Friday, October 10, 2008


More petitioners on Western Sahara ask for the decolonization of the territory and protection of human rights



Many petitioners on Western Sahara called on the UN to finish the process of decolonization of the last colony in Africa, and focused on the human rights abuses committed by Morocco.

Here are some of the petitioners:


Coordinator of Spanish Institutions in Support of the Western Sahara, expressed "profound shame" at being a member of an international community which, once again, had failed this year to ensure that international legality be upheld. He said the Saharawi people believed in speech and dialogue, as respected by the 83 Governments that officially recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. He also thanked Cuba and South Africa for training young people in Tindouf’s refugee camps in line with United Nations guidelines.

He said that the "worst of bad things" was the silence of good people, and he asked those present to break the silence and make themselves heard by their respective institutions and to condemn the Alaouite feudal monarchy’s failure to respect international legality. Despite difficulties, Saharawis were stronger and more united than ever. He called on the Government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to work with the international community to strive for the decolonization of Western Sahara, which remained a colony of Spain. It was vital for Spain to drastically change its ambiguous posture of recent years and support an agreement wherein the Saharawi people were consulted about their future, including the option of independence.


Secretary of the National Federation of Institutions Working in Solidarity with the Saharawi People (FEDISSAH), restated his request to extend the prerogatives of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to monitor and defend Saharawi human rights. That was a problem of unfinished decolonization, as Saharawis had been prevented from exercising their right to self-determination in 1975 when Spain had "facilitated the illegal occupation". In the more than 16 years since the passage of Security Council resolutions 650 (1990) and 690 (1991), the problem had still not been resolved.

He said that Morocco continued to oppose the Baker plan, and had no political desire to respect the United Nations agreements and international law. The United Nations was at a crossroads, wherein it could either persuade the Moroccan Government to comply with the peace plan or accept its failure in the process and withdraw. The peace and security of the whole of North Africa was at stake. Saharawis must be allowed to exercise their rights through a referendum, with observers to ensure fairness. The international community was too tolerant of Morocco; the time had come to impose a solution.


International Relations and International Law Researcher, Hego Institute, University of the Basque Country, said that for more than 30 years, Morocco had committed many different violations of international law. Those had occurred in international humanitarian and human rights law. Focusing on humanitarian law, she said that the rights of the Saharawi people were violated on two dimensions: humanitarian organizations did not have access to political prisoners and their humanitarian situations had diminished, owing to a serious lack of basic foods. In the first case, the prisons were overcrowded and detainees not only lacked medical assistance but were sometimes tortured and raped. In the second case, children and women were suffering from malnutrition.

She denounced the progressive reduction of aid delivered by major donors, including the United Nations agencies, emphasizing that international humanitarian law recognized the right of victims to assistance, as well as the obligation of the international community to provide it. In both the Tindouf refugee camps and the non-autonomous Territory, the Sahawari people’s human rights were being violated on many levels, from being forced to live under occupation to political persecution, to a denial of their right to peace and development. Women were particularly victimized. It was urgently necessary to provide a fair solution to this unfinished process of decolonization.


Associación de Vitoria-Gasteiz, noting that her intervention was based on a report before the Committee on the human rights situation, said that the United Nations had been created by the international community in the spirit of respect for human rights. The Organization had articulated several mechanisms in that area and the question of Western Sahara fell within that field. She called for the official publication of the 2006 Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She said that, today, the violation of the human rights of the Sahawari people by the Moroccan authority continued; she had seen this for herself. Human rights defenders were restricted in their movements. There was an attempt to register organizations that aimed to defend human rights. The people were subjected to arbitrary detention and were beaten and tortured.

Nevertheless, she said, it was the direct responsibility of the States gathered in this forum to be involved in the events in Western Sahara. Transnational companies were part of the exploitation of natural resources in the Territory. Walls had been built to ensure that the human rights violations could take place in secret. But while much had been said about the wall in the Middle East, nothing had been said about the wall in Western Sahara, despite the fact that its length was 15 times longer.


Mayor of Arrigorriaga and President of Euskal Fondoa, said a solution to the Saharawi conflict could be designed "in a few hours of democracy", by organizing a referendum on self-determination. Morocco must accept international law for the good of the Saharawi people, as well as for Moroccans "forced to live under the dominion of a regime anchored in the past". Morocco’s offer of a plan for autonomy was barely democratic and positively illegal, as it denied the right to self-determination. As the former administering Power, Spain bore political and legal responsibility and, therefore, must help find a solution. Furthermore, Spain must stop providing military equipment to Morocco, as it had done in January and June, in violation of "any code of conduct" on arms trading.

He criticized the European Union for signing a fishing agreement with Morocco, which exploited jurisdictional waters belonging to the Saharawi people. In closing, he presented a poem by Saharawi exile Ali Salem Iselmu, which reads:

"Tell them that the land is not theirs
that the people do not belong to them
that the rocks need to be free.
Tell them that the desert only knows
the nomads, masters of the sun and the wind."

At the sixtieth birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Africa should awaken after the colonial night.


Defense Forum Foundation, called for a new, transparent and creative dialogue focused on implementing a concrete and comprehensive plan for a free and fair referendum in Western Sahara. Asking how any free, democratic nation could fail to support the aspirations of the Saharawis, he said the people of Western Sahara were only asking for the ability to exercise their universal freedoms. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been deployed since 1991, but while the peace had been maintained, the expected referendum had never taken place. The Baker plan had been endorsed by the Security Council and agreed to by the Western Sahara leaders, but the Moroccan Government had not accepted it, saying that it would "never give up one inch of our beloved Sahara".

This gaming of the system, he said, had had a destabilizing effect in the Maghreb and should not be tolerated by the United Nations. A spirit of complacency had meanwhile exacerbated a human rights problem. Indeed, human rights challenges remained and more attention must be brought to bear on them. A resolution of the conflict would benefit not only the Saharawi people, but also the Maghreb region, expanding economic prosperity and enhancing the ability to fight terrorist extremism there. Thus, the Fourth Committee’s work should take on a new urgency.

To create the transparent and creative dialogue, all parties must come to the table with "clean hands and open minds", and prepared to negotiate in good faith, he continued. Morocco could, and should, be a regional leader, but it first had to change its posture of obfuscation, which delayed the referendum process. The United Nations had already invested more than $1 billion on the issue of Western Sahara, and that investment should not go to waste. The Baker Plan provided a road map for the path forward. He said that other key interested parties, such as Spain, should be allowed to play a part, and urged the committee to take immediate action to enable the Sahawari people to achieve their dream and freedom.


Observatorio de Derechos Humanos del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Badajoz, denounced the "genocide" of the Saharawi people and gross violations of human rights being carried out in the cities of El Aaiun, Rabat, Agadir and Marrakech. The situation of the hopeless civilian population was desperate. He had interviewed many human rights activists and victims and seen first-hand the "Black Prison of Aaiun" and mass graves where hundreds of Saharawis lay forgotten by the world. Furthermore, the situation in torture centres like the Recruit Training Battalion 1 was "unimaginable". He described incidents of torture, rape, illegal detention, and terror.

He said that, due to that oppression, many had decided not to collaborate with his fact-finding missions, rendering observation work even more difficult. Morocco should be forced to allow the presence in the territory of human rights organizations, and a bureau of defence of human rights immediately created in El Aaiun. The bureau would report to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, investigate and denounce violations and protect unarmed civilians until the decolonizing process was concluded.


Association des amis de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique, said that, since 2005, men, women and young people had been demonstrating in a peaceful intifada on the question of Western Sahara. Although they were peaceful demonstrators, they had been brutally repressed by the Moroccan authorities. People were prosecuted simply for chanting slogans and waving flags. Organizations aimed at upholding the human rights of the Saharawi people were also being repressed. Confessions had been obtained through torture, and defenders were not allowed to testify. Trials were expedited and hearings were brief. The punishment was very serious and the conditions of detention were harsh. The repression of those people, who were charged with claiming that the population of the occupied territories had the right to exercise their self-determination, was characterized by permanent harassment.

She said that, in July, dozens of people had been arrested or had simply disappeared after a peaceful demonstration. Despite that, the determination of the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination was strong. She offered her testimony to support them and urged that their right be protected.


Speaking on behalf of the POLISARIO Front, noted that the question of Western Sahara was the last colonial case in Africa to appear on the agendas of the Special Committee on decolonization and the Fourth Committee. A human tragedy had been unfolding there since 1975. Finally, the cruellest chapters of that drama were gradually overcoming an imposed silence. A few months ago, a Moroccan newspaper had published what a member of the Moroccan delegation to the Manhasset negotiations had confessed -- that three or four officers from the Moroccan army had committed war crimes off the battlefield when civilians were thrown from helicopters or buried alive merely because they were Saharawi.

Indeed, he said the whereabouts of more than 600 civilians and 151 Saharawi military had remained unaccounted for since 1975. The 2006 report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had said explicitly that the violation of the human rights of the Saharawi people derived from the fact that their right to self-determination had not been respected.

He recalled that even though Morocco had accepted the United Nations-Organization of African Unity settlement plan and MINURSO’s deployment for the purpose of holding a free and fair self-determination referendum -– which contained independence as an option –- it had not honoured its commitments. It had even rejected the "golden opportunity" to resume the referendum process through the Baker Plan in 2003. As a result, MINURSO remained in place 18 years after its establishment. Surrounded by Moroccan flags and forced into international secrecy, it was humiliated and impotent. How, he asked, had that happened before the eyes of the United Nations?

His people were determined to carry on their legitimate struggle and resistance until they were allowed to exercise their right to self-determination, he insisted. Today, Morocco was openly invoking a dangerous political realism stained with innocent blood as a substitute for international legality. It had offered so-called autonomy as the only option in Western Sahara’s decolonization process and had dared to set it as a precondition. But Western Sahara was not a Moroccan province in need of administrative autonomy. It was a country on the agenda of the Committee engaged in a search for its full decolonization by means of a free and fair referendum on self-determination. The Saharawis were guaranteed the right to freely choose between independence and any other option, including integration into Morocco, by the United Nations Charter.

Yet, the last round of negotiations at Manhasset had not moved forward even in the direction of some basic confidence-building measures, because of Morocco’s precondition, he said, adding that if that precondition was not removed from the table, substantial future progress would be impossible. The POLISARIO Front would continue to cooperate with the Secretary-General and his new Personal Envoy, and he was hopeful that its neighbour would act seriously and opt for serious negotiations. The POLISARIO Front was ready to negotiate.


Italian Association for Saharawi People, said that, although Morocco claimed that its territorial integrity must not be called into question, Western Sahara did not belong to it. The 1975 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Western Sahara found no legal ties between Western Sahara and Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. Morocco’s proposal of autonomy in 2007 showed that the problem of decolonization still existed because Morocco refused any referendum that included independence.

He said that Morocco also denied the existence of oppression, but journalists and fact-finding missions were not allowed into the territory. The Fourth Committee and the General Assembly could only reaffirm that right and recognize that the negotiations under way should have self-determination as a goal since no other solution would be acceptable under the United Nations Charter. Additionally, MINURSO’s mandate should be expanded to cover human rights, so that peacekeepers could keep their eyes on violations taking place in the occupied territory.


Former Member of Parliament of Sweden, said that in 1975 the people of Western Sahara were awaiting the end of 90 years of Spanish colonial rule, but instead of finding freedom, Western Sahara was then brutally occupied. Thirty-three years later, that was still the case. Spain carried "huge guilt" for today’s situation by ending the conflict unjustly. Western Sahara had the right to self-determination and self-governance, and claims made by Morocco had been rejected by the International Court of Justice. No State accepted Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, but more than 60 States accepted the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and he urged other Governments to do the same. The wall built by Morocco, with thousands of military standing sentry, was indeed a "wall of shame". More than 6 million mines had been placed in the desert, which stopped people from moving safely. Not only was Morocco oppressing the Saharawis, but they were also stealing their natural resources.

Moroccan autonomy was no option, and the Moroccan oppression of Western Sahara must be stopped, she urged. The United Nations must demand that Spain resume its role as administering Power and take responsibility for a just decolonizing process. On the issue of natural resources, the United Nations must make public information on countries and companies doing business in Western Sahara. The United Nations, and not Morocco, must manage the natural resources and denounce the present fishing agreement between the European Union and Morocco to exclude the waters off of Western Sahara. Additionally, the United Nations must apply sanctions against Morocco for exploiting Saharan natural resources without the consent and control of the indigenous people, as well as for human rights violations. Finally, the United Nations must demand the release of all political prisoners, demolish the "wall of shame" and apply United Nations Charter Chapter VII "to the letter".


Western Saharan student, said his story had not been learned from history books, the media or Moroccan propaganda. Rather, he had lived it --indeed, he was still living it. Now in college, he was born in a Saharawi refugee camp. When his mother was 10, her family had been forced to leave their home under the threat of death by bombing from Moroccan planes. They had ended up in refugee camps in southern Algeria, where he was born. When he was a teenager and knew he wanted to become educated, he had had to leave his family for an Algerian boarding school. After a few years of study, he had received a college scholarship. He had become accustomed to the concepts of peace and equality. He was dedicated to returning to his land, which was everything to the Saharawis, even if it was forgotten by the rest of the world.

Saying the abuse of the Saharawi people by the Moroccan authorities must be recognized, he emphasized that the Moroccan regime was trying to convince the humanitarian agencies to stop sending aid to the Saharawi refugees. The international community had recognized the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, but had done nothing to implement it. That double standard should make you laugh if it did not make you cry, he told the Committee. The region’s sovereignty was for the Saharawi people and would only come about once they could decide their own future. Otherwise, the gloomy reality of an outbreak of war would be unavoidable.


Speaking on behalf of Aminatou Haidar, 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate, expressed deep concern over the dangerous human rights situation in Western Sahara, in southern Morocco and in the Moroccan territories as a whole. Since May, the Moroccan Government had committed gross human rights abuses against civilian Saharawis because of their views on Western Sahara and their participation in peaceful demonstrations in support for self-determination. Those violations had included kidnapping, torture, arbitrary and political arrests, as well as the invasion of homes, imposition of cruel and unfair judgements, banning the establishment of institutions, curtailing freedom of expression and plundering natural resources. Widespread arrest campaigns had been launched against Saharawi citizens and human rights defenders. She had been one of the political prisoners who had been released by the Moroccan State since 2006, but many like her had been rearrested and remained in prison today.

She said that human rights defenders were still waiting for the international community to increase pressure on the Moroccan Government to respect human rights in Western Sahara. Despite the completion of a report by the Office of the United N
ations High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 2006, its recommendations had not only not been implemented, they had not been made public. The Moroccan Government was thus allowed to disregard international norms and continue to commit abuses and violations.

Both sides of the dispute should enter into direct negotiations to reach a solution in accordance with the provisions and resolutions of the United Nations and the Security Council, she urged. A fourth round of negotiations had failed to reach agreement, which respected the Saharawi people’s right to choose their political future through a democratic, free and fair referendum. Saying the United Nations was responsible for the stalled state of affairs, she demanded urgent intervention and called on the Organization to search for tenable mechanisms to encourage respect for human rights in Western Sahara, including by expanding MINURSO’s mandate to include human rights issues. She also called for the publication of the 2006 report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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