Fourth Committee Taking Backward Steps on Western Sahara Question, Says Namibia’s Representative, amid Continuing Debate on Decolonization Issues

GA/SPD/695
11 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Fourth Committee Taking Backward Steps on Western Sahara Question, Says Namibia’s Representative, amid Continuing Debate on Decolonization Issues

Petitioners Give Morocco’s Proposed Autonomy Plan Mixed Reviews in Hearing

After calling numerous meetings on the question of Western Sahara for more than 40 years, it appears the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) is taking steps backwards instead of moving forward, a delegate told that body today, as it continued its general debate on decolonization.

Namibia’s representative said that, as a former colony, his country is deeply concerned about the continued denial of the right to self‑determination for Western Sahara’s people.  Describing the Territory’s occupation as an outstanding case of colonialism, he underlined the need to resolve it with the utmost urgency.  He went on to offer Namibia’s support for any process that would enable implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions, particularly the holding of the referendum in Western Sahara.

Earlier, petitioners on the Western Sahara question addressed the Committee, with some applauding Morocco’s economic and social revitalization of the Territory and others denouncing the Kingdom’s presence as an illegal occupation.

“Dakhla is reshaping development and investment models not only for Africa, but for the world,” said one petitioner, noting that new businesses are springing up across Western Sahara.  Morocco’s autonomy plan is the only credible solution to the conflict over the Territory, he said.

Another petitioner described Western Sahara as one of Morocco’s most prosperous and growing economic regions thanks to the kingdom’s sustained public investment policy.  Its new development model in the southern provinces has an envelope of $8.4 billion and aims to double gross domestic product while creating 120,000 jobs in 10 years, he added.

However, other petitioners said Morocco’s presence in the Territory is a colonial one and violates United Nations resolutions.  One petitioner said Morocco has continued the economic plundering of the Territory with support from the European Union.  By extending association agreements, the European Commission — and by extension the European Union — supports the occupation of Western Sahara, she emphasized.

In similar vein, another petitioner said Morocco has been illegally exploiting aquifers, oil fields and other resources in Western Sahara, adding that the kingdom has reached agreement over those resources with the European Union, in flagrant violation of its international legal obligations.

Indeed, the European Court of Justice ruled on a number of occasions that Western Sahara is separate from Morocco, added another petitioner, pointing out that the International Court of Justice denied that country’s claim of sovereignty over the Territory and thus its authority over its people.

As the general debate resumed, Pakistan’s representative said the decolonization agenda of the United Nations will remain incomplete without a just resolution of the dispute over occupied Jammu and Kashmir, whose people have been denied the right to self‑determination.  To make matters worse, India illegally annexed the state on 5 August, she added.  Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir is integral to decolonization, she said, stressing that it is time to stop the pervading sense of cynicism born of perceived selectivity and bias in the work of the United Nations.  She went on to underline that unilateral actions in gross violation of Security Council resolutions threaten the rules‑based international order and erode the credibility and legitimacy of the United Nations.

Also speaking today were representatives of Qatar, Gambia, Namibia, Chile, Iran, Mozambique, Viet Nam, Senegal, Jordan, Indonesia and China.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom and Argentina.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.

Hearing of Petitioners

ANDRES RODRIGUEZ, International Student Committee, said students around the world wonder when human rights will prevail over economic interests.  Noting that the United Nations was created to prevent armed conflict and find solutions to existing conflicts, he said it is now being used as a bureaucratic channel to create obstacles, especially in the case of self‑determination for the people of Western Sahara.  He asked why the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has not held the referendum it was charged with implementing, cautioning that if the Organization fails to fulfil its obligation to protect people affected by conflict, the young generation will do so in its stead.

NGUYEN MANH HUNG, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, said Western Sahara has transformed into a peaceful, productive place thanks to Morocco’s efforts, including economic investment and infrastructure development.  Its human development indicators exceed the national average, he said, noting that the people of Western Sahara benefit from policies and environmental protections put in place by the Government of Morocco.  There is high participation by the people of Western Sahara in all Morocco’s elections, he added.

MARIANA MARTINS ALMEIDA, European Conference of Support and Solidarity with the Saharawi People, said the United Nations is the guardian and guarantor of international law and must fulfil its obligations with regard to Morocco.  That country performs a colonial role in violation of United Nations resolution 1514 (1960), she added, citing human rights violations, illegal exploitation of natural resources, torture and denial of self‑determination as elements of the political, social and economic agenda in Western Sahara.  Morocco has continued the economic plundering of the Territory with the support of the European Union, she said, citing the extraction of minerals and massive overfishing.  By extending association agreements, the European Commission, and by extension the European Union, supports the occupation of Western Sahara and places obstacles in the way of a solution to the conflict, she said.  Statements and resolutions from decades ago have not been assimilated and Western Sahara remains colonized, buoyed by extensive lobbying by the Governments of France and Morocco, she emphasized.

GRACE NJAPAU-EFRATI, Women Investment Network of Zambia, said development and prosperity are increasing in Western Sahara, with extensive investments in schools and hospitals.  Noting that Morocco has demonstrated commitment to a political solution, cooperating fully with the United Nations Security Council, she said the Territory’s people are aware of disturbing groups with a political agenda who do not understand the region and advocate “estranged policies”.  The Government of Morocco is supporting the agriculture sector and the fishing industry is thriving, creating many new jobs for all, she added.

WILLIAM ETHERIDGE, Member of European Parliament, described his visit to the city of Dakhla in Western Sahara, saying its infrastructure is improving and there was a palpable feeling of excitement among the people he met.  The Moroccan Government has realized that financial investment is not enough to energize the Territory and understands that the people are its greatest resource, he noted, describing the plan Morocco is enacting in Western Sahara as the perfect solution to its issues.

PAUL SIMON BROTHWOOD, The Anglo European Trade Consultancy, discussed his visits to Dakhla, noting that new housing and amenities are being built there with a specific focus on elderly care.  He added that he was impressed by the number of young people working on such projects and by the involvement of women from different segments of society.  “Dakhla is reshaping development and investment models not only for Africa, but for the world,” he said, noting that new businesses are springing up across the Territory.  Morocco’s autonomy plan is the only credible solution to the conflict, he added.

DAVID LIPPIATT, President, WE International, said the people of Western Sahara want a peaceful resolution and a return to their homeland.  They need protection from the occupying Moroccan Government, he added, urging MINURSO to report on human rights violations in occupied Western Sahara by incorporating a human rights monitoring component and to implement the legal self‑determination referendum on Western Sahara’s independence.  Morocco violently suppresses any expression favouring self‑determination in the occupied territory, arresting, torturing and illegally detaining the Territory’s people, he noted, reiterating that MINURSO must have the capacity to monitor, protect and report on human rights.

ZIAD ALJABARI, Palestinian-Moroccan Friendship Society, said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) takes advantage of world events to promote its agenda and of the media to solicit the compassion of leftist groups.  The Front’s attempts to disrupt democracy and hijack the Palestinian cause is a ploy to win international attention, he said, adding that Polisario tried to strip the Palestinian flag of its meaning by using it for themselves and merely adding a star and a crescent.  The backgrounds of the two peoples and the two conflicts are different and Palestine rejects any comparison between the Palestinian and Western Sahara situations, he emphasized.

CATERINA LUSUARDI, Associazione Jaima Sahrawi per Una Soluzione Giusta e Nonviolenta nel Sahara Occidentale, recalled her visit to Western Sahara, saying that physical violence was the issue about which she heard people complaining most.  The less obvious aggression is the cultural violence they suffer, she noted, remarking that whereas the Territory’s people are nomadic, they are forced to “stay put” and cannot exercise their basic human rights.  Economic violence is also an issue since the occupying country saps natural resources, she continued, also citing structural violence, including massive surveillance campaigns and arbitrary expulsions.  The “green march” in 1975 was made to annex the Territory, she said, emphasizing that self‑determination must be granted to the people of Western Sahara.

ALI SAHEL, National Association for Youth Exchanges, said young people are the most affected by the consequences of the occupation and exist in a climate of confusion and uncertainty.  Peaceful protests and civilized movements demonstrate the desire of young people to move forward but they are met with disproportionate violence and imprisonment, he added.  Describing the socioeconomic situation for young people as dim, he said there are few opportunities for work and young people are forced to emigrate, which presents an obstacle to development.

CHRIS SASSI, Skc, said the colonial yoke of the Moroccan Government perpetuates the situation in Western Sahara.  Recalling that the European Court of Justice ruled on a number of occasions that Western Sahara is separate from Morocco, he said that in 1975, the International Court of Justice denied that country’s claim of sovereignty over the Territory and thus its authority over its people.  The testimonies of Moroccan settlers are not relevant, he said, emphasizing that the only consultation the people of Western Sahara are interested in is about their right to self‑determination.  The Territory’s decolonization has not occurred because direct negotiations between the Moroccan Government and Polisario have not happened, he said, calling for the resumption of those talks.

SARAH DUBORD-GAGNON, Gagnon Forlag, urged the United Nations to support the Moroccan initiative, saying it will contribute to the stability of Maghreb countries.  Morocco has fully shouldered its responsibilities in response to the Security Council’s repeated calls for a mutually acceptable political solution, she added, describing that country’s autonomy plan as a win‑win compromise that preserves Morocco’s unity and sovereignty, while institutionalizing the right of the relevant populations to manage themselves democratically.  In designing this project, Morocco paid careful attention to the social and cultural distinctiveness of Western Sahara, she said.

JAVIER ANDRÉS GONZÁLEZ VEGA, University of Oviedo, Spain, said the situation in Western Sahara constitutes a breach of the principle of self‑determination.  Citing the economic and legal aspects of that principle, he went on to state that the constant violation of the people’s right to self‑determination is backed up by their loss of sovereignty over their natural resources.  Morocco has been illegally exploiting aquifers, oil fields and other resources in Western Sahara and has reached agreement over them with the European Union, in flagrant violation of its international legal obligations, he stressed.

AGILA ABBA HEMEIDA, describing the women of Western Sahara as strong and beautiful, said domestic violence is unheard of in the Territory’s culture and will never be a part of it.  However, Morocco’s police and military have abused the women in their own homeland, she said, adding that they are treated as secondary citizens.  She went on to condemn the violence women suffer at the hands of the brutal Moroccan regime, declaring:  “Morocco has no right to lay hands on my sisters and brothers.”

RICARDO SANCHEZ-SERRA SERRA, Consejo Peruano de Solidaridad con el Pueblo Saharaui, expressed concern over the welfare of the people of Western Sahara, noting that he has visited the refugee camps.  How many diplomats have done so? he asked.  The people live in poverty and rely on international charity, which is becoming scarce, he pointed out.  Morocco’s autonomy proposal is the key to peace in the Maghreb because it is realistic and is considered serious and credible by the Security Council, he said.

FEDERICA CANI, Comune di Fabbrico, said Italian municipalities have demonstrated their solidarity with their twinned communities in Western Sahara.  They host peace ambassadors in their homes and express support through other initiatives, she added.  However, living conditions in Western Sahara are getting worse as a consequence of diminishing humanitarian aid, she noted.  Emphasizing the urgent need to relaunch the negotiation process, she called upon Morocco to respect international law and human rights.

LUIS GONZALES POSADA, Revolutionary American Party of Peru, recalled the colonial history of Western Sahara and noted that Morocco has tried to find a solution to the conflict there by adhering to the principles of international law.  Noting the adverse conditions in the Tindouf camps, he called for the creation of a special commission to conduct a census in the camps to establish their true conditions.

JOSE MARIA GIL GARRE, International Security Observatory, described Polisario as a danger to Western Sahara, especially considering the presence of terrorist organizations in the Territory.  Terrorism and organized crime are rife, he said, adding that some members of Polisario are involved in criminal activity.  The Tindouf camps demonstrate the despair resulting from Polisario’s leadership, he said, calling upon the international community to face the issue before the situation deteriorates further and Western Sahara is permanently destabilized.  Morocco’s proposal could be the definitive solution to this issue, he added.

LORENZO PEÑAS ROLDÁN, Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Murcia, denounced the terrible conditions in the Tindouf camps and asked what substantive guarantees or legal protections are provided to the people there.  Polisario should be considered an illegal entity, he added, saying the question of sovereignty is a fictitious one.  Polisario’s governing Council of Justice applies a mix of sharia and common law and no one knows how it is enforced, he noted, adding that there is no separation of powers, transparency or regulation.  Morocco’s proposal is the only dignified solution, he said, describing it as a legal framework from a true State.

FARAH DIH, New York University, said that, whereas the United Nations previously played a decisive role in decolonization, its success is in question because 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories remain colonized.  When has economic success become more important than the well‑being of the people of the Territories? she asked.  Western Sahara’s people have suffered abuse and damage under generations of occupying Powers, she noted, recalling that MINURSO was entrusted with a list of mandates, of which it has managed to fulfil only one — the ceasefire.  If the eradication of colonization is still a priority for the United Nations, it must stand by its word, she emphasized.

HUBERT SEILLAN, Paris Bar, said he represents family members of a missing person in Western Sahara, adding that he submitted a criminal complaint against every person in a position of authority within Polisario but received no response.  He said that he eventually brought the matter to the International Criminal Court, but there is a “deafening silence” over the case.  The missing individual’s wife and four children staged a sit‑in in Tindouf to try and obtain information on their father, he said, noting that the protest garnered much international support.

MARTHA CHÁVEZ COSSÍO described the Polisario Front as a fictitious entity in Western Sahara, noting that, under Moroccan control, the Territory’s people enjoy their rights and their representatives are elected by its citizens.  In the 2015 elections, the voter turnout was higher than that for the rest of Morocco, she said.  The Territory’s mayors are locals and one is a former Polisario leader who returned to Morocco in 1998, she added.  No international organization recognizes Polisario as a representative of the people of Western Sahara.  The renewal of farming and fishing agreements mean that the European Union Commission undertook consultations with local people to ensure they consent to the use of the Territory’s resources for their benefit, she said, pointing out that those held in the Tindouf camps have no such experience of democracy or representation.

GIULIANA DORIA, Associazione di Solidarieta’ al Popolo Saharawi, said her organization has been carrying out solidarity projects to spread knowledge of the Western Sahara cause.  Noting that the Territory’s people have been waiting more than 44 years for the possibility of self‑determination, she said they are engaged in a non‑violent struggle for recognition and implementation of that right.  Recalling her 2017 visit to the refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria, she said conditions there are inhuman and emphasized the need to entrust the task of monitoring human rights in Western Sahara to MINURSO when the Mission’s mandate is extended.

ANTONELLA INCERTI, House of Representatives, Italy, said the reduction of assistance to Western Sahara refugees is having devastating effects on the Tindouf refugee camps.  Recalling that the judgments of the European Court of Justice in 2016 and 2018 excluded Western Sahara’s resources from the free commercial agreement between Morocco and the European Union, she pointed out that Morocco continues to use those resources.  Observing that negotiations between Morocco and Polisario stalled following the resignation of the Secretary‑General’s Personal Envoy, she called upon the international community to make every effort to ensure that the talks resume.

RUTH SEBASTIAN GARCIA, Asociación Juristas por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos, said her association has witnessed Morocco systematically infringing upon the human rights of Western Sahara’s people, in violation of international law.  The State has instrumentalized its courts to repress them, initiating criminal trials against numerous human rights activists, she noted.  Such trials are considered null because they violate international law, she emphasized, while also denouncing conditions in which Western Sahara prisoners are held.

SOPHIE MICHEZ, Brussels Bar, recalled the details of an attack in Oudaya, near the Tindouf camps, in which two people were killed, explaining that the survivors bore witness before the authorities and the General Prosecutor carried out the legal formalities.  The case was handed over to Algeria, but no lawyer was able to take up the defence, so they brought the matter to Lawyers Without Borders.  However, no visas were issued to the witnesses and eventually no enquiry was opened nor a trial held, she said.

CLARA RIVEROS, CPLATAM Observatory, said Western Sahara is a geographic term to distinguish Morocco’s southern provinces and the local tribes are historically and economically linked with Morocco.  However, the colonial Powers set the borders to suit their own convenience, she noted.  Recalling that the Polisario Front was created in 1973 and owes its emergence to the cold war, she said the Western Sahara situation is one of territorial integrity.  She went on to state that the Security Council unanimously regards Morocco’s autonomy proposal as serious and credible.

SOFIA ALEJANDRA MARTINEZ CRUZ, Empoderando a Latinoamerica, said Morocco’s security forces have committed serious human rights violations in Western Sahara, torturing, killing and “disappearing” thousands of people who resisted the occupation.  “In the last 28 years, the United Nations has done nothing besides give a promise of a referendum that never took place,” she said, adding:  “Therefore, you have become a partner of the oppressor.”

NESTOR BLANCO, Guillermo Brown National University, Buenos Aires, said Morocco is committed to negotiating autonomy for Western Sahara within its national unity.  The initiative meets expectations of peace, sustainable development and democracy and will facilitate peaceful integration without exclusion, he added.  The plan would provide self‑government for the people of Western Sahara, who would be able to elect their own legislative and judicial bodies.  The full use of tax revenues would be ceded and the Hassani culture would be promoted and protected, he said.

OUEZNA BOUKHMIS, National Union of Algerian Women, said the people of Western Sahara have experienced tragedy and suffering since the invasion of the Territory in 1975.  The people placed their trust in the United Nations in 1991, but now a third generation is being sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik, she added.  Noting the deplorable standards of living in the refugee camps, she said lasting stability requires the restoration of the self‑determination rights of the people of Western Sahara.

ERIC CAMERON, World Action for Refugees, said the people in the Tindouf camps have been denied their rights by an organization that embezzles international assistance intended for them.  Dissent against the organization is always met with repression, he said, noting that Western Sahara’s people are denied even the most basic human rights registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The contrast with the living conditions of those in Western Sahara is striking, he said, attributing the latter situation to Morocco’s new model for development of the southern provinces.  The population in the camps should be given the right to enjoy the same freedom and opportunities, he emphasized.

NICHOLAS BALLAGH recounted how he noticed the sadness and fierceness of character within the people living in the Tindouf camps, imagining that they arose from the discouragement of being a forgotten people.  He added that, on the basis of his own experience, the Polisario Front is not corrupt, having provided an environment in which he and his family felt safe.  The Committee has the authority to do something about the situation in Western Sahara, but after many years of petitioning, it has not been in favour of the Territory’s decolonization, he said.

JOANNA BALLAGH said her visit to the Tindouf camps revealed people of incredible strength, integrity, hospitality and generosity.  Regarding their right to self‑determination, she said that if the requirement for people to govern their own country is that they must be moral and have integrity, the people of Western Sahara fulfil that requirement.  However, the Territory’s people should be able to govern themselves not only because of their strength of character, but because the land is rightfully theirs, she stressed, calling upon the Committee to uphold the resolutions adopted in 1965 and 1999.

ANDRE GRIMBLATT, Sorbonne University, Paris, said that some believe Morocco’s desire for Western Sahara’s natural resources is the basis of its claim over the Territory, but that position disregards the facts of history and the reality on the ground.  The Territory’s industrial activity actually provides employment opportunities and a better quality of life for thousands of people, he emphasized, pointing out that Morocco invests in Western Sahara’s development and that its actions there are just and legal.  Claims to the contrary delay the peace process and deny the reality that Morocco actively participates in the economic and social development of Western Sahara, he said.

IRINA TSUKERMAN, Mapkana, said that she interviewed former prisoners of the Polisario Front who had been tortured and they told her about the cooperation between Polisario and major international terrorist groups.  Tunnels, smuggling operations, as well as Hizbullah‑coordinated activities and training threaten to destabilize the entire region, she said.  Such activities would not be possible without the host country’s approval, she added, predicting that Polisario’s close cooperation with global terrorist groups will squander international goodwill.  Describing the Maghreb as an important regional nexus, she warned that inviting global terrorist groups in will have devastating effects.

JUAN CARLOS MORAGA, Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras, said Morocco has maintained its proposal to find an acceptable political solution in Western Sahara despite the humanitarian crisis on the other side of the border.  The autonomy proposal enjoys wide support at the United Nations and demonstrates Morocco’s political will to find a solution, he added.  The autonomy initiative is recognized as credible and helps to isolate extreme situations that encourage separatism, he said, pointing out that human rights are trampled in the refugee camps.  He went on to emphasize that outdated ideological arguments should not be used to dismiss Morocco’s proposal.

CARMEN ZAMORA, Centro de Estudios del Magreb para las Americas, said that development and economic advancement can be seen in Western Sahara’s hospitals, schools and houses, adding that those in remote areas receive social benefits.  The reason is Morocco’s implementation of smart economic policies and creation of jobs by granting concessions to fishing companies and farms, she noted.  What is happening in the Tindouf camps, however, amounts to fraud, she said, citing the report by the European Anti‑Fraud Office.  Morocco promotes a just and humane solution for those suffering in the Tindouf camps, she added.

FIRMIN C. KINZOUNZA, Marien Ngouabi University, Brazzaville, noted that the Western Sahara question continues to pollute the agendas of Africa and the United Nations.  Recalling repeated appeals by the Security Council for a realistic solution to that question, he described Morocco’s autonomy initiative as the best solution to address it.  He went on to state that ruthless and lawless separatist movements are exacerbating instability in the Sahel region, which is linked to security in the Mediterranean and Europe as well.

XIMENA DEL PILAR ORDENES CORDOBA, Federación Regional Funcionarios Municipales, Chile, said Morocco’s autonomy initiative will promote equitable and sustainable growth in Western Sahara, constituting true progress towards self‑determination.  Putting the proposal to a referendum will allow the establishment of a council of local representatives, she added, noting that, under the initiative, Western Sahara’s people will be able to participate in elections and return home under safe and decent conditions.

STEINGRÍMUR ÓLAFSSON, Sævarr slf, said Morocco carries out the management of natural resources in Western Sahara through representatives elected within the framework of the national legislature.  Through Morocco’s sustained public investment policy, Western Sahara is now one of the most prosperous and growing economic regions in the kingdom, he added.  The new development model in the southern provinces has an envelope of $8.4 billion and aims to double gross domestic product while creating 120,000 jobs in 10 years, he said.  It relies on the participation of local representatives in all phases, as well as the application of law and respect for human rights, he said, adding that the initiative is currently implemented at a rate of 60 per cent.

NAAMA SGHAYER, Sahraoui Political Asylum, noted that the Western Sahara is the last occupied Territory in Africa and Morocco is violating the right of its people to exercise their right to self‑determination.  Morocco is also in violation of numerous resolutions and the ceasefire agreement through multiple provocations and the planting of mines, he added, pointing out that Morocco subjects Western Sahara’s people to systematic torture.  Natural resources are used to Morocco’s sole benefit, regardless of all United Nations resolutions, he said, warning that the people of Western Sahara are considering armed conflict out of boredom with the lack of action and sickness at what is being done to them.

CHERIF GREIMICH said Morocco’s theft of natural resources prevents the people of Western Sahara from consolidating international legitimacy.  Noting that the kingdom receives more than $2 million from the Territory’s resources, he said the yield from fishing and agricultural activities are sold to European companies.  The renewable energy that Morocco sells is generated in Western Sahara, he said, pointing out that the kingdom is conducting dozens of trade agreements, including with France, which affect the Territory’s people.  He went on to recall a 2016 legal verdict exempting Western Sahara from any trade agreements.  The dividends are not used to ensure the prosperity of the Territory’s people, but rather for Moroccan expansion, he said, adding that, meanwhile, Morocco seeks to change Western Sahara’s demographic composition.

ELISA WALLESKA KRÜGER, Insitituto Personna, described the situation in the Tindouf camps as terrorism, noting that they are inhabited by people who have been abducted and are almost entirely dependent on international assistance, which is in decline as a result of Polisario’s embezzlement of that aid.  The rule of law must be established to give the people in those camps some level of protection, she said, citing the disappearance of a human rights activist in Tindouf.  She went on to say that Polisario has allied itself with terrorist groups in order to advance its aims, suggesting that its rejection of Morocco’s autonomy initiative is evidence that the Front is not interested in the well‑being of Western Sahara’s people.  The entire Maghreb region could become a hotbed of terrorism, she warned.

ROMINA PERINO said the children living in the Tindouf camps are called “children of the clouds” because they follow the rain.  Recalling her meeting with a little girl there, she said children in the camps suffer in many ways owing to lack of protein, water contamination and poor medical resources.  Pointing out that children are not able to decide whether they want to be autonomous or Moroccan, she expressed hope that they will be returned to their homeland one day.

ILEANA YAHAIRA MOLO ALVARADO, Afropanameña Soy, said women, children and the elderly suffer terrible deprivation in the camps.  At the outset people tried to help each other, but now young people emigrate to find work, she added.  Polisario cannot provide even the minimum security and well‑being for people living in the camps, she said, adding that the way in which they are run are in violation of international law.  She went on to cite torture, rape and embezzlement of humanitarian aid.  The camps must be demilitarized since they are a threat to the entire region, she stressed.

ABDELFATTAH AHL EL MEKKI, Chamber of Representatives, said any solution to the Western Sahara question must be realistic, recalling that the POLISARIO Front remains committed to holding a referendum despite years of attempts.  The solution must be practical, realistic and consensual, he stressed, noting that Morocco is seeking a solution towards sustainable peace in order to end the suffering of those in the Tindouf camps.

INMA ZANOGUERA, UT, said that, thanks to the legacy of colonialism, her status as a European arbitrarily places her above that of her brothers and sisters in Western Sahara.  Morocco regards Western Sahara’s people as “less than human”, she said, adding that in order for justice to prevail in the Territory, the United Nations must assure them the right to self‑determination.  Moreover, Spain must pay its dues to its former colony by leading the way to self‑determination, she added.

MAHJOUBA DAOUDI, Sahara Media Center, said she is among the many women of Western Sahara who fulfil their part in community building and enhancing socioeconomic development in Laayoune.  That thriving environment in the Moroccan Sahara gives her and other women a preponderant role in the public sphere, she added, while noting that Western Sahara’s women in the Tindouf camps are deprived of their right to freedom of movement, tortured and raped.

AHMED MOHAMED FALL, Protecting Sahrawi Natural Resources, said the Territory is an independent State with legal rights internationally.  Those opposing its independence support Morocco’s occupation, he asserted, noting that people in occupied Dakhla enjoy only 3.9 per cent of revenues from the fishing industry.  Morocco opposes all independent economic efforts by Western Sahara’s business people, he said, recalling that thousands of people protested the unfair economic situation but ended up incarcerated.  “The Moroccan regime is a totalitarian royal system that will use any pretext to perpetuate the occupation of Western Sahara,” he emphasized.

MICHELLE-ANDREA GIROUARD, RunningHome, said Morocco has been illegally occupying Western Sahara and exploiting its natural resources, especially fish and phosphates.  Noting that climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, she said people in the Tindouf refugee camps have suffered flooding, adding that although heavy rainfall is common, the scale of recent floods is unusual, but has become the new normal.  Some refugees have to rebuild their homes every year, she said, noting that temperatures are expected to rise twice as fast as the global average — with heatwaves lasting 80 days instead of 16 — by mid‑century.  She went on to state that Morocco has invested in renewable energy, but uses it to power phosphate mines in the Territory.

SIDI LAAROUSSI DAHI, from Laayoune, noted that 40 years have elapsed yet people were not able to observe the state of those detained in Western Sahara, describing the refugee camps as prisons.  The camp inhabitants have become braver and have started to protest, he said, recalling multiple recent demonstrations and calling for accountability for the perpetrators of crimes in the camps.

MOHAMMED AYYACH, Commune of Foum El Oued, said the suffering in Tindouf will continue until all camp inhabitants are allowed to return to Morocco and participate in the development, which is being carried out in coordination with representatives elected by the Territory’s people.  Calling upon the Committee to intervene and provide protection for the most vulnerable people in the refugee camps, he said they are often subjected to rape, detention and slavery, adding that even Polisario’s leader is wanted by Spanish authorities.

JUAN RAMÓN CRESPO AGUILAR, Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Castilla La Mancha para el Sáhara Occidental, said countries and businesses enrich themselves in Western Sahara through the theft of Western Sahara’s natural resources while the Territory’s people suffer injustice.  Morocco occupies Western Sahara but represses the aboriginal inhabitants and exploits their natural wealth.  He went on to emphasize that countries as well as the United Nations must play a role in ending violations of the rights of Western Sahara’s people, including their political, economic and cultural rights.

KAREN BAEZ said that, if Moroccans were trying to build infrastructure and improve the economy, they would work with the people of Western Sahara and would not need a wall.  The Territory’s independence is widely recognized as legitimate, she added, urging Morocco to abide by the standards and policies of its Government.

MOHAMMED AHMED GAIN, National School of Trade and Management, Morocco, said the Polisario Front has perpetrated gross violations of human rights against the Tindouf camp and against Mauritanians and Europeans.  It forces hundreds of children to join armed groups and deports them to other countries without parental consent.  Citing reports by several international organizations, he said Polisario is devoid of legitimacy.

HAMMADA EL BAIHI, Ligue Sahara pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme, recounted how he and other children from the refugee camps were sent to South America, where they were subjected to military training and brought up with alien values.  After 15 years of forced separation from their families, they returned to Tindouf hoping for compensation, but found great suffering there, he recalled.  Innocent children fell victim to Polisario’s destructive schemes, he said, stressing that anyone who supports the Front provides cover for their violations in the camps.

JOSE DANIEL BASCONES AOIZ, Associació Catalana de Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui, recalled that various tribes came together to form the people of Western Sahara and they chose Polisario as their representative.  Their right to self‑determination is legitimate because they do not question the territorial integrity of other countries, he said, adding that MINURSO is charged with organizing the referendum.

SIDI AHMED HORMAT ALLAH, Agence Développement Social de Dakhla, said elected officials in Western Sahara are initiating development plans that serve the local population.  Local representatives have observed the reality on the ground, he added.  Emphasizing that Polisario has no standing as representative of Western Sahara’s people, he suggested that their propaganda campaigns are designed to mislead the international community.  He went on to state that Morocco has not restricted access to Western Sahara, despite reports to the contrary.

ADNANE BRAIH, Association pour le Développement Social et Humain, said that his father, who was a Polisario official, was abducted.  Owing to his position, he had access to sensitive information, including evidence of war crimes in the Tindouf camps, which put him at odds with the Polisario leadership, he noted.  As a result, the host country’s intelligence services and Polisario conspired to abduct his father, he added, calling upon the General Assembly to exert pressure to ensure an end to abductions and expulsions.

GHALLA BAHIYA, Dakhla Oued Eddahab Regional Council, said the elections in which she won her seat saw a high turnout at the national level, with 80 per cent of those eligible voting.  However, the current leadership, who did not participate, have perpetrated many violations, she said, citing the example of Brahim Ghali who is wanted by Spain’s courts on charges of rape.  She went on to state that the inhabitants of the Moroccan Sahara have been practicing their civil and cultural rights freely and are subject to monitoring by mechanisms mandated under the law.

M’HAMED ABBA, Conseil Régional de Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra, said Morocco has implemented a programme that addresses the right of Western Sahara’s people to live in prosperity and enjoy social development, consisting of more than 700 projects with a total budget of $8 billion.  The new development model is articulated around inclusive human development and sustainable territorial development, among other pillars, he said, adding that gains in Western Sahara reflect the success of the Morocco’s proposed autonomy initiative.  He went on to state that the projects are intended to prepare the ground for the return to Morocco of brothers and sisters in Western Sahara, with respect for their rights, and helping them live a life of democracy, prosperity and socioeconomic emancipation.

ZINE EL AABIDINE EL OUALI, Association 9 mars, said the Polisario Front has perpetrated a pattern of arbitrary detentions.  Citing the kidnapping of three prominent Western Sahara activists in June 2019, he demanded justice for the families in Tindouf and for help to save the lives of the three human rights defenders in Polisario’s illegal detention centres.

AHMED BAQAI noted that Morocco and transnational companies continue to exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources.  Emphasizing that the benefits of the peoples of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories must be considered when making economic investments, he said Polisario was not consulted on the trade deals made with foreign actors.  He went on to express concern about overfishing and other unsustainable practices that rob future generations of valuable resources.

PENGILL BJÖRNSSON, from Iceland, said that, thanks to Morocco’s efforts to leverage the extraction of natural resources to further socioeconomic development, the local people are able to exercise their right to development in full enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights.  Noting that Western Sahara’s multidimensional poverty indicators are the lowest in Morocco, he said the Territory’s literacy rate is 67.8 per cent, compared with 61.8 per cent in the rest of Morocco.

MAALAININE YARA, Laayoune Tech, said drug trafficking and other crimes are common in Morocco, but the people of Western Sahara are not involved.  Demanding evidence of their involvement in terrorism, as alleged, he asked why Morocco blocks human rights observers from MINURSO if it is such a safe haven.

General Debate

JASSIM SAYAR A. J. AL-MAAWDA (Qatar) said all forms of occupation violate human rights and threaten international peace and security.  Emphasizing the importance of resolutions on decolonization, he said Qatar advocates working towards just settlement to ensure security and stability for all.  He went on to stress that the Palestinian people must be granted their right to self‑determination and to call for an end to the occupation of all Palestinian territories.  A lasting political solution also must be found in Western Sahara, he said, underlining the importance of adhering to the relevant Security Council resolutions.  He went on to describe Morocco’s autonomy plan as constructive while emphasizing that any resolution before the Committee must be adopted by consensus.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the Organization’s decolonization agenda will remain incomplete without the just resolution of the dispute over occupied Jammu and Kashmir, whose people have been denied the right to self‑determination — enshrined in 11 different Security Council resolutions — for 70 years.  It is deplorable that India has subjected them to brutal and systematic suppression, she said.  To make matters worse, that country illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August, turning it into the world’s largest prison.  India also moved thousands of additional troops into the state, already recognized as the world’s most militarized zone, she pointed out.  Resolution of the Kashmir dispute is an integral part of decolonization, she said, emphasizing that it is time to stop the pervading sense of cynicism born out of perceived selectivity and bias in the work of the United Nations.  She went on to stress that unilateral actions in gross violation of Security Council resolutions threaten the rules‑based international order and erode the credibility and legitimacy of the United Nations.  Going forward, Pakistan will remain the voice of Kashmiris in all international forums, she pledged.

ISATOU BADJIE (Gambia) praised Morocco’s constructive and cooperative approach and applauded the kingdom’s sustained engagement on the issue, while urging the international community to acknowledge its role as evidence of its commitment to finding a sustainable solution to the dispute over Western Sahara.  Expressing strong support for Morocco’s autonomy plan, she noted that the Territory faces security challenges.  Morocco’s plan would contribute to Western Sahara’s security and is in conformity with the kingdom’s obligations under international law while considering the people’s desire for self‑determination.  Commending Morocco’s efforts on cooperation with human rights organizations and the development trajectory it has started in Western Sahara, she said the kingdom’s new development initiative creates opportunities for growth and will improve the lives of the Territory’s people.

NEVILLE GERTZE (Namibia) said that, after calling numerous meetings on the question of Western Sahara for more than 40 years, it appears that the Committee is taking backwards steps instead of moving forward.  As a previously colonized country, he added, Namibia is deeply concerned about the continued denial of the right to self‑determination for the Territory’s people.  It constitutes a challenge to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and to the authority and credibility of the General Assembly, he emphasized.  He went on to express his delegation’s abiding concern that the 1991 United Nations‑brokered referendum in Western Sahara remains outstanding and that Security Council resolution 658 (1990) is yet to be implemented.  Underlining that the occupation of Western Sahara is an outstanding case of colonialism, he said it must be resolved with the utmost urgency.  He went on to offer Namibia’s support for any process enabling implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions, particularly the holding of the referendum, in order for Western Sahara’s people to determine their own future.  Namibia applauds the efforts of the Secretary‑General’s former Personal Envoy to Western Sahara and regrets his resignation, he added.

MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), associating himself with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), reiterated his delegation’s support for Argentina over the question of the Malvinas Islands[1].  In that context, he applauded the recent progress achieved in bilateral relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, as reflected in the opening of new flights to the Malvinas Territory and reciprocal visits by national authorities.

MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran) noted that the United Nations Charter provides that peoples of colonial countries have the right to freely choose their political system and decide their own future.  Stressing that decolonization should remain among the top priorities of the United Nations, he said it is time to uproot colonialism in all its forms, be it political, social, cultural or economic exploitation.  Emphasizing that administering Powers have the obligation to protect the human and natural resources of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories against any abuse, he deplored the harm caused to the rights and interests of those peoples by military and other activities of the administering Powers, demanding that they be respected.  He went on to commend United Nations visiting missions to the Territories as a means of assessing their respective situations and channelling their wishes and aspirations regarding their respective futures.

ANA NEMBA UAIENE (Mozambique) expressed support for all people struggling for self‑determination as well as regret that MINURSO has yet to hold the referendum with which it was charged.  Emphasizing the importance of the Committee’s role in advancing decolonization to all remaining Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, including Western Sahara, she also applauded the efforts of the Secretary‑General’s former Personal Envoy in bringing the relevant stakeholders together.  She called upon the United Nations to deploy concrete measures in support of Western Sahara’s the people by advancing the referendum, and upon the Security Council to extend MINURSO’s mandate.  She went on to express concern over Israel’s continuing settlement construction, saying such activities threaten peace across the Middle East region.

NGUYEN NAM DUONG (Viet Nam) said the eradication of colonialism is a fundamental goal of the United Nations and it is the Organization’s responsibility to achieve the self‑determination of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1540 (1960).  However, 17 such Territories remain and their peoples have been unable to enjoy and exercise their right to self‑determination, he noted.  As a country that underwent similar struggles, Viet Nam advocates the eradication of colonialism, he said, calling for effective measures to remove barriers.  He went on to express his delegation’s support for the work of the United Nations and its institutions in pursuing the legitimate rights of non‑self‑governing people and called for cooperation on the part of the administering Powers.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal) said the round‑table talks on Western Sahara were encouraging and emphasized Morocco’s constructive approach.  He welcomed the implementation of the kingdom’s development plan, saying it will help the Territory’s people.  Noting that the management of important challenges specific to Western Sahara, such as security, require an approach based on partnership, he said a final resolution to the conflict in the Western Sahara would end the desperate situation for the people in the Tindouf camps.

MOHANNAD ADNAN MOUSA SHADDAD (Jordan) said progress on decolonization requires that all stakeholders fulfil their responsibility to reach sustainable solutions in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  Regarding occupation, he said the question of Palestine must be resolved through the two‑State formula envisioning Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital and within the 1967 borders.  Turning to Western Sahara, he expressed his delegation’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan and territorial integrity and acknowledged the kingdom’s efforts for the Territory’s economic development.

WIDYA SADNOVIC (Indonesia) expressed appreciation about the positive engagement of the administering Powers in the work of the Committee.  Progress would only be made on the decolonization issue with the collaboration of the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, administering Powers and the international community.  Emphasizing the importance of respecting the territorial integrity of States, he said there is no “one size fits all” solution to decolonization challenges.  Dialogue and compromise are vital to this work, he emphasized, encouraging the relevant United Nations agencies to continue their work with the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.

MA YUANCHUN (China) said that Non‑Self‑Governing Territories are the legacies left by Western colonial rule in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  The adoption of relevant General Assembly resolutions and the establishment of the Special Committee forcibly advanced the cause of decolonization.  Two million people live in the 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, where colonial mentality is still present.  China has consistently supported these people to exercise their rights to self‑determination, she said, stressing the importance of socioeconomic development in these territories.  Her country was ready to extend support for these objectives, she said, also adding her support for Argentina to find a sustainable solution to the dispute over the Malvinas Islands.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said her country had no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.  There could be no conversation about sovereignty if the inhabitants did not wish for it.

The representative of Argentina reiterated the remarks made by his President to the General Assembly and the Committee in September:  the Malvinas Islands are an integral part of Argentina’s territory and are illegally occupied by the United Kingdom.  He urged the Government of Great Britain to resume negotiations to find a resolution to the dispute as soon as possible.  The right of people to self‑determination is not applicable to the discussion, he said, adding: “In accordance with the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Committee of 24, the interests and lifestyle of the inhabitants of the islands are protected by the Argentine Constitution, as well as by the relevant United Nations General Assembly resolutions.”

 

[1] 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).

For information media. Not an official record.