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GA/SPD/723
3 November 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 8th Meeting (AM)

Delegates Urge Swift Appointment of Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, as Fourth Committee Continues Joint General Debate

Delegates called today for inclusive discussions and the swift appointment of a new Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General to move the Western Sahara peace process forward, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its joint general debate on a range of topics.

“History is stubborn,” said Morocco’s representative, emphasizing that it cannot be remodelled to suit the moveable feasts of some and the hegemonic desires of others.  Stressing that the Sahara has been Moroccan since the dawn of time and will remain so until the end of time, he said all stakeholders must participate in the process until its conclusion.  He went on to recall that the round-table framework under the Secretary-General’s former Personal Envoy achieved positive momentum, saying his next Personal Envoy should pick up where his predecessor left off.

Noting that some countries are nostalgic for the cold war in referring to a referendum in Western Sahara, he pointed out that several relevant United Nations resolutions make no mention of it.  The referendum instrument has been “dead and buried” for more than two decades, he said, emphasizing that this is the position of the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the entire international community.

Meanwhile, Namibia’s representative expressed concern over the absence of forceful determination on the part of some Member States to put the required focus on compliance with and full implementation of Security Council resolutions in Western Sahara.  Attempts by the occupying State to move a one-sided solution, without the expressed consent of the affected people of Western Sahara, is bound to result in prolonged conflict and continued denial of the Sahrawi people’s exercise of their inalienable rights to self-determination, he warned.

In similar vein, Algeria’s representative stressed that the resolution of the Western Sahara question must involve the people on the ground, warning that any other approach would fly in the face of the Security Council and undo international efforts for the Territory’s decolonization.  Noting that the peace process has stalled since the former Personal Envoy’s resignation, he said inertia hovers over the work of the United Nations in Western Sahara, jeopardizing implementation of the peace process.  He went on to underline that the Sahrawi people are losing patience and appealed to the Secretary-General to appoint a new Special Envoy as soon as possible.  Moreover, peace discussions must entail an environment of trust between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) and the Government of Morocco, he added.

Delegates also discussed the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East, with the representative of the United States noting that the Abraham Accords involving Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel — the first such agreement between Israel and any Arab country since 1994 — will forge closer people-to-people relations in the region.

Israel’s representative said the recent agreements have opened new opportunities for the region.  However, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices and other such United Nations entities undermine trust between Israel and its neighbours.  Moreover, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a political organization because it automatically registers every descendent of a Palestine refugee, thereby reinforcing an unrealistic demand that millions of Palestinians settle in Israel, he said.  As a result, UNRWA has made clear that it is part of the problem and not the solution, he added, stressing that it should therefore cease to exist.

Malta’s representative disagreed, emphasizing UNRWA is a crucial stabilizing force in the region that provides assistance to the most vulnerable people in challenging times.  As such, the Agency should have adequate and predictable resources, he said.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Syria, Iran, United Kingdom and Mauritius, as well as an observer for the State of Palestine.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. On Wednesday, 4 November, to conclude its general debate and take action on agenda items.

General Debate

The representative of Namibia, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern that there is no forceful determination on the part of some Member States to put the required focus on compliance with and full implementation of the Security Council resolutions on the case of Western Sahara.  Attempts by the occupying State to move a one-sided solution, without the expressed consent of the affected people of Western Sahara, is bound to result in prolonged conflict and continued denial of the Sahrawi people’s exercise of their inalienable rights to self-determination, he emphasized.  Turning to the question of the Chagos Archipelago, he said Namibia places great importance on the work of the International Court of Justice and has the highest respect for its advisory opinions and judgments.  As for the Palestinian Territories, he noted that the population has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  He went on to express concern about the increasingly biased measures taken by the Government of Israel, calling in that context upon Member States to rally support and collective action to support the Palestinian people’s exercise of their inalienable right to self-determination.

The representative of Malta, citing the proliferation of disinformation, emphasized that the role of the Department of Global Communications in providing reliable information is more important than ever.  He went on to describe UNRWA as a crucial stabilizing force in the region, providing assistance to the most vulnerable people during these most challenging times.  As such, the Agency should have adequate and predictable resources.  Turning to peace operations, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the vulnerability of people in conflict zones and called for sufficient funding to enable missions to continue to carry out their mandates effectively.

The representative of Israel said the recent agreement reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain has opened new opportunities for the region.  However, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices and other such United Nations bodies undermine trust between Israel and its neighbours.  Moreover, UNRWA is a political organization because it automatically registers every descendent of a Palestine refugee, thereby reinforcing an unrealistic demand that millions of Palestinians settle in Israel.  That would destroy the Jewish State, he said, emphasizing that UNRWA has made clear that it is part of the problem and not the solution, and thus, should cease to exist.  Concerning peace operations, he said Israel is working closely to improve their standard of medical care.  Regarding the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), he said Hizbullah continues to militarize southern Lebanon and is systematically preventing the mission from meeting its mandate.  He called upon Member States to condemn that practice, stressing that Israel will not tolerate any attack emanating from Lebanon and will hold its Government accountable for any such attack.

The representative of the United States expressed disappointment that the Fourth Committee perpetuates bias and division around the Israel-Palestine conflict.  The historic Abraham Accords involving Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel represent the first such agreement between Israel and any Arab country since 1994, he pointed out, noting also that Sudan subsequently announced that it also plans to normalize relations with Israel.  Those steps will forge closer people-to-people relations in the Middle East, he added.  Describing the Abraham Accords as well as his country’s vision for peace in the region as forward-looking steps towards positive and achievable proposals, he encouraged all delegations to embrace them as opportunities for peace and to join the negotiating table.

The representative of Mali, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that his country contributes troops and civilian personnel to United Nations peace operations and hosts the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Describing the theatre in which MINUSMA operates as volatile and characterized by asymmetrical attacks, he said the one-year extension of its mandate demonstrates international support for peace and security in Mali.  The success of peacekeeping missions depends on all stakeholders shouldering collective responsibilities, he said, emphasizing in that context the importance of consultations between stakeholders throughout mission cycles.  Furthermore, predictable funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force must be guaranteed to enable it to be fully operational in its fight against transnational crime and terrorism, he stressed.  He went on to state that Mali’s long-term stability is ultimately the responsibility of its own security forces, noting that, as such, the Government has been working to build their capacity so they are prepared to protect people and property.  Highlighting the importance of multilingualism in terms of communications between peacekeeping personnel and people on the ground, he said such communication facilitates understanding, builds trust and will make peace operations more successful.

The representative of Slovakia warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed development gains made by post-conflict countries and countries in transition at risk of reversal.  “This pandemic, as we have seen, is sometimes abused as a pretext for many kinds of restrictions and even advancing a political agenda,” he added.  As such, Slovakia supports the 2020 review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture, which offers an opportunity to adapt to these challenges, he said, highlighting the need for enhanced interlinkages and synergies in peacekeeping missions in order to make more effective use of instruments promoting peace, security and stability.  The COVID-19 pandemic also provides an opportunity to reflect on the security sector’s role in responding to a health pandemic and suggest ways to enhance effectiveness and accountability, he said.  As such, a nationally led and inclusive security-sector reform process can deal progressively with the root causes of insecurity and fragility while creating an environment enabling sustainable development and peace.  Slovakia recently convened a high-level panel on such reform, he said, noting, however, that gaps remain between its normative and operational dimensions.

The representative of Mauritius, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago were forcibly displaced from their homes and are still waiting to return.  In 2019, he recalled, the International Court of Justice confirmed that the United Kingdom’s continued administration of the islands constitutes a wrongful act.  As such, that country is under obligation to bring that administration to an end as rapidly as possible, he said, underlining that the Chagos Archipelago is and always has been part of the territory of Mauritius.  He expressed disappointment at the United Kingdom’s failure to end its unlawful colonial administration in November 2019, as stated in General Assembly resolution 73/295 (2019).  “Colonialism was based on conquest, exploitation and subjugation,” he pointed out, stressing that the international community must act together to deliver accountability and justice in the matter.  He urged Member States to reaffirm their commitment to the Court and international law and to complete the Chagos Archipelago’s decolonization process.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo recalled that the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Affairs has condemned all acts of sexual exploitation and abuse and expressed support for the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy in that regard.  While paying tribute to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) for restoring order and security in his country, he expressed worry about the increasing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel and other forces working under MONUSCO’s mandate.  He urged the United Nations and troop-contributing countries to investigate the allegations fully and to adopt victim-based approaches to the process.

The representative of Haiti recalled that, in October 2019, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) to reinforce political stability and good governance.  BINUH will also advise the Government of Haiti on facilitating an inclusive dialogue, he added.  As such, the tasks entrusted to the mission are in harmony with the Government’s initiatives to ensure healthy and stable institutions, he said, adding that Haiti is doing everything it can to fight impunity and violence while strengthening the rule of law across the country.  Moreover, the Government is working on constitutional reform while staunchly defending democratic principles and is committed to holding free, fair and transparent elections.  A provisional electoral council has been implemented alongside other steps, he noted.

The representative of Morocco underlined that the Sahara has been Moroccan since the dawn of time and will remain so until the end of time.  “History is stubborn,” he said, adding that it cannot be remodelled to suit the moveable feasts of some and the hegemonic desires of others.  Describing the history of decolonization in the region, he spotlighted the support of Member States for compromise-based solutions to the dispute, pointing out that they have firmly supported Morocco’s autonomy initiative, which remains the only solution in this regard.  He went on to express support for the political process under the auspices of the United Nations, saying it establishes the pre-eminence of Morocco’s proposal.  All stakeholders must participate in the process until its conclusion he said, adding that the round-table framework under the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy has achieved positive momentum.   The next Personal Envoy should pick up where his predecessor left off, he emphasized.

Noting that some countries have nostalgia for the cold war and have referred to a referendum in the Western Sahara, he pointed out that several relevant United Nations resolutions make no reference to it.  The referendum instrument has been “dead and buried” for more than two decades, he said.  That is the position of the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the entire international community.  “Morocco has chosen to turn towards the future rather than stagnating in the past,” he emphasized, adding that those living in the Sahara have a legitimate right to development.  In that context, Morocco has been promoting initiatives in the region, he said, adding that the population has elected democratic representatives who carry their voices forth internationally.  Moreover, many African countries have opened consular offices in Laayoune, he noted, also citing recent international events held there as well as in Dakhla.  However, those living in camps run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) are deprived of their human rights, he said, stressing that the international community is obliged to save the population from Polisario and allow them to return to Morocco.  The registration of that population is a humanitarian necessity and has been delayed too long, he said. 

The representative off Algeria emphasized that the United Nations must shoulder its responsibility to protect the legal status of Non-Self-Governing Territories, shore up efforts and proliferate initiatives to complete the decolonization process.  The status of Western Sahara has been confirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions that recognize the legitimate right of its people to self-determination, he said, pointing out that both the International Court of Justice and the European Union Court of Justice confirmed that position by recognizing the separate nature of Western Sahara.  Emphasizing that a resolution of the conflict must involve the people on the ground, he warned that any other approach would fly in the face of the Security Council and undo the international community’s efforts to decolonize the Territory.

He went on to point out that the peace process has stalled since the resignation of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy.  Inertia hovers over the United Nations work in Western Sahara and jeopardizes implementation of the peace conference, he said, warning that the Sahrawi people are losing patience.  Appealing for the appointment of a new Personal Envoy as soon as possible, he said peace discussions must involve the creation of trust between Polisario and the Government of Morocco.  The African Union also has an important role to play, he added.  Algeria has always acted as a facilitator of peace in the region, supporting the Secretary-General’s efforts to find a solution to the conflict, he said, adding that his country’s Government has contributed as a humanitarian actor helping Sahrawi refugees and cooperating with United Nations organizations to provide assistance.

Also speaking today were representatives of Romania, Serbia, Saõ Tomé and Principe, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Benin, Djibouti and Guinea-Bissau.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria recalled the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement in the occupied Golan, which stipulates that there should be no acts of aggression across State lines.  However, Israel has not implemented Security Council resolution 497 (1971) and has instead continued to steal land from Syrian inhabitants, confiscating thousands of hectares, closing water wells and other violations, he said.  Israel has never become a peace-loving nation, as evidenced by its inclusion on the United Nations agenda since its founding, he said, also pointing out that Israel possesses 20 nuclear warheads while Syria is a party to all agreements on arms limitations and weapons of mass destruction. 

The representative of Iran said Israel’s standard practice of false accusations conceals its own crimes against the Palestinian people.  Emphasizing that no amount of manufactured crisis can cover up that country’s expansionist and war-mongering policies, he said Israeli activities in the Syrian Golan and in Lebanon have endangered peace in the Middle East and beyond.  Given the threat Israel poses to international peace and security, the international community must be vigilant in holding it accountable for its aggressive policies and practices, he stressed.

The observer for the State of Palestine said UNRWA remains indispensable for the protection of Palestine refugees, pending a just resolution of their plight.  Israel’s ongoing attempts to discredit the Agency are based on the false premise that dismantling UNRWA will make refugee rights disappear, she added, emphasizing that such rights do not disappear with the passage of time.  There can be no solution to the conflict without considering refugee rights, she stressed, pointing out that the absence of a just solution to the Palestinian question is the reason UNRWA exists.  Urging the rejection of Israel’s rhetoric in that regard, she went on to underline that the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices are not biased, saying they reflect the real facts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and corroborate numerous accounts about the massive scale of Israel’s human rights violations.  “Israel’s lip-service to peace rings hollow,” she stressed, calling for an end to the illegal occupation. 

The representative of the United Kingdom, responding to Mauritius, Namibia, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, said the British Indian Ocean Territory of the Chagos Archipelago faces security challenges from State and non-State actors.  The United Kingdom will not cede its responsibility to that Territory while such challenges continue, he emphasized, adding that his country is also committed to enhancing its biological diversity.  Moreover, the United Kingdom has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and the right of its people to self-determination, he said, describing his country’s relationship with that Territory is a modern one based on partnership and shared values. 

The representative of Mauritius said the United Kingdom’s position on the Chagos Archipelago is in breach of international law, as set out in the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Noting that all States have an obligation to comply, he stressed that the United Kingdom’s continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes a wrongful act.

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* 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.