Mixed Reviews for Morocco as Fourth Committee Hears Petitioners on Western Sahara, Amid Continuing Decolonization Debate

GA/SPD/664
10 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 4th Meeting (PM)

Mixed Reviews for Morocco as Fourth Committee Hears Petitioners on Western Sahara, Amid Continuing Decolonization Debate

Many petitioners accused Morocco of committing human rights violations in Western Sahara today, while others praised the kingdom’s autonomy proposal for the Territory, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization.

“Morocco uses violence to suppress the Sahrawi population, using the worst crimes under the Geneva Convention,” one petitioner said.  Another described the kingdom as an illegal occupying Power in Western Sahara, emphasizing that exploration of the Territory should be carried out in accordance with the interests of the Sahrawi people.

In a similar vein, other petitioners highlighted the “economic ransacking” of Western Sahara’s natural resources, with the European Union cited as being complicit in that exploitation.  One petitioner highlighted the benefits Morocco derives from the rich Sahara coast, while noting that only a fraction of those fishing sector jobs are held by the Sahrawi people themselves.

On the other hand, many petitioners defended Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the Non-Self-Governing Territory, with one calling it “flexible, fair and far‑sighted”.  The plan offers a large degree of self-determination for the Sahrawi and aims to build a modern, democratic society based on the rule of law, he noted.  Another petitioner deemed the proposal a flexible application of the principle of self-determination.

Some petitioners spoke out against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front).  One decried the forcible detention of tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria’s Tindouf camps, where they are subjected to arbitrary rule and denied basic human rights.  In Western Sahara, by contrast, Sahrawis freely express their opinions, vote in local, regional and national elections, and participate fully in economic and social development.  Another petitioner said that an independent Western Sahara would not be able to manage its own security, describing Morocco a balanced and visionary Power.

Petitioners on Guam also spoke this afternoon, advocating for the right of the indigenous Chamoru people to self-determination and accusing the United States of relentless militarization of that Territory.  The administering Power is destroying Chamoru sacred sites, many stressed, also highlighting the mass pollution of Guam and its waters by the United States military’s superfund sites.

Also speaking today were petitioners from New Caledonia, who highlighted Territory’s upcoming self-determination referendum, to be conducted on 4 November.

A petitioner from the Turks and Caicos Islands also addressed the Committee.

Representatives of United Kingdom and Spain spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 11 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.

Petitioners on New Caledonia

GAEL YANNO, Congress of New Caledonia, said that on 4 November, Caledonians will decide their future in a referendum scheduled through the Nouméa Accord.  There is no electoral fraud, nor trickery nor anomalies on the electoral rolls, he said, emphasizing that the process for revising the electoral lists was organized in a legal fashion.  Of all the listed voters, only 174,000 will be able to vote.  All observers agreed that no majority in New Caledonia favours independence, he said, expressing confidence that most Caledonians will vote “No” on 4 November and that they plan to build their future in France.

GERARD POADJA recalled that communities in New Caledonia clashed 30 years ago, and the subsequent handshake changed the course of the Territory’s history.  The Kanak identity is now recognized and the legitimacy of the Territory’s pioneers reaffirmed.  However, that heritage is now at stake because of the 4 November referendum, he said, adding that, as a political representative, he hopes for a common destiny with France.  He said that, as a person of Kanak origin, he considers France as the leadership of his “tribe”, much like a roof sheltering it from bad weather.

Petitioners on Guam

SAMANTHA BABAUTA TENORIO BARNETT, Independent Guahan, described herself as a native Chamoru woman speaking on behalf of organizations that advocate for Guam’s future as an independent nation.  “My people are doing everything that we can to protect our right to self-determination within the legal system of our administering Power, which is only proving its intention to justify continued colonial dominance over our island,” she said, accusing the United States of continuing its relentless militarization of Guam.

ALAINA AFLAGUE ARROYO, University of San Francisco Pacific Islander Collective, called for the liberation of the Chamoru people from the United States, saying its military is destroying the Territory’s sacred sites.  Explaining how crucial land is to Guam’s people, she said the United States has been stealing Chamoru land since the Second World War for the purpose of military construction and development.

TIARA NAPUTI, Guåhan Coalition for Peace and Justice, Guam, urged the Special Committee on Decolonization to hold the administering Power accountable for the damage it has caused to the Territory, and requested that it dispatch a United Nations visiting mission to observe the situation in Guam.  The live-fire training range that the United States is planning in Guam directly threatens an ancient and sacred land that will be adversely affected by the expected military build-up, she said.  Describing colonial violence as a blatant violation of relevant United Nations resolutions, she urged the Organization to follow through on ending colonial violence and condemning the irrevocable damage that the administering Power has caused in Guam.

JULIA FAYE MUNOZ, Diablo Valley College Pacific Islands Students Association, addressed the critical issue that numerous Chamorus before her have discussed in the Fourth Committee ‑ the threat of military contamination of the Territory’s present and future health and well-being.  The United States military’s creation of superfund sites has contributed to mass pollution on Guam and in the surrounding waters, she said.

ANA ALICIA BORDALLO, Famoksaiyan Guam, said she is ready to move forward from the nuclear-testing activities that have poisoned Guam’s natural and physical bodies and from 500 years of colonialism.  For thousands of years, she said, her ancestors understood their destiny was linked to the island’s health and, accordingly, used sustainable practices to cultivate the land.  The invasion and occupation of Guam has had catastrophic effects on the indigenous population and the land, she said, also noting the disproportionate and increasing burden they continue to suffer as the United States builds up its military presence in the Territory.

LEILANI RANIA GANSER, Reed College in Guam, noting that the Chamoru people live in a simulated war zone, cited a UN-Women report finding that it is often more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict zones.  She said that because gendered violence against Chamoru women cannot be separated from the pervasive racism and colonialism in American society, solutions and responses to those issues must also address anti-colonialist activities, especially in cases of State-sponsored violence.

Petitioner on Turks and Caicos Islands

BENJAMIN ROBERTS, Turks and Caicos Forum, said that since the devastating 2017 hurricane season, the administering Power has still not built a retaining wall, provided drones to check on citizens or contributed capital to match the level of destruction.  Instead, the United Kingdom has decreed a register-of-interest rule at the Territory’s expense, he said, urging the Special Committee on Decolonization to undertake a visiting mission to Turks and Caicos so as to witness the United Kingdom’s conduct first hand.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

TANYA WARBURG, Freedom for All, said tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees are forcibly detained in the POLISARIO-run camps of Tindouf, Algeria, subjected to arbitrary rule, denied all basic human rights and prevented from both expressing their thoughts freely and leaving the camps.  In contrast, she said, Sahrawis in Western Sahara freely express their opinions, vote in local, regional and national elections, and participate fully in economic and social development.  Morocco’s credible and realistic Autonomy Plan will resolve the conflict and liberate the Tindouf refugees, she said.

VERONICA JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, emphasized that Sahrawis were an integral part of Moroccan society before Western Sahara became a disputed Territory, adding that POLISARIO is generating and fabricating human rights issues to camouflage facts.  Incidents of unnecessary use of police force do not represent Moroccan Government policy, she said, pointing out that Human Rights Watch has expressed serious concerns about the restrictions imposed on Sahrawi women in the Tindouf camps.

ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Centrist Democratic International Women, recounted an instance of rape and corruption by POLISARIO members and read excerpts from an article written within the Tindouf camps, where young women can only realize their dreams by subjecting themselves to the sexual whims of those in authority.  Given the rampant sexual exploitation of young Sahrawi women, combined with the regular kidnapping, widespread arrest and torture in prison, one can imagine the tragedy and suffering of those living in the Tindouf camps, she said.

ANDREW M. ROSEMARINE, International Law Chambers, described the autonomy proposal presented by Morocco to the Secretary-General in 2017 as “flexible, fair and far-sighted,” saying that it offers a large degree of self-determination for the Sahrawis, and aims to build a modern, democratic society based on the rule of law.  Morocco can be trusted to deliver because it is a democracy, he said, cautioning that Brexit is a lesson in the dangers of breaking away from a stable economic union.

NGUYEN MANH HUNG, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, expressed confidence in Morocco’s autonomy proposal for Western Sahara.  The kingdom has put tremendous resources into the region, he said, noting the changes he observed in social, economic and political life during visits.  Furthermore, Morocco’s autonomy proposal fits well into the Security Council’s agenda of peaceful resolution of disputes, he said, also noting that the Council’s structuring resolution 2414 (2018) reiterates that the current status quo is not acceptable and emphasizes the need for neighbouring States to contribute to a political solution based on compromise.

MARIA DOLORES TRAVIESO DARIAS, Asociación Canaria Juristas por la Paz y Derechos Humanos, reported an increasing number of trials being held by Morocco against the Sahrawi people and anyone demanding self-determination.  Ten Sahrawi journalists were imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to harsh prison terms in order to destroy evidence revealing war crimes, she said, declaring:  “Morocco uses violence to suppress the Sahrawi population, using the worst crimes under the Geneva Convention.”

MARIA INES MIRANDA NAVARRO, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, cited legal reasons for the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination.  Pointing out that Western Sahara is a Non-Self-Governing Territory, she said Morocco is not listed as its administering Power and does not have sovereignty over it.  “It is a simple illegal occupying Power,” she emphasized.  Moreover, the exploitation and exploration of Western Sahara should be carried out in accordance with the interests of the Sahrawi people, she added.

BELGACEM TAHCHI, University of Sétif, Algeria, said 40 years have elapsed since Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa.  Morocco is benefitting from the Territory’s rich coast, he said, noting that the region’s fishing sector accounts for 74,000 jobs in the Morocco economy, with only a fraction of those going to the Sahrawi.

YANJA EL KHATTAT, Dakhla-Oued Eddahab Region in Western Sahara, described himself as an elected official from one of the Territory’s most populous regions.  Expressing anger and indignation over the suffering of the Sahrawi people, he reported that they participated massively in elections, and called upon the international community to take into consideration the popular will that the POLISARIO Front does not represent them.

MOHAMMAD ZIYAD AL-JABARI, Palestinian Moroccan Society, said Morocco’s return to the African Union represents added value for that bloc because of the kingdom’s role in fighting armed groups, terrorists and smugglers in the northern desert.  Morocco continues to exert efforts on the continent through its South‑South Cooperation policy, he noted, expressing appreciation for its migration initiatives.  Calling for peace and unity, he strongly rejected the media’s representation of the POLISARIO Front, as well as similarities drawn between the Palestinian and Western Sahara questions.

ALEXIS DESWAEF, European Coordination of Support for the Sahrawi People, said Western Sahara represents a just cause because the illegality of Morocco’s occupation is confirmed by United Nations resolutions.  The Territory’s people should not be confused with others living in that region, including occupiers from Morocco, he emphasized.  That country is economically ransacking the Territory in complicity with the European Union, which has signed a trade partnership with the kingdom, he said, recalling that the European Commission carried out consultations on the matter but excluded POLISARIO.  The European Court of Justice has ruled that international law is on the side of the Sahrawi, he added.

ROSA MARÍA DE LEÓN CORUJO, Asociación Canaria de Juristas por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos(JUPADEHU), said Morocco has purported to judicialize the population in the Territory in violation of the Geneva Convention, and noted the silence of the United Mission of the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) on the matter.  The courts handed down life sentences for peaceful protests in trials condemned by the international community, she recalled, expressing outrage at Morocco’s judicial system.

MIGUEL ÁNGEL RODRÍGUEZ MACKAY, Instituto Peruano de Derecho Internacional y Relaciones Internacionales (IPEDIRI), said the Western Sahara question is not one of decolonization but of Morocco’s territorial integrity.  Emphasizing that no Security Council resolution qualifies Morocco as an occupying Power in the region, he said.  The Council has created four different self-determination alternatives, he said, concluding that the question of Western Sahara should remain outside its agenda.

MOHAMED RAZAMA, Chambre des Conseillers, said that the 1956 accord signed in Paris consecrated the independence of Morocco, adding that letters attached from the French-German Convention stipulate that the Territory extends to Rio Douro in Western Sahara.  Great Britain also recognized the northern part of the Territory as Moroccan, he said, describing control by Spain as illegal.

ENNAM MAYARA, Parlement Marocain, described the new POLISARIO academy graduates as children and suggested they should be categorized as child soldiers.  International law should protect those children, he said, adding that the armed group exploiting them respects no laws.  Urging Committee members to verify the “scandal” through a quick search on their phones, he said that he trusts the General Assembly will take measures to protect those children.

MAHMOUD OUBLAL, General Union of Saharawi Workers (UGTSARIO), thanked Algeria for opening its doors to refugees, recalling the injustice and persecution perpetrated by the Moroccan authorities against the Sahrawi, including repression of rights, repression of protests and constant provocation of civilian gatherings, for example, in order to mislead the international community.  The Sahrawi people are dedicated to their right to self-determination, he emphasized, urging members of the Special Committee to condemn Morocco’s occupation and translate requests for decolonization into concrete measures.

SUZANNE SCHOLTE, Seoul Peace Prize Laureate, said Western Sahara remains the only African nation that has failed to achieve decolonization.  It is unacceptable that the long-promised self-determination referendum has never occurred because Morocco has poured millions of dollars into lobbying at the United Nations, she said, emphasizing that if the United Nations does not hold a free, fair and transparent referendum, then it must call upon Morocco to end its illegal occupation.

SYDNEY SOLOMON ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, cited the tragedy of the Tindouf camps, calling for the prisoners there to be allowed back into Morocco.  Those still incarcerated were losing hope, he said, adding that Morocco’s autonomy proposal promises a bright future.

NYKAKY LYGEROS, a petitioner, said that whenever the POLISARIO Front tries to undermine Morocco’s agreements with the European Union, they end up in a worse position.  The Front must justify itself because the European Court of Justice does not recognize it, he said, adding that following its legal defeat, POLISARIO cannot claim to represent the people of the Sahara.  “POLISARIO is a puppet of an invisible State,” he stressed.

RACHID TAMEK, a petitioner, identified himself as a parliamentarian.  Noting that the situation in Western Sahara is deadlocked, he said a mad race for arms is ongoing in the region, even though drinking water is not available for the people.  One of the region’s countries wishes to see the situation perpetuated, he said, describing Morocco is a concerned party in the situation.  However, another party exists, he said, stressing that it is not the POLISARIO Front which is being held hostage and awaiting orders.  If the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy wants to resolve the issue, the POLISARIO must be set aside because it is not the master of its own actions, he said.

GRACE NJAPAU, Zambia-Israel Initiatives, said that the practice of the principle of self-determination varies from case to case.  The Morocco autonomy proposal in Western Sahara is an example of the flexible application of that principle, she said, noting that it arose as a concrete response to numerous calls to end the political deadlock.  The autonomy proposal has been qualified as serious and credible by the international community and it will endow the Sahrawi people with financial resources for development, allowing them to actively participate in economic growth, social welfare and prosperity, she said.

DAVID LIPPIATT, President of WE International, said Morocco has continuously oppressed the Sahrawi people through arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, systemic oppression, violent repression of peaceful demonstrations, as well as rape, abuse and humiliation of Sahrawi women.  With reputable international organizations having concluded that Morocco is indeed “the oppressor”, there is a need to add a component for monitoring human rights to MINURSO’s mandate, he said.  Describing Morocco’s National Council on Human Rights as a farce, he urged Member States, and France in particular, to vote in favour of adding such a mandate.

FRANÇOIS GROSDIDIER, French Senate, said that from the French point of view the non-recognition that Western Sahara is Moroccan territory is incomprehensible and jeopardizes the prosperity and security of the region and of Europe.  The population living in the Territory is under the authority of the Moroccan crown because the king transcends tribal affiliations, he said.  Emphasizing that nothing excludes any population from the democratic process in Morocco, he said its autonomy proposal addresses all the relevant issues, suggesting that an independent Western Sahara would not be able to manage its own security.  Describing Morocco as a visionary and balanced power, he said it can be a leader in the entire Maghreb region.  Separation would undermine GPD and economic growth, he added, declaring:  “They need a bridge not a wall.”

CYNTHIA BASINET, petitioner, said much of the peaceful Sahrawi resistance ‑ its intellectual property ‑ can be seen in the latest advertising by such companies as Nike and Capital One.  “How much longer should Western Sahara be pawns and take it on the chin for the world’s favourite celebrities, brands and their causes?”  Such tactics have brought the world to the brink of “government by corporation”, all wrapped up in a nice hashtag, she said.  All people deserve to make a living from their own creativity, she stressed, noting that she has been bullied, berated and blacklisted for standing up for those rights and against corporate greed and the military industrial complex.

STEINGRIMUR SAEVARR OLAFSSON, petitioner, described accusations about Morocco exploiting natural resources in the Sahara as false.  Morocco has a legal right over those natural resources because it enjoys sovereignty over the area, its actions are benefiting local populations, and the revenues are being invested back into the Sahara region, he said.  Describing living standards in the Sahara as among Morocco’s highest, he emphasized that development will continue.

THENGILL BJORNSSON, petitioner, said Morocco has developed an in-depth proposal for a new environmentally sustainable and socially equitable growth model for the Sahara region.  The project aims to diversify local businesses and economic actors, he said, adding that financial autonomy is an important step in consolidating effective management in the region.  Such reforms, alongside energy security, improved communications infrastructure and better education are the keys to a brighter future for young Moroccans, he said.

Right of Reply

A representative of the United Kingdom emphasized his country’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, saying it guaranteed the rights of the Territory’s population, including that of self-determination.  The Government of the United Kingdom maintains its responsibility to the people of Gibraltar and will not allow its transfer to another Power, he stressed.  The United Kingdom is firmly committed to a trilateral dialogue to strengthen the Spanish-Gibraltar-United Kingdom relationship, he said, pointing out that Gibraltar has a parliamentary system of its own and mostly governs itself.  According to international law, the State holding sovereignty over the land also holds sovereignty over the adjacent waters, he said, adding that the United Kingdom will continue to uphold British sovereignty and will respond to illegal trespassing into Gibraltarian waters.  Significant steps have been taken to address cigarette smuggling between Spain and Gibraltar, he said while underlining that the United Kingdom stands ready to engage with Spain.

A representative of Spain said that if Gibraltar is not a colony it would not be inscribed on the decolonization list since 1936.  Any colonial situation that destroys territorial integrity is incompatible with the United Nations Charter, he emphasized.  The question of territorial waters does not apply to Gibraltar, which is subject to a decolonization process, he said.  Drawing a parallel with Brexit, he recalled the guidance from the European Council which establishes that once the United Kingdom has left the European Union, no agreement can apply between Gibraltar and the European Union unless new parameters are established.  If there is no agreement, the population on both sides of the border will be affected, he said, adding that Gibraltar’s economy will break down if there is no agreement.  He underscored Spain’s willingness to enter into negotiations and find solutions to the Gibraltar question.

For information media. Not an official record.