Arihau Tuheiva, raised concern about the proposal for the administering Power to conduct an immediate referendum in the Territory on only one option — “yes or no” — without considering voter eligibility criteria or adequate social and economic reforms. A referendum conducted by the administering Power would be a classic case of conflict of interest, he said, voicing fear the current colonial arrangements with their “democratic deficit” would be retained.
Petitioners also expressed apprehension over the consequences of 30 years of nuclear testing in French Polynesia. The people of the Territory, they said, were suffering from health and environmental impacts. Re-inscription would ensure that the Territory’s natural resources were owned and utilized for the benefit of the people of that Territory.
Much focus today was on the complicated issues surrounding Western Sahara, a Territory on the north-west coast of Africa, where the United Nations had been seeking a settlement since 1976. One petitioner affiliated with an Algerian research organization, decried the human rights violations in Western Sahara, describing an “atmosphere of terror” in the occupied region, marked daily by violence, torture, extrajudicial killings, unfair trials, and police brutality. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, said the speaker, had also declared that Morocco was responsible for many violations in Western Sahara.
Another, from Forum Nord-Sud, complained that, to date, no single Saharan representative had been consulted about the exploitation of that Territory’s natural resources. Moroccan economic interests, the petitioner alleged, were a key element in the search for a political solution to the conflict of Western Sahara.
From an Algerian organization working on conservation and development for the Saharan region, another petitioner said the Saharans were a free people in the past and they should be allowed to return to that freedom. However, Morocco had presented the world with a fait accompli when it occupied Western Sahara in 1975.
“There was a time when Saharans eagerly awaited the UN ballot boxes in order to cast votes and pack boxes labelled return boxes,” said a petitioner from Sahrawi Voice, who noted that he had grown up in a refugee camp. “But the United Nations allowed Morocco to sabotage the referendum.” Those return boxes now served as a symbol of how the United Nations had betrayed the Saharans, he said.
However, several other petitioners, including from Freedom for All, drew attention to the difficult conditions in the refugee camps themselves. “Basic human rights do not exist in Tindouf,” she said, adding that freedom of expression, movement and assembly were denied. Also, opposition to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) was brutally crushed. Morocco, on the other hand, was keeping pace with international standards through social and political reforms. And, its credible plan for autonomy was the best way to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict.
Calling the problem “a solvable issue” that had been prolonged by external factors, another petitioner stated that Morocco’s initiative to negotiate a compromise solution was in line with international resolutions. By sheltering the Polisario Front, Algeria was harming the cause of the Saharan people. Moroccan efforts were sincere and genuine. The United Nations must encourage external parties to stop interventions.
Another petitioner cautioned that “international jihadism had extended to the Sahel and the Sahara” because of cooperation between the Polisario and the jihadists. The United Nations was giving the Polisario Front, a dictatorial movement, the role of representing thousands of people. That would open the door to new wars in Africa.
In 2004, Morocco had established a repatriation committee for former prisoners and people working in the Saharan provinces, a petitioner from Conseil national des droits de l’homme stated. He himself had spent years in Moroccan prison and had undergone torture. He was a participant in the repatriation initiative. It was an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and move further on the path of democracy and reconciliation.
Speaking on the situation in Guam, a petitioner from Chamoro in Diaspora called on the United Nations to enable the people of that Territory to exercise their right to self-determination. She also stressed the need for the Organization to check the ongoing militarization of the Island by United States.
In other business, the Committee elected Michael Komada ( Slovakia) to serve as Rapporteur.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on 9 October to continue its consideration of decolonization issues.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of decolonization issues, for which it was scheduled to hear from representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners. For further background, see Press Release GA/SPD/528 of 7 October.
Representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories
OSCAR MANUTAHI TEMARU, member of the Assembly of French Polynesia, welcomed resolution 67/265 re-inscribing French Polynesia on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. That action corrected a 60-year injustice, which began when the Territory was unilaterally omitted without General Assembly approval. As a result, self-determination, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter, was replaced by unilateral action by an administering Power, perpetuating the illusion that French Polynesia’s so-called autonomy was fully self-governing, despite not meeting the minimum standards set out in General Assembly resolution 1514 of 14 December 1960. Isolation from the decolonization process had rendered the Territory vulnerable to unilateral actions hidden from the watchful eye of the United Nations.
French Polynesia, he said, was also encouraged by General Assembly resolution 65/96 regarding the impacts of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands and heartened by resolution V of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on decolonization or C-24), which called for a similar report on French Polynesia on the “environmental, ecological, and other impacts of the 30-year period of nuclear testing”. French Polynesia’s future sustainable development required the application of international resolutions regarding rights and self-determination.
RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, French Polynesia, said that the draft resolution on French Polynesia that was before the Committee supported a genuine self-determination process. However, a proposal had been made last July for the administering Power to conduct an immediate referendum in the Territory on only one option — “yes or no” — without regard to proper voter eligibility criteria or adequate social and economic reforms. The proposal’s true intention was to retain the current colonial arrangements and banish the legitimate aspirations for independence. Such a procedure would not constitute an act of self-determination. A recent independent self-governance assessment of the Territory had identified drastic imbalance and democratic deficit in the colonial arrangements. A public awareness campaign on legitimate political options was necessary. A referendum conducted by administering Powers would be a classic case of conflict of interest.
Further, he added, the people of the Territory continued to suffer from health and environmental and other consequences of nuclear testing. The effects of atomic radiation knew no national boundaries, but because of French Polynesia’s dependent status, the people of that Territory suffered from those effects much more. Re-inscription would also ensure that the Territory’s natural resources were owned and utilized for the benefit of the people of that Territory.
Petitioners on the Question of Guam
TIARA NA’PUTI, A member of the Chamoro in Diaspora, said the people of Guahan ( Guam) were entitled to exercise their inherent right to self-determination as guaranteed by international law. She called on the United Nations for help in that endeavour and stressed the need for the Organization to check the ongoing militarization of the Island by the United States.
She recalled that the Special Committee in June had reiterated the need for information regarding progress in the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Now was the time to implement the relevant resolutions.
Petitioners on the Question of Western Sahara
HILT TEUWEN, Comit é belge de soutien au peuple sahraoui stated that between 1980 and April 1987, the Royal Moroccan Army had built a huge wall, which she said was constructed to encircle the main cities of Western Sahara and deprive the citizens of their major resources, including coastal fishing areas, phosphate mines and the most fertile land for agriculture.
She asserted that, despite international efforts, there had been little progress on the issue of Western Sahara. Neither the peace plan proposed by the United Nations and African Union, nor the efforts of the personal envoys of the Secretary-General had been able to further the organization of a referendum for self-determination. She called on the Committee to act, exert the necessary influence and implement the mechanism to bring that about.
HILDE VAN REGENMORTEL, Forum Nord-Sud, said it was widely acknowledged that all exploitation of Western Saharan natural resources was illegal if done in disregard of its inhabitants. But to date, no single Saharan representative had been consulted. It was of great concern that the European Union bluntly ignored international law when trading with Morocco. The draft fisheries Protocol released on 25 September failed to exclude occupied territories. It was crystal clear that Moroccan economic interests were a key element in the search for a political solution to the conflict of Western Sahara.
ANNEMIE VERHEES, Zain Atfaak, groupe de solidarit é avec le people sahraoui, drew attention to the forced disappearance of at least 400 Saharan civilians, the majority of whose fate was unknown. Last month, a team of internationally renowned medico-legal experts published their report on the exhumation of two mass graves in Western Sahara. Their findings indicated that the individuals had been shot in the head or chest with a rifle. Morocco had provided fragmented, limited, and incomplete information on those disappearances. The human rights of the Saharan population must be fully protected and the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) must include the investigation of mass graves, most reportedly in parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control.
JANET LENZ, Executive Director, Not Forgotten International, said that the Saharan people had suffered for decades. She called for concerted efforts by the international community to alleviate their suffering and ensure their self-determination. She also called on the United Nations to institute a human rights mandate to halt the abuse, pending a referendum, as well as save the Saharan people from injustice and inhumane treatment.
BRAHIM BOUNAB, President, Groupe parlimentaire de fraternit é et amiti é alg érie, said that Western Sahara was a country occupied illegally by Morocco. The Saharan people underwent massive human rights violations daily, as reported by international non-governmental organizations. Saharan women especially paid a high price for seeking their rights; they were treated violently and incarcerated by police. MINURSO and its mandate must be expanded to prevent such illegal acts.
BETTACHE ABDELHAKIM, President, Assembl ée Populaire Communal — Alger Centre, said that the Saharan people had gone through a difficult stage of Spanish colonialism, but continued to suffer from the fear and anguish of colonialism. He condemned the transgressions perpetrated by the forces of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the obstinacy of the Kingdom in ignoring and mocking international resolutions, which enshrined the rights of the people of Sahara. His organization called upon all peace-loving people around the world to put pressure on Morocco to release political prisoners incarcerated without free trial.
MORDJANA ABDELOUAHAB, Secretary-General, Commission nationale consultative de promotion et de protection des droits de l’homme, stressed the need to allow the people of the Saharan to achieve their self-determination. The existence of camps in the Territory did not help matters, he said, noting that a lot of human rights abuses were committed there. He lamented the tragic hardship and torture suffered by the people, which had been verified by various international human rights organisations. He called for unhindered access to human rights groups to enable them to report on the situation and to monitor the abuses and extrajudicial killings in the region.
LAMARI MOHAMED MAHREZE, President, Comit é national alg érien de soutien au peuple sahraoui, called on the international community to stand up against the injustice in Western Sahara, as well as to support the Saharan people in freeing themselves from the shackles of domination and put in place a process to hasten their independence. Various human rights and crimes against humanity were being committed by the Moroccan authorities against Saharan people. Morocco had also provoked displacement of thousands of Saharawi people and there is urgent need to support their desire for self-governance, he added.
SAID AYACHI, Fondation nationale alg érienne des études strat égiques et s écuritaires, expressed concern about the human rights violations in Western Sahara. There was an atmosphere of terror in the occupied Saharan region. Saharans daily underwent violence, torture, extrajudicial killings, unfair trials, and police brutality. The Special Rapporteur on torture had also declared that there were many violations by Morocco in Western Sahara. He hoped that the Special Committee would be able to bring more attention to the situation.
DANIEL LACY, Saharawi Voice, said he was born in a refugee camp in Samara and grew up there in the 1990s. Kids in the camp had grown up without water or electricity, and other basic amenities enjoyed by those in Western countries. The people in the camp did not have those comforts but at least they had more peace than those on other side of the wall in occupied Sahara, where there were two Moroccan police officers for every Saharan. He hated the separation between the camps and the occupied Saharans. “I met my grandmother for the first time last year,” he said, adding that “there was a time when Saharans eagerly awaited the UN ballot boxes in order to cast votes and pack boxes labelled ‘return boxes’”. But none of that had happened because the United Nations had allowed Morocco to sabotage the referendum. Since that day, the return boxes had served as a symbol of how the United Nations had betrayed the Saharans.
NANCY HUFF, President, Teach the Children International, said the establishment of the Tindouf camps had succeeded in creating separation among the people, especially between parents and their children, which was an “injustice to humanity”. The camps had deprived boys and girls of basic education and of their childhood. Moreover, the lack of education due to the separation had affected them psychologically. She called on the United Nations to intervene, as a matter of urgency, in order to ensure that the people achieved self-determination and freed themselves from “unnecessary domination and denial of basic rights to life”.
SAADI LIES said that the Saharan people should never be deprived of their independence or the right to self-determination, despite Morocco’s attempts to do so. There must be a free and open referendum to find a just and final solution. The United Nations had a responsibility to the Saharan people in that regard. Algeria continued to offer its full support to the United Nations, as that would be in the interests of the region and would guarantee stability for all who lived there. The obstacles imposed by the Moroccan authorities violated international diplomacy. It was important to put an end to the tragedy of the Saharans.
GALE SHERRILL, The Landing Community Church, said that over the years, many well-informed refugee observers had stated that an independent Saharan State was not a realistic option. The only realistic option was to let the refugees return to their former homeland and integrate back into the society of Morocco. The millions of dollars that the United Nations had used to maintain the camps could be redirected for oversight of that operation. It was necessary, in the twenty-first century, to move the Saharans away from the absurd living conditions of the Algerian desert. As a mother and grandmother, she regretted that “the family ties that were so normal to so many of us was only a dream for many Saharans”.
ZIAD AL-JABARI said that many human development projects confirmed the interests of the Moroccan Government in the people of the southern provinces. “This was a solvable issue,” he added. Morocco had submitted an initiative to negotiate a compromise solution, which was in line with international resolutions. Moroccan efforts were sincere and genuine. The Saharan residents looked forward to ending the crisis, but it was prolonged by external factors. Serious negotiations could lead to a solution. The United Nations must encourage external parties to disengage. Algeria had been interfering between the Rabat Government and the Saharan people by sheltering the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), thereby harming the cause of the Saharan people.
INÉS MIRANDA NAVARRO, Consejo General de la Abogac ía Espa ñola, stated that a recent judgement by a tribunal had condemned 25 Saharan civilians to prison sentences of from nine years to life. That court had no authority to issue the judgement, which had created a hostile atmosphere. The defence had been coerced and pressured, and accused of working from abroad and of not being patriotic. Among the other flaws in the proceedings, the accused were denied the right to a translator.
JOSEFA MILÁN PADRÓN, Asociaci ón Canaria de Solidaridad con el Pueblo Saharaui, denounced the situation of the Saharan people, saying that they had endured long years of untold hardship and were still being subjected to violations by Morocco authorities. The people were eager to free themselves from illegal detention and imprisonment, and she called for an accelerated process by the international community, particularly by the Special Committee on Decolonization, to enable them to gain independence.
DOLRES TRAVIESO DARIAS, Vice President Asociaci ón Canaria de Juristas por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos, said that Morocco continued to infringe on the freedom of the Saharan people and their right to self-determination for no just reason. Morocco had also perpetuated human rights abuses on the Saharans by denying them access to mineral resources and fertile lands. The occupation of any territory by force was “morally wrong and politically unacceptable”, and the international community must help the Saharan people to secure their land and achieve self-determination.
ZEGHIDI MOHAMMED LAHCENE, Vice President, Association alg érienne de la sauvegarde du patrimoine et de l’ environnement et du development des zones sahraouies, said that Morocco continued to claim the right to be present on the territory of the Saharan people, without any right to do so. The world today was confronted with a fait accompli because of its occupation of Western Sahara in 1975, which was condemned internationally. “Was it possible that a mother would share her daughter with other mothers?” The Saharan people had the right to self-determination under United Nations resolutions. They were a free people in the past and they should be allowed to return to that freedom.
JOSE MARÍA GIL GARRE said that international jihadism had extended to the Sahel and the Sahara, with jihadist groups imposing their agenda on Africa, owing to the area’s porous nature and cooperation with the Polisario. The situation was becoming even more insecure in the camps, as, among other things, weapons were arriving from Libya. MINURSO had been subjected to obligatory escorts by the Polisario so that they did not see such things. Clearly, the ceasefire conditions were being violated. The United Nations would arrive too late as usual, and, in fact, it was giving the Frente Polisario, a dictatorial movement, the role of representing thousands of people, which would open the door to new wars in Africa.
DAVID LIPPIATT, WE International, said that the United Nations, on 25 April, had renewed MINURSO’s mandate but without a human rights component, thereby encouraging the Moroccan Government to continue its violations against Saharans. In just the last few months, Moroccan authorities had violently dispersed several peaceful demonstrations and detained scores of political protesters, subjecting them to inhumane conditions. Morocco had accepted the United Nations Charter and had ratified several international treaties. It was legally bound to respect its obligations. However, “it is a country that says one thing and does another”.
RICARDO SÁNCHEZ SERRA, Observatorio aragon és para el S áhara Occidental, aligning with the petitioners who condemned Moroccan authorities for human rights abuses in Western Sahara, said that Morocco did not respect United Nations resolutions because it was not making efforts to resolve the conflict. He called on the United Nations to either impose economic sanctions against Morocco for violating its decisions, or acknowledge its failure in Western Sahara.
KATLYN THOMAS said the referendum had not place in 2000 because it was sabotaged by Morocco out of its “selfish interest”. Morocco had withdrawn for the simple reason that the people deemed eligible to vote might vote for independence, she said. The fact that the United Nations had not required Morocco to live up to its agreement and instead had permitted it to flout every principle for which the United Nations stood was a disgrace, she concluded. She urged the United Nations to facilitate a referendum because the people were entitled to it under international law.
MAOULANINE SAADANI, Ocaproce International, stated that the children and women in the refugee camps were suffering from terrible health problems, leading to high rates of mortality and morbidity. Another serious problem was nutrition, which led to chronic anaemia and other serious health problems. That stemmed from mismanagement of international aid because the Frente Polisario used those funds for their own benefit. They were also indoctrinating the youngest peoples and separating them from their families. The international community must be made aware of the terrible conditions afflicting the Saharan women and children. Morocco’s autonomy plan was the only viable option to create a serious realistic solution that guaranteed socio-economic rights for the people of Western Sahara.
TANYA WARBURG, Freedom for All, said that Algeria and its proxy should provide unhindered and free access to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as repeatedly urged by the Secretary-General for the past four years and in accordance with international conventions. “Basic human rights do not exist in Tindouf,” she declared. Freedom of expression, movement and assembly were denied. Opposition to the Polisario was brutally crushed. Tindouf was the only refugee camp with prisons, with the possible exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At the same time, Morocco’s social and political reforms kept pace with international standards, and its credible plan for autonomy was the best way to achieve a lasting solution and bring stability to the people of Maghreb.
SIDI SALEH DAHA, Agence pour le developpement economique et social des provinces du sud, said that protecting the region’s natural resources was part of the strategic interest of the Saharan Government, with water the heart of its concerns. The Sahara region was lying on a large water table and, in order to save that water for future generations, Morocco was looking at alternative plans such as de-salinization, making it necessary to build dams. Saharan phosphate represented less than 2 per cent of Morocco’s reserves but provided thousands of jobs in that region. The fisheries were a renewable and versatile resource. “We exploit resources according to the strictest principles,” he stated.
MOHAMMED RAZMA said that the situation in Western Sahara had led to security challenges and the rise of human traffickers and terrorist groups, who had challenged stability in some countries in West and North Africa. On Algeria, he called on the authorities to deploy troops to its borders to check on the activities of terror groups and help to stabilize the region. The United Nations should hasten its work in Western Sahara to enable the people to decide their fate.
BABA AHL MAYARA, President, Ligue des défenseurs des droits de l’homme au Sahara, said Morocco was now thriving on the path of democracy and good governance, through political reforms undertaken by the Government. That had enhanced human rights and freedom of association. He denounced those who condemned Morocco for inaction on Western Sahara as “unrealistic” and urged the critics to preach the truth.
ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Christian Democratic Women International, noted that it was often said that the Polisario was a liberation organization that fought against Spanish colonialists and now against neighbouring invaders. It was time to clear up those lies put forward shamelessly by certain individuals in non-governmental organizations. The Polisario was created in 1973, a few months after Spain had withdrawn from the Sahara. Not a single shot had been fired against the Spanish army by the Polisario. Now they have created a satellite state “at their service”. The conflict in Sahara was a fictitious one to weaken Morocco.
BRAHIM LAGHZAL, Conseil national des droits de l’homme, stated that he had spent years in a Moroccan prison and been tortured. He was an eyewitness to two important stages of history: oppression in Moroccan history and making amends with the past. In 2004, Morocco had established a repatriation committee for former prisoners and people working in the Saharan provinces. The initiative had been well-received in the Saharan region. It was an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and move forward on the path of democracy and reconciliation. The committee did not work on digging up the past; it focused more on ensuring that it would not be repeated. As a rights activist in the Moroccan and Saharan provinces, he commended the courage of the initiative and those who were responsible for it.
OMAR DKHIL, Commission de legislation et des droits de l’homme a la Chambre des conseillers, stated that as a representative of tens of thousands of Saharan voters, he wished to express shock and annoyance with the dangerous position taken by certain parties. Saharan citizens wanted to send a clear and simple message to the world. The large electoral turnout was a form of referendum: “We have chosen to remain Moroccans and we will not allow anybody to question our identity.” Morocco had opened the windows of hope by launching the democratic reforms. Stability in the region was possible through the Moroccan initiative. Saharan citizens rejected all forums for blackmail, fragmentation and separation.
ANDREW M. ROSEMARINE, a British international lawyer, said Morocco had undergone political reforms in the last two years and had enacted a new Constitution, which had given him hope about that Government’s readiness to pursue a peaceful resolution of the Western Sahara conflict. The 2007 Moroccan Initiative for Western Sahara set out Morocco’s guarantees to all Saharans and offered real progress towards resolving the conflict and moving forward. However, much work remained to improve the conditions on the ground.
LAHEEN MAHRAOUI said that the Saharan people were suffering from hardship and deprivation, following the activities of Moroccan and Algerian authorities in the Territory. The refugees in the Tindouf camps were particularly vulnerable and their basic rights had been denied. The Saharan people wanted autonomy, as the best solution out of their current situation, and he called on parties to the conflict to allow them to exercise their right to self-determination, with the freedom to enjoy life devoid of hindrances.
ABDERRAHIM BENBOUAIDA stated that Saharans wished to declare to the world that the solution proposed by Morocco was a genuine interpretation of the desire of the majority of the Saharan citizens. It was time to end the state of Diaspora experienced by Saharans. Morocco had achieved many developments pertaining to political and economic fields through the adoption of a progressive new constitution. “This change was a positive change.” It was necessary to trust in the new visions of the independent Saharan elite, who wanted stability and to take part in the democratic march taking place in Morocco.
JUAN ALVAREZ-VITA stated that the positive developments in human rights in Morocco had no parallel in the Islamic world. The new constitution established the irreversibility of the progress made so far. Morocco had withdrawn its reservations to international human rights treaties and during the last two decades had developed the most advanced human rights framework in the Arab world, providing inspiration to other countries in the region. Saharans could enjoy full autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, which was important for resolution of the dispute. He reminded the Committee that Security Council resolution 2099 (2013) had stressed that the spirit of compromise must guide negotiations.
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