|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Special Committee on
7th Meeting (AM)
special committee on decolonization approves text welcoming developments
in new caledonia since 1998 signing of noumea accord
Petitioner on Western Sahara Tells of Continuing
Illegal Occupation, Exploitation of Territory’s Natural Resources
The General Assembly would welcome significant developments in New Caledonia since the 1998 signing of the Nouméa Accord by representatives of that Non-Self-Governing Territory and the Government of France, according to a draft resolution approved by the Special Committee on Decolonization today.
By other terms of the draft, the Assembly would urge all the parties involved to maintain their dialogue in a spirit of harmony, and welcome in that context the unanimous agreement, reached in Paris on 8 December 2008, on the transfer of powers to New Caledonia in 2009 and the conduct of provincial elections in that year.
Introducing the text, which was later approved without a vote, the representative of Fiji said progress had been achieved in implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries in New Caledonia. In particular, the text welcomed the adoption on 26 June 2008 of a draft country law (loi du pays) on the Territory’s identity symbols and the acceptance, on 21 October 2008, of the draft law on its anthem, motto and banknote design.
Among other factual updates included in the draft, he noted the concerns expressed by representatives of New Caledonia’s indigenous people about incessant migratory flows and the impact of mining on the environment. Furthermore, the text welcomed the Territory’s participation in the thirty-ninth Summit of the Pacific Islands Forum in August 2008, following its accession to the Forum as an associate member in October 2006.
Concluding his presentation, he emphasized the crucial importance of cooperation and collaboration in the often difficult process of decolonization, saying that his delegation and that of Papua New Guinea acknowledged that such close cooperation with France was not new. The two co-sponsors of the draft resolution wished to promote that cooperative and collaborative approach as the Special Committee’s way forward.
The representative of Papua New Guinea noted mutual cooperation between the co-sponsors and the administering Power in finalizing the text and expressed his appreciation for the Bureau’s assistance and guidance.
As the Special Committee ‑‑ also known as the Special Committee of 24 or formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries ‑‑ took up the question of Western Sahara, a petitioner, Ahmed Boukhari of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that Morocco continued illegally to occupy the Territory and that United Nations efforts to finalize its decolonization had not been successful due to that country’s refusal to accept the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination and independence.
He recalled that in June 2007, the Frente Polisario and the Moroccan Government had entered into direct negotiations, as requested by the Security Council, the fourth round of which had been held in April 2008. Those talks had not progressed because Morocco had insisted on unacceptable pre-conditions. In reality, Morocco did not want to negotiate, but to impose its proposal for autonomy as the only possible solution, presenting it on a “take it or leave it” basis.
Morocco, he continued, did not wish to discuss the Frente Polisario proposal to allow the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination through a referendum that would include all options recognized by the United Nations, including independence. Morocco had recognized that option in signing the 2003 settlement plans and the 1997 Houston Agreements. The proposal stated that, in the event that the Saharawi people opted for independence, the Frente Polisario would offer Morocco the chance to negotiate the basis for a strategic relationship in the economic, security, commercial and social spheres.
He went on to say that, following his appointment in August 2008, Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s new Personal Envoy, had not officially assumed his functions until January 2009 due to Morocco’s initial rejection of his appointment. In February, Mr. Ross had made his first official visit to the region, and reported to the Security Council in April. His mandate was to try to reactivate the negotiations begun in Manhasset. The Personal Envoy had proposed, as a preliminary step, that the two parties begin informal negotiations. The Frente Polisario had expressed its support for the Personal Envoy and did not know why those meetings had not yet taken place.
Western Sahara was occupied by an estimated 150,000 Moroccan soldiers and divided into two parts by a shameful wall protected by those forces and 5 million anti-personnel landmines, he said. Morocco had intensified its exploitation and commercialization of the Territory, awarding its best natural resources, notably phosphorous and fishing, to the highest bidder. It was also including foreign companies in prospecting for petroleum, in serious violation of international law governing a Territory in the process of decolonization. That violation was particularly serious when taking into account that in January 2002 Hans Corell, then Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, had said that the Organization did not consider Morocco to be the sovereign or administering Power in Western Sahara.
Turning to human rights, he drew the Special Committee’s attention to the respective reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2007, Human Rights Watch in December 2008 and the Ad Hoc Committee of the European Parliament in February 2009. All those reports stated that Morocco had violated human rights in Western Sahara on the basis of its refusal to respect the Territory’s right to self-determination, and agreed with the need for the United Nations, through the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), to observe and protect human rights until the conflict was resolved.
All the Secretary-General’s reports since October 2006 stated his concern about the human rights situation in the Territory, he continued. Various non-permanent members of the Security Council had tried, in 2008 and 2009, to include in the Council’s resolution on the question of Western Sahara an expansion of MINURSO’s mandate to incorporate human rights. However, Morocco, with the support of France, had reduced that to a mere mention of a “human dimension” to the conflict. That had only served to consolidate the perception of double standards in the Council.
The fact that Western Sahara remained on the Special Committee’s agenda had made the Territory a living symbol of the failure by the United Nations to comply fully and effectively with its collective responsibility. During the recent Caribbean Regional Seminar on decolonization in Saint Kitts and Nevis, the Frente Polisario had reminded everyone that since 1969, Morocco had repeatedly and explicitly recognized before the Special Committee and the General Assembly the right of the Saharawi people to full independence. The Saharawi would not renounce full realization of that right, and the vast majority of United Nations Member States shared that view.
As members of the Special Committee took the floor, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said it was both unfortunate and unacceptable that Western Sahara remained the only unresolved case on the African continent. The Assembly had consistently recognized the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence, repeatedly adopting resolutions and decisions on the matter that went unheeded. The Security Council had also consistently called for the self-determination of the Saharawi people.
Addressing the question of human rights, he said it remained a contested issue that could not be wished away and must, therefore, be handled with objective transparency. Such concerns would be handled in a credible manner if relevant United Nations organs like the Security Council and the Human Rights Council had a role in that regard. The United Republic of Tanzania also called attention to reported illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources, which merited the Special Committee’s attention.
Cuba’s representative said the United Nations had reaffirmed on numerous occasions that the conflict in Western Sahara was a question of decolonization and, therefore, fell under the Organization’s direct responsibility. The Special Committee must play a central role in considering the issue. As confirmed by numerous resolutions, only the Saharawi people could decide their own future, without conditions of any kind. Over the last few years, four rounds of negotiations had been carried out under the Secretary-General’s auspices and the parties had reaffirmed their intention to continue those negotiations. Hopefully a solution would be found that would guarantee self-determination for the Saharawi people on the basis of the United Nations Charter and resolution 1514.
The Saharawi people needed the support of the international community, he continued, adding that despite its modest resources, his country had contributed to their development, especially in terms of education. In accordance with the Assembly’s annual appeals for offers of study and training opportunities to the people of Non-Self-Governing Territories, 475 Saharawi students were now studying in Cuba. As it had always done in the past, Cuba would support a just and definitive solution to the question of Western Sahara, in conformity with the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
Venezuela’s representative supported self-determination and independence for the Saharawi people, while the representative of Côte d’Ivoire said that, with the appointment of a new Personal Envoy, the time had come to evaluate the situation and find new approaches to the question of Western Sahara.
The Special Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 17 June.
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