Delegates of France, Papua New Guinea Give Update on New Caledonia Referendum
Western Sahara is represented by a “shadow republic”, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today, as it continued its hearing of petitioners in the context of its general debate on decolonization questions.
“Separatists and those pulling the strings: face the truth and stop the fabrications,” said one petitioner, adding that only 32 countries recognize the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO Front) as representing the people of Western Sahara. Another petitioner noted that while the African Union recognizes that Territory as an independent republic, only 17 member States of that bloc recognize it.
A representative of the POLISARIO Front emphasized that Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara is a well-established fact, despite attempts by the occupying Power and its apologists to convince the Fourth Committee otherwise. Calling upon the United Nations to assume its responsibility without further delay in that regard, he noted that POLISARIO stands ready to participate in negotiations.
In contrast, another petitioner said POLISARIO has no authority to negotiate on behalf of the Sahrawi people. Instead, such negotiations should take place with the genuine party, Algeria, which is responsible for all violations taking place on its territory, he declared.
As the floor was opened for statements during the general debate on decolonization, delegates observed that the existence of colonialism contradicts the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Angola’s representative said her delegation understands the difficulties and vulnerabilities of peoples engaged in the struggle for their inalienable rights to self-determination. Regarding Western Sahara, she stressed the General Assembly’s responsibility to complete the decolonization process and promote the sovereignty of the Sahrawi people. She went on to urge the Committee to actively and publicly support the mediation mission of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, declaring: “Full decolonization of Territories and the sovereignty of peoples will only be possible if there is serious and responsible engagement in the United Nations peace process.”
Some speakers also highlighted the upcoming referendum for self‑determination in New Caledonia. Papua New Guinea’s representative, speaking for the Melanesian Spearhead Group, said the situation in that Territory remains fluid, requiring close monitoring and focused attention. Whatever the referendum’s outcome, New Caledonia must remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Nouméa Accord he emphasized.
France’s representative said his delegation has redoubled its efforts to assist on the eve of that New Caledonia’s self-determination vote. Last March, the Special Committee on Decolonization visited the Territory for the second time in four years to observe the situation there, he recalled. All partners concerned noted that the presence of experts fostered a calm atmosphere during the process, he said, requesting that a panel of experts be present for the course of the referendum and on election day.
Also speaking today were representatives of Zimbabwe, Cuba, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Guyana, Peru, Central African Republic, Qatar and Iraq.
Representatives of United Kingdom, Argentina and Iran spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 15 October, to continue its discussion on decolonization.
DEE-MAXWEL SAAH KEMAYA (Liberia), Committee Chair, said that, following consultations with representatives of Morocco, Egypt and Algeria earlier this afternoon about concerns raised during the last meeting, on 11 October, delegates agreed to proceed.
Petitioners on Western Sahara
SIDI OMAR, POLISARIO Front, recalled that Security Council and General Assembly resolutions deplore Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and emphasized that the occupation is therefore a well-established fact, despite attempts by the occupying Power and its apologists to convince the Fourth Committee otherwise. The occupation has resulted in dire consequences for the Territory in terms of human rights and other violations. Calling upon the United Nations to assume its responsibility in that regard without further delay, he noted that the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy has breathed new life and air into the process. POLISARIO has accepted his invitation to a round table in Geneva this December and stands ready to participate in negotiations, he added.
The representative of Zimbabwe, noting that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is the only peacekeeping operation that does not monitor human rights, asked for Mr. Omar’s evaluation of that situation.
Mr. OMAR said the massive human rights violations in Western Sahara are well-documented and called upon the Fourth Committee to condemn them.
KAREN BAEZ, petitioner, said that if Moroccans are trying to build infrastructure in Western Sahara, they should work with the Sahrawi people. Moreover, they should not build a wall in the Territory, leaving a dangerous “no‑man’s‑land”. Western Sahara’s independence is recognized in most of Africa, she pointed out, emphasizing that Morocco should not be able to exploit the Territory’s resources.
MOHAMED ALI ARKOUKOU, Free Western Sahara, stressed that no State or institute recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and asked why the United Nations focuses on Israel instead of Morocco. To bring about a demographic change in the Territory, the kingdom has offered its citizens incentives to settle there, he said, citing the recent construction of new high schools in Laayoune as well as population data as evidence of such settlement activity.
AHMED HORMAT ALLAH, civil society activist, said that some speakers today seem to be suggesting that the citizens of the Saharan provinces are homeless, hungry and suffering all kinds of calamities. On the contrary, annual incomes are high in the regions constituting the Moroccan Sahara, thanks to the efforts of the Moroccan Government, he said. He asked Morocco’s opponents to “control themselves and their nerves because the wheel of development is spinning in great speed in all Morocco, and especially in the Saharan provinces”.
CHRIS SASSI, SKC, Inc., said the Sahrawi people are dual victims through military occupation and the age-old European stronghold reminiscent of colonial Powers. The European Union issued decisions on four occasions linking itself with Morocco, most recently in respect of Western Sahara’s fishing statute, he recalled. The inclusion of the Territory, including its adjacent waters, in Morocco’s negotiations is in violation of international law, especially of the principle of self-determination, he emphasized.
AHMED BAQAI, Westminster College, Missouri, requested that the United Nations deliver on promises of self-determination for Western Sahara, pointing out that despite evidence of links between tribes in Western Sahara and in Morocco, the kingdom has no legitimate claim to the Territory. POLISARIO have been genuine by accepting the second Baker plan, for example, but the United Nations has still failed to fulfil its responsibility, he said. Instead of a speedy solution, the process is at an impasse, he said, calling for a fair and impartial referendum.
PALOMA LOPEZ BERMEJO, European Parliament, recalled the multiple rulings of the European Court of Justice on the issue, noting that three months of negotiations will soon lead to fishery agreements between the European Union and Morocco that will cover waters around Western Sahara. Those agreements assume that management of the Territory belongs to Morocco, which, in fact, has no claim to it, she emphasized, describing the situation as a paradox. The European Commission overlooked the rulings of the European Court of Justice as well as international law and is interfering in the work of the United Nations, she said. In doing so, it positions itself on the side of indifference, with the blessing of Member States, specifically France and Spain. She went on to express regret over the torture suffered by political positions.
MARIA ANTÒNIA SUREDA MARTÍ, Intergrupo “Paz Y Solidaridad Con El Pueblo Saharaui”, said that, in refugee camps, “I’ve seen people without a past, without a present and without a future” who live solely on international aid. She blamed that failure on the hapless management of various international institutions. Morocco has plundered Western Sahara’s natural resources, yet the European Court of Justice handed down two agreements relating to the Territory despite Morocco’s ineligibility to exploit resources in a region to which it has no sovereign claim. Recounting instances of political imprisonment and torture in the Territory, she said there has been a breach of the fundamental rights of Sahrawi political prisoners.
FATMA SEIDA, petitioner from Laayoune-Sakia el-Hamra region, said the POLISARIO separatists and their supporters are not convinced by fair elections, but have imposed themselves on the landscape in violation of international law. The European Union cannot sign agreements with an entity that is not recognized, she said, adding that POLISARIO does not represent the people, a position supported by the European Court of Justice.
MOHAMED AYACH, Foum El Oued Commune, said the African Union recognizes Western Sahara as an independent republic, but only 17 Member States of that bloc recognize it. Noting that some countries want the African Union to play a role in resolving the conflict and call for a referendum, he asked how Western Sahara can be recognized since the people themselves have not yet decided whether to establish a State. Countries that want a referendum should withdraw their support for Western Sahara because calling for a referendum while supporting it is a conflict, he said, calling on delegates to reflect upon those contradictions.
HAMMADA EL BAIHI, Observatoire du Sahara pour la paix, la democratie et des droits de l’homme, said the Human Rights Council has asked for a census of the Tindouf camps, but POLISARIO will not accept that request because the actual number is much smaller than they claim. Citing the history of such claims, as well as details of assistance provided by the European Union, he said the numbers have been inflated to give the impression that POLISARIO has the legitimacy to represent the Sahrawi. In reality, Tindouf has only 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, he said, adding that two thirds of the assistance received for those inflated numbers is sold on the black market. People in the camps are being used by POLISARIO, which has no authority to negotiate on their behalf, he stressed. Instead, such negotiations should take place with the genuine party, Algeria, which is responsible for all violations taking place on its territory.
SIDI LAÂROUSSI DAHI, Department of Employment, Laâyoune, called upon Morocco to partner with civil society in terms of Sahrawi employment. Civil society organizations have proved the importance of their role by launching independent initiatives intended to promote human development. They also make necessary and effective proposals to assist with development programmes, making them more effective.
ZINE EL AABIDINE EL OUALI, Association 9 Mars, said that POLISARIO leaders claim that “the shadow republic” of the Sahrawi is recognized by 90 countries, but only 32 countries actually recognize it. Fifty countries have withdrawn their recognition and only one third of African countries continue to recognize it, he noted, adding that except for the African Union, no regional organization recognizes it either. “Separatists and those pulling the strings: face the truth and stop the fabrications,” he said.
AGUSTINA VILARET GONZALEZ, petitioner, said that Spain has ignored the rights of those in Western Sahara as well as its own obligations. Morocco must respect international law and realize a self-determination referendum in the Territory, she said. Two rulings of the European Court of Justice reaffirmed POLISARIO’s legitimacy to intervene before it, also affirming that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco, she recalled. Spain is responsible for the Territory, historically, morally and de jure, she said, adding that it remains the administering Power and responsible for concluding the decolonization process there.
MAALAININE YARA, Laayoune Online, responding to allegations by petitioners, specifically about drug trafficking, pointed out that no drugs can grow in the desert and come, in fact, from Morocco. Addressing the “propaganda of terrorism” in the Territory, he said there has been no record of any Sahrawi person, in a refugee camp or in occupied territory, ever having been part of a terrorist plot. He refuted the claim that people in Western Sahara have a right to vote, suggesting, rather, the prevalence of corruption and bribery.
MAX H. RAI (Papua New Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, said the situation in New Caledonia remains fluid, requiring close monitoring and focused attention. Noting that the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs has been invited as an international observer during New Caledonia’s self-determination referendum, he asked the Secretariat to clarify what its shape and form will be, suggesting that it would be much more useful to deploy select members of the Special Committee on Decolonization. He went on to emphasize that, whatever the referendum’s outcome, New Caledonia must remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Nouméa Accord, which provides for several referendums. He conveyed the Spearhead Group’s gratitude to France, the administering Power, for its positive engagement with all stakeholders on New Caledonia’s future.
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL (France) said that, regarding New Caledonia, his country has redoubled its efforts to assist on the eve of the self-determination vote. Last March, the Special Committee on Decolonization visited New Caledonia for the second time in four years to observe the situation there, he recalled. The Special Committee’s recommendations have begun to be implemented, including those relating to security at electoral locations. France also hosted a mission of United Nations experts whose objective was to observe the electoral process, also established a special electoral list for New Caledonia, he said.
All partners concerned noted that the presence of experts fostered a calm atmosphere during the process, he said, requesting that a panel of experts be present for the course of the referendum and on election day. Noting that all steps have been taken to ensure that all voters are reflected on the lists, he said a special unit will be deployed on the day of the vote to address discrepancies in the voters lists immediately. Regarding the question of French Polynesia, he said that Territory’s people asked in 2013 to be withdrawn from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in favour of autonomy within the framework of the French Republic.
ANAYANSI RODRIGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), associating herself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), noted that the Special Committee has continued its dialogue with administering Powers and others over the course of the year, including a visiting mission to New Caledonia. On the question of Puerto Rico, she noted the new resolution acknowledging that Territory’s status and that it remains under the control of the Congress of the United States. Puerto Rico has not yet recovered from the effects of successive damaging hurricanes, she said, pointing out that the Government of the United States has only paid $4 billion of the $62 billion earmarked by Congress. Furthermore, procurement procedures favour United States businesses, she said.
Turning to the question of Western Sahara, she defended the right of that Territory’s people to realize their own self-determination and expressed support for United Nations efforts there. Regarding the question of the Malvinas Islands, she said Cuba fully supports Argentina in that disputed Territory and called for a fair and lasting settlement. There must be no unilateral acts that could alter the situation on the ground, she emphasized. Condemning Israeli practices that violate Palestinian rights, she called for urgent measures to guarantee full respect for the United Nations and international law as it relates to that situation. She also called for an increase in the information provided to the peoples of the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories so they may know their rights regarding self‑determination. She expressed concern that some administering Powers persist in not sending relevant information.
RODRIGO ALBERTO CARAZO ZELEDON (Costa Rica), associating himself with CELAC, expressed regret that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still did not exercise their right to self-determination. His delegation reiterated its support for the sovereign rights of Argentina on the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, noting that several General Assembly resolutions supported the just claim. Hailing progress made between the United Kingdom and Argentina in various spheres, he called for a peaceful and lasting settlement of the dispute. Turning to Western Sahara, he expressed support for the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy.
CRAIG J. HAWKE (New Zealand) recalled that in 2018, his delegation scaled up the position of Administrator in Tokelau, increased the size of its development cooperation support there and strengthened its political engagement with the Territory. Such developments reflect the importance New Zealand places on its relationship with Tokelau, representing the Government’s recent “reset” of its approach to relationships in the Pacific. “The reset recognizes New Zealand’s connectedness to the region and aims to build deeper partnerships with our neighbours,” he said. Over the coming four years, New Zealand will invest approximately NZ$86 million in Tokelau, focusing on three priority areas: improvements to core public services, such as health and education; strengthened governance and management practices, including transparency, the promotion of democracy and public financial management; and building climate change resilience through investments. Tokelau’s status as a Territory makes it unable to access sources of global climate finance available to States, making his delegation’s support even more critical. As Tokelau navigates the path to self-determination, New Zealand remains committed to helping to build the Territory’s capacity and confidence to self-govern.
RUDOLPH MICHAEL TEN-POW (Guyana) said his country was among the 80 former colonies that exercised their right to self-determination since the founding of the United Nations and that the decolonization process would only be complete when the people of the remaining 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories are able to do the same. “It is clear that colonialism is opposed to the ideals and principles of the United Nations,” he said, calling on administering Powers to implement relevant resolutions on decolonization. Turning to the question of Western Sahara, he underscored that the well-being of the Sahrawi people must be a primary motivation for the achievement of a “just, lasting and mutually acceptable” political settlement, he said, underscoring that Guyana maintains its “unwavering support” for the eradication of the last vestiges of colonialism from the world.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru), associating himself with CELAC, said that accomplishing decolonization demands decisive political will and a case-by-case approach. The process should be subjected to constant and thorough evaluation, he said, adding that administering Powers will play a decisive role in that process. On the question of the Malvinas Islands, he said Peru supports the sovereign rights of Argentina over that Territory, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions. Calling on the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations for a settlement guided by the relevant United Nations resolutions, he also called upon the parties to refrain from unilateral decisions regarding that Territory.
GILBERT TOUANGAÏ (Central African Republic), reaffirming his delegation’s support for the total eradication of colonialism around the world, said it is unconceivable that the international community has not been able to apply the principles of self-determination to all peoples. He called for greater action on the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories and support for their sustainable growth. Concerning Western Sahara, he expressed support for Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) and a pragmatic, realistic solution based on compromise. While welcoming Morocco’s socioeconomic development of Western Sahara, he expressed concern about the situation in the Tindouf camps.
MARIA DE JESUS FERREIRA (Angola) said that despite significant progress since 1961, the existence of colonialism contradicts the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Angola, now an independent and sovereign State, recognizes the difficulties and vulnerabilities of peoples engaged in the fight for their inalienable rights to sovereignty and self-determination, she emphasized. Noting that Western Sahara remains the last non-autonomous Territory in Africa on the agenda of the Fourth Committee after 42 years, she stressed the General Assembly’s responsibility to complete the decolonization process and promote the sovereignty of the Sahrawi people. Calling for the implementation of all General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, she urged the Committee to actively and publicly support the mediation mission of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy. “Full decolonization of Territories and the sovereignty of peoples will only be possible if there is serious and responsible engagement in the United Nations peace process,” she stressed.
JASSIM AL MAAMDA (Qatar), emphasizing that one of the United Nations most important accomplishments in the past decades has been its role in assisting people in their quest for freedom, underlined the importance of all relevant resolutions and political declarations on the topic. He reiterated Qatar’s support of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, living within the 1967 borders laid out by the international community. Regarding Western Sahara, he called for dialogue and negotiation between the parties, expressing hope that a peaceful, fair settlement could be found that preserves the sovereignty of Morocco and adding that a settlement of the dispute would be good for the entire region. In closing, he expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy proposal for Western Sahara and called on the United Nations to do so as well.
ZAKIA RIYAD HASHIM (Iraq) said the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples is an inspiration to all advocates of freedom everywhere and has paved the way for peoples to achieve independence. Eliminating all forms of colonization and racial discrimination and upholding all human rights are critical. Noting that some administering Powers fail to conduct necessary consultations with the Special Committee, as mandated, she said they shoulder a responsibility towards inhabitants. They must also protect the natural resources of Non-Self-Governing Territories and assist in efforts in emergency situations and risk assessments. Nevertheless, specialized agencies and foreign investment have played positive roles in helping to raise the living standards of people living in these Territories. Visiting missions should be regularly conducted as an effective method to ascertain the situation on the ground, she said, commending the Government of France in permitting the Special Committee to organize a visit to New Caledonia and facilitating their encounters with local authorities.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to the delegates of Costa Rica and Peru, said that his country has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, nor about the principle of self-determination for the Territory’s people. Argentina regularly refers to diplomatic statements of support for its position but none of those negate the need to respect the right of the Territory’s people to self-determination. During the 2013 referendum, 99.8 per cent of the population voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, he recalled, emphasizing that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is one of cooperation and partnership.
The representative of Argentina recalled that the Malvinas Islands are an integral part of Argentine territory, adding that their illegal occupation led to the adoption of various United Nations resolutions urging both Governments to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The principle of self-determination in this is case, he said, reiterating that the 2013 referendum was illegitimate and a unilateral British act. The referendum did not modify the resolutions of the Special Committee on Decolonization, which reiterate the usual terms, he emphasized.
The representative of Iran took issue with the reference by Qatar’s delegate to the Persian Gulf, asserting that historical evidence supports the use of that term.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).