Compromise Inescapable, Says Former Head of Western Sahara Referendum Mission, as Fourth Committee Continues Hearing Petitioners

GA/SPD/635
5 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 5th Meeting (PM)

Compromise Inescapable, Says Former Head of Western Sahara Referendum Mission, as Fourth Committee Continues Hearing Petitioners

A petitioner appealed today for the parties to the dispute over Western Sahara to approach the issue in a spirit of compromise, rather than resurrecting old settlement plans or repeating arguments, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization.

“Compromise is inescapable,” emphasized Erik Jensen, former Head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Change was possible and failure to move towards a resolution of the dispute could prove dangerous for the wider region and beyond, he warned.  Recalling that the Secretary-General had issued an unusually comprehensive and compelling report in April, he said that its proposals, endorsed by the Security Council, clearly called for a new dynamic in the negotiating process.  Radically, they included agreement on the nature and form of the self-determination exercise.  Algeria and Mauritania must play a part in that process, he emphasized, pointing out that the Secretary-General had appointed a new Personal Envoy to help restart the talks.

However, many speakers called for self-determination by any means necessary.  Ahmed Mohamed Fall, Vice-Chair of Natural Resources Watch, said the Sahrawi deserved independence, whether by peaceful means or by force.  Noting that “suspicious companies”, both Moroccan and Canadian, were operating in Western Sahara, he said it was clear that Morocco, the occupying Power, was benefiting from the ceasefire.

Maalainine Yara, Director of Western Sahara IT, said Morocco had obstructed the media from reporting on abuses against the Sahrawi.  That country had also lobbied many countries, including the United States, to turn against the Sahrawi people, he declared.

Others applauded Morocco’s autonomy plan and its presence in the region.  Ahmed Lakhrif, a member of Morocco’s Chamber of Councillors said he had the power and right to speak for the Sahrawi, who had allowed him to do so.  Morocco’s autonomy proposal was the solution to the conflict and would guarantee the Sahrawi dignity and rights.

Another petitioner warned against harming Morocco’s territorial integrity.  El Hadji Haidara, President of the Fédération mondiale des amis du sahara marocain, emphasized that the problem could not be resolved from the standpoint of Morocco alone.  Rather, it must be examined from the perspective of the entire African continent.

Many decried the actions of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front).  Yahfudu Benabdelayachi Heiba, a member of the Chambre de la pêche maritime Atlantique-Sud, recounted the death of an elderly person last month owing to slavery in the Tindouf camps.  He said children inherited the slavery situation from their parents, in accordance with an official law signed by Polisario, adding that the Front should be ashamed to talk about human rights in international forums.

Also speaking today were petitioners from Turks and Caicos and Western Sahara.

Representatives of Venezuela, Cuba, Algeria and Morocco also spoke.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 6 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.

Petitioners on Turks and Caicos

BENJAMIN ROBERTS, Turks and Caicos Forum (TC Forum), said Turks and Caicos had been devastated by two hurricanes last month, and the homes and businesses on the three islands were significantly damaged.  There was widespread loss and dislocation, with acute shortages of food and water, he said, adding that the negligence of the administering Power had been quite crippling for the Territory.  The bodies of illegal immigrants from poverty-stricken neighbouring countries had washed ashore on the beaches of Turks and Caicos, he said, adding that robberies had become more common while the British did “next to nothing” to curtail crime.  More than one visiting tourist had been shot and injured.  Meanwhile, foreign banking enterprises were foreclosing on Turks and Caicos citizens, he said.  While the United Kingdom had begun its Brexit process with the aim of insulating its borders from perceived exploitation by citizens of its fellow European Union neighbours, it had done nothing to ensure that indigenous citizens of Turks and Caicos benefited from economic activity in their homeland.  He urged the United Kingdom to comply with its obligations under the United Nations Charter and relevant resolutions.

The representative of Venezuela asked how the administering Power had handled the situation in terms of the Territory’s recovery capabilities.

The representative of Cuba noted that the administering Power had many responsibilities and asked how it was contributing to recovery.

Mr. ROBERTS replied that the Royal Marines had helped with the recovery, but that had been a novelty.  Usually, the administering Power left the community to handle the recovery as best they could, he said, noting that this time, £32 million had been allotted among all the British Territories.  However, that was not enough, he said, emphasizing that much more was needed.

Responding to the statement by the representative of Cuba, he said that country had the region’s best ideas for mitigating the effects of hurricanes efforts, adding that Turks and Caicos could learn from them.  They faced a long recovery and the United Kingdom must assist them further because the allotment of funds was woefully inadequate.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

JEAN-PAUL LECOQ, Member of Parliament, French Parliament-Assemblée Nationale, raised the risky prospect of a third generation of Sahrawi living in the midst of realpolitik who might resort to less peaceful means.  So far, negotiations had led to frustration and sometimes violence, he said, noting that the cynical view was that the United Nations was supporting Morocco and the Saharan regime was exploiting the region’s resources.  But the international community must not remain powerless, he stressed, recalling that a legal decision had been taken in December 2016 but had not taken effect.

STEFANO VACCARI, Senator, Italian Parliament and member, Italian Parliamentary Intergroup of Solidarity with the Sahrawi People, said Morocco persisted in illegally exploiting Western Sahara’s natural resources, often in complicity with foreign entities and in violation of the Sahrawi people’s sovereign rights.  The world must reject legitimization of the status quo, which represented the complete failure of the international system, he said.  That system itself was based on the right to self-determination and the prohibition of forcible acquisition of territory, he pointed out, urging the General Assembly to set a date for a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

KAMAL BAZAID, journalist and human rights activist, Projekt Gruppe Westsahara, recalled the human rights abuses perpetuated by the Moroccan authorities against the Sahrawi people, saying the United Nations could not turn a blind eye to the abuses in the occupied Territory.  “I’m here to remind the United Nations that the Sahrawi people are still waiting,” he said, urging the Organization to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and address the human rights abuses.  He also urged the Government of Morocco to release all Sahrawi prisoners taken into custody for protesting peacefully.

AHMED MOHAMED FALL, Vice-Chair, Natural Resources Watch, said fishing constituted a large portion of the economy, yet it did not benefit the Sahrawi.  The King of Morocco and French companies owned many agricultural farms while their benefits for the Sahrawi amounted to only 2 per cent.  Additionally, “suspicious companies”, both Moroccan and Canadian, were operating in Western Sahara.  Noting that half the Sahrawi lived in refugee camps inside Algeria, he said it was clear that Morocco, the occupying Power, was benefiting from the ceasefire.  The Sahrawi deserved independence, by peaceful means or by force, he stressed.

KARIM MUSTAPHA BARKAT, Member, Algerian American Association, said the Sahrawi people had suffered greatly at the hands of those who “disgraced history”.  Colonialists controlled the lands and territories of the Sahrawi “to impose a reality no one there believed in”.  The United Nations had failed in its endeavours, he said, adding that the ones making decisions were the same ones who had refused to join the dialogue.  They were the same ones who did not recognize the authority and resolutions of the United Nations.  The Sahrawi, meanwhile, had extended a hand.  “We are counting on your conscience,” he said.

MAALAININE YARA, Director, Western Sahara IT, said Morocco had deliberately targeted young people with a view to changing their views of their own history.  “I remember the days myself, when we had to walk into a classroom and salute the Moroccan flag.”  Morocco had also obstructed the media from reporting on abuses against the Sahrawi, he said, declaring:  “Morocco divides families and turns them against each other.”  Morocco had also lobbied many countries, including the United States, to turn against the Sahrawi people, he said, asking:  “What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for this generation to perish?”  Enough was enough, he said, calling for a referendum.

GUIDO ROA, Co-founder, Going Organic Western Sahara, said he had visited the camps in connection with organic gardening project and had found that the Sahrawi lacked the essential rights to choose their own path and speak without restriction.  The activists who had stood up against Moroccan injustice in 2010 had been illegally imprisoned and faced harsh sentences.  Peace efforts were currently hindered by the lack of opportunity that Sahrawi endured, which placed them at a disadvantage in the global economic market.  Until the conflict was resolved, the effectiveness of the United Nations would hang in the balance, he cautioned.

NYKAKY LYGEROS said that, from the beginning of its existence, the Polisario Front had demonstrated no desire to represent the people of the Sahara.  It was becoming increasingly clear that its structure defied the people’s interests and its only function was to promote local friction and destabilize the region.  The people of the Sahara expected nothing from that structure, which represented an error of the past and had no future, he said, describing Polisario as “only a local actor” that could not claim to represent anyone nationally or internationally.  The people of the Sahara would only be free when the Polisario ceased to exist, he said.

AHMED LAKHRIF, Député, Chambre des conseillers, Royaume du Maroc, said he had the power and right to speak for the Sahrawi, who had allowed him to do so.  How then could the directors of Polisario speak for them?  As a legitimate representative, he said, Polisario did not represent him or the Sahrawi living in the Tindouf camps.  Morocco’s autonomy proposal was the solution to the conflict and would guarantee them dignity and rights, he said.

ERIK JENSEN, former Head, MINURSO, noted that change was possible and failure to move towards resolving the conflict could prove dangerous for the wider region and beyond.  Recalling that Morocco had rejoined the African Union in January, he said that a confrontation between that country and Polisario in the buffer zone at Guerguerat had been in danger of turning violent and had only been  defused after months of negotiations and pressure.  The Secretary-General had issued an unusually comprehensive and compelling report in April, he recalled, saying that the proposals, endorsed by the Security Council, clearly called for a new dynamic in the negotiating process, including, radically, agreement on the nature and form of the self-determination exercise.  Algeria and Mauritania must play a part in that process, he emphasized, pointing out that the Secretary-General had appointed a new Personal Envoy to help restart the talks.  It was pointless to resurrect old settlement plans or repeat arguments, he stressed, calling for willingness to explore options following on from the 2007 regional autonomy proposals.  “Compromise is inescapable,” he emphasized.

EL HADJI HAIDARA, President, Fédération mondiale des amis du sahara marocain, noted his organization’s activities.  The Sahrawi problem could not be resolved from the standpoint of Morocco alone but rather must be examined from the perspective of the entire African continent.  Activities, cultures and customs were the same as they were in Morocco.  He also spoke out against harming the territorial integrity of Morocco.

MOHAMED RAZAMA, Maire, Commune Urbaine d’El Marsa, said the vast majority of African States did not recognize “this member”, adding that no European or Western State recognized “this entity” either.  Out of 193 United Nations Member States, only 32 recognized “this fantasy country”, he said, describing many of those 32 as “despondent Governments”.

ALESSIO POSTIGLIONE, journalist, said the kidnapping stories featured in his book Sahara, The Desert of Mafia and Jihadists suggested that even the Polisario Front — whose reputation had always been tied to its ability to remain impervious to terrorist infiltrations — was loosening dangerously.  It was infiltrated by Islamic fundamentalist movements and increasingly permeable to groups like Al-Qaida, he said.

VANESSA RAMOS, President, American Association of Jurists, said the Sahrawi people had a right to self-determination.  Noting Western Sahara’s status as a non-autonomous Territory occupied by Morocco since 1975 in violation of international law, she recalled the various charters and conventions under which their rights and resources were protected.  The African Union had issued a legal opinion reaffirming the illegality of exploiting the resources of the occupied Territories, she said, pointing out that the grave humanitarian situation of the refugees and the exploitation and extraction of fisheries were extremely concerning.

YAHFUDU BENABDELAYACHI HEIBA, Member, Chambre de la pêche maritime Atlantique-Sud, recalled that an elderly person had died last month owing to slavery in the Tindouf camps.  No one had been able to help except the journalist who had broken the silence.  That slavery problem had been mentioned many times, he said, stating that those Tindouf who were white did not talk to those who were black, and they could not live in the same house.  Children inherited the slavery situation from their parents, in accordance with an official law signed by Polisario, he said, adding that the Front should be ashamed to talk about human rights in international forums.

FALA BOSSOULA, President, Association Femme, recounted the suffering of young Sahrawi in Port Madrid, saying they were not allowed to pursue university diplomas abroad.  Had they possessed refugee cards, they would have received protection internationally.  Emphasizing the need for a census of the people in Tindouf, he said Polisario had rejected that idea because the lack of population data enabled them to refuse assistance to some and sell aid on the black market.  If people had cards, Polisario would have to allow more freedom of movement, she stressed.

ALESSIO BIAGIOLI, Mayor, Township of Calenzano, Italy, said the Sahrawi had been forcibly expelled from their land and had suffered continuous violations of their human rights.  The issue was not only a matter of decolonization but also one of human rights and international security.  A referendum had been proposed 30 years ago, but it still had not taken place, he noted, stressing that the absence of a lasting diplomatic solution undermined the prestige of international organizations.

PEDRO PINTO LEITE, Secretary, International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, said a number of international law experts saw the Western Sahara and East Timor issues as identical.  In May, during the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Platform of Jurists for East Timor, the head of the Timorean resistance had made a statement alongside the Polisario coordinator with MINURSO, saying the liberation of the Sahara was only a matter of time and that internal resistance was the key to success.  In December, the Court of Justice of the European Union had stressed the need for a separate status for Western Sahara under the principle of self-determination, saying that the Territory simply was not part of Morocco.

The representative of Algeria asked Mr. Leite for more information about the twenty-fifth anniversary mentioned in his statement.

Mr. LEITE said the anniversary had taken place in the Parliament of Portugal, adding that it had also been significant that two Vice Presidents of Parliament had expressed support for the Sahrawi cause.

DANIEL ROMERO, journalist, Total News Agency Argentina, said Polisario’s misappropriation of resources had been condemned by various international organizations.  A detailed report reaffirmed that its leadership had diverted humanitarian aid.  “Most of the supplies do not get there,” he affirmed, saying it was sold and the funds spent on property for the Polisario leadership.  Meanwhile, people in the camps lived in sub-human conditions, he said, urging the opening of the camps to United Nations officials in order to gain an accurate assessment of the needs of the people there.

MAHJOUBA DAOUDI, President, ONG Sahara Media Center, said Polisario and its sponsors would never tell the truth about the dismantling of the camps, during which time 11 people were brutally killed.  Describing conditions in the camps, she noted that the Polisario had used knives and other kinds of weapons to kill.  She demanded to know how the killing of people protesting peacefully had been allowed.

The representative of Algeria said “we are at the United Nations and the United Nations has its appropriate language”.  He added that the language heard today was simply inappropriate and must not be repeated.

The Chair urged the use of appropriate language.

GONZALO SÁNCHEZ ÁLVAREZ-CASTELLANOS, photographer and graphic designer, Societé Fenec-Design, said the diversion of money and the sale of food aid had been done for the benefit of Polisario’s high leadership.  The fraud had been maintained to the present day and involved cases that had been taken before the courts.  He recalled having visited Western Sahara in 2006, saying the Sahrawi lived rather well, with all the advantages afforded by Morocco.

EL MAMIA HAMMI, member, Association Liberté et Fraternité, said Morocco was fully convinced that the Territory discussed was its own and would not give it up under any circumstance.  The real power controlling the conflict did not want any solution other than independence for Western Sahara and a shift of power in the region, she said.  “We know very well who is behind the Polisario.  It’s Algeria.”

CHIBATA MRABBIH RABBOU, Deputy Managing Director, Crystal Mountain del Sahara Company, said Morocco had invested far more in the Sahara region than it had received from its exploitation of natural resources.  As a Sahrawi living in the Saharan provinces and profiting from its resources, he said he could attest that the local people were involved in the daily production and management of those resources.  A major investment in new industrial complexes would help further reduce unemployment and illiteracy levels in the region, he added.

JOSÉ MARÍA GIL GARRE, Co-director, International Security Observatory, said terrorist activity in the region had been intensifying, and the fact that they had infiltrated Polisario was of particular concern.  Such methods had previously been used in Western Sahara during the Gdeim Izik camp revolts, when people had been murdered.  In such an unstable context, there was a possibility of a return to armed conflict, which would be penetrated by jihadist terrorism, he warned.  That threat was part of the international jihadist movement in the Sahara/Sahel region.  The conflict was artificially created and it was vital to seek its end, he emphasized.  Morocco had a serious and credible autonomy plan, which provided a basis for such an effort.

PABLO JAVIER ZARDINI, Director of Financial and International Cooperation Consulting, Carlos Rios & Asociados, said Polisario was conducting a disinformation campaign by convincing world opinion that Morocco was exploiting resources in Western Sahara against international law and the interests of the local population.  In accordance with several United Nations resolutions, Morocco, as a sovereign State, had an obligation to set an economic strategy and an exploration policy.  It had defined a development policy for the region, planning many infrastructure projects, he said, pointing out that Morocco had invested more than $8 million since 2015 to finance new projects in the southern provinces.

MARTHA CHÁVEZ COSSÍO, an academic, said the Court of Justice of the European Union had declared recently that Polisario’s claim was inadmissible, because it was not capable of representing the Sahrawi.  Looking at the history of the conflict, Morocco had already claimed decolonization of the Sahara many years ago, she said, adding that it had also described Western Sahara as a non-autonomous territory before decolonization was implemented.

ERIC CAMERON, President, World Action for Refugees, called for a credible census to establish once and for all the true number of detainees in the Tindouf camps.  Why, despite many calls for a census over 40 years, had Algeria and Polisario not conceded?  He suggested that inflated numbers meant more aid to embezzle, warning that the consequences were potentially catastrophic.  Moreover, when the key players in the conflict were trying to conceal the truth or actively opposing measures to unveil it, it became difficult to have faith in any claimed facts they otherwise presented.

ANDRÉ GRIMBLATT-HINZPETER, Academic Vice-President, Centro de Estudios del Magreb para las Américas, recalled some of the historical context of the dispute, recounting the efforts by the Spanish colonizers to establish a government in Western Sahara.  He also cited the relevant Security Council resolutions on the matter, adopted in both 2000 and 2004.

HORMAT ALLAH SIDI AHMED, President, Association développement d’oued eddahab, described a regional development project launched by the King of Morocco, saying it covered all sectors of development, including the economic, social and environmental spheres.  It also promoted the participation of women in public life and the reintegration of refugees returning from the camps.  The project oversaw the construction of vital infrastructure, including a university, he said.  “It is an obligation to invest in the well-being of its people,” he said, asking what colonial Power would actually do that.

ZINE EL AABIDINE EL OUALI, President, Association 9 mars, said he wished to demystify some of the lies the Committee had heard for years.  Western Sahara was a territorial area without any defence.  It had never been conquered by Polisario or considered liberated territory.  After the ceasefire, there had been no military authority to speak of, he said, adding that he was ready to defend the Sahara’s territorial integrity.  It would always remain Moroccan, he vowed.

ELAINE OBENSHAIN, Vice-President, American Moroccan Alliance, said that, on the basis of her observations, Morocco had already successfully implemented the autonomy plan through free and open elections, the development of modern infrastructure, and the creation of schools and technology centres.  The cultural identity of the Sahrawi people was preserved through language, art and social traditions, while human rights were protected under Moroccan constitutional law, she added.  Morocco’s autonomy plan was the only realistic and credible solution satisfying the aspirations of the Sahrawi people, she concluded.

HAMMADA EL BAIHI, Membre fondateur, Forum Social pour le Développement Humaine de Laâyoune, cited a report that revealed illegal activities of the Polisario Front and the theft of humanitarian assistance intended for the camps.   It concluded that the inhabitants of the Tindouf camp had not received the humanitarian assistance intended for them.  Some of those supplies had ended up on the black market and some had been distributed based on allegiances and proximity to the Polosario, the result of blackmail and bargaining.

INGRID METTON, Attorney, Metton Avocats, said that, based on legal analysis, Western Sahara was an occupied territory.  The Kingdom of Morocco was preventing the effective implementation of United Nations resolutions.  She recalled the repressive policies she witnessed first-hand when defending political prisoners.  Torture was banned and should be banned everywhere. It threatened the stability of the world.  As an occupied territory, any violence committed against the Sahrawi people was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

NAZARIO JAP DOS SANTOS, Spokesperson, Friends Solidarity of Western Sahara Timor-Leste, said the case of Western Sahara and Timor-Leste shared many similarities.  As with Timor-Leste, the principle of self-determination through a free and genuine expression of the people’s will should be granted and not be questioned.  The Sahrawi people were waiting peacefully for every party to comply with the relevant resolutions from the Committee.  The faith that the Saharawi people had in the United Nations should not be betrayed.

RICHARD JOSÉ VARGAS OSORIO, "Aportes Para Optimizar El Rol De Facilitador De La Onu En La Aceleración De Una Solución En La Cuestión Del Sahara", Observatorio de la Democracia (ONG internacional), said the United Nations had a unique role to place parties in the position where they could resolve their differences.  His opinion was not paid for, but rather was the opinion of a professional.  The United Nations could not be used as a tribunal or theatre so that countries with “Marxist ideologies” could keep alive a conflict that had been on-going for decades.  It was up to the Security Council exclusively to seek a solution to the situation.  He also asked the United Nations not to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign nations.

ABD ERAHMAN MOHAMED, Coordinator, Libertad y paz, describing himself as a young man from the Sahara, said he was proud of Algeria.  “We should raise the level of dialogue in the Organization,” he stated, adding that “having listened to many things regarding racism and other crimes committed, I must say things have gone too far.”  He commended the work of the African Union and said that if the United Nations did not adopt resolutions that reaffirmed the rights of the Sahrawi people, they would take their rights by any means necessary.

The representative of Morocco said there had been complaints from delegations that they had not been able to add speakers to the list.  Since the country speaker list was small, he requested that the Chair accommodate more speakers to help facilitate democratic expression.

The Committee Chair, noting that there were currently seven countries that would like speak, said that there was no time to hear them.  While some States would like to remove some of the petitioners, those were the rules and the Committee must follow them, he said, adding that they could not be changed.

The representative of Morocco said that, while he understood the desire to hear all the petitioners, he believed there were petitioners on the list that had not received their accreditation in time and would not be present.  Members of the African Group had requested to speak and he urged the Secretariat to add time as needed.

The Committee Chair said he would consult with the Secretariat to ensure that those States could speak.

The representative of Algeria asked if any steps had been taken by Member States to address inscription issues with the Secretariat.

The representative of the Secretariat said he was aware of the issues with the platform and he confirmed that the current speaker list comprised everyone who was able to inscribe before the deadline.

The Committee Chair said that tomorrow they would see what space was available for those States to speak.

For information media. Not an official record.