7 October 2004


Press Release

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

5th Meeting (PM)

petitioners urge Security Council to consider western sahara under chapter vii


as fourth committee continues general debate on decolonization

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon heard 12 petitioners on the situation in Western Sahara, several of whom urged the Security Council to consider the situation under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, in order to enforce compliance with Council resolutions.

During the discussion preceding the hearing of petitioners, the Committee heard from the representatives of India, Bahrain, Fiji and the United Republic of Tanzania.  The delegates stressed that, in order to attain the goals of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010), the situation in the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories should be approached on a case-by-case basis.  The essential tools in that effort were the dissemination of relevant information regarding options for self-determination; United Nations visiting missions to the Territories; and the holding of regional seminars.  The administering Powers were urged to cooperate with the Special Committee on Decolonization in the completion of its mandate.

The petitioners, representing non-governmental organizations and other supporters of the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, urged the United Nations to implement the Peace Plan for Western Sahara as proposed by the former Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker, so that they could exercise their right to self-determination after nearly 30 years of “foreign occupation” by Morocco.

Txomin Aurrekoetxea Iza, Member of the Basque Parliament and Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup “Peace and Freedom in the Sahara”, among other speakers, urged the Security Council to invoke Chapter VII when dealing with the issue, in order to enforce compliance with United Nations resolutions.  Drawing a parallel with the situation of Timor-Leste before its independence, he said Algeria was playing the role that Australia had played in that country.  Spain should play the part that Portugal had played, but had so far failed to take up that role.  It was hoped, however, that Spain’s new Government would bring the country back into line with international legality.

Charles Scheiner of the Netherlands Foundation for Self-Determination in Western Sahara drew attention to Morocco’s “illegal exploitation” of Western Sahara’s natural resources, calling on the United Nations to protect the Saharawi people’s right to those resources.  Describing the Western Sahara question as a decolonization issue, Felipe Briones Vives, Chairman of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said the United Nations should accord the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) the same status as that enjoyed by the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in its day, and currently by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Several petitioners drew attention to conditions in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria and expressed admiration for the way in which the Saharawi refugees had organized them in extremely difficult situations, by setting up educational, health and agricultural production systems.  Greet De Causmaecker, of the Belgian Committee in Support for Western Sahara, noted, however, that the daily life of the refugees, continued to be very difficult, particularly the food situation, which remained precarious.  Since the international community was not working hard enough to implement a just solution under international law to overcome Morocco’s intransigence, it had an even greater responsibility to protect and assist the refugees.

Other petitioners speaking this afternoon were Antonio Lopez Ortiz (Federacion Estatal de Instituciones Solidarias con el Pueblo Saharaui); Francisco Jose Alonso Rodriguez (Human Rights League); Vanessa Ramos (American Association of Jurists); Prudencio Javier Morillas Gomez (Asociacion de Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui); Fernando Iniguez (Asociacion Periodistas Especializados en Musica, Ocio y Cultura); Julien Dedenis (Association des Amis de la République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique); Tarik Belkhodja (Comite Mediterrane); and David Lippiat (We Internacional).

The representative of Equatorial Guinea also spoke.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Friday 8 October, to continue its general debate on decolonization issues.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization issues this afternoon, and it was also expected to hear petitioners and representatives from Non-Self-Governing Territories.


NILOTPAL BASU (India) said that colonialism, which was anachronistic and against the tenets of democracy, should be eradicated.  The way ahead must be a judicious mix of urgency and activism on the one hand, and, on the other, one of sensitivity that took into account the needs of the people of the Territories and their special circumstances.  That demanded a case-by-case approach with a view to making real progress in each Territory.  The essential tools in the effort were the dissemination of relevant information regarding options, United Nations missions and regional seminars.

He called upon the administering Powers to assist the Committee in devising accelerated action plans for the decolonization of certain Territories.  New Zealand had actively supported a United Nations mission to Tokelau and since then much progress had occurred; the United Kingdom had cooperated with the seminars in Anguilla and New Guinea.  It was hoped that such a spirit of partnership would lead to the formal participation by the administering Powers in the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization, particularly in work relating to the Territories under their respective administrations.

FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain), noting that about four years of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism had elapsed, said that the resolution adopting that Decade had special importance for people still languishing under the yoke of foreign domination.  Bahrain called for the full implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples during the Second Decade.

The Millennium Declaration of 2000 had not failed to support the decolonization efforts, he said, adding that the Declaration reflected the will of people around the world to enhance their social advancement in freedom.  Despite the fact that the first Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism had not achieved its ultimate goal, its value had not been compromised.  It should be seen as an introduction to the Second Decade.

He said the Committee had played a meritorious role in carrying out its aim of ending imperialism, based on the principle of the right to self-determination.  Colonialism impeded the social, economic and cultural advancement of colonized peoples and it was hoped that the Second Decade would achieve its ultimate goal to free the world of colonialism.

FILIMONE KAU (Fiji) said four years into the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the work of decolonization remained incomplete as 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained on the agenda.  The Committee’s goal would never be achieved overnight and there was, therefore, a need for tolerance and understanding, as well as a great deal of persuasion.  While some administering Powers were on course with programmes for their Territories, Fiji called on others to remain engaged as the Committee continued its consultations and dialogue.  All parties must remain committed to the process until meaningful progress was achieved.

Acknowledging the attitude of New Zealand as the administering Power of Tokelau, he said meetings undertaken by the Special Committee with both parties had resulted in steady progress in the process leading to self-determination.  There had also been progress regarding the Kanak people in New Caledonia under the Matignon and Noumea Accords.  Fiji commended in particular the economic, social and cultural development that had advanced in that Territory, and its accession to observer status with the Pacific Islands Forum was also commendable.

GRACE MUJUMA (United Republic of Tanzania) said her country was a living example of nation whose sovereignty, independence and membership in the United Nations had been ushered in by the Trusteeship Council.  However, despite the adoption in 1960 of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and the establishment of the Special Committee, there were still 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories to date.  It was still the duty of the Committee and the international community to work expeditiously to complete the decolonization of those Territories.

Stressing that knowledge was enlightenment and information was power, she said it was important to ensure the widest possible dissemination of information relating to the work of the Special Committee, with particular emphasis on the options of self-determination.  Modern information technologies should be made available to the people concerned.  The results of the visiting missions to the Non-Self-Governing Territories were encouraging, and all parties concerned should make those visits successful.

She reiterated her country’s principled support for the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara and called for the speedy implementation of the internationally supported Peace Plan.  In the context of the revitalization of the United Nations, the Committee should focus on how it could accomplish the remaining tasks within the Organization’s mandate.  That might entail drawing up a programme of work based on case-by-case situations in dealing with the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories before the end of the Second International Decade.

Petitioners’ Statements

ANTONIO LOPEZ ORTIZ, Secretary of the National Federation of Institutions Working in Solidarity with the Saharawi People (FEDISSAH), said he represented over 500 local authorities in Spain who carried out important humanitarian cooperation work with the Saharawi people and expressly supported the Peace Plan approved by the United Nation as a suitable framework for the holding of a referendum on self-determination, which would end the long and painful conflict in Western Sahara.

Morocco had shown it had no desire to respect the international agreements and allow the referendum to be held, so it was time to force that country to comply with its commitments, he said.  It was also time that the Saharawi, who only wished to live freely and peacefully in their own land, were given the chance to decide their own future.  If it had been possible in Namibia and Timor-Leste, there was no reason it could not be possible in Western Sahara as well.

FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, Chairman, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said Morocco was not listed as the administering Power and had no sovereignty over Western Sahara.  It was simply an occupying Power and its presence there was illegal.  Western Sahara had a dual international legal status:  it was a Non-Self-Governing Territory and also under military occupation.  The Security Council should formally declare it an occupied territory.  The
2,500-kilometre-long defensive wall built by Morocco constituted a de facto annexation of the larger part of the Territory.  That “apartheid wall” had been humiliating the Saharawi people for two decades and had converted the Sahara into a ghetto.

He said that liberation movements such as, in its day, the South West African People’s Organization -- and currently the Palestine Liberation Organization -- had enjoyed a status before the United Nations that should be presented equally in favour of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front).  In Namibia, exploiting and exporting any natural resource without the consent of the United Nations Council for Namibia had been prohibited.  What protection was the Organization providing Western Sahara?  The legal and political essence of self-determination was the referendum and for that reason, the scope defined in Security Council resolution 1495 (2003) and 1541 (2004) should not be abandoned.  The work of the Secretary-General’s personal envoy must be restricted to its strict application, in letter and spirit.

TXOMIN AURREKOETXEA IZA, Member of the Basque Parliament and Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup “Peace and Freedom in the Sahara”, said that, for the twenty-ninth year in succession, freedom for Western Sahara had not been achieved and international legality had not been enforced.  The example of Timor-Leste must be taken up in the Western Sahara.  The role played by Australia in Timor-Leste was being played by Algeria and that played by Portugal should be played by Spain, which was still the administering Power on record.  Spain’s new Government should bring the country back into line with international legality as the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy had now established the guidelines for the freedom of the Saharawi people.

Drawing attention to the dire political, social and economic consequences of Morocco’s occupation, in particular the situation in the refugee camps, he said the Saharawi people wanted, needed and deserved their non-autonomous Territory to be decolonized and requested that the Security Council, in considering the issue, move from Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter on declarations, consensus and resolutions, to Chapter VII on requiring compliance with United Nations resolutions.  In that regard, the Secretary-General, when visiting the Tindouf refugee camps in April 1998, had said that the Organization had sufficient resources to enforce compliance with signed agreements.

FRANCISCO JOSE ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, national president of Human Rights League, said there had been serious repression of the Saharawi population by Morocco, with 500 people still missing, and torture carried out in secret detention centres that were only recognized when a detainee had been freed.  Permits requested by non-governmental organizations to investigate charges of torture were always denied and torture accusations were generally rejected by the Moroccan courts or otherwise set aside, even though the victims presented evidence such as bruises.

A common element of all human rights violation was impunity, he said, adding that the passivity of the international community allowed abuses to continue.  Human rights would never be completely protected in Western Sahara until the right to self-determination was granted through a free, transparent and fair referendum.  That was the only legitimate solution to the conflict.  The so-called Tercera Via, or Third Channel, denied the right to self-determination that had already been recognized in many documents.

VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, declaring her organization’s solidarity with the quest for self-determination and freedom through a free and fair referendum, expressed concern at the deterioration in the plight of the Saharawi people.  Western Sahara was clearly a decolonization issue and should be treated as such by the United Nations.

The Settlement Plan was the correct instrument for attaining peace, as it had already led to a ceasefire and the release of prisoners, she said.  As the Territory was coveted by business interests for its natural resources, the United Nations had an obligation to protect those resources in the interests of the Saharawi people.

PRUDENCIO JAVIER MORILLAS GOMEZ, Coordinadora Estatal de Asociacion de Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui, said that the former Spanish Sahara had not been decolonized like other African colonies only because Spain had abandoned it to the administration of Morocco and Mauritania at the end of the Franco regime.  Western Sahara had been sacrificed for the Spanish transition to democracy, with negative consequences all around, even for most Moroccans apart from the ruling elite.  It had even brought about the economic decomposition of Mauritania.

Just as Timor-Leste had been decolonized in the interest of regional stability, the same should occur with Western Sahara, he said.  If it had been fair to intervene for the liberation of Kuwait, or to call on Syria to leave Lebanon, why was there no stronger action to move the army of Morocco out of Western Sahara?  The Chechens and Palestinians were in the news because of terrorism, but that was not how the Saharawi people worked.  The conflict in Western Sahara was extracting great costs through massive emigration from Morocco, beside the costs to the international community of maintaining the ceasefire.  The Saharawi people must be given their opportunity.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) asked Mr. Morillas to better explain the link between the conflict in Western Sahara and emigration from Morocco.

Mr. MORILLAS said it was a problem of economic stagnation in Morocco over the past decades.  Millions of dollars had been spent in building a separation wall, for example.  A Morocco freed of its occupation of Western Sahara could devote itself to its own development; an independent Western Sahara could contribute much to the economy of the region and reduce poverty in Morocco and the neighbouring countries.  Morocco was exporting its own problems and transferring the consequences of its bad decisions.  The people of Morocco had no hope for the future because their leaders were focused on controlling the Territory.

FERNANDO INIGUEZ, Asociacion Periodistas Especializados en Musica, Ocio y Cultura, said his group comprised people working in the media covering music, entertainment and culture, and had frequently visited refugee camps to cover musical and cultural festivals.  Dissemination of the culture of the Saharawi people was helping in their struggle.

He said the people of Western Sahara had been invaded.  Spain had promised independence and then betrayed them.  Later on, ethnic cleansing had been carried out, as well as detention, torture and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.  The Saharawi had been deprived of their land and freedom and it was the task of Spanish democracy to restore them.  The Saharawi people should write their own history and nobody should stand in their way.

GREET DE CAUSMAECKER, Belgian Committee in Support for Western Sahara, said that the daily life of Saharawi refugees continued to be very difficult, in particular the food situation, which remained precarious.  The World Food Programme, due to budget problems and a lack of supplementary products, had to buy the cheapest foodstuffs, which often led to an undiversified diet.  After 30 years, the refugees were worn out by the difficult physical and psychological conditions.  If they returned to a subsistence situation, all their development indicators would plummet.  Since the international community was not working hard enough to implement a just solution through international law and to overcome Morocco’s intransigence, it had an even greater responsibility to protect and assist the Saharawi refugees.

JULIEN DEDENIS, Association des Amis de la République Arabe Sahraoui Démocratique, said 165,000 Saharawis were living as refugees in difficult conditions while Morocco was trying to legitimize a situation imposed by force and illegitimately exploiting their natural resources.  The Baker Plan adopted by the Security Council was considered the optimum political solution, but it had been rejected by Morocco.  The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had carried out important work, but its work had not come to a conclusion.

The human drama should not be obscured, he said, adding that the refugees depended totally on each other for food and water.  Their natural surroundings were among the most difficult in the world, but they had built four towns in the middle of the desert.  They had also set up an educational system, a health system and a system for agricultural production.  The United Nations must continue its efforts for the referendum in Western Sahara.

CHARLES SCHEINER, Netherlands Foundation for Self-Determination in Western Sahara, said that, not only did Morocco deny the Saharawi people the right to self-determination, but also exploited their natural resources, including phosphates and fishing rights, for its own benefit while the rightful owners did not profit in any way.  Morocco was also searching for oil in the Western Sahara’s territorial waters.  Two Dutch companies, the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association and FugroNV, were accomplices in to the illegal occupation.  Any involvement of Moroccan and foreign companies in the exploitation of the territory’s natural resources must be condemned and further exploitation prevented.

He said that Moroccan policy of “economic annexation” of Western Sahara constituted a clear violation of the Saharawi right to self-determination.  In doing so, the occupier not only rejected, but also mortgaged the latest Peace Plan unanimously adopted by the Security Council.  The representative of the Saharawi people, the POLISARIO Front, should be consulted on any present or future exploitation of the natural wealth of Western Sahara.  It was imperative that the United Nations take urgent action to ensure that a fair and free referendum could be carried out.  In the meantime, it had the legal and moral obligation to take the necessary measures to protect Western Sahara’s natural resources.

TARIK BELKHODJA, Charge des relations internacionales, Comite Mediterrane, reported on the difficult living conditions in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria, which he had visited in April 2004.  The Saharawi people had shown their ability to take their destiny into their own hands, but doubt and anger were spreading throughout the camps because of the aborted programme to reunite families and their decreasing hope for the future.  The prospect of a second generation living in the camps was too much of a burden.

A peaceful solution must, therefore, be found quickly, through the holding of the self-determination referendum, he said, welcoming South Africa’s recent official recognition of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.  If there was no progress soon toward self-determination, however, many activists worried that the situation could turn violent.  It was, therefore, imperative that the agreements of 1991 be implemented.

DAVID LIPPIAT, president and CEO of We International, stressed the humanity and resourcefulness of the Saharawi people, who had developed democratic governance on their own.  They should be recognized as a people who deserved their freedom.  Indeed, many around the world had recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, including, most recently, South Africa.

The Saharawi people had waited patiently for over 30 years for their freedom, even as Morocco tightened its grip and committed human rights abuses, while backing away from its agreements he said.  It was clear that Morocco was determined to hold on to a land that was not theirs.  A solution needed to be imposed by the United Nations and the international community to reverse Morocco’s illegal invasion and its illegal actions as occupier.  In order to impose a solution, the United Nations must move from Chapter VI to Chapter VII of the Charter.

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For information media. Not an official record.