24 May 2001


Press Release


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

HAVANA, Cuba, 24 May -- The situations of Western Sahara and Puerto Rico were addressed this morning by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- known as the Special Committee of 24 -- continued its Caribbean regional seminar to review the political, economic and social conditions in the small island Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Wilma Reveron, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, addressed the impact of military activities in the Caribbean area.  She said that in negotiating for a certain level of self-government of Puerto Rico, the United States Marines had extracted the price of using Vieques as a military base during the Second World War.  For the inhabitants of Vieques, the Second World War had never ended.  They had to give up three quarters of the island, which had an immediate economic and social impact, as agricultural land was destroyed.  At present, social indicators such as alcoholism and drug use had reached an alarming level.

Military activity had also led to environmental destruction and poisonous pollution affecting the health of the population, she said.  Waste had not been collected and cleaned by the Marines over 60 years.  There were alarming levels of mercury in the water and soil.  The United States Marines had confessed that they had used uranium-tipped bullets in their exercises.

Quintana Cruz, Union Nacional de Juristas, a Cuban NGO, analysed the history of colonization and decolonization, and paid particular attention to “the systematic practice of the United States to acquire colonies and not promote the eradication of colonialization”.  She suggested that in the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the Committee should undertake a plan of action to completely eradicate colonialism in the world in a short time.  Lourdes Cervantes Vazquez, Organizacion de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de Africa, Asia y America Latina, also a Cuban NGO, addressed the situation as well, among other issues.

The representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), Nema Yumani, said the Saharan people had been fighting for the right of self-determination for 25 years.  It was a question of decolonization.  In 1975, the Western Sahara had been invaded and occupied by Morocco.  After 16 years of war, the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) had proposed a Settlement Plan to peacefully resolve the conflict by organizing a referendum.  Both parties to the conflict had accepted the Settlement Plan, which stipulated, among other things, a referendum which was

expected to take place in January 1992.  The Security Council had authorized the establishment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Morocco, however, had requested that criteria for identifying voters be changed to allow Moroccan settlers in the area to vote in order to guarantee the outcome of the referendum.  Morocco continued its delaying tactics, aware of the fact that the Saharan people would never vote for annexation.  Morocco’s position, encouraged by France, did not augur well for the region.  The Saharan people would resort to all legitimate means to defend their right to self-determination and independence, he said, but the present situation threatened to bring the use of arms closer.

In what the Moroccan representative called “a brilliant act of casting”, other NGOs took up the issue as well, notably the Centro de Estudios de Africa and Medio Oriente, a Cuban NGO, the Organizacion de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de Africa, Asia y America, and Federacion de Mujeres Cubanos, also a Cuban NGO.

The representative of Morocco stressed that the question of Sahara was a matter of territorial integrity and not of decolonization.  In countering statements made by POLISARIO, he said the so-called invasion of Western Sahara by Morocco was supported by the tripartite agreement between Mauritania, Morocco and Spain.  The fact that it was Morocco who had proposed the referendum was often forgotten, he said.  That referendum had been proposed as a gesture of compromise. 

The United Nations had prepared a Settlement Plan, accepted by both parties.  That plan provided for a complex system of identification of voters.  There had been delaying tactics to prevent a large part of the Western Sahara to be identified, with the purpose to deprive one party of determining the Moroccan nature of the Sahara.  Regarding POLISARIO’s assertion that Morocco had sent 170,000 settlers to the Territory, he said those settlers included people who had taken up arms to fight against Spanish occupation before POLISARIO existed.

Addressing observations by the Federacion de Mujeres Cubanos and the Organizacion de Solidaridad on the situation of Saharan prisoners, particularly of women, he called the attention to the situation of Moroccan prisoners in POLISARIO camps “the oldest prisoners in the world”, and to the fact that the children from four to 17 years old of Saharan women in camps were sent for training to certain countries supporting POLISARIO.

Carlyle Corbin, representative of the government of the Virgin Islands, addressed the modalities of United Nations agencies to render assistance to small island Non-Self-Governing Territories and called for observer status for representatives of small island Non-Self-Governing Territories in world conferences and special sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, especially in the special session of the Assembly on HIV/AIDS. 

Judith Bourne, United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands, analysed the situation after the referendum in the United States Virgin Islands and stressed the lack of political education, as well as the difficulties for voter registration concerning the referendum.

Ronal Teehan, Guam Landowners Association, noted the averse impact on the economic and social development of the indigenous Chamorro people of Guam by the land-use policies of the United States military presence.  He said over one third of the island continued to be held by the administering Power, including land around the deep harbor, the best beaches and most developable properties.

Under the laws of the administering Power, Guam was but a possession, and there was not even a tacit commitment that Guam would ever be a permanent part of its internal or integrated system.  The island was only good enough to be used as a munitions and basing area in the Western Pacific.  Even when the military closed bases, they wanted to keep title to the land.  The administering Power had signaled little interest in decolonizing Guam and had repeatedly demonstrated its disinterest in recognizing the role of the Chamorro people, he said.

The Vice-Chairman of the Committee, Patrick Albert Lewis (Antigua and Barbuda), clarified the status of dialogue between the Special Committee and the administering Power of American Guam in response to statements yesterday.  He said that members of the Special Committee understood that American Samoa wished to be de-listed.  Because the government of American Samoa had sent a clear message, the Special Committee had agreed to start a process of dialogue with the administering Power in order to prepare a programme of work.  However, such a programme of work had not been received and further discussions had not taken place.

Representatives of the African American Human Rights Foundation (United States), the Centro de Estudios de Asia y Oceania (Cuba), the Centro de Estudios Europeos (Cuba), the Union Nacional de Juristat (Cuba), the Movimiento por la Paz y la Soberania de los Pueblos (Cuba), and the Centro Estudios de America also spoke.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda also made a statement.

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For information media. Not an official record.