Fourth Committee Hears Over 30 Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

8 October 2009

Fourth Committee Hears Over 30 Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

8 October 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

5th Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Hears Over 30 Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara


Speakers Divided on the 30-Year-Old Issue, as Many Say Time Is Right

For Morocco’s Extended Autonomy Plan, while Others Call for Free, Fair Referendum

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization issues today, focusing solely on the question of Western Sahara and hearing 31 petitioners weigh the human rights, humanitarian, and political dimensions of the dispute.

Throughout the afternoon meeting, speakers appealed to the Committee and the international community at large to find a solution to the more than 30-year-old conflict that they said was tearing apart a peaceful people.  Many emphasized that all parties involved must work harder to ensure that the people of Western Sahara were able to exercise their right to self-determination before the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism came to end in 2010.

Several petitioners praised Morocco’s proposed plan for self-determination in Western Sahara as being the only viable possibility for a lasting solution.  Calling the offer of autonomy the “best solution”, Karl Addicks, a Member of German Parliament, said he was convinced that the territorial status quo should not be changed.  It would be far better to accept the Moroccan proposal now, instead of waiting another 30 years.  He also suggested that all the people in the camps, whether they be called refugees or detainees, should return to the Western Sahara region, where they should have autonomy and enjoy human rights and liberty, as well as a better life. 

Echoing those sentiments, El Mami Boussif, President of the Council of the Region of Rio de Oro, emphasized that any lasting solution could only be political in nature, and that the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), for their part, had to uphold their responsibilities and free themselves from Algeria’s control in order to respect the best interests of the Saharawi people.  Morocco had proposed extended self-determination so that the people of Western Sahara could manage their own affairs and so that there could be an exit “without too much damage”, he said.

Disagreeing with that view, Said Ayachi, speaking on behalf of the Algerian National Committee for Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said the human rights violations committed by Moroccan authorities throughout the occupied territories of Western Sahara created an “atmosphere of terror” and dissuaded many victims and witnesses from reporting atrocities.  Such violations had not been documented or investigated, partly due to the Moroccan administration’s iron grip.  Conversely, those who had been exiled or displaced were now susceptible to kidnappings and forced disappearances.

Saying that the United Nations had “decisively failed” in addressing Morocco’s “illegal and brutal” occupation, Sahli-Fadel Maya, a professor of international law at the University of Algeria, stressed that the international legal principle regarding the matter was just, and one to which no waiver should be allowed.  Morocco, as the occupying Power, must bow to all its obligations pertaining to the status of the territory.  Extending the mandate of the United Nations to ensure the respect of human rights in Western Sahara was also necessary, he added.

For his part Salek Maoloud Lebaihi, a Saharawi student at Methodist University in North Carolina, said the people of Western Sahara had been waiting for more than three decades for an opportunity to have a say in their future and it was time to allow them to participate in a free and fair referendum as they alone were the only ones eligible to make such a decision.  Self-determination was not just a basic right, but one of the main principles that led to the founding of the United Nations.  He urged the Committee to act and to use its influence to allow the Western Sahara people to participate in such a referendum and exercise their right of self-determination, no matter what the outcome might be. 

Also speaking this afternoon were:  Nadia Hamoudi, Adjointe au Marie, Ville de Tours of France; Philippe H. Elghouayel, President, Together Foundation; Jane Bahaijoub, Chairman of Family Protection; Agaila Abba Hemeida; Teresa Táboas Veleiro, Diputada del Grupo Parlamentar del Bloque Nacionalista Galego en el Parlamento de Galicia; Jeremy Corbyn, Chair of the Western Sahara Group of Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Group; Cate Lewis, International Coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch; François-Paul Blanc, Professor of Law; M’Barka Bouaida; Román López Villicaña, Professor at University of the Americas; Professor José Dobovšek; Serge Loungou, Professor of political geography; Kei Nakagawa, researcher in matters of the Maghreb and Sahara; Miquel Carrillo Giralt, Deputy of the Parliament of Catalonia; Fala Boussola, Member of Parliament from the Socialist Party of Morocco; and Denis Ducarme, member of Belgian Parliament.

Also: Mohammad Ziyad Al Jabari; Santiago Nchama, graduate in international relations and public administration and spokesman for the Parliamentary Group of Equatorial Guinea; Franz Mekyna, President of the Institut Austria Morocco; Ahmed Mghizlat, member of the Conseil Royal Consultatif des Affaires Sahariennes; Lorenzo Olarte, former vice-president of the Canary Islands; Washington Salazar Varela, from Ecuador; Tamek Abderrahmane, director of la Chambre d’Artisanat, Dakhla; Roberto Ramon Acevedo Quevedo, from Paraguay; Javier Aspuru Oribe, Diputado Foral de Juventud y Promoción Social de la Diputación Foral de Álava; and Valentino Perin, Senator of the Italian Northern League.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 9 October, to conclude its consideration of decolonization issues.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration on all decolonization issues.  It was expected to hear additional petitioners on the question of Western Sahara.  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in Press Release GA/SPD/422.)

Petitioners on the Question of Western Sahara

SAID AYACHI, speaking on behalf of the Algerian National Committee for Solidarity with the Saharawi People, gave a graphic description of appalling human rights violations committed by Moroccan authorities throughout the occupied territories of Western Sahara.  He said that situation had created an atmosphere of terror and dissuaded many victims and witnesses from reporting atrocities.  Violations had not been documented or investigated, partly due to the Moroccan administration’s iron grip.  Conversely, those who had been exiled or displaced were now susceptible to kidnappings and forced disappearances. 

The disputed territory was under “military siege and cloaked in a media blackout”, he continued, which made it very difficult for non-governmental organizations, international media and observers to access it.  Numerous international human rights watchdog organizations had raised the alarm about Morocco’s blatant violations of human rights in Western Sahara.  Recently, civil society groups had met in Geneva to highlight that such violations were on the rise.  He described them as “odious crimes against humanity” that deprived all segments of society of their dignity, their right to security and stability.

He went on to say that forced disappearances were commonplace and widespread.  Arbitrary detentions were based on false accusations, and unfair trials led to inhumane treatment in prison.  Some non-governmental organizations had reported that such “iniquitous” trails had been on the rise since 1999.  He also described all forms of “horrific” torture techniques being used, often with permanent side effects that included the social exclusion and intimidation of released victims.

He pointed out that repeated internal forced displacement had forced civilians to live in slums and on the outskirts of cities under very difficult social conditions.  Stressing that it was the United Nations mission to request an end to such systematic human rights violations in Western Sahara, he called on the Secretary-General and the Security Council to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  “The international community holds between its hands, the solution to the conflict that tears apart a peaceful people,” he declared.

NADIA HAMOUDI, Adjointe au Marie, Ville de Tours of France, said she came bearing witness following a “movement of solidarity” that had existed from February 2009, as part of which a humanitarian mission had been conducted in the Tindouf camps.  The “humanitarian drama” found there was not widely broadcast, but that visit had made it possible to obtain a precise idea of the situation.  She and her group were able to speak with the refugees in the field and assess their needs.

She found a dignified and tenacious people, and that Saharawi women had a central and recognized role, and were often given duties usually allocated for men.  However when she returned to France, she was criticized by some for speaking out on behalf of the refugees.  Nevertheless, the call for solidarity was transmitted, and made it possible for “many tons” of food to be sent to Western Sahara in August 2009.

She said many public interest groups were involved in the movement, such as the French Food Bank, which advocated for the rights of the population.  It was obvious that the problems of the Saharawi people needed to be solved.  She expressed hope that the parties to the conflict would display political will and participate in negotiations, as those preliminary talks “at least put parties face to face”.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario) had submitted a proposal that showed its will by offering post-referendum guarantees to Morocco.  However, that proposal was not heard by Morocco, which itself had an ambiguous stance.

The sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara was not recognized, and her visit to the camps was limited, but further research was necessary.  She said a 2008 Human Rights Watch report detailed how Morocco combined inequitable justice and police law to stifle opposition.  The Security Council reacted positively by passing resolution 1871 (2009), which made demands of a humanitarian nature.  However, that resolution “fell short” of the needs of the Saharawi people today.

She said it was important that the mandate of MINURSO be enlarged to include human rights, and it was up to the United Nations to see to it that a stable situation was sustainable in Maghreb, so that this region that was a crossroads of Europe and of Africa could be truly united.

PHILIPPE H. ELGHOUAYEL, President of Together Foundation, said he wanted to share first-hand experience related to an awkward issue brought to the attention of his foundation -– which was a New York-based non-profit organization –- in June 2007 by two Australian journalists and documentary film-makers who reported having witnessed a situation where systematic and institutionalized slavery practices of a minority Saharawi population were widespread within the Frente Polisario camps.

The two Australian journalists had said that they had shot almost 100 hours of film recording such a situation, he said.  Since then, the journalists had finalized a feature documentary containing several interviews with victims and scenes of their ordinary life in the camps.  The feature documentary –- Stolen –- was selected by an international film festival. 

The Together Foundation, for its part, remained sceptical and proceeded with all available due diligence in order to be convinced of the reality of such circumstances.  Thanks to contacts and communication lines that the Australian journalists were maintaining with a “few slaves in the camps”, the foundation was able to meet a handful of their representatives in Mauritania on two separate visits.

JANE BAHAIJOUB, Chairman of Family Protection, said the Algerian authorities had been continually asked about the whereabouts of the disappeared from the Tindouf camps, but had consistently ignored the international community’s call to address the issue.  That was in serious breach of article 85 paragraph 4 of the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, to which Algeria was a signatory.

She said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had decided to double the aid to refugees in the Tindouf camps, providing a census was conducted to identify the number of genuine refugees, as a way to avoid mismanagement and embezzlement, as had taken place in the past.  However, until now no independent organization or body was in a position to determine exactly how many people were in the Tindouf camps, as the Algerian authorities consistently refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or the UNHCR to conduct a census.

Independent reports from returnees to Morocco have said that people in the camps had no freedom of movement, strict control of their daily lives, and subjection to intimidation and indoctrination.  Numerous human rights abuses remained unaddressed due to the lack of free access to the camps, and the fact that every aspect related to the camps in terms of travel, humanitarian aid, foreign activities and involvement of non-governmental organizations, must go through the Algerian authorities.

While the conflict was dealt with by the United Nations Security Council in search for a lasting political solution, the international community should allow the population in the Tindouf camps to return to Morocco, or improve the living conditions in the camps.  She said that last year, Algeria generated $100 billion in revenue from hydrocarbon exports and that surely, just 1 per cent of that could be used to help those in the camps.  A political solution was urgently needed to avoid balkanization of the region and to end the continued suffering of the families of the disappeared and the inhumane conditions within the camps.

AGAILA ABBA HEMEIDA said that three decades after the Security Council resolution stating that the solution to the question of Western Sahara was the “satisfaction of self-determination of people of its territory”, the Saharawi people still awaited a chance to have an opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.  Meanwhile, Morocco continued its illegal occupation of Western Sahara. 

He said that not only had Morocco continued with its occupation, it was in violation of all the agreements and human rights principles through the illegal exploitation of natural resources, beating and raping people and women, and also aiming to destroy the identity of the people of Western Sahara as an indigenous people and as a nation by forcing the weight of their identity on them.

While Morocco enjoyed the luxury of its occupation, the cause of her people was being neglected by the rest of the international community, she continued.  It was an occupation that had taken the land of her people and left them homeless.  Half of the Saharawi lived in the occupied territory, where they were experiencing all kinds of aggression, while the other half lived in one of the biggest refugee camps in the world.  That camp was located in south-western Algeria, where she had been born, and where her family presently lived under the hardship of one of the most inhabitable deserts in the world.  Temperatures there could reach 130° F, and her people were dependent daily on humanitarian aid. 

It was deeply distressing to see the dreams of each precious child in Western Sahara left unfulfilled due to the illegal Moroccan occupation, she said.  The Saharawi had not lost hope in the power of diplomacy that one day Western Sahara and Morocco would find a solution through mutual negotiation to end the dispute, and for the Saharawi people and children to exercise their dream of living in freedom, dignity and peace in the land that was in their hearts.

TERESA TÁBOAS VELEIRO, Diputada del Grupo Parlamentar del Bloque Nacionalista Galego en el Parlamento de Galicia, shared poetry written by Saharawi refugees and said that those “voices ringing together” could begin the new journey of the twenty-first century “with poetry”.  She said the life of the Saharawi people, living on land illegally occupied by Morocco, lead her to speak out and demand recognition for that population.  They were a people who had built a way of life over centuries, given shape to a national identity, and were linked to a geographical area.

Those issues, of country and identity, made up the complex situation of the Sahara, she said.  From the nomadic communities of the past, it became a social and collective memory, a “thread of history” that picked up the “traces of their DNA” that had risen through the slow “Arabization” of the desert and through their first contact with European peoples, and finally with occupation, beginning in 1975, by Morocco.

However, she said that since 1988 when Morocco and the Frente Polisario accepted the peace treaty and were set to prepare the referendum and end military confrontation, the years had passed without the problem being solved.  Discrepancies with the census had come to light, but that was a “diversionary tactic”.  The United Nations must back a process of self-determination, which included an option for independence, as it was the only way to ensure the survival of the Saharawi nation, with the ultimate aim of founding a State.

She said the United Nations must set in motion the initiative of the referendum and get more involved in the humanitarian needs of the Saharawi people, and achieve a transparent referendum with full guarantees.  The Saharawi, both from the desert camps and the land occupied by Morocco, had been waiting for more than three decades for international law to be complied with.

EL MAMI BOUSSIF, President of the Council of the Region of Rio de Oro, said there had been failure and setbacks with all of the negotiations under the aegis of the international community on the question of Western Sahara.  All such negotiations had endeavoured to find a fair policy, but they were in vain.  Legitimate questions must be asked regarding the reasons for the failures and why the negotiations had been “doomed to not succeed”.

The obstinacy displayed by Algeria served to ensure that negotiations on the issue amounted to “nothing”, because Algeria only wanted to set up a small State that would be completely under its power, he said.  Such a State would also enable Algeria to have access to the sea, and to cut Morocco off from its African origins.  Furthermore, the Frente Polisario was not free when it came to taking decisions, because it was always under the power of Algerians.

Any lasting solution could only be a political in nature, he continued.  That view had been expressed in Security Council resolutions, as well as in recommendations from the General Assembly.  Morocco had proposed extended self‑determination so that the people of Western Sahara could manage their own affairs, and so that there could be an exit without too much damage.  For their part, Polisario leaders had to bear their responsibilities and free themselves from Algeria’s control in order to respect the best interests of the Saharawi people, he said.

JEREMY CORBYN, Chair of the Western Sahara Group of Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Group, said he had visited the refugee camps in Algeria and the liberated territories, and that to see large numbers of people still living in a refugee camp after 30 years because of the legacy of colonialism had been “deeply shocking”.  The United Nations should ensure a peaceful and just future for the people of Western Sahara –- the Charter and the Committee existed to protect such peoples as the Saharawi, he said, and commended the world body and other organizations that had given practical support to the refugees.

The Saharawi people had a right of return and should be allowed to determine their own future, he said, adding that, within the meaning of the relevant Hague Convention, it was clear that Morocco was an occupying Power.  He noted that the European Union had concluded trade agreements and provided a great deal of support to Morocco, despite protests concerning human rights abuses and the sale of fish from the Western Sahara coast and of minerals extracted from the territory.  That contravened the human rights conditions of European Union trade agreements, as well as The Hague Convention on occupying Powers, he said.  Action must be taken to restore self-determination for the 165,000 people living in forced exile and a just settlement would benefit all people of the region and ensure good relations between all nations of the Maghreb, he said, and added a call for the “end to the last colony in Africa”.

SAHLI-FADEL MAYA, professor of International Law at the University of Algeria, said that participation in the discussion on the question of Western Sahara by people such as her demonstrated the renewed interest and concern in academic circles regarding the issue.  The illegal and brutal occupation by Morocco had become a devastating tragedy that had lasted over time, and had been condemned on more than one occasion.  The United Nations had decisively failed in its commitments regarding democratic duties towards the Saharawi people.  It was important to find a solution regarding the exclusive right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, given the complex situation in which they found themselves.

The principle of international law was just, and one to which no waiver should be allowed, she said.  The Western Sahara territory was considered as non‑autonomous, but that had slid towards another definition –- that of an occupied territory.  Spain remained the Administering Power, but Morocco, as the occupying Power, must bow to all obligations pertaining to the status of the territory.  In addition, it was necessary to extend the mandate the United Nations to ensure the respect of human rights in Western Sahara, she said.

CATE LEWIS, International Coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch, said the aim of her group was to research the resources of the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control and to protect them against exploitation by anyone other than the Saharawi after a vote of self-determination.  She said it was, in fact, the responsibility of the United Nations to protect those resources in a concrete and practical way instead of standing by as they were sold for Morocco’s gain.

She aid that in an important 2008 legal conference hosted by South Africa, an author clarified his analysis by spelling out “unequivocally” that Morocco should be holding the natural resources of Western Sahara in trust for the people until such a time as they could determine their own affairs.  That situation was “very clear in law”, she said, however plunder took place every day with impunity in a number of industries.

For example, she said phosphate mined in the territory was sold at a great profit for a Moroccan State-owned company, without any benefits to the Saharawi people.  Since the Moroccan takeover of the phosphate industry, many Saharawi had lost their jobs and their rights under their Spanish contracts to compensation with a pension.  The price of phosphate rose steeply in 2008, and she estimated that the value of the phosphate filling one large bulk carrier was equivalent to the entire multilateral humanitarian aid going to the Saharawi refugee camps each year.

It was particularly troubling, she said, that three Australian fertilizer companies were importing phosphate mined in Western Sahara, and she noted that “ethically-minded” investors in Sweden and Norway had blacklisted two of the Australian companies involved, Wesfarmers and Incitec Pivot.  Other resources that in danger of exploitation included fish, sand, water, oil, and more recently, tourism, she added.

FRANÇOIS-PAUL BLANC, Professor of Law, specializing in Northern African law, said that the merit in the initiative proposed by Morocco was contained in its democratic element, with a view towards a definitive political settlement.  On substance, it was completely innovative, because it implemented new international standards and went beyond a broadened framework of autonomy in order to consider the model of a regional State.  The State that was proposed by Morocco was something between a unitary State and a federal State.  Morocco had proposed a real, constitution-based regional autonomy, with respect for democratic principles and procedures.

Such a State meant that the autonomous population of Sahara would have, within the territorial limits of the region, State competence, with the exception of attributes of royal authority, he said.  Morocco’s proposal presupposed, of course, a revision of the constitution.  The commitment of Morocco in that regard was “major”, because it presupposed a constitutional re-ordering.

M’BARKA BOUAIDA said she represented a generation of young Saharawi people who needed decent living standards and to maintain their dignity and integrity.  In light of recent social developments, the conflict led to a dual approach, a theoretical one that diminished the problem and placed it in a “modern context”, and a more practical, realistic approach aching for a “daring and intelligent solution”.  That meant that it was necessary to “look reality in the face”.  The critical situation was that living conditions were deteriorating and that there were “flagrant manipulations” at the hands of Algeria.

She said progress had been seen in Morocco regarding human rights.   Morocco had put forward a “very brave suggestion” as to self-determination, and the region would be much stronger at all levels and enjoy living standards consonant with expectations.  Extended autonomy for all prerogatives within that setting would be provided by Morocco.  The region would then be able to focus in developing its culture, economy and society, with the ability to deal in depth with local affairs.

One of the direct consequences of the conflict was the development of smuggling in the region.  That was beyond administrative control and was a threat at all levels.  It also carried the risk of expanded drug trafficking.  She called for a swift solution to the conflict, and for it to be settled in a peaceful, modern fashion in accordance with international low.

SALEK MAOLOUD LEBAIHI, a Saharawi student at Methodist University in North Carolina, said that as a Saharawi citizen who was born and lived most of his life in a refugee camp, he had witnessed and experienced the daily reality of Saharawi refugees.  Such a life was full of suffering and pain, and at the same time, full of promises of peace that never came.  The people of Western Sahara had been waiting for more than three decades for an opportunity to have a say in their future.  Living in one of the most uninhabitable places in the Sahara desert in south-western Algeria, their survival depended on humanitarian aid, which had been decreasing year after year.

It was time to allow the Saharawi people to decide their future in a free and fair referendum, he said.  They alone were the ones eligible to make such a decision.  Self-determination was not just a basic right, but one of the main principles that led to the establishment of the United Nations.  He urged the Committee to act and to use its influence to allow the Western Sahara people to participate in such a referendum and exercise their right of self-determination, no matter what the outcome might be.  Important players such as the United Nations and Spain had a moral responsibility, and they should ensure that the fate of Africa’s last colony would end by a referendum.

ROMÁN LÓPEZ VILLICAÑA, Professor at University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, recalled the words of Peter van Walsum, the previous Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, who stated that the independence of the region was not a realistic option.  The relevant United Nations Assembly resolution stated that any attempt to break, totally or partially, the national unity or territorial unity of a State was incompatible with the Charter.  All people had the right to determine freely their political status in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.

He said the statute of autonomy had been described by the United Nations Secretary-General as an innovative and open initiative.  However, Algeria and the Frente Polisario had tried not to make such progress and had prevented the holding of a referendum.

He said the international community must appeal for firm and honest negotiations between the “brothers and sisters of the Maghreb” as “everything brings them together”, linguistically and spiritually.  Negotiations were therefore the most direct and least costly way of achieving peace, and the segment of the population living in the Tindouf camps must be allowed to return to their homes in the provinces of southern Morocco.

Professor JOSÉ DOBOVŠEK said he believed that the ruling of the International Court of Justice ‑‑ which dated back 30 years ‑‑ was of great significance.  That decision stated that at the time of the Spanish colonization, Morocco had legal ties over the people of the region.  The Court had stated that the link between Morocco and Western Sahara was relevant to the issue at stake, as stated in paragraph 151 of the ruling.  It had also stated that its opinion must be taken into account by the General Assembly, which must implement the decolonization process, taking into account those legal ties.

The Court ruling was not binding on States, but it was legally binding for the General Assembly, he said.  It would be a true scandal in the international community to not accept the ruling of the Court.  The Assembly must steer the process of decolonization in such a way that the solution found respected the interests of all the people involved.  The extreme position of annexation had been shown as unviable and hampered. 

He said the proposal of self-determination was compatible with all the resolutions of the General Assembly, and with the advisory opinion on Western Sahara.  It also respected the legal provisions governing the international community.  In addition, it was a proposal that must be negotiated among the interested parties.  The self-determination proposed was a form of the exercise of the right of self-determination.  As such, the Committee should explore further the possibilities of the proposal as being the most realistic solution.

SERGE LOUNGOU, professor of political geography, said Africa was one of the areas of the world where the problem of the erosion of State sovereignty was the most acute.  That included the development of “grey areas” which were generally the cross-border havens where armed gangs flourished, and their activities swung between political action and crime.  That was the case of the vast Sahara region, which over the years had become a new hotbed of terrorists groups.  The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat was established in 1995 when it split from an Islamic armed group, and Al-Qaida appeared to have a base camp in the region.

The area served as base camps for the training and recruitment of terrorists for various groups, and also facilitated the trafficking of arms, drugs and migrants.  Those additional activities could allow terrorist groups to fund operations and recruit more members.  There was also a clash between these groups and the refugees –- a situation which was very much to be feared.  Should that happen, it would bring with it grave risks for peace and security.

One of the problems stemming from that was that refugees could end up joining the terrorist movements in the region.  Because refugee camps were situated close to military barracks, coexistence between civilian refugees and armed groups, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, could lead young Saharawi people to help themselves to the vast stocks of arms there, or supply them for purchase by terrorist groups.

He said the Frente Polisario was already actively fuelling terrorism in the region, and the exploitation of the region’s weaknesses could lead to refugees “yielding to despair”, and jihadist groups could find the camps to be fertile ground for recruitment for possible terrorists.  That was also due to the individual weaknesses of States in the region and their failure to cooperate with one with another.  The lack of hope, born from the failure to see a solution, may compel people in Western Sahara to join ranks with the terrorists, he said.

KEI NAKAGAWA, researcher in matters of the Maghreb and Sahara, said Morocco had been making vast efforts regarding the development of the region.  It had undertaken a large number of projects in the region in the framework of an effort to bring the region in line with other Moroccan regions.  For example, a national initiative for human development had been launched as part of that approach.  Morocco’s proposal was also part of a vision of the future, aimed at providing the region with local democratic institutions. 

Her research had found that, in the context of evaluating what had been done in the provinces to meet the Millennium Development Goals, Morocco’s efforts were well-appreciated by the Saharawi population.  Morocco had adopted many mechanisms through which to implement the human development process, through a global, participatory approach.  Such an approach also related to other regions in the country, and showed Morocco’s good faith and its desire to not leave the Sahara Region out of its development plans.

The proposal for autonomy was considered by many Asian experts in international law as an historic opportunity to establish all necessary conditions for a just, definitive settlement of the dispute, she said.  As for the human rights situation in the region, a comparison of the situation of the Saharawi population in the southern provinces of Morocco and the Tindouf camps showed that there were major differences.  Reports from the Tindouf camps showed severe military control, and noted that thousands had tried to flee the camps to go back to their country of origin –- Morocco, she said.

MIQUEL CARRILLO GIRALT, Deputy of the Parliament of Catalonia, said that he had seen the extreme conditions under which the Saharawi were living in the Algerian desert and said Morocco had condemned a nation to live without land, although its territory existed in northwest Africa.  Eighteen years had passed since the Saharawi had signed a ceasefire conditioned on the immediate preparation of a referendum that had yet to take place because no firm date had been set and because Morocco refused to hold it.  He called on Member States to put an end to Morocco’s violation of the will of the international community.

The Saharawi people wanted a political solution to the conflict, he said.  Morocco was violating all articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he called on the United Nations to take all necessary measures to enforce existing agreements, including the provision of clear instructions to Morocco, as the occupying Power, and Spain, as the former colonial Power, that had not yet completed the decolonization.  Among other things, he called for an end to repression in Moroccan occupied territory; the removal of the 2,500 kilometre wall constructed by Morocco; and the deactivation of millions of landmines in Western Sahara.  Further, he called for information on the status of 500 missing persons and the 150 prisoners of war, and the cessation of the illegal economic exploitation of Western Sahara.

KARL ADDICKS, Member of German Parliament, said he was convinced that the offer of autonomy was the best solution, for the time being, and the territorial status quo should not be changed.  It was a proven fact that visitors could not move freely in the camps, and the number of “inmates” was probably much lower than quoted by others.  Inmates had no free access to media, no free choice of what to read, where to phone, whom to meet, and where to go.  During the so-called “family exchange program”, only one person at a time was permitted to go to Western Sahara -- never an entire family together.

As a German, he said that reminded him of the methods of the former German Democratic Republic, and that the inmates were not staying deliberately in the camps, but were detained by those who wished to seize and maintain power in a new State, doing so in their own interest, not in the interest of the Saharawi.  He suggested that all the people in the camps, whether they be called refugees or detainees, should return to the Western Sahara Region, where they should have autonomy and enjoy human rights and liberty, as well as a better life.

He said there was a new atmosphere of liberalisation and democratization in Morocco, which was “very good and hopeful”.  Conversely, the Frente Polisario was still not open to a step-by-step solution, as they wanted “all or nothing” now, depriving their people of chances.  Their miserable lives in the camps were set up for propaganda and agitation.  It would be far better to accept the Moroccan proposal for autonomy and self-administration instead of waiting another 30 years.  The Saharawi should “vote with their feet”, as the East Germans had done, and go back to their homeland now, with the support and the assistance of the United Nations.

FALA BOUSSOLA, Member of Parliament from the Socialist Party of Morocco, said that the great majority of inhabitants of the Sahara lived in peace and contributed to society.  The majority of the region’s inhabitants also made major contributions in terms of the work that they provided.  In particular, women had a leading role in society.  They were decision-makers and ensured that women were present throughout all production sectors.  Such actions were proof of Morocco’s endeavours that women enjoyed the place they deserved.  Women, furthermore, also played a role in public life, she said. 

Progress had been made by the country to address inequality and all forms of discrimination.  Such progress had enabled everyone to play a part in the decision-making process.  Regarding the question of Western Sahara, she said the only solution was the autonomy proposed by Morocco.  She also appealed to the other parties, urging them to view their positions without any vested interests, so that solutions could be found.  Only in that manner could there be an honourable solution to the issue.

DENIS DUCARME, Member of Belgian Parliament, said that in the debate on Western Sahara, things were often seen in black and white, a division of the ordeal that he believed was “short sighted”.  It was the quest for compromise and peacemaking that would inspire change.  He said the conflict was a page of history that “must be turned”.  The deadlock must yield to progress in negotiations, so that the protagonists would then be able to devote their efforts to developing resources, democratization, and the building of a social fabric.

He said that, like many of his European colleagues, he hoped for increased cooperation between the European Union and the Maghreb region, and hoped that the latter would set aside old ideologies and old nationalisms, and work towards cooperation within the framework of building a Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.  In that regard, he said the Moroccan proposal for autonomy was both serious and credible.  It was an important initiative, and he appealed to the United Nations to give “new dynamics” to the process and extract it from the status quo.

Speaking of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said the issue was unfortunately not currently adequately reflected in the attention given to Western Sahara.  It had been seen that the Frente Polisario did not respect this Convention, as both younger and older children were sent from the camps to other countries for their education.

It might then be natural to conclude that the Frente Polisario was not able to ensure the education of its youth, but it also sadly pointed to violations of the Convention, as the children who were sent away were left with no family contact for periods ranging from 10 to 15 years.  Further violations were still “hypothetical” and being studied by jurists.  He said the United Nations must ensure the effectiveness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Above and beyond the conflict’s general problems, he appealed to the international community to give attention to this aspect of the situation, where young people were deprived of their rights, and taken from their families.  The shared universal values of the Convention on the Rights of the Child demanded more attention.

MOHAMMAD ZIYAD AL JABARI said that after many years of conflict in Western Sahara, there were now prospects of a solution because of the ambitious plan submitted by Morocco.  Morocco’s initiative was welcomed by a number of countries, who had found it to be a realistic plan to bring about an end to a conflict that had lasted more than three decades.  The status in the region had become clear when the International Court of Justice in 1975 declared that the Sahara was not a region before colonization by Spain, but rather, was under the Kingdom of Morocco at the time.

There was a certain amount of information that had been obtained from the Tindouf refugee camps, and that information obliged the world to note the constant violations of human rights.  He asked the Committee Chairperson to verify the information so that an end could be put to the violations.  Such verification was necessary so that the persons living in the camps would be able to exercise their social and human rights, and so that they could go back to their homelands.  There was evidence of Morocco’s serious will to resolve the conflict, and he welcomed such will and solid efforts to bolster the rule of law and bring about development of the Moroccan Saharawan Region.  All parties involved should accept the Moroccan proposal, because the Region could not bear further conflict, he concluded.

SANTIAGO NCHAMA, graduate in international relations and public administration and spokesman for the Parliamentary Group of Equatorial Guinea, said the practices of the United Nations were based on the elements of history, religion and culture, and had to deal realistically with historical, political, and geographical situations in order to bring about the peaceful settlement of a conflict.

That was why a majority of the decolonization cases had been solved through negotiations between Administering Powers and the will of the people, in full compliance with the principle of self-determination.  Autonomy could validly be seen as a modern and democratic means to self-determination, and it offered certain advantages in terms of preserving the territorial integrity of States.

From that standpoint, autonomy could be a factor in international stability, with limited adverse affects of secession.  Those who wanted to preserve territorial integrity and had demands for a certain degree of self-government, could only praise, commend and support the mission of autonomy to put an end in a peaceful way to a conflict that had lasted over four decades.

That initiative had been developed in a responsible way, to guarantee to the population of the region the democratic handling in its affairs, and ensure participation of the people in politics and social life.  The proposal constituted a promising, forward-looking initiative that met the requirements of the Security Council and was a good basis for negotiations in the search for a definite, realistic settlement of the dispute.  The autonomy proposal was an ambitious, open, modern, and pragmatic plan that was a good opportunity for the Maghreb to extract itself from the conflict and unite its peoples with a shared historic destiny.

FRANZ MEKYNA, President of the Institut Austria Morocco, said that Algerian politicians had a hostile attitude towards Morocco and if an artificial state was created in the region, it would lead to even more instability.  To solve the political dispute between the two countries, he asked Western nations, including the United States, to try their best to mediate between the parties.  With regard to Morocco’s population, he said they were “following the highest spiritual principles” and were led by saintly leaders such as the eighteenth century King, Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah, “a spiritual brother of Abraham Lincoln”.  Morocco’s many achievements –- in education, economically, with regard to health care as well as human and women’s rights –- bore that out, especially given Morocco’s limited resources.

He had witnessed how Morocco had invested vast sums in water desalination systems, infrastructure and schools, and knew that Saharawi were fully included in local governance.  “If you say they have stolen other people’s land and resources, this is wrong,” he said, adding that 98 per cent of the Saharawi were going to school in the southern provinces.  “The children and their families are very happy.  They’ve got everything, even modern hospitals and established economic and social structures.”  With his own eyes, he had seen the thousands of homes, which had been constructed for them.  He called for the opening of the Algerian and Moroccan borders and asked Algeria, Morocco and the Saharawi to forgive each other.

AHMED MGHIZLAT, Member of the Conseil Royal Consultatif des Affaires Sahariennes, said that the continuation of the conflict in Western Sahara was unacceptable and inconceivable, because it had lasted for more than 35 years and had condemned the countries of the Maghreb region to live in a shadow that was created entirely by Algeria.  The problem was political in nature, and it had also taken on a regional dimension, he said.  Indeed, it was well within the framework of Morocco’s efforts to find a solution. 

The self-determination initiative was desired and supported by all Saharawi people, generally speaking.  As someone who lived in the region and was familiar with the problem on a firsthand basis, he would say “yes” to autonomy.  The initiative to grant autonomous self-determination was compatible with United Nations resolutions, and was also compatible with the United Nations Charter.  Morocco’s proposal was the only viable solution likely to lead to strong and far-reaching reconciliation.  It was the only way to ensuring stability in the area and lasting development for the region of the Maghreb and the Mediterranean.

LORENZO OLARTE, former Vice-President of the Canary Islands, said the Canary Islands were just 100 kilometres from the coast of Spain, and that for centuries the two peoples had trade relations and friendship which led to a truly fraternal affection between the Saharawi and the population of the Canaries.  He said there had been important developments in Western Sahara, and some positive change, thanks to sizeable amounts which had been allocated in the Canary Islands budget for humanitarian aid in the Saharawi camps.

However, he said there had been many problems since the decolonization by Spain, and the census had been one of the main obstacles.  That census -- never completed by Spain -- posed many problems, not only because of nomadism, but because of the number of deaths and births, and the many changes that had taken place since decolonization.  Today the region was facing the “tremendous trauma” of families who wanted to reunite, and those with interests in the region must avoid giving in to the temptation of returning to the tragedies of the past and the wounds of violence which could “help no one”.  The international community must recognize that Algeria, because of its negative hostility towards Morocco, as was evidenced by yesterday’s petitioners, had tried to keep the fires burning “not with wood, but with gas” to create an even stronger fire.

He said Algeria’s assistance in Western Sahara was of a self-interested nature, so that ancient yearnings could be achieved -- an outlet to the Atlantic, a strategic positioning that was important on a global scale.  There was nothing new in that or in what Algeria did over 60 years ago in providing assistance to the independence movement of the Canaries, which itself had started on the basis of terrorism.  Autonomy would be an invaluable assistance to the Saharawi peoples as a whole, giving them their own legislative power, and a parliament that could help to recover peace, which must be properly grounded.

WASHINGTON SALAZAR VARELA, from Ecuador, said he believed that the Committee would endeavour to take the best actions so that the people of Western Sahara could achieve a true peace.  There were many examples of United Nations endeavours to try to resolve the conflict, but yet a solution had not been achieved in the past 30 years.  He called on all parties involved to find a solution so that everyone could live in peace. 

Borders were unjustly invented to divide human beings, he continued.  If there were no borders, all would live happily.  It was the responsibility of Member States to come together to help achieve a final and lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara.  States should stop “beating about the bush”, and ensure that countries could enjoy peace and calm, “and that each country can enjoy what it has”.  Ambition was one of the human feelings that led to the continuation of that sort of conflict.  Such a conflict in the twenty-first century should be stopped “once and for all”.  It was necessary to stand together with the brothers and sisters in Sahara to try to see the conflict resolved peacefully and not by war, he concluded.

TAMEK ABDERRAHMANE, Director of le Chambre de l’Artisanat, Dakhla, said the Sahel had become a new home for terrorist groups.  In recent years, the region had suddenly come to the forefront in the international arena and was no longer forgotten by history.  It was becoming a real concern to Africa and a threat to global peace and security.  Current concerns about, and actions taken to address, traffickers and terrorist groups had been necessary, but were however inadequate to eradicate the threat, especially as the region’s borders were porous and virtually uncontrolled.  For any initiative to succeed, a number of factors needed to be taken into consideration.

Algeria must assume full responsibly in the situation which continued to worsen, he said, that country was the richest and largest nation in the region.  However, through that country, fundamentalism and terrorism had infiltrated into the Maghreb and the Sahel.   Algeria profited from its oil resources, and the most deadly weapons were purchased and trafficked at the expense of the needs of the Algerian people.  Dozens of contracts for arms purchases from the “most modern countries of the world” were made.  

He could not help but wonder at the effects of such a policy, if Algerians could not even control their own territory and stop the wave of violence carried out by extremists.  He said the region was insecure, and experience had shown that problems of violence could not be addressed without the participation of all affected countries.  To eliminate the threat, a climate of transparency, trust and serenity must be established.

ROBERTO RAMON ACEVEDO QUEVEDO, from Paraguay, said that the matter of Western Sahara continued to cause heated debate in the United Nations as it moved forward in its endeavours to find a resolution to the conflict.  Meanwhile, the people of Western Sahara continued to suffer the consequences.  The Secretary-General had described in his report his concern regarding the human dimension of the conflict.  The parties were required to ensure the respect of human rights of the people of Western Sahara, in both the territory and the refugee camps, because there could be no peace and reconciliation anywhere in the world without observing the basic principles of mutual coexistence.

Commending the work on the part of UNHCR in organizing family visits in the refugee camps of Western Sahara, he said all parties must continue negotiations to extend the program, so that an increasing number of families might be involved.  Likewise, a peaceful solution required the support of all parties involved.  He expressed hope that the forthcoming meetings would make a solution possible, under the aegis of the Secretary-General and in accordance with the principles of international law, in order that there could be substantive negotiations to achieve a lasting solution to the question.

JAVIER ASPURU ORIBE, Diputado Foral de Juventud y Promocion Social de la Diputacion Foral de Alava, said that although he had made visits to the Saharawi territories and had seen the suffering there, it seemed that Western Sahara was a “forgotten conflict”.  After Spain’s “shameful escapade” in the territory, it had become an endless dispute.  Abuses had been committed there for years, and had been denounced by various international organizations.

During his own visit last September, for two days he had spoken with different human rights associations, such as Mothers of Disappeared Children, among others.  He also spoke of activists detained in Casablanca, who were accused of treason, and arrested “simply for being Saharawi who wanted independence”.  As the Administering Power responsible, Spain should contribute to a just solution to the problem of Western Sahara, and refrain from contributing to a regime that was anchored in the past.  There could be no political agreement without attaining reparation for victims, and an end should be put to the walls being built.

VALENTINO PERIN, Senator of the Italian Northern League, said that as a Senator, he was particularly sensitive to the aspirations of all the people in the world.  The high number of people living in humiliating conditions in the camps needed to be addressed, and those people needed to return to their homeland of Morocco.  Many people had been kept in the territory for 34 years without any possibility of leaving.

The Government of Morocco had attempted to acknowledge the autonomy of the proud and noble people of the region, he said.  In addition, people needed to bear better responsibility in governance regarding various areas, such as taxation.  The links between the Republic of Venice and Morocco went back 500 years.  He believed that Morocco, via its initiative for autonomy, would display its continued tradition of tolerance.

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