|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fourth General Assembly
4th Meeting (PM)
Hearing Petitioners on Questions of Gibraltar, Guam, Western Sahara,
Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate
Weary of ‘Empty Words’, Speakers Urge Administering Powers to Live Up
To International Obligations, Set Self-Determination Processes in Motion
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of decolonization items this afternoon, hearing 22 petitioners on the questions of Gibraltar, Guam and Western Sahara.
Opening the discussion, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, asserted that at the heart of the question was a failure to understand that Gibraltar’s sovereignty was neither the United Kingdom’s to give away, nor Spain’s to demand. Only Gibraltar could determine its political future, and a contrary view -- that its future should be decided by others and imposed against its will -- was incompatible and inconsistent with basic principles of democracy, as well as human and political rights.
While Spain thought that mankind had stood still for 305 years for its benefit, if its position was legal and based on international law, then the question of Gibraltar should be resolved in the International Court of Justice, he emphasized. But, if the question was essentially political in nature, then there was no escaping the obligation of all concerned parties to apply democratic principles in order to achieve its resolution.
Gibraltar had been forced to bypass the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization and secure its decolonization by other means, he continued, because the Special Committee had fabricated extraordinary rules that were unsustainable in international law. Indeed, Gibraltar’s decolonization had already occurred in practice and in law by virtue of its new constitution and, as such, the absence of recognition by the Special Committee of that reality did not alter those facts.
For his part, Joe Bossano, Opposition Leader in Gibraltar, said that had the United Nations accepted the United Kingdom’s argument that Gibraltar and its other overseas territories should have been removed from the Chapter 11 list because the territories had undergone a re-engineered constitutional relationship, making the United Kingdom a partner and no longer an administering Power and resulting in a “modern relationship”, Turks and Caicos Islands would have been de-listed.
Disagreeing with the United Kingdom on the consensus it “manufactured” with Spain for the benefit of the United Nations, he expressed support for the report of this year’s Regional Seminar, held in Saint Kitts and Nevis, which had proposed an analysis of the current stage of decolonization and self-determination in each listed country, serving as a checklist on progress thus far.
On the question of Guam, several petitioners expressed concern about the United States planned military expansion on the island and stressed that their pleas for assistance had essentially fallen on deaf ears. Calling the United States pledge made in 1946 to ensure the decolonization of Guam “politically empty and spiritually murderous” words, a representative of the Chamoru Nation said his group came to New York year after year to, in effect, “throw ourselves on the funeral pyre that is the United Nations decolonization apparatus”.
The petitioners who addressed the Committee on the question of Western Sahara were divided on the merits of Morocco’s proposed autonomy plan, althoughseveral speakers urged for an urgent approach to the issue, given the existence of widespread human rights abuses in the region.
Speaking on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), Ahmed Boukhari, wondered how it was possible that, in the twenty-first century, the United Nations had been unable to put an end to the “last colonial case in Africa”, which had been inscribed on its agenda for more than 40 years. He said Morocco had been trying to implicate the United Nations in the acceptance of a de facto situation that was completely contrary to international legality, and its proposal was symptomatic of that attempt.
Yet some speakers suggested that Morocco’s plan was the only durable route for a lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara. One petitioner said that the “unacceptable slander” against Morocco with regard to human rights must be stopped, as the “system” denouncing the violations by Morocco was based on erroneous information. Other petitioners expressed hope that Morocco’s proposal could serve as a springboard for talks, with the two sides perhaps eventually compromising.
Also speaking today on the question of Guam were Michael Tuncap, of the Pacific Islands Study Group of the University of California, Berkeley; Hope Alvarez Cristobal, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice; David Roberts, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography of the University of Toronto; Megan Roberto, of the University of California Berkeley Pacific Islander Alumni; Josette Marie Quinata, Southern California Chapter of Famoksaiyan; and Destiny Tedtaotao, a Graduate Student at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.
Other petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Bouguettaya Saddek, lawyer; Michel De Guillenchmidt, Professor at the University of Descartes and at the Sorbonne; Pedro Pinto Leite, of the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor; Ahmedou Ould Souilem, founding member of the Frente Polisario; and Sixto Pereira Galeano, Vice President of the Chamber of Representatives of Paraguay.
Also: Anna Maria Stame Cervone, President of the Centrist Democratic Women International; Erik Jensen; Fernando Fernandez Martin; Tanya Warburg, Director, Freedom for All; Professor Jean-Yves De Cara; Senia Bachir-Abderahman, Saharawi Youth Union; Julien Dedenis, Blain Accueil Enfants Sahraouis; and Sydney S. Assor, Surrey Three Faiths Forum.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 8 October, to continue its debate on decolonization.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues. It was expected to hear the remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, as well as petitioners on the questions of Gibraltar and Guam. (Reports before the Committee are summarized in Press Release GA/SPD/422.)
PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said the Committee and the international community were well aware of arguments on both sides of the Gibraltar issue. The people of the small country uniquely did not enjoy the right to self-determination. Spain asserted that the political future of his country and its people should be negotiated, decided and imposed upon it by others, and that Gibraltar’s decolonization could only be brought about by a transfer of sovereignty by the United Kingdom to Spain, over the heads of Gibraltar. That disregarded and was contrary to the wishes of Gibraltar, as if Gibraltar had no rights and its wishes counted for nothing. There was little wonder that the suggestion that the matter be referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion was not accepted by Spain.
He said Gibraltar believed that only it could decide or determine its political future in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the people. The contrary view, that its future must be decided by others and imposed on Gibraltar against its will, was not compatible or consistent with basic principles of values of democracy and human rights, including political rights.
At the heart of that contrary view was one fatal misconception of principle and one distortion propagated to invoke an inapplicable principle, he continued. The misconception was the failure to understand that the sovereignty of Gibraltar was neither the United Kingdom’s to give away, nor Spain’s to demand by reference to a wholly unrealistic and unviable desire to return the map of the world to what it was 305 years ago. That misconception also ignored subsequent democratic, human rights and international legal principles. It was as if Spain thought that mankind had stood still for 305 years, for her benefit in the matter of Gibraltar.
The distortion of fact -- to attempt to apply the United Nations Charter principle of territorial integrity to the case of Gibraltar -- was to ignore the fact that Gibraltar was not part of Spain, and therefore its decolonization by self-determination could not, and did not, disintegrate Spain’s territorial integrity, rendering that particular principle entirely inapplicable to the case of Gibraltar. He said that no competent international lawyer concerned about upholding his or her reputation would argue that it was possible under the Charter to decolonize a listed Non-Self-Governing Territory other than by the application of the principle of self-determination.
He said that since the Special Committee on Decolonization had taken to fabricating extraordinary rules that were unsustainable in international law and United Nations doctrine, such as the suspension of self-determination principles to territories affected by a sovereignty dispute, Gibraltar had been forced to bypass that body and secure its decolonization by other means. The decolonization of Gibraltar was no longer a pending issue. It had already happened in practice and in law by virtue of its new Constitution. Welcome as recognition by the Special Committee of that reality would be, its absence to date did not alter the facts as they were.
Furthermore, he continued, if Spain’s position in the Gibraltar issue was a legal one based in international law, then the matter should be resolved in the International Court of Justice. But if, in essence, it was not a legal issue but a political one, then there was no escaping the obligation of all the parties concerned to apply democratic principles to its resolution. In the view of Gibraltar, it was untenable for a democracy to refuse to litigate the legal elements of a dispute, while seeking to apply non-democratic principles to the resolution of its political elements.
The text of the Consensus Decision on the Gibraltar question did not reflect the true position that existed, because the bilateral Brussels Process to which it referred did not, in fact, exist, and had not met since 2001. He said it had not met in eight years because one of the two parties to it -- the United Kingdom -- had made it clear that it would no longer participate in discussions on Gibraltar’s sovereignty without the consent of Gibraltar. Accordingly, the text of the decision did not reflect a consensus that included both the United Kingdom and Spain.
Urging the Committee to not spend its valuable time debating, formulating and adopting decisions that were based on a false premise, he said it was time to modernize and change the text of the Consensus Decision to better and more effectively reflect the factual and political realities relating to the issue. Failure to do so would mean that the Decision would continue to be factually incorrect, politically ineffective, and irrelevant.
Much more constructive and effective as a political process was the new Trilateral Dialogue Forum, between the Governments of Gibraltar, Spain and the United Kingdom. Gibraltar did not expect Spain to renounce its sovereignty claim only by virtue of the existence of the Trilateral Forum -- which was without prejudice to sovereignty -- but it did expect behaviour that was compatible and consistent with the stated and shared objectives and spirit of the Forum, he concluded.
Petitioners on the Question of Gibraltar
JOE BOSSANO, Leader of the Opposition, said that although the United Kingdom called the United Nations criteria for decolonization archaic and outdated, it had not explained why. The United Kingdom had argued that Gibraltar and its other overseas territories should have been removed from the Chapter 11 list, without further ado, because those territories had undergone a re-engineered constitutional relationship, making the United Kingdom a partner and no longer an administering Power. One example of that “modern relationship” was that created in Gibraltar, as well as the constitutional change in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Had the United Nations accepted this view, Turks and Caicos Islands would have been de-listed. However, it was only a few weeks ago that the Ministerial Government, the elected Parliament, and trial by jury process were eliminated, and direct rule imposed from London. That, he said, was the United Kingdom’s idea of a “non-colonial modern relationship”. Under the United Nations Charter, the United Kingdom continued as an administering Power and it was only that that had given international legitimacy to the action that was taken, whatever the justification.
He disagreed with the United Kingdomon the consensus it “manufactured” with Spain for the benefit of the United Nations. He also disagreed with the United Kingdom’s attitude towards the non-applicability of the United Nations criteria derived from the Charter to bring about decolonization, as well as with its policy of not formally engaging with the Special Committee, with which his group would continue to cooperate fully.
He supported the report of this year’s Saint Kitts and Nevis Seminar, which had proposed an analysis of the current stage of decolonization and self-determination in each listed country, which could serve as a checklist or benchmark on the progress thus far.
He said the United Nations’s policy to welcome participation from all stakeholders in the territories, and not just the territorial Governments, was the correct approach. This enabled an appraisal of the full range of views within these territories and had been amply demonstrated at the hearing in June on the question of Puerto Rico. That had not been addressed by the territorial Government, he said, but had the participation of no less than 35 non-government entities, including 10 political parties, with a presence in that Territory.
He said that although the United Nations may hear what the people of the Territories, Gibraltar included, said, their words were not listened to or taken into account. As for Gibraltar, he said, the case before the Committee was “a nonsense” and a “waist of time”, since it did not have any effect on bringing about the decolonization of the Territory. Spain’s arguments were discredited, devoid of logic or legitimacy, and doomed to failure, he said. Although Gibraltar would be decolonized one day, it would never do so by becoming part of Spain, as that would simply mean the substation of one colonial master for a worse one.
He stressed that Gibraltar broke away from Spain in 1704 never to go back again, and the Spanish flag would “never fly over our Rock”. No number of decisions, by consensus or otherwise, in this or any venue, would change that.
Petitioners on Question of Guam
MICHAEL TUNCAP, of the Pacific Islands Study Group of the University of California, Berkeley, said that as a descendant of a 4,000 year civilization that had existed before the nations of Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States, he requested that the United Nations recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Guam. The continued occupation of United States military forces in Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands was rooted in a system of racial inequality between European Americans, Asian and Pacific settlers and the indigenous Chamorro people.
He said that since initial contact with the United States in 1898, massive pacification and military occupation had prevented the people of Guam from exercising their inalienable right to self-determination. Colonial ideas of racial and gender superiority had shaped a long history of military violence and United States economic security. As such, the United States currently asserted that its citizens -- military personnel -- had a “constitutional” right to vote in the people’s decolonization plebiscite.
However, he said, the indigenous Chamorro people in the Marianas and the other island residents were denied the right to vote in United States elections. The United States also continued to deprive the people of Guam their right to land, even as they caused the toxic pollution that was irreparably damaging the environment. The United States military also threatened the integrity of the land through economic colonization, and colonialism had also caused irreparable harm to bodies of land and water. For those and other reasons, the Fourth Committee must immediately enact the process of decolonization for Guam in lieu of the severe, irreversible impacts of United States militarization. The process must include the maximum funding allowed to achieve a far-reaching education campaign informing all Chamorus from Guam of their right to self-determination and decolonization options, he said.
HOPE ALVAREZ CRISTOBAL, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, said the Chamorro people of Guam had a long history as a free and independent people, interrupted by over 450 years of colonization by outside nations beginning in the sixteenth century. She said that earlier United Nations resolutions had addressed military issues in the operative clause calling on the administering Power “to ensure that the presence of military bases and installations would not constitute an obstacle to decolonization”. However, she said the United Nations today seemed satisfied with obscure reference to the military -- the single most serious impediment to decolonization. Those types of changes undermined the intent and purpose of the United Nations Charter, especially Chapter 11, devoted to the “territories whose people had not attained a full measure of self-government”.
The administering Power of Guam had in the past cited the issue of its military activities as one of the reasons why that Power would no longer cooperate with the Committee. She noted the “positive light” used to describe the massive militarization of Guam in the working paper, which said its inhabitants “generally welcomed the build-up”, and she said nothing could be further from the truth. The militarization of the Chamorro people through the militarization of Guam, combined with over a century of United States immigration policies, was a flagrant violation by the administering Power of accepted standards in its fiduciary responsibilities, and must be addressed.
JULIAN AGUON, speaking on behalf of the Chamoru Nation, said instead of advancing the decolonization mandate of Guam, the United States was engaged in the largest military build-up in recent history, with plans that would bring, among other things, 50,000 people and six nuclear submarines. The United States pledge in 1946 to ensure its decolonization mandate on Guam had, half a century later, become “politically empty and spiritually murderous” words, and the Chamorro people continued to live in colonial conditions. That was why his delegation had come to New York, year after year to, in effect, “throw ourselves on the funeral pyre that is the United Nations decolonization apparatus”.
Self-determination, as outlined in the United Nations Charter and international conventions, was an inalienable right, he said. As a Member State, the United States was bound to protect and advance the human rights articulated within the United Nations system. “We need United Nations intervention into the increasingly desperate human rights situation in Guam,” he said. “The hyper-militarization of Guam is no doubt illegal under any principled construction of international law.”
DAVID ROBERTS, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography of the University of Toronto, said that the United Nations must work for a just solution in Guam, based on the understanding that Guam’s status as a non-self-governing entity effected the ability of the Chamorro people to make crucial decisions about their lives and where they lived. He maintained that Guam’s virtual status as a colony should be abhorrent to those who champion democracy around the world.
He urged the Committee to give top priority to the fulfilment of the right of Chamorro to self-determination through a decolonization process that included a fully-funded campaign informing all Chamorro from Guam of their rights and options. The Committee, with United Nations funding, must investigate the administering Power’s non-compliance with its international obligation to promote the economic, social and cultural well-being of Guam, and must send a team within the next six months to assess the effects of the past and future militarization of the island. Finally, he said the Committee must comply with the Indigenous Forum’s request for an expert seminar to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonization process on indigenous peoples.
MEGAN ROBERTO, of the University of California Berkeley Pacific Islander Alumni, said that, having been educated by one of the best universities in the world, she spoke English with no recollection of her mother tongue. She was a success story of the United States colonization of Guam. However, she questioned that success, wondering if leaving the island had been the best option for her family.
Continuing, she said the physical and emotional consequences that colonization had had on the remaining Chamorro who lived on Guahan pointed to a positive answer. Among other things, Chamorro people had been exposed to radiation, Agent Orange and Agent Purple as a result of the island being a decontamination site for the United States in the 1970s. The community was also robbed of its cultural resources. The effects of colonialism on the Chamorro people had travelled along with them in the forced migration and assimilation. However, forced migration was not self-determination.
She said that the Committee should give top priority to the fulfilment of her people’s inalienable right to self-determination and immediately enact the process of decolonization of Guahan in lieu of severe, irreversible impacts of United States militarization. The process must include a fully-funded and far-reaching education campaign informing all Chamorro from Guahan of their right to self-determination and decolonization options.
The Committee must send United Nations representatives to the island within the next six months to assess the implications of United States militarization plans on the decolonization of Guahan and the human rights implications of the United States military presence. And finally, the Committee must comply with the recommendations of other United Nations agencies, especially the Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues, which had recently requested an expert seminar to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonization process on indigenous peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
JOSETTE MARIE QUINATA, Southern California Chapter of Famoksaiyan, said her homeland was threatened by the impending United States military build-up on Guam that was scheduled to begin in 2010. Yet Guam continued to be excluded from decisions that would affect the very people whose environment would be destroyed, and whose concerns were “second to militarization and colonialism”. The question of Guam was not solely based on political turmoil and chaos among those who claimed Guam as a United States “possession”, but also a reflection of Guam’s identity, which continued to suffer from political hegemony and an administering Power that failed to recognize and respect political rights.
She recounted a dream in which she saw her ancestors, and spoke about revitalizing the Chamorro people and preserving their language and culture. She said that a “powerful calling” had kept her passion alive in understanding Guam’s heritage and struggle for self-determination. She looked forward to creating a future “moved by heart, strength, and courage” to reaffirm that the question of Guam was a question of decolonization and the eradication of militarism and colonialism.
DESTINY TEDTAOTAO, a Graduate Student at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, speaking on behalf of the Chamorro grass-roots organization “I Nasion Chamoru”, said that as the end Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism neared, Guam unfortunately still remained a Non-Self-Governing Territory under the United States. Guam continued to be a possession of its colonizers, and the Chamorro people were still being denied their rights to land and political destiny.
She said the devastation wrought on the island and its people created an uphill climb for self-determination. Yet, with the impending military build-up on Guam that was to start in 2010, she asked that the United Nations uphold the promise and “sacred trust” set forth in General Assembly resolutions 1514 and 1542, and ultimately hold accountable Guam’s administering Power in recognizing and respecting its quest for self-determination.
The people of Guam were strong, and had a resilient culture that had continued to prevail amidst agonies of political disarray, militarism and colonial dominance. Yet, the people’s voices for choosing their own political destiny had been silenced, ignored and misunderstood. Guam’s administering Power had neglected the people’s right as an indigenous people, and the people had long suffered at the hands of outside influences and decisions that neglected their voices and interests. As a daughter of Guam, self-determination was not only a word that encompassed and exuded empowerment, but also a struggle, she said.
Petitioners on the Question of Western Sahara
BOUGUETTAYA SADDEK, lawyer, said that the United Nations considered Western Sahara in the early 1960s as a territory under colonization, and hence decided that its people had a right to self-determination and independence. It could not be argued or denied, he said, that, in its legal opinion of 16 October 1975, the International Court of Justice had stated that Western Sahara was not a Moroccan territory before the Spanish colonization, and that no sovereign ties existed between Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco.
He mentioned “three main facts” in that incomplete decolonization process, namely that the people of the Territory had been prevented by force from exercising their inalienable right to self-determination; that Spain had “scandalously” abdicated its international obligations in handing over the Territory to Morocco; and that a State occupied the Territory and tried to impose by military means a fait accompli, oppressing the Saharawi people, denying them rights, and looting their natural resources.
The United Nations bore a clear responsibility as long as the Saharawi people were denied the opportunity to express their will through a free, fair, democratic and transparent referendum organized and supervised by the United Nations in cooperation with the African Union. In this context, he said, the 1991 United Nations settlement plan, signed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario) and Morocco and endorsed by the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), remained the sole reference for a just and lasting solution and a genuine framework to end the conflict.
There was no alternative to self-determination, he said, and it was unreasonable to annul the 1991 settlement Plan and the Houston accords of 1997. That was a “grave mistake” which would have dangerous consequences for the whole region. Spain, which was still the legal administering Power of Western Sahara, should fulfil its legal and political responsibilities just as its neighbour Portugal had done in East Timor.
AHMED BOUKHARI, Representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that one could not help but wonder how it was possible that today, in the twenty-first century, the United Nations had not been able to put an end to the last colonial case in Africa, which had been inscribed on its agenda for more than 40 years. Morocco had been trying to implicate the United Nations in the acceptance of a de facto situation that was completely contrary to international legality. Its proposal of autonomy for Western Sahara, presented in April 2007 in the framework of what it unilaterally called “Moroccan sovereignty”, was symptomatic of that attempt.
He said negotiations between the two parties, called for by the Security Council and supported by the General Assembly, which began in Manhasset in June 2007, were undermined by the fact that Morocco did not want to discuss or negotiate anything except its plan of the called “autonomy” -- a plan that implied accepting beforehand that Western Sahara was already an integral part of the Kingdom of Morocco.
That precondition therefore violated the letter and spirit of the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly. Morocco continued to harbour the colonial illusion of annexing Western Sahara, ignoring not only the position of the international community, but also its own commitments it had recognized before the United Nations. Furthermore, Morocco had not only managed to deliberately frustrate the prolonged and persevering efforts of the international community to hold a simple self-determination referendum, but it had also managed to implicate the international community in abandoning the defence of the human rights of a small and innocent people, he said.
MICHEL DE GUILLENCHMIDT, Professor at the University of Descartes and at the Sorbonne, said that the unacceptable slander against Morocco with regard to human rights must be stopped, as the “system” denouncing the violations by Morocco was based on erroneous information. Nothing was ever completely black or white, he said. Despite humanitarian efforts made by MINURSO, and by Morocco to attain respect for freedom in Morocco and throughout the rest of the country, a jurisdiction had been established, which should be used to judge the situation. He said there had been a high participation in the elections, active exercises by trade unions, freedom of association, and a systematic opening to the regions of the south which had been stated to be closed.
The “regularly revived” slander must be stopped, as it only impeded a solution. The international community must welcome the steps taken by the Polisario and pay tribute to its courage and reasonableness. The state of autonomy proposed by Morocco was modern, validated by referendum, and did not challenge the territorial integrity of Morocco. The Moroccan project would have a parliament, composed of representatives of the tribes, elected by direct universal suffrage. The new body would have its own financial resources and national solidarity. However, this was being rejected by the Polisario. The parties must not get bogged down in an “artificial situation”, he said, which most often went nowhere, otherwise peaceful cooperation would not be moved forward between the peoples of the Maghreb.
PEDRO PINTO LEITE, of the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, said that last year in the Fourth Committee, he noticed smiles on the faces of many delegates when two petitioners for Morocco had accused Polisario of “genocide and even cannibalism”. It was indeed amazing how far Moroccan propaganda could go, and how ridiculous it could be. The pro-Moroccan petitions in the Committee avoided the issue of Morocco’s occupation and didn’t mention the referendum. Instead, they portrayed Polisario as a separatist group driven by Marxist or Islamist ideology, and tried to discredit Polisario through accusations of slavery, terrorism, and fundamentalism, while Morocco was portrayed as a very democratic regime.
The pro-Moroccan petitions also, among other things, portrayed the conflict as one between Algeria and Morocco, rather than between Morocco and Polisario, and insisted on Algeria’s links to terrorists, communists and fundamentalists. He said such petitions also emphasized the “Eastern-block” nature of the countries that had historically supported the idea of independence, hoping that such an emphasis would help to discredit the idea of a referendum on independence. Such petitions also involved the views of the few who supported the Moroccan position, but dismissed views from international bodies when they appeared to support the holding of a referendum or the idea of independence. The fact remained, however, that part of the Territory of Western Sahara was illegally occupied by Morocco, and another part was under the total control of Polisario.
AHMEDOU OULD SOUILEM, founding member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that control by Algeria of all the refugee camps prevented the aspirations of the Saharawi people to come back to their country, and he made an appeal to put an end to the cavalry of his compatriots in the Tindouf camps. He said those people who had been able to “come back” were “lucky,” after surviving the genocide to which they had been subjected. He added that he experienced difficulty saying the word “genocide”, because he remembered those who had been eliminated.
SIXTO PEREIRA GALEANO, Vice President of the Chamber of Representatives of Paraguay, said the conflict regarding Western Sahara had been going on for more than 30 years without a solution. Western Sahara had been inscribed on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1965, and despite all of the efforts undertaken by the United Nations, the dispute was still unresolved. The Saharawi people, however, continued to suffer the consequences. It was the obligation of the parties involved in the conflict to guarantee respect for human rights of the people of Western Sahara, in both the territory and in the refugee camps.
Furthermore, the role of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara was indispensable to maintain the ceasefire, he said. It was important that the parties to the conflict continued to cooperate with MINURSO, which provided logistical help, among other things. He appealed to the parties to give their support to the efforts of the Secretary-General and his personal envoy, Christopher Ross, to reach a mutually acceptable and lasting solution that would lead to self-determination in Western Sahara. The Manhasset negotiations had not yielded any positive results, he said, expressing hope that the forthcoming meetings would make possible -- still under the auspices of the Secretary-General and in conformity with international law -- negotiations that would enable the application of several resolutions passed on the issue, in order to bring about the final solution on the question of Western Sahara.
ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, President of Centrist Democratic Women International, said unity was needed, but that the populations kept by force in the Tindouf camps were victims of Algerian policy. It was a “secret to none” that the camps were a major prison, surrounded by the Algerian army. However, the “Polisario and the intelligence services” had been at work for decades to deceive pubic opinion about conditions, and the world was now beginning to understand the truth thanks to the brave “unbearable” testimonies of those who had managed to escape.
Women and children suffered the worst in the camps, she said, and in addition to severe malnutrition, children were torn from their families early to be sent to other countries and subjected for years to implacable indoctrination and military training. She said groups such as Human Rights Watch had expressed concern that the Tindouf camps were outside the control of the United Nations and other organizations, and that the Polisario monopolized the political discourse and opposed any opposition to its own leadership.
Furthermore, in those instances, the practice of slavery persisted, she said. People living in the camps had no margin of liberty to express their dissidence with regard to the Polisario. However, through the Fourth Committee and the public opinions expressed, more people were now aware of what was happening in the Tindouf camps, so that later no one could say that they did not know. It was “more than urgent”, she said, for the United Nations to carry out its responsibilities to protect the civilian population being kept by force in the Tindouf camps.
ERIK JENSEN said that there were potential dangers when people were deprived of decent living conditions and prospects for a better life. Morocco would prefer a straightforward integration of the territory of Western Sahara into the Kingdom, while the Polisario offered independence. The answer, perhaps, was between those two extremes. Furthermore, the Morocco proposal could at least provide a springboard for talks, and perhaps the two sides could eventually compromise.
The conflict between the two sides impeded development and deprived a burgeoning population, he continued. Unemployment affected 15 per cent of the labour force, and nearly one third of the population was under 15 years of age. There was also a serious terrorist threat in Western Sahara. A concerted effort was necessary to achieve economic and social development, in the interest of everyone throughout the region. In addition, the Maghreb States needed to show political will, and offer encouragement.
FERNANDO FERNANDEZ MARTIN said he had been following the conflict of Western Sahara for the past 40 years. In that conflict, the first victim was human rights, on both sides of the wall. The Frente Polisario was calling for a referendum, and its position had not changed over the years. For its part, Morocco would never succeed in giving independence to the provinces of the south. The United Nations had not been able to bring about agreement.
As he saw it, a military solution was not possible, and a lasting solution could only be achieved through negotiations and dialogue. He believed it was worthwhile to explore the possibilities of autonomy in Western Sahara. It had not been easy for Spain during its dictatorship to become a decentralized State, but it had done so. The balance in Spain was now very positive after more than 40 years. He said he mentioned that fact because of the impact it could have on the Maghreb States, so that they could be united as well.
TANYA WARBURG, Director, Freedom for All, said that for the past 33 years, the world’s second-oldest group of refugees had been forcibly detained in the Algerian-backed Polisario-run camps in Tindouf. There, fundamental human rights were routinely ignored and abused, and freedom of thought and expression were non-existent. Husbands and wives, children and siblings were separated and placed in different, distant camps, violating the right to family life outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and contravening the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
She said Algeria also ignored the 2002 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Notice of Protection, which called upon States to respect the principle of freely approved return of refugees to their homes. Children were sent thousands of miles from the Sahara with no parental contact, and forced to work as domestics and labourers in fields and factories. The 90,000 Tindouf detainees relied exclusively on humanitarian aid supplied by international donors. Former Polisario leaders had attested to the near-famine conditions in the camps, where illnesses such as anaemia were rampant. She called upon Algeria to allow the United Nations refugee agency to conduct a census in the camp’s population, to identify and register those in Tindouf.
Professor JEAN-YVES DE CARA said the right of people to self-determination was one of the essential principles of international law, and Morocco had endorsed that for a long time. The exercise of that right involved the free administration of people by themselves, with no colonial context. In the proposal of autonomy for the provinces of the south -- which was considered as being responsible and credible by the Security Council -- Morocco had provided a text that guaranteed freedoms.
It was important to stress that the abuse and questioning of Morocco represented a threat to its integrity. For example, it was excessive to criticize Morocco for public order measures intended to put an end to criminal activities. Such criticisms represented unlawful interference and revealed the “bad faith” of people acting in such a way, he said.
SENIA BACHIR ABDERAHMAN, Saharawi Youth Union, said that in her three years of addressing the Committee on the question of Western Sahara, little if anything had been done regarding Africa’s last colony. Since the invasion of 1975, the Moroccan authority had violated international law and the Geneva Convention, importing thousands of Moroccans into Western Saharan territories. The Moroccan Government went beyond violating human rights to exploiting natural resources and spreading deliberate lies throughout the media.
Since May 2005, many youths were still living in the occupied territories and had taken on a non-violent struggle. However, as had been noted by international groups like Human Rights Watch, dozens of Saharawis had been brutally attacked, arrested and even killed by the Moroccan forces and armed police. Those attacks included severe beatings and sexual abuse. In August 2009, when a group of Saharawi students were banned from travelling to the United Kingdom, they staged an open hunger strike. But after just 23 hours, the students were arrested, with one girl testifying that she was kidnapped, beaten, “sexually harassed” and left lying in the road, naked, outside her city.
That kind of torture was “unacceptable”, and no individual should face it. And yet many Saharawi prisoners were being tortured in Moroccan prisons and disappearing, and many more were discriminated against. In that regard, the Moroccan Government seemed ignorant of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and she urged the United Nations to take immediate action to prevent ongoing human rights violations in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.
JULIEN DEDENIS, Blain Accueil Enfants Sahraouis, said the Moroccan people were being deprived of their free will and their right to self-determination because a solution to the question of Western Sahara was not being reached. The lack of a solution was compounded by the need for pragmatism. He asked, how could one imagine peace if one was deprived of their right to a referendum?
Peace was valuable only if it was lasting or final, he continued. The need for durability could not be sacrificed in order to find a quick solution. A solution could only be reached through negotiations between the Frente Polisario and Morocco. There could be no real solution without respect for fundamental rights, he added.
SYDNEY S. ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, explaining that he spoke on behalf of those “downtrodden people” in the Tindouf camps, urged the Committee to stop aid from being diverted from the detainees to markets in Algiers, Nouakchott and elsewhere. He would have hoped that his repeated pleas and personal appeals, including to the head of the UNHCR, would have awakened the Committee and the wider international community to the dire situation in the camps.
He said he would not interfere in the political issues of the Western Sahara, but rather wished to acknowledge remarks by the top UNHCR official in the region that no further help would be forthcoming until a census was held. “We have constantly called for this as it is absolutely necessary,” he said. He urged the Committee to help UNHCR, and further, to not allow another four years to pass before his organization was allowed to visit the camps. The purpose of such a visit would be to assess peoples’ needs and to bring assistance. He also asked that detainees be allowed to “vote with their feet”.
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