Petitioners Offer Differing Views of Situation in Western Sahara as Fourth Committee Continues Discussion on Decolonization

GA/SPD/694
10 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 4th Meeting (PM)

Petitioners Offer Differing Views of Situation in Western Sahara as Fourth Committee Continues Discussion on Decolonization

We Can’t Wait for Yet Another International Decade for Eradication of Colonialism, Guam’s Lieutenant Governor Tells Members

Some petitioners described the desperate conditions in the Tindouf refugee camps while others demanded self‑determination for the people of Western Sahara, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization today.

“Warehousing” best describes the situation in the camps, said one petitioner.  Another warned that without a resolution of the Western Sahara situation, another generation of youth living in the camps will be drawn into clandestine activities, unable to see themselves as anything other than victims.

In similar vein, a third petitioner described the camps as a hotspot of organized crime and radical networks, while yet another observed that children desert their classrooms and embrace illicit activities, seeking to earn a living in light of the difficulty of gaining access to humanitarian assistance in the camps.

Another petitioner said the theft of aid reveals a serious flaw in the leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), as another asked why the United Nations allows one military group to manage people without any accountability while requiring accountability from numerous other refugee camps around the globe.

On the other hand, many petitioners expressed outrage at Morocco, accusing it of committing human rights violations, with one saying that the presence of the United Nations has allowed that country to occupy the Territory and sap its natural resources.

Emphasizing that the situation in Western Sahara is a question of international law and self‑determination, one petitioner demanded that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) fulfil its mandate by holding the plebiscite.  “This Committee’s only option, therefore, is to uphold the principles of international law by putting in place all necessary measures to allow the people of Western Sahara the chance to exercise freely and democratically their inalienable right to self‑determination and independence.”

Petitioners from Guam also spoke this afternoon, accusing the United States of destructive, large‑scale militarization of the Territory.  One petitioner said the United States continues to bulldoze, destroy and transmute Guam’s spaces into military bases as well as live‑fire and bombing training ranges.  The Territory faces permanent chemical contamination, ecological and heritage loss beyond recovery, many warned, stressing that Guam’s Chamorro people must be allowed to exercise their right to self‑determination.

Guam’s Lieutenant Governor urged the United Nations and the administering Power to approve a visiting mission to Guam, adding:  “I think we can all agree that none of us can afford to wait for the fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.”

Also speaking today was the Premier of Montserrat and a petitioner from New Caledonia.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 11 October to continue its discussion on decolonization.

Hearing of Petitioners

JOSHUA TENORIO, Lieutenant Governor of Guam, pointed out that the United States was founded upon the belief that its own colonial status was unfair, adding that, by its very existence, that country should not have colonies.  The insular cases — decisions taken by that country’s Supreme Court between 1901 and 1910 — established the constitutional justification for colonialism, he said, noting that the political system at that time was shrouded in racist ideology and the expressed belief that it would be difficult to assimilate the “alien races” of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories into “Anglo‑Saxon principles”.  More than 100 years later, the insular cases still control the law and the people in Territories administered by the United States remain second‑class citizens, he noted.  He went on to recall that the Treaty of Paris denied the right of Guam’s native inhabitants, including the indigenous Chamorro people, to self‑determination.  Most recently, the administering Power’s court system impeded the Territory’s progress towards decolonization by preventing the public expenditure of funds to advance a plebiscite.  The United Nations and the administering Power should approve a United Nations visiting mission to Guam, he said, adding:  “I think we can all agree that none of us can afford to wait for the fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.”

REGINE LEE, Guam Legislature, said the Territory Guam lacks the authority to negotiate direct investments with foreign countries and is not generally eligible for the development bank financing afforded to small independent nations.  The United States dictates environmental policies and laws to Guam without local input, she added, emphasizing:  “We do not have the privilege of time on climate change.”  She expressed support for the Lieutenant Governor’s request that a visiting mission be dispatched to the Territory.

SABINA PEREZ, Prutehi Litekyan‑Save Ritidian, said the live‑fire training range complex at Tai’lalo is one of many current military projects severely affecting Guam and the surrounding ocean.  It involves the construction of five firing ranges, and almost 7 million bullets containing lead and other toxins will be fired every year, she noted.  The legislature passed a resolution seeking to pause construction of the complex, she recalled, describing the increase in the number of military projects, and the United States posture in the Pacific, as a destabilizing force.

JULIA FAYE MUNOZ, I Hagan Famalao’an Guåhan, cited the increasingly high statistics of violence against women on Guam, saying studies have shown violence against indigenous women cannot be separated from colonization.  The cumulative and intergenerational colonial trauma of the Chamorro people is exacerbated further by genocide, centuries of subjugation and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, she said, adding that the traditional matriarchal culture has been disrupted by the institutionalization of colonial patriarchal norms and systems, causing a level of despair equal to self‑hatred.  Furthermore, the lack of self‑determination is contributing to mental health issues and legal problems on Guam, she stressed, urging the United Nations to approve a visiting mission to the Territory.

MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA, Executive Director, Commission on Decolonization, Guam, invited the United Nations to send a visiting mission to the Territory, saying the Commission is optimistic that a visit will encourage more dialogue involving Guam, the administering Power and the United Nations.  The Commission finds it troubling that civil rights principles have now become the basis for the continuing oppression of the Chamorro people, he said, describing the Davis vs Guam case as a blatant attack on the Territory’s decolonization movement, contravening Article 73 of the United Nations Charter as well as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

RIKKI ORSINI, Committee on Self-Determination, Guam Legislature, said the Territory’s hyper‑militarization threatens the Chamorro people’s traditional values and way of life while impeding their right to self‑determination.  As long as Guam remains a strategic crux of United States military force in Asia, their pursuit of self‑determination is uncertain, he said, urging the Committee to assist the process, as guaranteed and recognized in the Charter of the United Nations and General Assembly resolution 1514 (1960).

KELLY MARSH-TAITANO, Guam Legislature, recalled that the United States banned the Territory’s indigenous language in addition to curtailing cultural practices and traditional ways of life.  “The Chamorro metaphysical connection to the land, sea and air is being taken,” she said, adding that the United States continues to bulldoze, destroy and transmute the Territory’s spaces into military bases as well as live‑fire and bombing training ranges.  Elders no longer recognize the landscape and young people lack understanding of native lands and seas, she observed.

SAMANTHA BARNETT, Independent Guahan, said the United States is poised to eradicate Chamorro rights through a legal case which determined that a Chamorro political status plebiscite is unconstitutional.  Noting that the pursuit of Guam’s decolonization is increasingly urgent due to the administering Power’s enactment of destructive, large‑scale militarization of the Territory, she said that, by its own admission, the administering Power uses Guam’s political status as a colony to do things it would not be permitted to do in other foreign lands or in any American state.  Furthermore, the military presence will change Guam’s voting demographic by transferring thousands of United States marines and their dependents to the Territory, she warned, calling upon the United Nations to send a visiting mission to support the Chamorro right to self‑determination.

LEONARDO ORSINI, Bay Area Independent Guåhan, said that there has been little political momentum within the Fourth Committee in the 23 years since his father, Senator Lujan Orsini, first testified before the body in 1996.  “The United States military is poisoning us, pushing us off our island and destroying the things most precious to us,” he added.

ANDREW GUMATAOATO, DukDuk Goose Inc., emphasized that the Chamorro people must be key players in the management of their own affairs.  The administering Power continues to avoid addressing the right of the Chamorro to decolonize Guam, he said.  The United States military continues to erect a live firing range that threatens an important aquifer, he added, warning that if nothing is done to stop the destruction, the Territory will face permanent chemical contamination as well as ecological and heritage loss beyond recovery.  Urging the Committee to send a visiting delegation to support the right of Chamorro children to a sustainable future, he said that will only be achieved through an act of self‑determination.

PIM LIMTIACO, Guåhan Coalition for Peace and Justice, noted that the people of Guam experience severe inequities in health care as a result of colonization, with a lower life expectancy and higher rates of cancer than those in the continental United States.  The diseases are a direct consequence of colonialism, including the disruption of the native diet through the introduction of processed foods and prolonged exposure to military testing, she explained, noting also that Guam’s health system does not adequately serve the local population.  She urged the United Nations to influence the United States to implement the principles of decolonization and to send a visiting mission to Guam.

DONALDSON ROMEO, Premier of Montserrat, said the Special Committee on Decolonization is in a position to see first‑hand Montserrat’s removal from its list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.  Recalling the 1995 Soufrière Hills eruption, he explained that it resulted in unnecessary death and suffering because response efforts were delayed and underfunded.  Although the risks relating to eruptions were known before the event, the true hazards were covered up, he noted.  Now, after 10 years of effort, the replacement of fibre‑optic cable lost 20 years ago is under way with the United Kingdom’s help, the result of 10 years of haggling, he said, adding that repair of the main road infrastructure faces the same challenges, as does funding for housing needs.  The United Kingdom’s renewed commitment is welcome but way behind the crisis, he said, pointing out that Montserrat faces challenges in retaining teachers and other professionals who leave for better pay and quality of life.  All this is known by the United Kingdom, but no action is taken, he said.  Meanwhile, school conditions continue to suffer, people remain in vulnerable temporary housing, and wells awaiting grant funding sit unused.  Requesting that the Special Committee help Montserrat’s efforts with the United Kingdom, he also asked for a concrete framework and timeline for decolonization, following the visiting mission to the Territory.

MICKAEL FORREST, Front de libération nationale kanak et socialiste, said Kanak New Caledonia is preparing for its second referendum, recalling that the outcome of the first one showed that 80 per cent of the Territory’s people voted “yes” to independence.  However, several manoeuvres were identified as attempts to ensure victory for the other side, he noted.  There must be a greater investment in the second referendum by those involved, he emphasized, calling for a breathing of new life into General Assembly resolution 1514 (1960) and for the Territory’s full political independence.  He added that he looks forward to New Caledonia achieving self‑determination by 2020.

SIDI OMAR, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), recalled that United Nations resolutions deeply deplore Morocco’s continued occupation of Western Sahara.  Moreover, the Organization does not recognize that country’s claim of sovereignty over the Territory, nor its illegal occupation and annexation.  He asked whether the rule of “might makes right” can be allowed to prevail in this situation or whether the principles of international legality and General Assembly resolutions should be defended unreservedly.  “This Committee’s only option, therefore, is to uphold the principles of international law by putting in place all necessary measures to allow the people of Western Sahara the chance to exercise freely and democratically their inalienable right to self‑determination and independence,” he stressed.

DANIEL DART RICHERT, DEC Projects, said the more he learns about the situation in Western Sahara, the more disgusted he is by the actions of Morocco and the complacency of the United Nations.  Pointing that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had no human rights mandate, he emphasized that the United Nations knows about the massive human rights violations, suppression of free speech and indiscriminate arrest and imprisonment of journalists.  On the territory’s right to self‑determination, he said the leaders present stand for nothing when it means having to take action, calling upon every nation to sign a pledge to support the self‑determination referendum.

MOHAMED ALI ARKOUKOU, Free Western Sahara, said Morocco’s continuing occupation is unacceptable, noting that the people of Western Sahara have defeated that country’s military many times.  Yet the United Nations is unable to enforce its resolutions or to grant the people their right to a referendum.  MINURSO only benefits the occupation, he emphasized.  Moroccan settlers are killing the people of Western Sahara every day, he said, adding that the United Nations presence has allowed Morocco to occupy the Territory and sap its natural resources.  He called for dismantling the Friends of Western Sahara Committee and for an end to MINURSO’s mandate.

MULA AHMED, Sahrawi Association in the United States, said freedom of expression is punishable by law in Western Sahara and leads to arbitrary detention and mistreatment.  Noting that more than 80 former colonies have gained independence, he said they have forgotten their own history and continue to cooperate with colonizers.  Emphasizing that the situation in Western Sahara is a question of international law and self‑determination, he said the conflict has been frozen for far too long, while the situation on the ground has changed.  Morocco’s human rights violations continue to be documented, yet Member States such as France threaten to veto resolutions, he pointed out, also expressing regret for the lack of African Union involvement.  He requested that MINURSO’s mandate be limited to six months.

CARROLL EADS, Capitol Hill Prayer Partners, said that if no resolution is found on the Western Sahara, another generation of youth living in the camps will be polarized and left with no intention of finding one.  Warning that unresolved issues can draw some young people into clandestine activities, she said people unable to see themselves as anything other than victims give little hope for progress towards a peaceful settlement.  Until young people see themselves as viable people bringing their gifts to their society, human rights will always be an issue, she said.

SUSAN ASHCRAFT, Special Agent, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Department of Justice, noted that the people of Western Sahara have been trapped in a desperate situation in the south of Algeria for more than 40 years.  Military organizations like Hizbullah have established training camps there to recruit hopeless young people into a life of terrorism and the smuggling of drugs, arms and humans, she noted.  Describing the Tindouf camps as a hotspot of organized crime and radical networks, she said Morocco has confirmed Hizbullah’s delivery of arms to Polisario, emphasizing that the threat is serious enough for Rabat to sever diplomatic relations with Iran.

SHERRY ERB, Erb Law, said Polisario’s total control over the camps distinguishes them from the majority of refugee camps under United Nations supervision around the world.  Why does the Organization allow one military group to manage people without any accountability while requiring accountability from numerous other refugee camps around the globe?  She noted that humanitarian aid intended for camp residents has been found in many North African countries, as documented in the 2014 report by the European Anti‑Fraud Office.

DONNA SAMS, Antioch Community Church, recalled her visits to the Tindouf camps, saying children there were deserting classrooms and embracing illicit activities, seeking to earn a living given the difficult access to humanitarian assistance.  Emphasizing the importance of education, she said young camp residents wait in limbo, vulnerable to opportunities to smuggle arms, drugs and people to make money.  Broken families live divided between the Tindouf camps in southern Algeria and Morocco, she said, describing family as the backbone of society, vital to a lasting resolution.

ANNA MARIA STAME, Centrist Democratic International Women, said the Tindouf camps constitute an open‑air prison containing vulnerable people who are silenced by vultures.  The Polisario Front detains, tortures and murders people thrown into detention centres, where conditions are worse than those found in the feudal era, she said, adding that, in these jails, detainees suffer degrading abuse and torture.  According to international law, a host country cannot subcontract the protection of refugees, she said, stressing the host country’s responsibility.

FATIMETU JATRI EMHAMED, Peace and Justice Center, said that protestors in Western Sahara are arrested and tortured by Morocco’s forces and political activists are placed behind bars.  On 9 October, journalist and human rights activist Walid Salek Albatal was sentenced to six years in prison for reporting human rights abuses in Western Sahara, she added, emphasizing:  “Enough is enough.”

TANYA WARBURG, Freedom for All, said rape and violence are commonplace in the Tindouf camps and the refugees have no means to bring the criminals to justice.  Those who denounce their rapists are often imprisoned, she noted, citing the example of Babba Mint M’barek Ould Zoubeir.  She called upon the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register the Tindouf population and assume responsibility for their welfare, noting that under Morocco’s autonomy initiative, the refugees would enjoy full human, legal and democratic rights.

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, said the diversion and theft of humanitarian assistance by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) was at the expense of the people living in the Tindouf camps.  The theft of humanitarian aid reveals a serious flaw in the Polisario leadership, she said, citing the 2014 report by the European Anti‑Fraud Office that investigated the matter.  However, no arrests or prosecutions were made, which led to a failure of accountability and left the perpetrators free to continue.  How can such leaders sit at the negotiating table to work out a settlement that will be in the best interests of their people, she asked, suggesting that if Polisario become leaders of a separate country, they will take corruption to a bigger scale.

JONATHAN HUFF, Safety and Security Instructional Services, said that unequivocal United States support for Morocco’s development of Western Sahara is well deserved.  Morocco took the lead 40 years ago, investing billions of dollars in an undeveloped area inhabited by nomadic tribal factions in order to create a viable, thriving community.  Returnees for the camps are welcomed with assistance and everyone benefits from the visionary infrastructure being built, he added.  Morocco will not compromise the region’s safety by allowing the creation of an artificial and weak State, he emphasized, describing Morocco’s autonomy plan as credible and serious.

VERONICA JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, said the practice of “warehousing” perfectly describes the situation of refugees in the Tindouf camps.  They have no right to juridical status, employment, welfare, freedom of movement or documentation, she noted.  The Polisario Front has refused to allow a census that would improve relief assistance and the refugees remain deprived of basic human rights.  Welcoming the Secretary‑General’s decision to deploy an electronic system to monitor international aid in the camps, she emphasized that the plan does not negate the need for a census to register refugees.

ERIC JENSEN, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Western Sahara from 1993 to 1998, recalled his 1996 effort to bring key players together to consider a negotiated political compromise as a means to resolve the Western Saharan dispute.  Recalling that the Security Council affirmed the need for a realistic, practical, enduring and compromise‑based political situation, he said the conflict will only be peacefully resolved in a spirit of realism and compromise.  The conflict has seen a generation existing as refugees and burgeoning security threats, he said, adding that it has been a costly block on regional cooperation.

SYDNEY SOLOMON ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, said he has been attending the Fourth Committee over the years to plead for the liberation of the Tindouf camps.  Noting that assistance to the camps has been consistently diverted, he said data and facts are not available for verification, adding that it is not possible to check on the distribution of goods.  Aid is stolen and sold locally during transit and non‑governmental organizations have always been denied access to relevant data, he said, reiterating his plea to close the camps.

VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said that almost all human rights violations against the people of Western Sahara arise from the non‑implementation of the right to self‑determination.  International observers are denied access to the Territory, particularly after the Gdeim Izik protest camp was dismantled in 2010.  She reminded Committee members that about 165,000 people were forced to flee to neighbouring refugee camps around Tindouf, and that a recent assessment by UNHCR indicates that 173,600 people are still living in these camps.  There are also 46 political prisoners from Western Sahara in Morocco’s jails, she said, adding that hundreds of others have disappeared since the beginning of the armed conflict.

RABAB MOHAMED NAFE, Sahrawi Students Association, said she was born in the refugee camps and asked the Committee when she will be allowed to vote in the referendum.  “Being a refugee means never having a normal life,” she said, adding:  “No Sahrawi child is born free.”  MINURSO promised a referendum and the right to self‑determination, but 28 years later, the people of Western Sahara still await the end of their land’s colonization, she noted.

SAID AYACHI, National Algerian Committee of Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said his people are suffering injustice as Morocco violates their human rights by using its army, police and administration to silence the people of Western Sahara.  The promised referendum never happened because of Morocco’s arrogance and delaying tactics, he said, calling for the expansion of MINURSO’s mandate and for the self‑determination referendum to be held as soon as possible.

YOUSSOUF COULIBALY, University of Bamako, Mali, said the people of Western Sahara are being held hostage by a minority, and do not enjoy any security or prospects for development.  Western Sahara has become a lawless territory characterized by urban crime, injustice, exclusion, discrimination, corruption and terrorism, he added.  The situation causes instability for States of the Sahel, and the lack of genuine opportunities in the region means that its young people are targeted by armed groups.  The United Nations must adopt an approach based in safety, he emphasized, recommending Morocco’s autonomy proposal.

NYKAKY LYGEROS said the situation in Morocco’s southern provinces is evidence of a new development model that is bearing fruit, as witnessed in Laayoune.  Sustainable development is taking place in the region, contrary to the propaganda promoted by the Polisario Front, he added, pointing out that Europe and the United States have never recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

BRIAN JAMISON, Date Palm Consulting, said he has been to the refugee camps six times and has experienced unhindered access to homes, makeshift businesses and small markets.  People addressing the Fourth Committee call the people of Western Sahara terrorists.  However, if that were true, it would be the first terrorist group to be recognized by the African Union which has given the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic recognition as a Member State, he pointed out.

ANDREW M. ROSEMARINE, International Law Chambers, said Morocco’s autonomy proposal presented to the Secretary‑General in 2007 is the best practical solution to the dispute.  It is fair, flexible and far‑sighted because it provides a very large degree of self‑determination for the Territory’s people, with an emphasis on negotiations, he said.  Morocco also guarantees Western Sahara’s people both inside and outside the Territory a privileged position and a leading role in regional institutions, without discrimination or exclusion, he added.

JOSE REVERT CALABUIG, Juristas por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos, said Western Sahara is militarily occupied by Morocco, which has committed violations including the forced deportation of activist Abderrahman Zayou as well as the continuous transfer of Moroccan colonists to the Territory.  He added that his organization has witnessed allegations of torture and ill‑treatment made by those prosecuted in court.  As such, the occupation violates international law and the international community must not allow Morocco to consolidate its annexation, he stressed.

MARIA INES MIRANDA NAVARRO, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, said those responsible for the occupation have enjoyed impunity for many years.  Some 44 years have elapsed yet the international community has failed to decolonize Western Sahara, she added, noting that the General Assembly remains incomprehensibly silent.  Spain does not talk about the issue, but it does talk about Gibraltar, she said, pointing out that the people of Western Sahara have been the victims of terrible crimes yet their only crime is to defend their right to self‑determination.

JANET LENZ, Not Forgotten, International; International Faith and Peace Dialogue, said she has been spending time in the Tindouf refugee camps since 1999 and in that time, no referendum was agreed.  That period also saw a steady decrease in the amount of food in the camps and refugees suffered human rights abuses by Morocco’s troops, she added.

For information media. Not an official record.