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GA/SPD/582
12 October 2015
Seventieth Session, 4th Meeting (AM)

As Fourth Committee Continues Hearings, Petitioners Warn that Disputed Western Sahara Could Become ‘Safe Haven’ for Terrorists

Members Told about Rights Abuses, Poor Conditions in Tindouf Refugee Camps

Petitioners on the question of Western Sahara voiced strident opinions on the long-standing dispute as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its annual debate on decolonization matters this morning, with experts warning that the contested territory could become a “safe haven for terrorism” if the issue was not promptly resolved.

A number of speakers described Morocco as the “occupying” Power, saying it was committing human rights abuses and pilfering the Territory’s natural resources, in particular its natural stock of phosphates.  Others, however, praised the country for improving living conditions in Western Sahara, and blamed the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario) and neighbouring Algeria for allowing poor living conditions in its Tindouf refugee camps.

Conditions in the camps were a major source of contention throughout the meeting, as several speakers emphasized that the discussion should be focused solely on Western Sahara, not neighbouring countries.  Others countered that the Saharan people inhabited the camps, and any discussion about Western Sahara could not exclude them.

Several speakers accused the Frente Polisario of intercepting humanitarian aid intended for the Tindouf camps.  In that regard, Nancy Huff of Teach the Children International said that, after much of her organization’s aid had been stolen and sold on the black market, she had gone from supporting the Frente Polisario to believing that the autonomous resettlement plan offered by Morocco was the most reliable and credible solution to the question of Western Sahara.

Gísli Kr. Björnsson stressed that broader international action was needed across the Sahel, adding that extremists from Mali had found refuge in other countries and territories of the region, including around the Tindouf camps.  Describing terrorism and separatism as threats to the entire region, as were traffickers in drugs and human beings, he said Morocco had shown commitment to Western Sahara’s security and deserved praise for carrying out reforms in a dangerous region.

Jose Maria Gil Garre, Director of Terrorism Studies at the Global Security Institute, said there was no possible solution to the issue of Western Sahara other than the autonomy proposal presented by Morocco.  The United Nations, by maintaining the status quo, was opening the door to further conflict that could allow international terrorism to take root in the Territory.  “Any conflict in the region will be used by terrorist opportunists,” he warned.  The Saharan people must be allowed to live as part of the Moroccan Kingdom in the spirit of advanced regionalization.

The trend towards regionalization, which had been brought about by Morocco, could promote social and economic development in Western Sahara, said El Hadji Moctar Haidara, President of the Fédération Mondiale des Amis du Sahara Marocain.  In addition, it could foster reconciliation and allow populations to take their destiny into their own hands.

A number of other petitioners, however, felt that the best way to grant Western Sahara the right to self-determination would be to hold a status referendum backed by the United Nations or to recognize the Territory as the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic.  Jan Strömdahl, of Föreningen Västsahara, stressed the need to end Morocco’s “brutal military occupation” of Western Sahara and to understand the extent of the repression against Saharan activists and against the Frente Polisario.  “Please join us in the recognition movement,” he urged Committee members.

Similarly, Vanessa Ramos of the American Association of Jurists said the “inhumane” conditions suffered by Western Saharan political prisoners, as well as the theft of the Territory’s phosphates, were worrying.  The Association, which supported the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the defence of human rights, supported the proposal to hold a status referendum in Western Sahara.

Saida Brahim Bounab, President of the Groupe inter-parlementaire d’Amitié Algérie-Sahara Occidental, said the Saharan people had struggled peacefully to compel the international community to find a solution to the situation of the “last colony in Africa”.  The wall of “humiliation and shame” that separated Moroccan-controlled areas from those under the Frente Polisario was intended to sow the seeds of isolation.  The United Nations must shoulder its historic responsibility and expedite an impartial and just referendum, she stressed.

Also speaking today were petitioners from the United States, Europe, Algeria, Morocco, Argentina and Western Sahara.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 October, to continue its deliberations on decolonization issues.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its hearing of petitioners on Western Sahara.  For further background information, see Press Releases GA/SPD/580 of 8 October and GA/SPD/581 of 9 October.

Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

JAN STRÖMDAHL, Föreningen Västsahara, said that the best way to grant independence to Western Sahara would be to recognize the Territory.  Sweden was more interested in peace than war; it would stop the brutal military occupation and recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a first step.  The country was not alone in the world in that belief, but it was alone in Europe because no Western States had recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to date.  “The European Union has been more interested in dirhams, in fishing, in oil and in phosphates,” he said.  It was important to understand the extent of the repression against Saharan activists and against the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario).  Morocco’s furious reaction showed that Sweden could not possibly change its Western Sahara policy.  “Please join us in the recognition movement,” he said.

RAFAEL JULES VALENTINUS MARIA CUSTERS, GRESEA, said that the Moroccan State controlled the phosphates business and extraction in Western Sahara, which comprised three quarters of global reserves, and was the world’s third largest producer of the the non-renewable resource.  “This is a snake-biting-its-own-tail situation,” he said, noting that Morocco had given itself the right to mine at Boucraa.  Morocco considered Western Sahara to be its southern provinces, and its data were always consolidated and presented as Moroccan data.  Continued mining at Boucraa was illegal from the people’s point of view.  Morocco had acquired the mining rights through a deal with Spain, yet the permanent sovereignty over the Territory’s natural resources belonged to its people.

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, said the Saharans needed humanitarian aid, without which they could not survive.  She recalled that in 1999, she had committed to sending that aid and over the next seven years, had facilitated the transportation of more than 30 containers with the help of several other non-governmental organizations.  After several containers had gone missing, she had decided not to send more aid because too much had disappeared, and she had then gone from supporting Frente Polisario to believing that the autonomous resettlement plan offered by Morocco was the most reliable and credible solution to the question of Western Sahara.  She said that she had realized, following the publication of the European Anti-Fraud Office’s findings, that copious amounts of aid had been sold by Frente Polisario on the black market, thereby demonstrating a blatant disregard for the people it was using to make a political statement to the international community.

STACY PEARSON, Protected Future, said that, whether the Committee supported Morocco’s or Frente Polisario’s perspective, it must agree that conditions in Algeria’s Tindouf refugee camps were inadequate and unacceptable.  Aid workers were no longer ignorant of the plight of the victims.  By calling them refugees, their captors could exploit the availability of human aid to support an inflated, self-reported and unconfirmed population.  Excess aid never reached the camps, but instead was illegally siphoned off and used for purposes of global terrorism.  United Nations Member States heard testimonies on that issue every year, yet they had failed to stop the suffering in the desert.  The atrocities could no longer be blamed on Morocco, but on the abusive and well-compensated Frente Polisario.  Its crimes were now the fault of its United Nations keepers.  She urged the Committee to consider the autonomy plan as a viable option.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said the petitioner’s description of the refugees as terrorists and traffickers was an insult to the refugees.  If it were true, would the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and several non-governmental organizations participate and pay regular visits?  He asked for a clarification.

Ms. PEARSON said that many of the statements she had made recapped issues that the Committee had already heard and asked why no census had been carried out in the camps.  She asked what Algeria had to lose by carrying out such a census.

The representative of Algeria said he did not know whether the petitioner had come to bring information to the Committee or to ask questions.

CARROLL EADS, Capitol Hill Prayer Partners, said that, while she had never visited the Tindouf camps, she had taken up the cause of seeing the Saharans return to their homeland, and had met with ambassadors and key leaders on the issue, urging them to become active on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves.  She said that, as an educator, humanitarian and a person of prayer, she felt that the plight of the Saharan people affected the entire world.  The United Nations had come to a stalemate on the issue of who could vote if a referendum was held in the Western Sahara, she noted, urging the Committee to consider the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco in order to grant the Saharan people the right to self-determination.

DONNA SAMS, Antioch Community Church, said the United Nations had brought the players together in talks which had ultimately failed.  Subsequently, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been formed and there had been a process to identify who should vote in a referendum.  Today, a policy of “shuttle diplomacy” was also failing.  Pointing out that a referendum would never work unless the parties agreed on certain issues, she said it was the Saharan children who were suffering the most.  While Frente Polisario held the issue in limbo, the children continued to go without education and other basic services, she said, noting that the autonomy plan had been supported by the Security Council.

GÍSLI KR. BJÖRNSSON said broader international action was needed in the Sahel region.  Extremists from Mali had found refuge in other countries and territories of the region, including around the Tindouf camps.  The Sahel region had become a safe haven for terrorist groups, including those associated with Al‑Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS).  Terrorism and separatism were a threat to the entire region, he stressed, as were traffickers in drugs and human beings.  Porous borders had allowed organized crime to thrive and the population there was exceedingly vulnerable.  There was a need to focus on regional cooperation in the Territory, and Morocco — as the most stable country in the region and having shown commitment to Western Sahara’s security — had proposed several solutions.  The time had come to remove all obstacles to peace, and Morocco deserved praise for carrying out reforms in a dangerous region, he said, urging the international community to strengthen its support for that country.

The representative of Mali, expressing regret that his country had been named despite it not being involved in the topic under discussion, asked the petitioner to withdraw his statement about Mali.

RAKIYA EDDARHEM, Member of Parliament, said Morocco had organized regional elections to complete the referendum process, and had realized a high level of participation based on broad reform, which proved that Western Sahara was attached to participation in regional programmes.  The efforts of Frente Polisario to boycott the vote had failed and the group had put pressure on the Saharans to secede.  Frente Polisario had not achieved its aims; Saharans wanted the democratic process, she said.

DAVID LIPPIATT, WE International, said he had not only studied the situation in Western Sahara for more than 14 years, but had also travelled to the refugee camps more than half a dozen times with members of the United States Congress and non-governmental organizations.  The Saharans were not the terrorists; they needed protection from human rights violations at the hands of the Moroccan Government.  MINURSO should be allowed to report on human rights violations in Western Sahara through the inclusion of a human rights monitoring mandate and implementation of the long-promised self-determination referendum on Western Sahara’s independence.  He recalled that, in his April 2014 report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called for “sustained, independent and impartial monitoring of human rights”.  However, WE International had witnessed the failure of those human rights mechanisms in the Moroccan State, he said, adding that Frente Polisario would welcome the extension of monitoring in the camps.  Morocco had accepted its obligations under the United Nations Charter, and had signed and ratified several international human rights treaties.  Morocco said it believed in human rights, but denied the Saharans theirs.

MAHJOUBA DAOUDI, Sahara Media Centre, said she was a simple Saharan who had crossed almost 9,000 kilometres to make an appeal, but could only speak about Western Sahara and not the camps at Tindouf, where half of her family had been kept for 40 years.  The United Nations painted Western Sahara as a matter of sovereignty when it was a matter of population, of people.  She said she could not speak about the members of her family within Tindouf without speaking about Algeria.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said that because of the formality of the United Nations, it was not acceptable that the petitioner speak in such a manner.

Ms. DAOUDI said she had spoken in proper form and with all due respect, and could neither speak about the Territory without mentioning the camps in Tindouf, nor speak about Tindouf without mentioning Algeria.  The camps were located in that country and Algeria bore full responsibility for her family’s suffering of 40 years.

JANET LENZ, Not Forgotten International, said she represented hundreds of Americans who had spent time with Saharans in their desert homes over the past 16 years.  Recounting the tale of a baby girl named Laila, born in the camps with skin problems and asthma, she said there had been no adequate treatment for her and she had become frail and died of an asthma attack.  Contrasting Laila with a healthy child in the United States, her own grandson, she said the Saharans did not deserve to be pawns in an evil political game that made wealth and power a priority over human beings who followed the rules and held to peace.  There were “too many Lailas” who had paid the deadly price in a game of nations and power, she said, urging that a date be set for a referendum, that the international community do something about Morocco’s illegal theft of natural resources and about human rights abuses, and that the “wall of shame” be dismantled.

EVA PFOESTL said that, since the outbreak of hostilities in Western Sahara in 1975, the conflict had continued to be fed by Algeria’s direct involvement.  Integrating Western Sahara into its territory was one of that country’s major objectives.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said that Western Sahara, and not his country, was the focus of the agenda item.

The representative of Morocco, also speaking on a point of order, said Algeria had once again “taken the Committee hostage”.  The item was about a territory and its peoples, and it could not be discussed without discussing those in the Tindouf camps.  The Algerian representative’s attitude showed that his country was behind the regional dispute over Western Sahara.

The representative of Algeria said: “We are not here to delve into what Morocco has been delving into” on the subject of Western Sahara.  The Committee should stick to the item on the agenda.

The representative of Morocco said his delegation had not interrupted any petitioner.  The Committee was meeting to hear from the petitioners, he stressed.

Ms. PFOESTL said the birth of a friendly State and a Frente Polisario leadership in the region would tip the balance in favour of Algeria.

EL HADJI MOCTAR HAIDARA, President of the Fédération Mondiale des Amis du Sahara Marocain, said that, for more than three decades, Morocco had been seeking ways to resolve the dispute in Western Sahara, adding that it was important to bear in mind that the Territory had always been part and parcel of that country.  The trend towards regionalization, brought about by Morocco, could bring about local social and economic development for populations in the region, in addition to fostering reconciliation.  Populations could take their destiny into their own hands and push the country forward.

JOSE MARIA GIL GARRE, Director of Terrorism Studies, Global Security Institute, said there was no possible solution to the issue of Western Sahara other than the autonomy proposal presented by Morocco.  The Saharan people were not a homogenous whole, and the United Nations, by maintaining the status quo, was opening the door to further conflict that could allow international terrorism to take root in the Territory.  “Terrorism is an inevitable outcome of this situation,” he said.  “Any conflict in the region will be used by terrorist opportunists.”  The Saharan people must be allowed to live as part of the Moroccan Kingdom in the spirit of advanced regionalization.

TANYA WARBURG, Freedom For All, said that, when she had visited Morocco’s southern provinces earlier in the year, she had seen that living standards were rising and there was continuing substantial public and private investment in infrastructure and commercial facilities.  A vibrant civil society existed, and numerous human rights groups and non-governmental organizations operated freely, including those which opposed the Moroccan State.  Meanwhile, in the Tindouf camps in south-west Algeria, tens of thousands of men, women and children had endured 40 years of appalling deprivation and desolation, exacerbated by poverty, illness and brutality.  Despite countless demands from the Secretary-General and others for unrestricted access to Tindouf and for a census, no registration of the camps’ inhabitants had ever taken place.  The region was increasingly unstable and dangerous, and criminal and terrorist groups roamed at will.  Freedom For All believed that Morocco’s “serious and credible” autonomy plan for Western Sahara was still the best means of resolving the conflict, she said.

ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Internazionale Femminile Democratica di Centro, asked the Committee to end the ordeal of the women and children in the Tindouf camps.  Since the international community had seen the drama in the Middle East unfold, it must not let them fall victim.

The Chair of the Committee reminded the speaker to restrict her statement to the item on the agenda — the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Ms. CERVONE went on to say that she had visited the south of Morocco, where she had met women who had escaped from the camps.  They had been victims of sexual abuse and forced procreation.  Slavery was still being practised in the twenty-first century, and the fate of the women had been decided by the “judges” in Frente Polisario.  She urged the Committee to free the women and remove the blockade imposed by Frente Polisario.

The Chair reminded the speaker to restrict her comments to the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories.

SAID AYACHI, Comité National Algérien de Solidarité avec le Peuple Sahraoui, said that, despite the justified denunciations by observers and petitioners, Morocco continued to violate the human rights of the Saharans, silencing them on a daily basis through beatings, arrests, torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killings.  For 40 years, Morocco had also been party to the criminal plundering of Western Sahara, taking its resources and denying its people self-determination.  It was time to end the ordeal of the Saharan people by expanding the mandate of MINURSO and organizing, as quickly as possible, a referendum on their self-determination, as mandated by the peace plan.

CHEIKH SIDI EL MOKHTAR EL KANTAOUI, Association Marocaine pour le Développement d’Oued Eddahab-Lagouira, noted that one could not speak about Western Sahara without discussing the situation of those living in the Tindouf camps.  He asked if they were truly refugees, as claimed by Algeria, pointing out that the population in the camps was less than that stated by the host country, which was trying to conceal the tragedy taking place there.  The ambiguity of the legal status of those living in the camps and their true numbers served the purposes of the host country, he said, adding that they were Morocco’s “folk and cousins”.  He appealed to the Committee to finalize the status of the Saharan people and to give them refugee cards.

SYDNEY ASSOR, Chairman of the Surrey Three Faiths Forum, said that, in the camps, the ailing were denied basic treatment.  Malnutrition prevailed as humanitarian aid was diverted.  Those concerned had time and time again denounced the embezzlement by “jailers and their sponsors”, which enabled them to feast while their captives starved.  He said he wished to draw the international community’s attention to its “flagrant inaction” about those “wretched people deprived of their basic human rights”.  Considering the inertia concerning those abuses, it seemed that human rights were no longer a priority for the international community.

LAHCEN MAHRAOUI, CORCAS, said that for 40 years the human rights of the Saharan people, including their freedom of movement, had been violated.  Malnutrition affected women, children and the elderly.  Humanitarian aid was siphoned off by Frente Polisario and the Algerian State refused to register that population, which lacked all the rights of refugees.  Further, the population of the camps were targets of terrorism and trafficking.  It was essential to combat the efforts of Frente Polisario, which was trying to manipulate the international community.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said the petitioner should not refer to his country in any way.

The Chair reminded the speaker to stick to the topic at hand.

The representative of Algeria, again speaking on a point of order, said it was not the right of the petitioner to discuss items not on the Committee’s agenda.

Mr. MAHRAOUI went on to call upon the international community to put pressure on those responsible for the “abduction” of the Saharan people, who felt that Morocco’s proposal was the best way forward.  Through that proposal, the Saharans could have autonomy and self-determination, while the impasse and the danger it posed for the entire region would be eliminated.

JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, said refugees who were crossing into Europe, and those living in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, had little in common with the refugees detained in the camps near Tindouf.  The latter lacked the right to travel and relocate to other countries, and did not have travel documents.  Meanwhile, Frente Polisario leaders enjoyed freedom of movement while campaigning for their cause and professing to represent the Saharan people.  Saharan women who had escaped the camps reported inhumane conditions, including exclusion, sexual harassment and a lack of freedom.  Very young girls were sexually abused and forcibly impregnated in an attempt by Frente Polisario leaders to increase the population in the camps.  Without a census, there was no way to know the exact number of births, deaths, early marriages and cases of disability and violence, which prevented the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from profiling the population for humanitarian and protection needs.  A solution must be found, and the only viable solution was Morocco’s autonomy plan, she said.

ELISA WALLESKA KRÜGER ALVES DA COSTA urged the Committee to end the suffering of the women in the Tindouf camps, who suffered physical violence, sexual harassment and slavery.  There were cases of Saharan women who had escaped from the camps and were now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  They did not receive any mental health services in the camps, she said, pointing out that the separation of the camps and their patrolling by Frente Polisario officers led to a condition called “space perception disorder”, from which the majority of people in the camps suffered.  She called on the United Nations to help the Saharan people, especially women and children.

BRAHIM EL AHMADI said the latest report by the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) detailed the ways in which officials in Algeria benefited from Frente Polisario’s siphoning of resources.  Not only was the assistance siphoned off, the Algerians also collected taxes on the aid.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said that levelling accusations against Algeria had nothing to do with the agenda item and was not appropriate.

The representative of Morocco noted that Algeria’s representative was once again using the same kind of repression in the Committee as his country used against the people “abducted” in Tindouf.

The Chair requested that all speakers stick to the item on the agenda.

Mr. EL AHMADI went on to say that most of the assistance siphoned off was hidden — it was quite common to present false invoices to donors and to overestimate the number of refugees in Tindouf.  The European Union had adopted a resolution endorsing the OLAF findings, he said, urging the Committee to ensure that the people mentioned in the OLAF report no longer had access to the Tindouf camps.

CHABBOUHA BAIBA, Forum pour le Développement de la Femme, said that when she had left the refugee camps and settled in Morocco, the Moroccan authorities had received her family very well, providing them with decent housing and finding her father a Government job.  She had received her education in El Ayoun, which had become a very functional city since it had joined its Moroccan homeland.  The family had made colossal sacrifices to go to Morocco and help Western Sahara, but there were many Saharans with university degrees who were involved in development projects in Western Sahara, helping it achieve progress.  However, youngsters in the Tindouf camps could not go to the homeland, and had no future due to the living conditions in the camps.  They had been sent to other regions by Frente Polisario to be brainwashed and turned into enemies of the homeland, Morocco.

FATIHA LAMINE said that, every year, “we place our hopes for the settlement of this dispute in the hands of this Committee”,  but every year, “we are bitterly disappointed”.  The Saharan people still suffered in the Tindouf camps.  Recalling that, since 1975, Morocco had spent billions of dollars to make Western Sahara habitable, she said she had been born and continued to live happily there.  In the Tindouf camps, however, people lived in terrible conditions under the yoke of Frente Polisario.  Asking who was responsible, she said that the group carried out its crimes in a “no man’s land” created by Algeria.  Indeed, that State was responsible for protecting the rights of all people living on its territory.

VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said her organization fully supported the principles of self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the defence of human rights.  Western Sahara was a case of colonization and illegal invasion, and the General Assembly had condemned the systematic theft of natural resources of colonized territories.  The “inhumane” conditions suffered by Western Saharan political prisoners, as well as the theft of phosphates there, were worrying.  The Territory should have a self‑determination referendum, she said, adding that Spain continued to be the administering Power, and, alongside the United Nations, should help in that respect.  Hopefully, in the near future, Morocco and Western Sahara could live together in harmony.

MANUEL VIDAL, a journalist and doctoral researcher, said the dictatorial structure of the Frente Polisario had not changed in the 40 years since Spain’s departure from Western Sahara.  The Polisario management was fundamentally autocratic, while corruption, “clientelism” and favouritism prevailed in the organization.  Profits and aid were distributed within a closed circle of leaders and members of their entourage.  The situation was so unsustainable that it could implode at any moment, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations and the international community had a moral and legal responsibility to publicly recognize that Polisario was a dictatorship, and to act accordingly to free the jeopardized Saharan population.

VANESSA PELLEGRIN, a freelance reporter, said that the global terrorism threat was not only persistent in the Middle East, but was also present in Africa: Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Qaida in Algeria and northern Mali, Da’esh (ISIL) in Libya, Al‑Shabaab in Somalia, as well as other groups in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries.  According to the CNA Strategic Centre, there was evidence that Al‑Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had infiltrated the Saharan refugee camps in Tindouf, and that many from the camps had joined terrorist groups based in Mali.  The Frente Polisario-controlled camps of Tindouf appeared to have become fertile ground for the recruitment of jihadists operating in the region.  Action was therefore needed, she said, calling upon the United Nations to ensure justice for the camp population.

BRAHIM LAGHZAL, Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme Marocain, said Morocco’s reconciliation and equity project supported transitional justice, and Saharans had widely accepted autonomy.  He said he was saddened, however, when he thought of the terrible conditions in the Tindouf camps.  The international community would continue to shoulder responsibility for those in the camps, he said, calling finally on the Frente Polisario to reconsider its position on the “reasonable” offer made by Morocco.

CHIBATA MRABBIH RABOU, “Crystal Mountain Del Sahara” Society, said the development of Western Sahara had improved significantly.  It was a common misconception that the conflict in the region was a war of resource exploitation.  In fact, Morocco had invested much more in the Territory’s development than it had gained in natural resource exploitation.  Phosphates were mined by a Moroccan company, PhosBoucraa, but they made up only 6 per cent of Morocco’s phosphate production.  In addition, PhosBoucraa was the single largest private employer in the Sahara region.

MAGHLAHA DLIMI, Coordination Droits de l’Homme à Dakhla, noted that all speakers had mentioned violations of human rights and, of course, every speaker was entitled to his or her opinion.  However, those speakers must be objective, which had not been the case.  She reminded the speakers that Morocco was a democratic State, open to the world and exemplary of the region.  The country had encouraged all to visit Western Sahara and examine the human rights situation, not because it was afraid, but because it had nothing to hide.

HOMMADA EL BAIHI, Forum Social pour le Développement Humain de Laâyoune, described himself as a Saharan from Tindouf, who had returned from Morocco after following a human assistance convoy that had left the port of Oran.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, asked whether the petitioner had come to speak about Western Sahara or Algeria, reminding the Committee Chair that petitioners should stick to the agenda.

The representative of Morocco said the petitioner was speaking about the siphoning of assistance to Tindouf, which was part of the issue at hand.

The representative of Algeria replied that the item on the agenda was the “Question of Western Sahara”, not the allegations of petitioners.  He called on the Chair to remind the petitioner not to stray from the item on the agenda, and not to make accusations.

The representative of Morocco said the issues had been raised by people in Tindouf.  The petitioner was not speaking about the Algerian regime, but about the people in the Tindouf camps and the OLAF report.

The Chair reminded the petitioner about the item on the agenda: the 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.

Mr. EL BAIHI said he had asked a truck driver to accompany him to Tindouf, but the driver had said he was headed for another destination.  Of the 20 trucks designated for Tindouf, only a few carrying humanitarian aid supplies had gone to the camps.  The siphoning of aid started at the port of Oran and the trucks were directed to generals stationed in Algeria.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on a point of order, said the Algerian Government was not on the agenda, emphasizing that the agenda item was the question of Western Sahara.

The representative of Morocco said the Committee could not disassociate the Territory from the people living in it.  The gentleman was providing testimony about the repression of the refugees living in Algerian camps, not about Algeria.

The representative of Algeria reminded the Chair of the importance of discussing the agenda item, not Algeria.  Morocco, as an occupying Power, had not been mentioned, he noted.

The representative of Morocco said he had never seen his country referred to as an occupying Power in any United Nations literature.  He requested the exact reference and asked his Algerian counterpart to point it out.

The representative of Algeria replied that all relevant resolutions defined who the two parties were.  “This is a Non-Self-Governing Territory.”  Leaders or officials of Algeria could not be named.

The Chair asked speakers not to stray from the agenda item.

Mr. EL BAIHI said he had come to the United Nations to provide the Committee with testimony, but if he was consistently humiliated, how could he tell the Committee about the situation.  There had been a misappropriation of humanitarian assistance which Algeria and the Frente Polisario wanted to continue.

SAIDA BRAHIM BOUNAB, President of Groupe Inter-parlementaire d’Amitié Algérie-Sahara Occidental, said the Saharan people had long suffered and struggled peacefully to compel the international community to find a solution to the situation of the last colony in Africa.  There was solidarity between the international community and the Saharans, and all condemned the crimes committed against them — crimes intended to silence voices that spoke the truth.  Addressing the wall of “humiliation and shame”, which was intended to sow the seeds of isolation and violate the rights of Saharans, she said that Algerian women stood by Saharan women, and asked the United Nations to shoulder its historic responsibility and expedite the holding of an impartial and just referendum, and halt the plundering of natural resources in the Territory.  Algeria supported oppressed countries and acted in a good neighbourly fashion, she added.

HASSIBA BOULMERKA said that all were responsible to stand by the Saharan people, and called upon the United Nations, according to the principle of decolonization, to help resolve the question of Western Sahara, whose people were attempting to express their right to self-determination.  The other part of that population comprised refugees.  She pleaded with the Committee to help end colonialism in Western Sahara, and expressed hope that her participation today would contribute to ending the suffering and deprivation imposed by the Moroccan occupation.

For information media. Not an official record.