7 October 2008


7 October 2008
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Fourth Committee

3rd Meeting (PM)




Hearing more than20 speakerson the questions of Gibraltar, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara -– with dozens of petitioners still to be heard on the latter question tomorrow -– the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization issues in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Throughout the afternoon meeting, the petitioners presented a complex picture of the 16 Territories where colonialism lingered, as they considered how to advance the decolonization agenda.  The fact that Gibraltar was even on the agenda spoke to the anachronistic decolonization criteria employed by the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana asserted.  Unless it changed its ways, the Special Committee would cease to be useful.

He said that Gibraltar had received no help from the Special Committee, and had, instead, been a victim of it as it presided like a “fundamentalist watchdog” over inflexible and outdated delisting criteria.  The remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were often very small, like Gibraltar, physically very remote, or economically unviable in a globalized economic order.  Yet, the United Nations did not appear to sufficiently take account of such realities, adhering instead to decolonization models that no longer matched modern times. 

As far as the people of Gibraltar were concerned, the question of Gibraltar’s decolonization had been settled by means of a new constitutional arrangement between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, he said.  While it was not a Constitution for full independence, it created a non-colonial relationship, meaning that Gibraltar was no longer a colony.  He, therefore, urged the General Assembly to remove Gibraltar from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Disagreeing with that call, Joe Bossano, Opposition Leader in Gibraltar, said the item on the floor indeed remained a question of decolonization.  While he expressed an “outright rejection” to Spain’s sovereignty claim, he described the United Kingdom’s approach as ill-conceived and unmanageable.  Furthermore, the United Nations guidance for assessing the status of a Territory, adopted on the Fourth Committee’s recommendation, was neither archaic nor erroneous, but aimed at ensuring consistent treatment for all.   Gibraltar should be considered under the same rules as all other Territories.

Spain’s Ambassador said his Government could not accept the United Kingdom’s position on Gibraltar’s status.  Despite what was said on either side, the colonial situation of Gibraltar remained in place.  Indeed, decolonization could only be the product of bilateral negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom since the existence of a sovereignty dispute rendered the principle of self-determination inapplicable.

On the question of Western Sahara, many petitioners underlined the complicating -- even distracting -- role of a sovereignty dispute in the decolonization process.  One speaker, who was an international lawyer and teacher at the Université Libre de Bruxulles, noted that the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination continued to be confounded by Morocco’s claims of territorial integrity.  While some within the United Nations might have the Fourth Committee believe that Morocco’s claim was a “fait accompli”, he said international law was clear and Western Sahara’s fate should not be determined by fiat, but by law, because the legal system ensured that the violation of law did not create law.

Against the backdrop of the decolonization debate, several speakers emphasized the plight of the Sahawari people.  A few petitioners called for the United Nations to investigate claims of human rights abuses in both the Tindouf refugee camps and the Western Sahara areas under Moroccan administration.  A representative of the United States-Western Sahara Foundation suggested that the abuses were the primary roadblock to resolving the Western Sahara conflict.

A representative of the Rock Community Church testified to the human tragedy she had seen during frequent visits to the Saharawi refugee camps, where the food supply was diminishing, school supplies were lacking and students had lost their motivation.  She had met many third-generation refugees “with only the memories of others to hold onto for the hope of returning to their homeland”. 

On the question of Guam, several speakers expressed concern over the United States planned military expansion on the island.  This “hyper-militarization” posed grave implications for the right to self-determination as the influx of military personnel and their dependants gained a “constitutional” right to vote, those petitioners said.  The militarization would also devastate the environmental, social, physical and cultural health of Guam, they said.

A representative of the Chamoru Nation said that, with the close of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism looming, the work of the Fourth Committee was needed now more than ever.  To truly eradicate colonialism, the Committee should work in the interests of her people without yielding to the demands of the administering Power, despite that nation’s role in the United Nations.  Towards that goal, it should send representatives to the island within the next six months to conduct an impact assessment of the current situation on the island’s people.

Also speaking on the question of Guam were Craig Santos Perez, poet and representative of the Guahan Indigenous Collective; Ailene Quan, speaking on behalf of the Guam Legislature; and Michael A. Tuncap, Guam Famoksaiyan Collective, Oakland Chapter.

Other petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Nancy Huff, Teach the Children International; Helen Hardin, Office of Congressman Zach Wamp; Agaila Abba Hemeida; Hilt Teuwen, Oxfam Solidarity; Cynthia Basinet, actress and singer; Monseignor Jean Abboud; Delphine Bourgeois, Med Euro Cap; Miguel Ortiz Asin, Forum Canario-Saharaui; and Felipe Briones Vives, Asociacion International de Juristas por el Sahara Occidental.

Speaking on the question of the United States Virgin Islands was community activist Edward Browne.

The representative of the United Kingdomspoke in exercise of the right of reply to Spain’s statements on Gibraltar. 

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 October, to hear remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues.  It expected to hear petitioners from a number of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in yesterday’s Press Release GA/SPD/396.)


JUAN ANTONIO YÁÑEZ-BARNUEVO ( Spain), pledging his delegation’s full support to the work of the Committee, said the colonial situation in Gibraltar went against the United Nations Charter because it undermined Spain’s territorial integrity.  The decolonization process would only be resolved by giving attention to the matter of sovereignty.  Indeed, previous attempts to convince the Committee that this was a different matter had been artificial.  The conclusions of the Special Committee’s regional seminar held in Bandung, Indonesia earlier this year had once again underscored the singular nature of the cases of decolonization of those Territories where there were sovereignty disputes, such as in Gibraltar.

He recalled that Spain and the United Kingdom had set out in 1980 to address the problem of Gibraltar, in step with the relevant United Nations resolutions.  The solution to the decolonization question in Gibraltar would be reached via a process in which there was a full safeguarding of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and Spain remained committed to that process.  In 1984, his Government, together with the United Kingdom, had agreed to the Brussels process.  However, despite Spain’s repeatedly expressed resolve, the matter had not been addressed since 2002, when the last meeting within the Brussels process had taken place.

The position of the United Kingdom on Gibraltar’s status could not be accepted, he said.  The colonial situation of Gibraltar remained in place, as did its relevance to Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter.  The recent voting on the Constitutional decree was no justification for not returning to the negotiation process.  For that Territory, decolonization could only be the product of bilateral negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom, since the existence of a sovereignty dispute rendered the principle of self-determination inapplicable.  In seeking the well-being of Gibraltar’s inhabitants, Spain had resolved to work in a specific framework of dialogue, separate from the Brussels process.  The situation of Gibraltar was unjustifiable in the twenty-first century.

PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said it should not be surprising that his statement was the direct opposite, given the one just delivered by the representative of Spain.  As far as the people of Gibraltar were concerned, the question of Gibraltar was no longer its pending decolonization.  That question had been settled by means of a new Constitutional arrangement between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, which had put it in a modern, non-colonial relationship.  True, that was not a Constitution for full independence, since the Government of the United Kingdom was responsible for external affairs and defence.  Nevertheless, that relationship was not colonial, meaning that Gibraltar was no longer a colony.

He said that while that decolonization model was different from the one of full sovereign independence chosen in the past by most Member States at the time of their decolonization, the times and the world had changed dramatically since those models had been employed.  In many circumstances, the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were very small, like Gibraltar, physically very remote, or economically unviable in a globalized economic order.  It, therefore, was right that Gibraltar had opted for a different, more appropriate model.  Yet, the United Nations did not appear to sufficiently take account of those realities affecting the remaining Territories, in contravention of the General Assembly’s views expressed in resolution 2625 of 24 October 1970, in which a fourth acceptable decolonization model was declared –- namely any status suitable to its circumstances that was freely determined was an act of self-determination.

“If you would be happy to sanction our decolonization by means of our integration with and into Great Britain, why should it be less acceptable that we should decolonize by means of a new relationship with Britain that leaves the people of Gibraltar with vastly more self-Government and control of our destiny and affairs than would be the case with integration?” he asked.

The current decolonization criteria of the Special Committee had become anachronistic and should be changed to enable the removal of Territories in circumstances such as Gibraltar’s, he suggested.  Unless the Special Committee changed its ways and approaches, it would achieve nothing more in the matter of decolonization, thus no longer serving a useful purpose.  For its part, Gibraltar had had no help from the Special Committee.  In fact, it had been a victim of that Committee, which presided like a “fundamentalist watchdog” over inflexible but outdated delisting criteria.  It had further allowed the principles applicable to the colonial people’s decolonization to be contaminated –- even subjugated -– by neighbouring countries.  That was despite the obvious fact that it had no mandate to deal with sovereignty disputes.

Describing the Special Committee’s position as being “content for Gibraltar to be decolonized by a bilateral deal between the United Kingdom and Spain that ends the sovereignty dispute by transferring Gibraltar’s sovereignty to Spain, regardless of and against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar”, he said that that extraordinary position could not be held by anyone that cared a “jot” for the rights and wishes of Gibraltar’s people.  Sovereignty issues should be dealt with on their merits, separately from the decolonization process.

In that light, it should come as no surprise that Gibraltar had resorted to self-help to achieve its own decolonization, without relying on the Special Committee, he reiterated.  Gibraltar would no longer seek the Special Committee’s cooperation or involvement in its decolonization –- a matter that Gibraltar considered settled.  He urged the General Assembly to remove Gibraltar from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, underlining that the United Kingdom regarded Gibraltar as having ceased to be a colony.

He said Gibraltar would never be content for discussions to take place under the Brussels Declaration, which was a bilateral arrangement between the United Kingdom and Spain.  There was, instead, a new open agenda forum of dialogue, the Trilateral Forum, between the Governments of Spain, Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.  In that forum, Spain was free to raise the question of sovereignty, but the Gibraltar Government could participate in its own right.

Petitioners on Question of Gibraltar

JOE BOSSANO, Leader of the Opposition, said the Committee had no jurisdiction in settling territorial sovereignty disputes between United Nations Member States and was not there to consider Spain’s sovereignty claim, but that the item on the floor was a question of decolonization.

He stressed that the guidance for assessing the status of a Territory, adopted on the recommendation of the Fourth Committee, was neither archaic nor erroneous, but existed to ensure consistent treatment of all.  The United Kingdom’s approach was ill-conceived and unmanageable, and Gibraltar should be treated with the same rules as all other Territories. He expressed an “outright rejection” of the Spanish claim to sovereignty, which was an attempt against Gibraltar’s 300-year-old territorial integrity and in fundamental breach of the Charter.

No Gibraltar Government would ever be willing to discuss with Spain, nor allow the United Kingdom to discuss with Spain, the transfer of sovereignty –- “not one single grain of sand of our homeland” –- he said.  Furthermore, he called the annual consensus an “utter and complete waste of time” because Gibraltarians would “never, ever” allow the future of their people to be decided, or the country decolonized through negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom.

Petitioners on Question of Guam

VICTORIA-LOLA M. LEON GUERRERO, Chamoru Nation, said she carried the same message that had been carried to the Committee for more than two decades:  the Chamoru people deserved to exercise their right to self-determination.  Yet Guahan remained colonized.  With the close approaching of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the work of the Fourth Committee was needed now more than ever.  In order to truly eradicate colonialism, the Committee must work in the interests of the people of Guahan, never crumbling to the demands of the administering Power, despite its role in the United Nations.

She said that the United States’ claims that the question of the rights of the Chamoru people was a domestic matter were hypocritical, and distracted the Committee from taking action.  Today, the United States was actively working to drastically expand its military and commercial presence on the island –- a presence that did nothing to decrease colonization and everything to increase dependence on the administering Power.  It planned to move thousands of Marines and their families from Okinawa to the island by 2014, thereby increasing the island’s population by 34 per cent.  That population boom would put them at an electoral disadvantage in terms of protecting their rights.

The rights of the Chamoru people to create economic and social alternatives that freed them from dependence on the United States were explicitly ignored, she said.  The military was already awarding construction contracts, even though no environmental impact study had been completed.  What study was being done was on a rushed timetable that did not include the participation or input from the island community.  The implications of a massive population boom had not been sufficiently considered, even though the use of natural resources was already at capacity.

Guahan was a possession of the United States, she continued.  Its elected leaders had no real say in decisions that would affect the island’s future.  By ignoring that situation, the United Nations would be turning its back on the Chamoru people of Guahan.  The Fourth Committee must send representatives to the island within the next six months to assess how the United States’ planned military expansion would impact the island’s people.  Money must be directed immediately to this impact study.

CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ, Guahan Indigenous Collective, said he was there to testify about the “fangs of militarization” and colonialism “destroying” the Chamoru people of Guam.  Using a post-World War II “brown tree snake invasion” of Guam as a metaphor for United States colonialism, he delineated the negative affects of United States presence in Guam.  Hyper-militarization posed grave implications for the human right to self-determination, as the transient population of military personnel and their dependants -– outnumbering the Chamoru -– would have a “constitutional” right to vote.

Furthermore, he said that militarization devastated the environmental, social, physical and cultural health of Guam; PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other military toxic waste had choked the largest barrier reef system, poisoning fish and fishing grounds.  Additionally, 80 contaminated military dumpsites still existed in Guam, containing 17 toxic chemicals.  As a result, high incidences of various kinds of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases plagued the Chamoru, and had “killed most of the elders”, as only 5 per cent of the island was over the age of 65.

He said that that was history repeating itself, as there were “more foreign snakes, fewer native birds”.  The Fourth Committee must immediately enact the process of decolonization for Guam in lieu of the severe, irreversible impact of United States militarization, and to thoroughly investigate the administering Power’s non-compliance with its obligations under the United Nations Charter to promote economic, social, and cultural well-being on Guam.

AILENE QUAN, Guam Legislature, said she had come before the Committee to present the views of the people of Guam, and to petition for action and support.  The island’s development and the decisions of the administering authority diluted the right of Guam’s people to self-determination every single day.  This year, her office had revitalized the registration of the island’s native inhabitants and their descendants to identify those who were vested with the right to self-determination.  She was seeking additional resources to advance that process to its ultimate conclusions:  the conducting of a plebiscite and a vote by the people.  The people should not be made to wait another day.

Continuing, she said that the massive military expansion by the United States -– unseen, the United States said, since the Second World War -– would hurt the people of Guam.  The Fourth Committee must immediately enact the decolonization process in Guam, and that process must include a vast information campaign informing all Chamoru people of their right to self-determination and of all decolonization options.

MICHAEL A. TUNCAP, Oakland Chapter of Guam Famoksaiyan Collective, said that the continued presence of American military forces in Guam and the Northern Marianas was rooted in a system of racial inequality between European Americans, Asian and Pacific settlers and the indigenous Chamoru people.  Since Guam’s initial contact with the United States in 1898, massive pacification and military occupation had prevented the Chamoru people from exercising their inalienable right to self-determination.  In fact, there was a structural relationship between racism and American military occupation in Guam and the Northern Marianas.  Colonial ideas of racial and gendered aggression had shaped the public policies and immigration laws that had led to the genocide of the Western frontier, legalized chattel slavery and the colonization of the Pacific.  They were still prevalent in the institutions that defined American citizenship for many of his brothers and sisters in the Pacific and Caribbean colonies, he added.

The increased militarization on Guam was a violation of the human right to self-determination of the indigenous people, he continued.  The United States was legally responsible under international law to protect the people of the island and the culture of the Chamoru people.  If the people of Guam and the Northern Marianas were to survive the expanding United States militarization, the Fourth Committee must give top priority to the fulfilment of their inalienable right to self-determination.  It must immediately enact a process of decolonization there and send United Nations representatives to the island within the next six months to assess the implications of the United States’ militarization plans on the island’s decolonization prospects.

Petitioner on Question of United States Virgin Islands

EDWARD L. BROWNE, community activist from the United States Virgin Islands, said that the relationship between the United States and the United States Virgin Islands was a colonial one.  He hoped to encourage the United States to end the xenophobic and discriminatory policies that had been applied to the people of the Virgin Islands for more than 91 years.

He said that, based on research, there were still enslaved individuals living under the American flag in 2008, which was a shocking and alarming atrocity that must not be allowed to continue.  The United States Congress and the United States President must do what is right and begin the process of emancipation.

He recalled that Justice John Marshall Harlan had said that the idea that the United States could acquire territories by conquest or treaty and hold them as “mere colonies” or provinces while the people inhabiting them only enjoyed such rights as Congress chose to accord them was “wholly inconsistent” with the United States Constitution.  The United States Virgin Islands would continue to seek justice and equality through non-violent means.  The delegates to the Virgin Islands Fifth Constitutional Convention were in the final stages of drafting a Constitution and the Governor of the Virgin Islands would be travelling to Denmark to discuss important related issues.

Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

While stressing his belief that the conflict in Western Sahara was at a point where it could finally be resolved, CHARLES WILSON, United States- Western Sahara Foundation, said that several roadblocks, nevertheless, would have to be addressed.  First among them were claims of human rights violations of the Saharawi people.  Indeed, no meaningful progress towards settlement could be made until that roadblock to progress was removed.

He recalled that several allegations had been lodged against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) for preventing refugees from leaving the Tindouf camps.  Some of those allegations even included complaints of actual human slavery.  An Australian documentary would reportedly be released in the coming months that might provide documentation of such instances.  In addition, one young girl was attempting to refuse returning to the camps through a legal action in Spain.  Claims had also been made that the POLISARIO was overestimating the number of people in the camps for the purpose of getting more donations that would eventually make their way onto the black market, thereby enriching the leaders of that group.  On the other side, allegations had been made against the Government of Morocco for its treatment of the Saharawi people under its administration in Western Sahara.

Noting that activists supporting either side were not necessarily the best, most reliable means of verifying such claims, he stressed that the POLISARIO’s offer to open up the camps to free and unhindered observation should be fully implemented.  The Saharawi refugees should be asked by observers about their feelings about their ability and desire to leave the camps.  In addition, a head count should be made.  Similar inquiries should be undertaken in Western Sahara areas under administration by the Moroccan Government to ensure that those human rights roadblocks were cleared.

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, asked the United Nations to take a series of specific actions to give hope to the Saharawis and “those working towards a peaceful resolution of the issue”.  Her three major requests were for disclosure on all peacekeeping efforts, regular dialogue between all parties involved and data collection of all situational aspects, such as head counts and oversight of food distribution.

She said that a continuous dialogue was necessary for a solution to the conflict, as a lack thereof prolonged the agony of Saharawis in the Tindouf camps and in the occupied territory.  It should be made public when parties asked for a round of resolution talks, and regular meetings should be required by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the United States State Department, with the outcomes also made public.  Additionally, she stressed the importance of data collection, as it was currently difficult to find available information that was unbiased and accurate.

She sought the creation of an independent entity that would put together accurate data on a wide spectrum of concerns, so as to ensure that more reliable information was given to sister non-governmental organizations.  In turn, those organizations would be more accountable to their financial supporters.  In closing, she asked that the Security Council “not go back to sleep”, but take action and keep the issue in the forefront of the news.

HELEN HARDIN, Chief of Staff in the Office of Congressman Zach Wamp, emphasized that the issue of Western Sahara had not changed in the last few decades.  Indeed, Saharawi refugees remained subjected to harsh, unforgiving conditions in the desert.  Electricity was unreliable.  Restrooms were primitive.  Basic needs were only, and barely, met by donations.  The absence of meaningful work was another depressing aspect of life in the refugee camps.

She said that despite those challenges, the attitude of the Saharawi people was testament to the human spirit.  Literacy rates were extremely high among the Saharawi, who worked hard to maintain order in their lives.  Respect for women was evident throughout the society, with many women running the administration of their camp communities.  Although the Saharawi people were disillusioned after years of unfulfilled promises regarding a self-determination referendum, they maintained their hope that their exile might end and their return to their homeland might eventually be achieved.  In light of that spirit, she asked, “You who have been given so much, what will you do?”

JANET LENZ, Christ the Rock Community Church, took the floor to convey the human tragedy she had seen during frequent visits to the Saharawi refugee camps, prior to her next trip, her twenty-fourth.  In the harsh desert life of the camps, she had witnessed the diminishing food supply, the lack of school supplies and loss of motivation of students, and the presence of many third-generation refugees “with only the memories of others to hold onto for the hope of returning to their homeland”.  For those Saharawis who remained in their homeland, she spoke of a similar tragedy of families torn apart, with those in camps, living with an “oppressive blanket of fear”, owing to the occupying forces.  She also called attention to their lack of freedom to self-govern and to “be who they are”, even though they possessed their own unique language, culture, history and heritage. 

[Attached to her presentation was a collage of photos of the Saharawi people and life on the ground.]

Ms. Lenz warned of a “growing threat” of increasing frustration and anger because of the Saharawis’ living conditions and the delay in the United Nations referendum, which had promised them a vote 20 years ago and which was reconfirmed each year.  She urged actions in support of words, stating that the people in the camps and in Western Sahara “want to simply have their vote”, and would accept whatever outcome.  She also suggested some admission of failure and wrongdoing by all responsible parties, and apology to the Saharawi people for their suffering. 

AGAILA ABBA HEMEIDA, Saharawi student, said the Saharawis had been waiting for three decades to have their voice heard in a fair referendum.  Her grandfather, who had fought for the freedom of the Saharawi people in the war between Western Sahara and Morocco during the 1970s, was one of about 200,000 Saharawi people who had been waiting for news about their right to self-determination.  That right would let them vote on whether they wished to be independent or to integrate with Morocco.  The Saharawis in the camps and those living in the occupied territories were both suffering.

She said that Morocco had outlined an autonomy plan saying that the Saharawi people could have their land back, but their sovereignty would be under the administration of the Moroccan Government.  That means that the Saharawis’ provinces, schools and hospitals would be run by the Moroccan Government and that each Saharawi would hold Moroccan citizenship.  They would be forced to integrate with Morocco and they would lose their rights as a nation and their identity.  She urged “yes” on the referendum and on the right of self-determination.

VINCENT CHAPAUX, Université Libre de Bruxulles, said that a juridical approach to the question of Western Sahara might seem useless, given the fact that nothing had changed on a legal level in that Territory for three decades.  Indeed, the right to self-determination by the Saharawi people was still confounded by Morocco’s claims of territorial integrity.  While the right to self-determination had been clearly upheld by the International Court of Justice, putting law on the side of the Saharawi people, the current facts might be said to favour Morocco since it still occupied Western Sahara, as it had done for more than 30 years.

He said that, while none of that was new, some within the United Nations might have the Fourth Committee believe that Morocco’s claim was a “fait accompli”.  Some had done that by arguing that Morocco had the right to exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources.  Also, a member of the Organization -- Peter Van Walsum -- had stated that the rights of the Saharawis should give way to the political situation.

Pressing the Fourth Committee to consider the situation, he asked if the right of self-determination should take into account the Moroccan occupation, as some were increasingly suggesting.  International law on that was clear, and time could not obliterate a juridical obligation.  In fact, such obligations did not die of old age; they died or were transformed only when the United Nations Member States decided it was so.  The question today was whether the international community had made that decision.  He suggested it had not, as the question of Western Sahara was considered before this Committee each year.  Mr. Van Walsum was wrong.  The fate of Western Sahara should not be determined by fiat, but by law because the legal system ensured that the violation of law did not create law.

HILT TEUWEN, Oxfam Solidarity, noting that Western Sahara’s decolonization still needed to be addressed by the Fourth Committee, recalled that refugee rights had been developed and described in numerous United Nations resolutions, international treaties and conventions.  Underling that the decolonization of Western Sahara should occur in the framework of self-determination, she noted that the United Nations had been assisting the refugees in the Tindouf camps for decades.  The harsh conditions there created widespread hunger and increasing health problems for the refugees and food aid was irregular.

The reason most often heard for the situation was the lack of resources, she said, adding that Western Sahara was a forgotten humanitarian crisis.  The international community should do more to fulfil its responsibilities under humanitarian law.  The United Nations and its Members States should provide the necessary aid.  In that effort, a diversification of the delivered food basket was needed, along with an increase in the amount of food stocks provided.

SENIA BACHIR-ABDERAHMAN, Saharawi Youth Union, said that, although she was a native of Western Sahara, she had never set foot there.  Today, she was a student in the United States and had addressed the Committee last year.  But little to nothing had been done in the year.  Instead, the Moroccan Government had knowingly violated international law by continuing to refuse the right of her people to self-determination and by exploiting the natural resources of Western Sahara.  Meanwhile, Saharawi people were being tortured.  She herself had been born in the refugee camps in Tindouf, where food was scarce and educational facilities were insufficient.  Like many other Saharawi students, she had had to go to boarding school to receive access to a basic human right:  education.

Unfortunately, those living in Western Sahara were not as lucky, she said.  Attacks had been made on Saharawi students at a university in Marrakesh.  One boy had been thrown out a window and his neck had been broken.  She asked why, while those violations continued, the international community turned a blind eye to the question of Western Sahara.  Speaking on behalf of the Saharawi youth, she urged the United Nations to consider that question, as well as the fate of the Saharawi people and what they would wake up to tomorrow.

CYNTHIA BASINET, singer and actress, said that the international community had a moral responsibility as steward of the Saharawi people, and that a shift in heart and not just policy was required.  Anaemia, diabetes, tuberculosis, stunting and acute malnutrition were plaguing the Saharawi population, and yet 90 per cent of the population had attended school and were literate, according to a 1998 study.

She expressed deep concern over landmine explosions, such as that which had claimed the life of 8 year-old Fatima Bent Ibrahim this past year.  Food prices rivalled those of Europe, with camel meat costing about €4 and the price of potatoes and milk equally prohibitive.  Finally, refugees living abroad were unable to bring relatives with them because Western Sahara was not recognized by the United Nations, nor were documents and passports.

It took all facets to make the world a diamond, she said, and the international community must look beyond traditional methods of aid to consider public-private partnerships and microlending, among other forms of assistance, so that Saharawis were not “slowly delineated from the human map of the world”.

Monsignor JEAN ABBOUD asked if the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be disregarded.  Could those articles that said that no one could be arbitrarily arrested and detained be ignored?  Through the testimony, information and the scars of violence on the bodies of victims and their family members, it was clear that dangerous human rights violations, tantamount to crimes against humanity, were being committed by POLISARIO -- even against those who had left everything to support that organization.  The violations, akin to acts of barbarism, were escalating.  That degrading treatment was a flagrant and methodical violation of numerous international treaties and conventions, and he called for those responsible to be brought before a special court immediately.

He urged the Secretary-General to seek an international inquiry into the serious violations in the Tindouf camps.  Noting that even a former POLISARIO leader now living in Europe had acknowledged the presence of prisons in the Tindouf camps, he said that the detention of Saharawi people there was illegitimate.  The arresters should immediately be arrested themselves and a criminal court should be established to try them.

DELPHINE BOURGEOIS, Med Euro Cap, said that the international community was facing a historic event that called for an International Criminal Court trial to deal with crimes committed by POLISARIO against those “who trusted it and came to join its camps”.

She called for the denunciation of the grave human rights violations committed by POLISARIO at Tindouf.  She had been shocked, stunned and scandalized by the “cruel treatments” suffered by former detainees interviewed in Mauritania.  There was irrefutable proof that the violations were mounting and becoming even more horrible, including kidnapping, disappearances, genocide, physical and psychological atrocities and even cannibalism.  A detailed report, with photographs, had been sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Those inhumane conditions and torture were in serious violation of international human rights conventions and humanitarian law, she said, calling for an immediate inquiry under international jurisdiction of acts committed by POLISARIO in the camps, and for the establishment of an independent international commission to expose those “inhumane and unacceptable realities”.

MIGUEL ORTIZ ASIN, Forum Canario-Saharaui, said that a year ago his organization had attempted to help the Saharawis to return to their lands.  The incorporation of the Saharawis into Spain was aimed at giving them a homeland.  While they had left the area, that did not mean that Spain or its citizens had ceased to be concerned with their fate.  Changes had shaped the territory of Western Sahara in ways that were obvious to any visitor and had put harsh pressure on the Saharawi people.

He said that POLISARIO and Morocco had tried, through the United Nations system, to seek a solution.  Five different plans had been developed, but a solution remained to be found.  That seriously affected the area’s already challenging situation and threatened the survival of the Saharawi people.  Nevertheless, a negotiated solution must be found under the auspices of the United Nations.  A proposal had been made by Morocco to establish a solution, and that had led to a number of conversations.  That proposal for autonomy was positive, and while no such comparable models existed in Morocco, they did in Spain.  His Forum, therefore, called on the United Nations to find a just solution to the Western Sahara conflict, which would allow the Saharawi people to overcome the humanitarian drama which they had suffered over the past few decades. 

FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, urged the United Nations to designate a rapporteur for Western Sahara and to increase the competence of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Proof existed that Morocco was guilty of “atrocious ongoing violations” of international humanitarian law, but some Security Council members continued to protect the Moroccan blockade and would do so until the situation was resolved in Morocco’s favour.

He said that international law had been violated because of geopolitical considerations.  That had reflected a failure of the United Nations, or lack of will from its most influential members in the Security Council, to put an end to what should simply have been a decolonization process.  The Saharawi claims were legitimate, while the Moroccan claims were not.  “It’s not right to submit a referendum of decolonization to a previous agreement between the occupant and occupied one.”

Peter van Walsum had been the only representative of the Secretary-General who had dared to maintain that international legality was on the side of POLISARIO and that the Security Council would not use its powers to impose that legality on Morocco, he said.  The Council, in that case, was protecting “a threat to the international peace and safety, and a crime against humanity”.  More than 30 years of institution- and nation-building had become the Saharawi nation, and that was now an irreversible reality.

Right of Reply

Taking the floor in exercise of the right of reply to Spain’s statements on Gibraltar, the representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the work of the Trilateral Forum.  The agreements resulting from that three-way grouping were on track and demonstrated the value of a three-way dialogue.

As the United Kingdom had said before, he said that the 2006 Gibraltar Constitution, which had entered into force in 2007, provided a modern relationship between the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.  The British Government regretted that the Special Committee did not welcome that approach, nor the ways in which the relationship between the United Kingdom and Gibraltar -- which he stressed was not colonial -- had been modernized.

Emphasizing that Gibraltar’s listing as a Non-Self-Governing Territory on the United Nations list conferred a number of rights to it under the United Nations Charter, he added that its right to self-determination was not constrained by the Treaty of Utrecht.  The United Kingdom acknowledged that that view was not held by Gibraltar, while also noting that Gibraltar’s independence could only be legitimate with Spanish consent.  The recent referendum in Gibraltar on the Constitutional Decree had been a legitimate and entirely appropriate act, and accorded with the freely expressed wishes of Gibraltar’s people.

He said the United Kingdom did not accept that the sovereignty issue was applicable to the situation in Gibraltar, and it reaffirmed that it would never enter into sovereignty negotiations in which Gibraltar was not a party.  In closing, he noted that the United Kingdom continued to enjoy cordial relations with Spain and would continue to work amicably with it on all issues.

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