9 October 2007


9 October 2007
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fourth Committee

3rd Meeting (PM)





As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its discussion of decolonization issues this afternoon, the questions of Guam and Western Sahara featured prominently, with the Committee hearing more than 20 petitioners on both those matters.

On the question of Guam, petitioners raised concerns about the steady United States military presence, and the expected rise in their number by 50,000, including military personnel, their dependents and contractors.  They said militarization of Guam was an impediment to the right to self-determination of the Chamoru people -- Guam’s native people.  Though the Chamoru did not unanimously support the United States militarization on the island, it could not be stopped because that country was the administering Power.

“American military commanders beamed with pride at the incredible control they enjoyed over this tiny little island, which they regularly call ‘Fortress Guam’,” said the representative of Famoksaiyan, an organization that brings together Chamoru people from the Pacific and the United States, in support of Guam’s decolonization.  As the United States continued to “politely and impolitely” insist that the United Nations mind its own business, he felt it was necessary for the United Nations to engage in its own forms of “polite and impolite action”.

A representative of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice said that the militarization of the island had also sparked a capitalistic boom, with indigenous Chamoru families struggling economically, selling their land to American and foreign companies in the hope of profiting from the military boom.  The United Nations should be more active in upholding the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples with respect to Guam, and more resources for educational campaigns about self-determination and decolonization should be disseminated.

A representative of the Guahan Indigenous Collective also spoke on the question of Guam.

The Committee then heard from a long list of petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, many of whom appealed directly to Member States to give the indigenous Saharawi population the right to self-determination through a referendum to be overseen by the United Nations.  Different proposals had been prepared for that purpose, and recent talks in Manhasset, New York, between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), the nationalist movement working for the independence of Western Sahara, and the Government of Morocco, the other relevant party,had produced still others.

Frente Polisario’s representative at the United Nations said the movement had submitted its proposal for the future of Western Sahara in April, including the options of independence, integration and self-governance.  The Security Council had taken note of the two proposals, which had the same value and importance.  After two rounds of negotiations in Manhasset, a third round was scheduled, and Polisario had responded to the Personal Envoy as to the date and location for the upcoming round.  But the biases of the Moroccan delegation, which he said was “allergic to this democratic exercise”, had been seen in Manhasset.

A few speakers argued that Morocco’s proposal for autonomy -- also submitted in April -- offered a positive step for the region’s continued stability.  A Professor of International Relations at the Sorbonne University said that that proposal would allow Saharawis to find the right balance between their Moroccan identity and ethnic traits, while allowing them control over their own affairs.  Moreover, the international community should give careful thought to the formation of a Saharawi State in the region, which could not only trigger other separatist movements, but would signify genuine triumph of organized crime and would strengthen clandestine trafficking and terrorism.  Peace among people hinged on sovereignty, and not invented identities, he added.

During the discussion, several petitioners raised concerns over what they perceived as Morocco’s brutal rule over the disputed Territory, citing the detention and torture of supporters of decolonization.  Such repression also included detention of members of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, for having taken part in a peaceful demonstration in May, according to a Member of the European Parliament.  Others had been subjected to unfair trials, said an Italian Appeal Courts judge who had worked for two years in Western Sahara.

A few petitioners drew the Committee’s attention to the lack of access for humanitarian observers, who had been barred entry by Morocco on several occasions.  The same was said of access to Saharawi refugee camps, where conditions were said to be dire and food stores running low.

Other petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Cynthia Basinet, actress and singer; representatives of the American Association of Jurists; Senia Bachir-Abderahman, a Saharawi student at Mount Holyoke College in the United States; Janet Lenz, who had spent much of her personal time helping the Saharawi people; Institute of Legal Studies of the National Research Council and the Centre of Research and Elaboration on Democracy; and Extremaduran Association of Friends of the Sahawari People.

Also:  Spanish Institutions in Support of the Western Sahara and the Basque Nationalist Party; Spanish League for Human Rights; Andalusia’s Pro-Civil Human Rights and the Andalusian Civic Platform -- Pro Referendum for the Western Sahara; Asociacion de Amistad del Pueblo Saharaui de Sevilla; Rock Fish Church; Oxfam Solidarity; Defense Forum Foundation and United States-Western Sahara Foundation; International Platform of Jurists for East Timor; Aymeric Chauprade, Professor of International Relations, Sorbonne University; Conseil Regionale de Toscane, Italie.

The representative of Honduras spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 10 October, to hear remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its debate on all decolonization issues, and was also expected to hear petitioners from Non-Self-Governing Territories.  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in yesterday’s Press Release GA/SPD/371.)

Committee Chairman ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) informed members that, while it had been decided that the Committee would hear petitioners on the questions of New Caledonia, Guam and Western Sahara today, the petitioner from New Caledonia was unable to come to New York as scheduled.  Therefore, the Committee would begin by hearing from petitioners on the question of Guam.

Petitioners on Question of Guam

MICHAEL LUJAN BEVACQUA, representative of Famoksaiyan, an organization that brought together Chamoru people from the Pacific and the United States committed to the decolonization of Guam, noted that, in 1980, Chamorus made up 45 per cent of Guam’s population, but that number had fallen to 37 per cent in 2000.  Since 11 September 2001, America’s military presence had risen steadily, and Guam faced a further increase of 50,000 civilian and military personnel due to the relocating of American Marines, Air Force and Army staff from Okinawa and the Republic of Korea.  “American military commanders beamed with pride at the incredible control they enjoyed over this tiny little island, which they regularly call ‘Fortress Guam’, or the ‘tip of America’s spear’,” he said.

The official position of the United States on its colonies today was that they were domestic concerns, he said.  As such, the United Nations had no authority or mandate to encourage negotiations on their status, or to alter their relationship to the United States.  The United States Government’s resistance to resolution 1541 (1960) (Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples) was clear.  As the United States continued to “politely and impolitely” insist that the United Nations mind its own business, he felt it was necessary for the United Nations to engage in its own forms of “polite and impolite action”.

RIMA MILES, a Refaluwasch (or Carolinian), from the island of Saipan in Guam, said the Chamoru right to self-determination was being threatened by the United States’ actions, which contradicted the terms of its obligation to the Chamoru people.  Currently, the Territory was preparing for a population increase of 55,000 in military workers and dependents, which made up more than a quarter of the current population.  The militarization of their homeland was a direct impediment to the Chamoru right to self-determination.  In addition, live-fire sites would be available to the naval and air forces of other United Nations Member States, including Australia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.  She urged the Committee to condemn that multinational disregard for the United Nations Charter and resolution 1541.

She said that, not only were they seeing international Governments interested in United States military schemes for Guam, but “corporate vultures” were circling and already touching down, and $10 billion in new investment by the United States Department of Defense could be expected.  With one third of the island occupied, national integrity would be compromised.  Where the land and sea used to be protected, now beachfront developments foreshadowed the future to come.  The loss of land was coupled with environmental degradation.

The United Nations must look at non-self-governing situations on a case-by-case basis, especially when administering Powers were not cooperative, she said.  She had come today with no monetary support from the United States or the local government.  “We are students and parents who do not have […] money, but still we come […] in order for you to fulfil your mission”, and so that “these voices cannot be forgotten”.  More than 160 United States atomic and hydrogen bomb tests had made women into vessels to pass death to the hope they carried in their wombs.

MARIE AUYONG, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, speaking on behalf of Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero, said that an amplified militarization of Guam was a direct impediment to the native people’s human right to self-determination and should spark concern in the international community about United States military presence in the Pacific.  Guam was host to the largest United States military exercises in the Pacific since the Viet Nam War.  The people of Guam did not unanimously support the United States militarization on the island, yet, because that country was the administering Power, they had no way of stopping it. 

She said that the militarization of the island had also sparked a “capitalistic boom”.  The island seemed to be “for sale”, and indigenous Chamoru families, struggling economically, had begun to sell their land to United States and foreign companies, which hoped to profit from the military boom.  “It is tragic that more than 60 years after your inception, and the United Nations declaration to eradicate colonization, the people of Guam remain squashed under the thumb of the world’s biggest super Power,” she said.

The United Nations should be more active in upholding resolution 1541, ensuring that the native Chamoru people of Guam exercise their right to self-determination and decolonization.  A fact-finding mission should be sent to Guam.  The island also needed more resources for educational campaigns about self-determination and decolonization.

Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

WILLY MEYER PLEITE, Member of the European Parliament, said his organization had decided to send an ad hoc delegation to visit the occupied territories in October 2006, but had never managed to step on Saharawi grounds, because the President of the Moroccan Chamber of Representatives cancelled the mission’s authorization.  It had not been the first time that Morocco denied entry to international observers -- in 2002, he had done the same with a Spanish delegation made up of elected officials and journalists.  It had also happened recently to a delegation of Scandinavian diplomats.  Morocco had wanted to systematically hide violations of human rights and the lack of freedom of movement and expression.  Such repression also included detention of members of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, for having taken part in a peaceful demonstration in May.

He said a 2005 fishing agreement between the European Union and Morocco had been signed under the false argument that the Western Sahara national waters encompassed in that agreement were under Moroccan administration.  It was “so clearly contradictory” that Morocco should be considered to have administering power status on Western Sahara and obtain benefits from the natural resources, while at the same time failing to comply with its international obligations, in particular the implementation of the self-determination referendum. 

He said he would like, once more, to insist on the fact that the problem of Western Sahara was a matter of decolonization.  Also, Morocco was not the administering Power, but an “occupant Power”.  The rightful administering Power was Spain, which had systematically violated international law since the signing of the Madrid agreements in 1975.  As the administering Power, Spain had the options of decolonizing that Territory, by allowing them a referendum of self-determination.

CYNTHIA BASINET, actress, singer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said the Sahawari people lived in a futile faith over their future because they had agreed to a United Nations peace accord more than 16 years ago and, for more than 30 years, the majority had lived in the most uninhabitable outpost of the Algerian Sahara desert.  She challenged the Committee to undertake a new mission of positive change there, and to develop a system that allowed for faster progress on peaceful resolutions.

She said it was unethical and immoral to limit peace and economic progress in the twenty-first century.  Aside from the lack of progress on the voting referendum, the Saharawi people had had no economic progress.  They needed access to the Internet for education, micro-economic loans sites and commerce.  They also needed to be able to participate in the world, and they needed quicker resolution to both political and economic strife.  The Saharawis living in camps needed to have the ability to solicit for their needs, consider commerce and educate their children.  In addition to medical and building supplies, they needed a way to market what they produced.  Such microeconomic solutions were available and must be provided, she said.

VANESSA RAMOS, President of the American Association of Jurists, said her organization was committed to the pursuit of the inalienable right to self-determination, as well as combating imperialism and colonialism.  It fully supported the Saharawi people, in accordance with resolution 1541, in their wish to hold a referendum on their status.  That Territory had suffered since 1975 under a “brutal” Moroccan occupation, during which they had struggled to invoke an end to that occupation.  Morocco, meanwhile, had not cooperated with the United Nations with regard to such a referendum and had, instead, tortured and imprisoned the Saharawi men and women.  The United Nations, for its part, had been extremely tolerant of that behaviour. 

She said the least that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could do was to seek the liberation of all prisoners of war and Saharawi activists.  She called for the Secretary-General’s intervention, and that of the Security Council and General Assembly, to protect the Saharawi population and to uphold their fundamental freedoms.  It was also untenable for the illegal occupants of that land to deny access to international observers.  Postponing a referendum would lead to a dead end or, at worst, a resumption of armed conflict. 

Neither the United Nations nor Spain could continue to avoid their responsibility in the present matter, she continued.  Spain should be seen as an administering Power that had shamefully abandoned the Saharawi people.  Until the decolonization of those people was achieved, the United Nations was obliged to protect their land’s territorial integrity, as well as to preserve their oil and other natural resources, which was coveted by the great Powers.  Also, the United Nations should take note of the harsh living condition in the refugee camps in Tindouf, which were themselves the result of the illegal occupation.  She hoped that the talks that began in June between Frente Polisario and Morocco would bring about a referendum without preconditions.  The question of Western Sahara was indeed a case for the decolonization Committee and it was time to break the wall of silence.

SENIA BACHIR-ABDERAHMAN, a Saharawi student at Mount Holyoke College in the United States, said that the advantages of a scholarship to attend an international high school at the United World College in Norway had given her the chance to speak for those who did not have a voice and give her greater perspective on the question of Western Sahara.  The Moroccan Government had systematically violated international law, the resolutions of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions by refusing the Saharawi people their right to self-determination.  That right had been established through various United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as in various peace plans and agreements. 

Sixteen years after the 1991 peace plan was put forth, it had not been implemented, she said.  Many Saharawi students and youth at universities and other places all over Morocco and Western Sahara had, since May 2005, been attacked in unacceptable ways by the Moroccan police and armed forces.  She urged the United Nations to take immediate action to prevent the ongoing human rights violations.

JANET LENZ, who had spent much of her personal time helping the Saharawi people, particularly refugees in Algeria, said she had long lived among the Saharawi people and had previously spoken out on their plight.  Yet, nothing seemed to have changed in the course of the last few hearings.  She saw the same opposing positions and players, and heard the same rhetoric.  In contrast, for the Saharawi people, the situation had not remained the same.  In the months since the Committee had last looked at the issue, many things had changed:  the food situation had worsened, stores were emptier and people were hungry.  Young people had lost hope of obtaining an education.  Without hope, those young people became an easier target for outside cells, which lured them with a false sense of power and control over their existence. 

She said increasing numbers of young people left their families to find employment to alleviate the suffering of those they left behind.  As their grandmothers and grandfathers died, so did the stories of the Saharawi homelands.  Meanwhile, children and babies died because of a lack of medication, and their absence from the tents in the refugee camps were a reminder that life was not as it should be for the Saharawi people.  As the people struggled to fight back, amid the betrayal of a world that had forgotten them, their suffering was compounded by the need to bury their dead in occupied land.

She said the Territory’s heritage was in danger of being lost, as Morocco mixed its culture, language and identity with that of its neighbours in the Western Sahara.  She appealed to the Committee to lay aside the political and philosophical issues that had contributed to the current human tragedy and had continued throughout the 16 years of the General Assembly’s involvement with the issue.  She appealed to the Committee to make it possible for the Saharawi people to vote.

AHMED BOUKHARI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), said that part of his country had been under the illegal occupation of Morocco since 1975.  Since then, the Sahawari people had been legitimately struggling for their country’s liberty, with full faith in the United Nations to eradicate colonialism in all its forms.  Different peace plans had been prepared towards that goal, yet Morocco’s involvement had sought to make its occupation legitimate.

He said that Morocco did not have any sovereignty over Western Sahara, as its future could not be decided by the occupying Power, but only by the people in accordance with United Nations policy.  On that basis, Polisario had submitted its proposal in April for the future of Western Sahara.  It included the options of independence, integration and self-governance.  The case of Timor-Leste and Tokelau was proof that such options were viable.  “Why does Morocco feel that it is allergic to this democratic exercise?” he asked.  Resolution 1754 (2007) had called on the two parties to “enter into negotiations without preconditions in good faith”.  The Council had taken note of the two proposals, which had the same value and importance.  There was no second-class proposal.  After two rounds of negotiations in Manhasset, a third round was scheduled, and Polisario had responded to the Personal Envoy as to the date and location for the upcoming round.

There was a decolonization conflict on the agenda of this Committee, he said.  Morocco took the decision to undermine, at all levels, the plans of the United Nations, including the peace plans.  It sought to weaken the role of the General Assembly towards decolonization, and it did not have any intention to enact any resolution of the Assembly or this Committee.  Negotiations should be carried out in good faith, but the biases of the Moroccan delegation had been seen in Manhasset.  He underlined that it would be the Sahawari people who would freely decide their future.  Hopefully, the third round of negotiations would be fruitful, and Morocco would come in good faith.

FABIO MARCELLI, representative of the Institute of Legal Studies of the National Research Council and President of the Centre of Research and Elaboration on Democracy, said the organization he represented held strictly to the principle of self-determination.  Concerning Western Sahara, the application of the principle of self-determination had been affirmed by a consultative opinion of the International Court of Justice and various resolutions of the General Assembly.  The application of that principle required the possibility of the population to express itself in a referendum organized by the United Nations, and to choose between various alternatives:  independence, annexation to Morocco or autonomy. 

He said that voters should be clearly identified, while taking into consideration the fact that military occupation in 1974 had changed the region’s demography considerably.  A peaceful solution to the Western Sahara issue was essential for a harmonious and fruitful development of the Maghreb region, and he expressed the wish that, even in the case of independence, the Saharawi State should establish cooperative links with all States of the region, most of all with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.  That applied, in particular, to the exploitation of the area’s rich mineral resources.  The relationship among all interested parties, foremost that between Morocco and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, should be inspired by the principle of cooperation and peaceful solutions to international disputes.  That implied the immediate halting of the repression of independence movements inside the occupied Territory of Western Sahara.

RAMÓN ROCHA MAQUEDA, Extremaduran Association of Friends of the Sahawari People, said that, as a citizen, he totally rejected the Government of Spain’s position on the question of Western Sahara, called for an end to that exasperating stalemate.  The challenge before the United Nations could not wait.  Oil companies were testing the strength of international law and authority.  Morocco’s attitude was proof enough of the lack of interest in freeing up the negotiating process.  There was less and less confidence in international institutions, and economic vested interest, and not humanitarian issues, were believed to be driving the international community towards “solid outcomes for regional conflicts”.  That axiom would be subverted if organizations like the United Nations could put the defence of human rights above those of vested interests.

He asked whether resolution 1754 (2007) was not clear enough in stating the right of the Sahawari people to self-determination.  The problem, deadlocked for 30 years, threatened to destabilise the whole Maghreb.  He acknowledged the historical responsibility that rested on his shoulders as a Spaniard, and called upon his Government to reflect on the consequences of maintaining its current stance in favour of autonomy, and return to backing a just and fair referendum on self-determination.

TXOMIN AURREKOETXEA, Coordinator of Spanish Institutions in Support of the Western Sahara and member of the Basque Nationalist Party, said that, although he had spoken out “a thousand and one times”, words could do nothing when there was a refusal to see reason.  The institutions of the Spanish State, including its parliaments, assemblies, councils, provincial councils, local authorities, and so on, believes in words, despite Morocco’s refusal to see reason.  In 1975, following the illegal, disastrous and treacherous subscription of the tripartite agreement in Madrid between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, Moroccan troops invaded Western Sahara in violation of international law, and flouted United Nations mandates and resolutions.  They had gunned down the defenceless Saharawi people, bombing “everything that moved”, with white phosphorus and napalm.

He said that the institutions he represented, as well as the Frente Polisario -– as sole representative of the Saharawi people -– continued to believe in the power of words.  But the Saharawi people were not prepared to remain bowed before the Moroccan invader and the “ineffective” United Nations, which was obliged to use the powers it had under Chapter VII of the Charter when dealing with the Saharawi question.  The Western Sahara problem was a simple matter of decolonization, which necessitated the holding of a referendum on self-determination and independence.  In 1975, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling unequivocally stating that there was no sovereign link between Western Sahara and Morocco.  The same ruling stated that United Nations resolution 1514 should be applied to the case of Western Sahara.  Indeed, no country had recognized Moroccan claims to Western Sahara, and there were now 80 States that granted official status to the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

If it were not for the Frente Polisario, the Algerian Government and other friendly nations, the “genocide” of the Saharawi people would now be a “fait accompli”.  The Fourth Committee should issue its firmest and severest condemnation of Morocco’s policy of oppression, repression and persecution against the Saharawi people in the occupied Territories, as well as the harassment of human rights activists through torture, unfair trials and their imprisonment in inhuman prisons.  He called on the Zapatero Government and the Prime Minister to uphold international laws, which meant holding a referendum on self-determination and independence.

ALONSO RODRIGUEZ, Spanish League for Human Rights, said that, despite being very short, the talks that were begun in Manhasset must continue.  Violence could never be justified.  Its origins must be studied in order to prevent it.  There must be human rights guarantees for all.  It was intolerable that, for the past 30 years, a solution to the question of Western Sahara had not been found.  The future of peace had wide support in Spanish society.  More than 100 resolutions on Western Sahara had been approved by the Spanish Government.  Yet, Spain should not forget its historic responsibility in the conflict.  Western Governments, and particularly the Government of Spain, should provide aid to the World Food Programme (WFP) in assisting the Saharawi people.

Turning back to the dialogue begun in Manhasset, he said that it must avert the threat of war.  Dialogue was the best route to finding a solution in Western Sahara.  He expressed concern for the large number of mines still in Western Sahara, which killed or wounded civilians every month.  The number of victims would increase when refugees returned.  It was time now to turn from force to dialogue.  He called on the international community to bring an end to the suffering of the Saharawi people.  Negotiations should not be ended until the question was resolved.

ISIDORO MORENO NAVARRO, Professor of Social Anthropology at Seville University, Member of the Board of Directors for Andalusia’s Pro-Civil Human Rights and President of the Andalusian Civic Platform -- Pro Referendum for the Western Sahara, said he denounced the fact that the Saharan population was not allowed to practise free self-determination.  That population was divided by a wall, built by an invading army, which served to provoke them.  They were repressed by the foreign aggressor, who not only stole their wealth, but denied them the right to express their identity, and punished members of that nation with jail sentences, tortures and assassinations.  As a member of the Spanish State, he acknowledged that the Western Sahara conflict would have been solved three decades ago if Spain had not betrayed that country by abandoning it in 1975.

He said the Saharan nation’s resistance had sparked an awareness within civil society of the need to correct that injustice.  It was a solidarity movement with multiple sides:  political, humanitarian and economic.  At the two recent talks, representatives of the Moroccan King had said their position was non-negotiable.  Yet, the “pretension” of the referendum as a plebiscite about an “autonomy proposal” by Morocco did not live up to the requirements for real self-determination.  There could only be two options:  integration with Morocco, including through limited autonomy for secondary subjects; or independence.  There could be no third choice.  But Morocco had failed to carry out United Nations resolutions since becoming occupiers of Western Sahara.  Despite the police and military repression, the national Saharan resistance was more stirred up than ever.  Due to that, the violations of human rights had intensified, while human rights groups that had tried to observe the situation had been denied entry.  He, himself, had been denied entry.  The international community must put more pressure on Morocco to stop the repression against the Saharan people.  It was time for the impunity to stop.

FERNANDO PERAITA, Asociacion de Amistad del Pueblo Saharaui de Sevilla, said that the issue of human rights was now being characterized, on the one hand, by the negotiating process begun in Manhasset, and, on the other hand, by the flagrant violations of the human rights of the Sahawari people by Morocco.  Despite the ongoing negotiations, the Moroccan Government had only intensified its actions against the Sahawari people -- actions that included torture.  The right to life was also still being violated.  Many Sahawari citizens, including women and children, suffered from disabilities that resulted from actions by the Moroccan authorities.  Prisoners suffered from overcrowding and malnourishment.  Nearly all peaceful protest demonstrations were repressed.  The right to organize was still violated in Western Sahara.  All groups who held different views from those of the Moroccan Government were repressed.  The number of political trials had increased, and many students were taken out of school by Moroccan authorities.

He said that human rights violations should be of great concern, and he called for the publication of an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report on, among other things, the lifting of the media blackout in the Territory; expanding the MINURSO mandate to protect citizens; stopping the exploitation of natural resources; accounting for the fate of those who had “disappeared”; allowing human rights organizations the right to assembly; clearing Western Sahara of landmines and allowing non-governmental organizations to enter to assist in that; and closing the “black jail” in El Aaiún.

NICOLA QUATRANO, representative of Osservatorio Internazionale, said he was an Italian Appeal Courts judge, who had worked for two years in the occupied Territories of Western Sahara.  He had attended various trials against militants of the peaceful “intifada”, and had spoken to former prisoners, relatives of prisoners and human rights militants.  A peaceful intifada was in progress in the occupied Territories for recognition of the right to self-determination.  That had been kept secret from the Moroccan authorities, who had created a media embargo concerning what went on in the Territory.  Moroccan repression was brutal and constant, and militants were arrested and tried.  Those trials could not be called fair, and were carried out solely on the basis of police records and testimony, with no witnesses to present evidence on behalf of the defendant.  Sometimes police records included forged signatures, or did not include signatures of the defendants at all.  Sentences passed were very severe.

He said that international observers were also subjected to intimidation and violent acts.  His own rental car had been confiscated on false grounds.  Violent acts against the Saharawi people were much more serious:  in one case, a woman lost the use of her right eye, and he had seen the marks of police brutality on numerous Saharawi people involved in peaceful protests.  The United Nations was present in Western Sahara in the form of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Its role was to assure the holding of a referendum for self-determination.  Now direct negotiations between the parties were in progress.  He repeated his request from last year to expand the role of MINURSO, adding that a referendum was essential.

DAN STANLEY, Rock Fish Church, said the nations of the world had the power to enforce a free and fair referendum, as well as the authority to make it happen.  Avoiding the decision and enforcement of a free vote in Western Sahara would not release them from the responsibility of future outcomes.  While there were many great problems in the world today, the situation in Western Sahara was a blight in the face of justice.  The people of Western Sahara had been killed over and over by the international community, whose weapons were “broken promises” and “failed legislation”.  He was petitioning the United Nations to end that tragedy and to enforce the decolonization of Western Sahara.  It was time to bring the final chapter on the colonizing of Africa to a close.

HILDE TEUWEN, Oxfam Solidarity, said that the international community had the responsibility to protect Sahawari citizens living under Moroccan occupation, and to assist and protect the Sahawari refugees.  Those rights had been established by the international community of nations and organizations.  The responsibilities for refugees should be implemented until a just and durable solution for the decolonization of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, had been found in the framework of the right of self-determination of the Sahawari people.

She said her organization received continuous information on violations of the human rights of the Sahawari people.  The Sahawari people living in Western Sahara were not protected by Morocco, and third States had not forced Morocco to apply international humanitarian law and protect the civilians at risk.  Morocco was also not willing to acknowledge its responsibility to respect international human rights and humanitarian law obligations in the Territories they had occupied.  She called attention to the inconsistent ways the international community had acted, with respect to the Sahawari refugees, and underlined the shared complicity in violating the refugees’ protection.  She supported the appeal of the Sahawari and the Algerian Red Crescent from 30 September for the international community, and donating countries and non-governmental organizations to honour their commitments to provide humanitarian aid -- especially food -- to the Sahawari refugees.  She urged the international community and organizations to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and the Convention relating to the status of refugees, until a just and durable solution was implemented for the last decolonization process in Africa.

SUZANNE SCHOLTE, President of the Defense Forum Foundation and Chairman of the United States-Western Sahara Foundation, urged the Committee to uphold the founding principle that all people had a right to self-determination, and that colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end.  There had been no opportunity for the Saharawis to exercise their right to self-determination, and there had certainly been no end to their occupation by Morocco.  While the United Nations had succeeded in reaching a ceasefire between Morocco and the Saharawis, and overseeing it since then so that a referendum on self-determination could be organized, it had failed to conduct the referendum and end the ongoing killing and torture in Western Sahara.  Furthermore, the violence against Saharawis had been documented and reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the World Organization against Torture and Reporters without Borders.

She said it was critical for the Committee to use its influence to uphold its mandate, and to see that self-determination was accomplished for the Saharawi people.  The Saharawi leadership had constantly pledged that they would abide by the outcome of a vote on self-determination and, if the Saharawis were to vote to become part of Morocco, so it would be.  Should they win that vote, they had promised to be a good neighbour to Morocco. 

What angered her, she said, was that most Moroccans did not even know the term “Saharawi” because their country’s policy was to jail even its own citizens who tried to report on the issue.  Morocco was known to have levied stiff penalties and civil damages against independent news publications, banished journalists and pressured others to quit journalism.  The billions of dollars currently spent on Morocco’s occupation force in Western Sahara could instead be used to help the Moroccan people, rather than subjugate the Saharawi people.  The millions of dollars currently spent on Morocco for lobbyists around the world to convince people there was no such thing as Saharawi could be spent building ties between Morocco and other countries.

PINTO LEITE, of the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, said that Western Sahara remained the main stumbling block in achieving the goals of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  Morocco continued to defy Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and international law.  Some countries turned a blind eye to the illegal annexation of that Territory and lent a veil of legality by supporting the proposals of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to give autonomy to Western Sahara within the State of Morocco.

Noting that comparisons between East Timor and Western Sahara had been made often, he said they were like “two drops of water”.  When Indonesian President B.J. Habibie had proposed autonomy within Indonesia as the only way to solve the conflict in East Timor, the Timorese, Portugal and the United Nations had insisted on the application of the principle of self-determination.  The question had been put to the voters, and it had included the proposal of autonomy, in addition to the prospect of independence.  By contrast, in the Moroccan solution, autonomy was not a question, but was imposed on the Saharawi people before they had the chance to freely choose their status.  International law was clear.  He noted that a conference last year on the question of Western Sahara in The Hague had unanimously concluded that the occupation was illegal and that a referendum was the only legal option by which to determine Western Sahara’s status.

He was not proud of Portugal’s policy towards Western Sahara; yet, it was not too late to change course.  Other countries had more interest in the future of Western Sahara.  He repeated his appeal to the Government of Portugal, which currently held the Presidency of the European Union, to follow the principled position of Sweden, the only country that voted in the European Council against the European Union-Morocco Fisheries Agreement, and support the inalienable right of Western Sahara to self-determination.

AYMERIC CHAUPRADE, Professor of International Relations, Sorbonne University, said that, in 2007, Morocco had taken an important step by undertaking to consolidate the legitimacy of its sovereignty regarding the Saharawi people.  That had been the result of years of effort, and would give Saharawis control over their own affairs, with full confidence.  That proposal should not be seen as a concession to the Frente Polisario, but as progress for the Saharawis in finding the right balance between their Moroccan identity and ethnic traits.  Such an achievement would fit into the democratic modernization of Morocco, which had an impact on the Saharawi province.

He said that Morocco was not afraid of democracy.  Rather, it knew that the South wished further self-government.  The Polisario, in turn, wished to turn the region into a Polisario state, which would amount to a police state run by a junta that was not experienced in the “fineries” of democracy, and often went through violent purges in its own leadership.  The group had mechanisms similar to “numerous sects”.  The international community should give careful thought to the formation of a Saharawi State in the region, which could trigger other separatist movements.  Separatists also tended to fund their struggles through trafficking and other crimes, and Polisario was not immune to such behaviour.  A Polisario state would signify genuine triumph of organized crime, which would only strengthen clandestine trafficking and terrorism.  Indeed, the concept of national sovereignty was increasingly threatened these days through hyper-powerful actors, as well as through “invented” crises, such as the present case.  Peace among people hinged on sovereignty, and not invented identities.

PAOLO BARTOLOZZI, Conseil Regionale de Toscane, Italie, said that this conflict had not only affected Morocco, but jeopardized the stability of the Maghreb.  Morocco’s proposal to grant autonomy would give the Sahawari people the right to their own legislative, executive and judicial bodies.  The Moroccan proposal was credible.  It reaffirmed Morocco’s readiness to engage in serious negotiations and find a final and mutually acceptable solution, in keeping with international standards.  He noted its favourable reception in international capitals around the world, and in the Security Council, when it issued resolution 1754 (2007), which urged the parties to engage in negotiations in good faith and without preconditions.  The proposal’s advantages were in contrast to those of other proposals, which suffered from the fact that the Polisario had remained frozen in its position since the 1970s.  The Secretary-General had noted the proposal’s “openness” and had recognized the work done by the Government of Morocco over several months in producing it.

The relevance of the proposal was its provision of hope, he said.  The people in the Tindouf camp, who lived in inhumane conditions, were demoralized.  Their bitter reality was a threat to the security and stability of the Mediterranean region, and required that the international community work against the causes of terrorism in the sub-Saharan zone.  Also, clandestine immigration and illegal trafficking in human beings had found a refuge in the Sahara.  He urged the international to work speedily towards negotiations to rescue the people of the Tindouf camps from those dangers.

Right of Reply

The representative of Honduras said that, yesterday, he had spoken in general terms and had not referred to specific cases or situations between countries in his statement.

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