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Speakers Offer Different Views of Morocco’s Role in Stalled Western Sahara Vote
With New Caledonia looking forward to a historic self-determination referendum in 2018, many petitioners called today for United Nations oversight of that vote in light of problems with the electoral list, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization questions.
President Philippe Germain of New Caledonia observed that the 2018 referendum would conclude a process begun almost 30 years ago. However, it had emerged that some Caledonians, both Kanak and non-Kanak, were not on any electoral list, he noted, pledging that the authorities were working to identify them, find a legal solution and inscribe the voters automatically.
Other petitioners nevertheless expressed doubts about that process, calling for external supervision. Rock Wamytan, President of the Groupe UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes au congrès NC, warned that the non-inscription of Kanaks on the electoral list could affect the majority in the referendum. Mickael Forrest, Permanent Secretary of the Cellule des Relations Extérieures du Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said the observations and conclusions drawn by the electoral commission of the Special Committee on Decolonization confirmed doubts about the French mechanism for establishing the electoral list. He called for a visiting mission by the Special Committee during the referendum.
Many petitioners also issued passionate appeals for a referendum in Western Sahara, recalling that the vote had first been promised by the United Nations more than 40 years ago. Katlyn Thomas, an attorney, said the only way to resolve the Western Sahara dispute was to allow the people themselves to decide their own future. She recalled that, as a Legal Affairs Officer with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), she had helped to publish a list of those eligible to vote. However, Morocco had pulled out of the process shortly thereafter. The United Nations could still implement the referendum by standing up to Morocco’s intransigence, she stressed.
On the other hand, some petitioners advocated for Morocco’s autonomy proposal, presented in 2007, as the best solution to the dispute. Andrew Rosemarine, Head of International Law Chambers, said Morocco could be trusted to deliver on the proposal because of the way in which it had responded to the “Arab Spring” — with lasting democratic reform and economic growth, to the benefit of all.
By contrast, several petitioners decried Morocco’s human rights record in Western Sahara. Zeiny Ali Taleb, Director of Youth for Youth Development, pointed out that the kingdom had violated human rights and exploited the Territory’s natural resources. Nevertheless, the will of the people would eventually prevail, he said, emphasizing: “We will die free if that’s the price we have to pay for freedom and dignity.”
Also speaking today were petitioners from New Caledonia and Western Sahara, as well as Guam.
Representatives of Cuba and Venezuela also spoke.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 5 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.
Petitioners on Guam
SAMUEL TOM, Vice President, Diablo Valley College Pacific Islands Students Association, said the United States military had displaced thousands of Chamorro people in order to create huge bases in the north and south of Guam. Although the Chamorro Land Trust had been created to provide leases to landless Chamorro people and alleviate the injustice against them, the United States Department of Justice had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Trust last week, accusing it of violating the Fair Housing Act Title VIII. Guam and the Chamorro people were consistently asked to submit to decisions of the United States while possessing neither voice nor rights, he said, calling upon the Committee to organize a visiting mission to the Territory in order to learn more about the Chamorro people’s struggles.
ALEXANDER SAN NICOLAS, student, Hale’ Para Agupa, said he had left Guam to attend school and was present to speak about the need to provide opportunities for the Territory’s people. “The people of Guam only need the opportunity to close the distance between our past and future to flourish,” he added. Too often, however, opportunities to pursue science in Guam were denied its people because of its distance and the infrastructure of colonization. Guam must be free to pursue science, he said. Many underestimated the power of Guam, “but I believe we are capable of great and wonderful things”.
ALAINA ARROYO, Vice-President, University of San Francisco Pacific Islander Collective, recalled returning home to Guam at age 17, “devastated to learn that I needed a military ID to connect with her history”. The theft of land had driven people into poverty, she said, adding that the militarization and colonization of Guam by the United States had moved people to join the military in order to make a living. The people’s dependency on Western medicine had disconnected them from their history, she noted, declaring: “We are unable to critically learn the history of our people.” Considering the escalating tensions between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it was essential to address the serious situation facing Guam, she said.
GLENN PETERSEN, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, City University of New York, detailed the history of the independence of Micronesian islands, noting that the Guam question closely paralleled that of its neighbours in terms of the rights of indigenous peoples to sovereignty and control over their own lands. Furthermore, Micronesians understood with far greater acuity than any United States leader both the danger posed by the strategic location of their islands and the destruction that any attack would wreak on them. The Micronesian atolls were under dire threat from climate change, but the current level of hostility in East and Southeast Asia posed a much more immediate threat, he emphasized. Due to historical circumstances, he explained, Guam’s Chamorro people had been denied the elementary right to make their own decisions, a right that other Micronesian peoples had been able to exercise only because of the oversight of the Fourth Committee and its predecessors.
Petitioners on New Caledonia
PHILIPPE GERMAIN, President of New Caledonia, said today he would be delivering his last statement before that Territory’s self-determination referendum, to be held in 2018 and concluding a process begun almost 30 years ago. The Matignon Agreements signed in 1988 had involved a political rebalancing, with greater support for those supporting independence, reflected in the leadership of two provinces as well as at the budgetary level. France exercised its powers only in certain areas and Caledonians were also involved in some of those decisions, he emphasized, pointing out that in the case of the judiciary, the Territory had its own established customary approaches and laws. New Caledonia’s gross domestic product was the highest in the Pacific, and priority was now given to Caledonians in the labour market.
Despite that progress, inequality still persisted, he said. However, the authorities had rolled out a far-reaching policy of social protection. While progress had also been made in education, with the number of graduates doubling, 14 per cent of young Caledonians still left school without qualifications, he said, noting that an education project was under way to help them learn how to provide services. Caledonians were also working to diversify the economy and to combat inflation in order to make the economy more competitive, he said, adding that there had been two major tax reforms in 2016. In terms of foreign policy, New Caledonia was a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum and Chair of the Pacific Community, he said, adding that it would submit its candidacy for membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2018.
He went on to state that it had emerged that some Caledonians, both Kanak and non-Kanak, were not on any electoral list, pledging that the authorities were working to identify them, find a legal solution and inscribe them on the list automatically. Everything was being done to ensure the success of that step towards building New Caledonia.
MICKAEL FORREST, Permanent Secretary, Cellule des Relations Extérieures du Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said the conclusions and observations of the Special Committee’s electoral commission confirmed the doubts about the French mechanism for establishing the electoral list. Calling for a visiting mission of the Special Committee during the referendum, he said the essential provisions of the Nouméa Accord were still not being applied, he pointed out, calling for the sincere commitment of the United Nations to ensure the Accord’s fair implementation.
The representative of Cuba asked about the problem with the voting lists, recalling that France had sent a report to the Committee after the visit by United Nations experts.
Mr. FORREST said a high number of voters had been inscribed and several thousands more added, but there were doubts about the conclusions reached by the experts.
The representative of Cuba asked what had been done about the electoral list and whether they had been adjusted.
Mr. FORREST replied that the electoral list problem was still not solved, and more than 20,000 Kanaks were still not inscribed. He called for United Nations support to ensure that the referendum was incontestable.
ROCK WAMYTAN, President, Groupe UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes au congres NC, asked for a United Nations audit of France’s efforts to prepare the colonized Kanak people for self-determination over the past 30 years. He pointed out that settlement policies and voting criteria had transformed the Kanaks into a minority in New Caledonia. Their non-inscription on any electoral list could have an impact on the majority in the 2018 referendum, he warned. It would be problematic to continue the settlement policy, which could prove to be a source of violence and instability, he said, emphasizing that the administering Power must study the issue seriously.
The representative of Venezuela asked about the best time for a United Nations mission to visit during preparations for the referendum, and how it could help effectively guarantee Kanak participation in the referendum process.
Mr. WAMYTAN said that a Fourth Committee mission would be important at the beginning of 2018, with another to follow up during the election. That would give the Kanak people the confidence to ensure that those not on the lists could be inscribed.
DIANA MACHORO, President, Truth and Justice Committee Kanaky, recalled the many militants killed and assassinated during the 1980s, including her father. The list of deaths was long, she said, adding that those people had worked to lead the way to independence. An amnesty law had hidden the circumstances of the situation. She noted the many requests that had been sent to various officials to lift the secrecy of related documents and all of them had remained unanswered. “We have a right to the truth,” she said.
GAEL YANNO, President, Mouvement Populaire Caledonien, said most Caledonians wished to remain French, adding that all electoral observers agreed that there was no majority seeking independence. The referendum must be carried out transparently to ensure that the results were not contested, he emphasized, calling for the presence of the United Nations observers to be maintained until the final draw-up of the electoral list.
ISABELLE BOEWA-MI, Spokesperson, Tous Caledoniens, said she supported a truly French value: liberty. France’s social system offered good quality of life, provided protection in health and retirement, and it also enabled people to rise high professionally. She cautioned that with a population of just 280,000, New Caledonia would not be able to defend itself against terrorism, climate change or other threats. “There will no longer be security for the weaker, namely women and children,” she said, describing independence as just a romantic identity. “We want to have decolonization without independence,” she emphasized.
ANDREW ROSEMARINE, Head of International Law Chambers, described Morocco’s autonomy proposal, presented in 2007, as the best practical solution to the Western Sahara dispute. It was fair, flexible and far-sighted because it combined a large degree of self-determination for the Sahrawi people with an emphasis on negotiations. Morocco could be trusted to deliver on the Proposal because of the way in which it had responded to the testing trials and tribulations of the “Arab Spring” — with lasting democratic reform and economic growth, to the benefit of all, he said.
SUZANNE SCHOLTE, Chair, U.S.‑Western Sahara Foundation, said that supporters of Morocco’s position — entailing the invasion and illegal occupation of Western Sahara — were either ignorant of the facts, or were being coerced or bribed, or did not believe in the foundational doctrine of the United Nations. The Organization’s failure to hold a referendum and to include human rights monitoring of both sides as part of MINURSO’s mandate had led to many tragic events, she said. That was a terrible message sent by the United Nations, rewarded invasion, aggression and violence.
DAVID LIPPIATT, President/CEO, WE International Inc., called for allowing MINURSO to report on human rights violations in Western Sahara by including a human rights monitoring mandate. He also urged implementation of the long-promised self-determination referendum. Morocco said it believed in human rights but had denied them to the Sahrawi people, he pointed out, describing the creation of its National Council on Human Rights as “a farce, a shame and a lie”.
HAMMADA EL BAIHI, Founding Member, Forum Social pour le Développement Humain de Laâyoune, called Western Sahara the last colony in Africa, saying Morocco was not living up to its commitments, having failed to demonstrate respect for the dignity of those in the refugee camps. He called for independence as a matter of urgency, pointing out that MINURSO had been unable to ensure respect for human rights or to organize the referendum.
ZEINY ALI TALEB, Director, Youth for Youth Development, said he had been born and raised in the refugee camps and his family had found refuge with the Algerians. France pretended to be a democracy while supporting an invader like Morocco, he said, noting that ever since its occupation of Western Sahara, that country had violated human rights and exploited the Territory’s natural resources while maintaining a wall of occupation. The current stalemate could lead to the outbreak of war, he warned, underlining that no colonial Power could stay in control forever. One day or another, the will of the people would prevail, he said, emphasizing: “We will die free if that’s the price we have to pay for freedom and dignity.”
ANNA-MARIA STAME, President, Internazionale Femminile Democratica di Centro, recounted the story of a kidnapped girl held against her will by Polisario’s armed militia. She had been forced into marriage and had tried to kill herself two months ago. At least 150 children were in a similar situation today, she said. “If she tries suicide again, don’t say you don’t know. You all know.”
MULAY AHMED, Assistant Director, Sahrawi Association USA, said 42 years had passed since the Moroccan kingdom had imposed its rule and committed wide human rights violations against the Sahrawi. Morocco continued to exploit the Territory’s natural resources and to enforce “Morroconization” on the people. The absence of a just and lasting solution to the dispute was due to obstruction by the Moroccan Government. Meanwhile, Morocco’s powerful allies, such as France, turned a blind eye, he said, emphasizing that the Sahrawi youth were very angry. “The people of Western Sahara are sick and tired of words and no action.” Calling upon Morocco to return to the negotiating table, he said that the Committee continuing to do the same thing over and over again was the definition of insanity, not progress.
CYNTHIA BASINET, Nobel Peace Prize-nominated entertainer and humanitarian, said she was advocating on behalf of Sahrawi intellectual property and against “fake news”. The rigged media benefited the 1 per cent, she said, emphasizing that it had been the Sahrawi cause that had ignited her interest in media activism. Progress on that cause had been blocked for 16 years by the rigged media, she said. The Sahrawi must be prized and protected, having endured so much, she said, while reiterating that intellectual property was a human right.
KATLYN THOMAS, Attorney, Katlyn Thomas PC, said the only way to resolve the Western Sahara dispute was to allow the people themselves to decide their own future by implementing the referendum that the United Nations had promised them more than 40 years ago. She recalled that, as a Legal Affairs Officer with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), she had helped to publish a list of persons eligible to vote in that referendum. However, Morocco had pulled out of the process shortly thereafter because most of the applicants it had put forward had been rejected for not meeting qualifications. Morocco had since attempted to convince the public that a technical reason or disagreement over eligibility criteria had necessitated the referendum’s cancellation, but that was a lie, she said. However, it was not too late, and the United Nations could still implement a referendum by standing up to Morocco’s intransigence.
JANET LENZ, Founder, Not Forgotten International, noted that her organization had had a permanent presence in the Sahrawi camps for almost two decades. The Sahrawi people had created a place of refuge amidst the barren desert, with men finding jobs where they could and women “creating a life out of nothing”. Despite having to survive in a place that was not their homeland, there was peace, laughter and conversation, she said, asking why she had seen no further evidence of the United Nations pursuit of the promised referendum in the camps.
GRACE NJAPAU, a business woman, described herself as an African citizen who wished to see the continent reconciled. While history was a good way to understand the present, one must keep been an eye on the future as well, she said. Africa was rebuilding itself with the objectives of development and peace in mind, and a negotiated political solution to the Western Sahara question was of paramount importance, she stressed, expressing hope that the newly appointed Personal Envoy would lead the two sides towards a political solution through the autonomy plan advanced by Morocco.
ISABEL TAVARES LOURENÇO, Founder, Fundación Sahara Occidental, said the Sahrawi, an example to the world of peaceful resistance, were being punished by the international community’s silent complicity and inaction. Morocco was abducting, torturing, killing and incarcerating the Sahrawi as it tried every day to annihilate not only the people, but also their culture and traditions, she said, asking the Committee to visit the Territory. She called for the immediate release of Sahrawi political prisoners.
OLFA OULED, Lawyer, Ouled Azaiez Ouled Olfa law firm, recalled that armed conflicts of the past had not sought to protect individuals until the Second World War. Morocco was violating international humanitarian law every day, with impunity, he said, adding that the occupation of Western Sahara was recognized by the United Nations. Anyone trying to justify that occupation should remember how origin myths were used to justify crimes against humanity, he said, adding that Morocco refused to implement international humanitarian law.
WINDSOR SMITH, Student Representative, Potomac School, said it was immoral that the world merely observed while the Sahrawi refugees, exiled from their homeland, subsisted under grave circumstances. “The time to resolve this issue is now,” she stressed. Food supplies in the Sahrawi camps were dwindling as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) budget for refugees was divided among growing numbers of uprooted people, she noted. Despite multiple promises by the United Nations guaranteeing the Sahrawi their right to self-determination, no referendum had been held.
TANYA WARBURG, Director, Freedom for All, said that despite consistent progress, including in education and training for young Sahrawi, their relatives had been confined to the Tindouf camps for 42 years. They continued to suffer malnutrition and the denial of basic human rights, while the Polisario Front misappropriated humanitarian aid. She called for a census and the registration of the Tindouf population to determine the precise number and needs of the people there and to counter the theft of aid. Polisario’s involvement in drug smuggling had led to deadly battles in the camps, in which women and children had been the victims. Morocco’s autonomy plan could resolve the dispute, allowing the Tindouf population to enjoy the same opportunities as their relatives in Western Sahara.
The representative of Cuba said he had heard his country mentioned and requested that petitioners confine their statements to the topic on the agenda.
HORMAT ALLAH SIDI AHMED, President, Association development d’oued eddahab, said his organization worked in the development field, focusing particularly on agriculture and infrastructure. One of its main objectives was to double gross domestic product (GDP) in order enable the Sahrawi population to benefit from their own resources. It was important to listen to them and to take their concerns into account, he said, emphasizing that no one should talk for the Sahrawi people except their elected leaders.
ALEKSANDAR CUIC, Attorney and Partner, Robert Brown LLC, said the situation of women in the camps could not be compared with what women faced in Morocco. While applauding the participation of women in running the camps, he said it appeared that only women connected to the Polasario leadership were given privileged roles. The rest of them had no travel documents and no freedom of movement. “I have heard first-hand reports that women in the camps were deprived of their fundamental rights.” He called for a census to identify needs on the ground and protect the vulnerable.
KAREN HARDIN, President, Priority PR Group, called for fair and neutral press coverage on the question of Western Sahara, stressing: “This issue cannot be resolved with hostility or closed minds.” In that regard, she asked that the Committee allow an “honest PR campaign” to help reveal whether both sides were willing to negotiate in good faith. She echoed the Secretary-General’s recent call to explore new options and innovative ways to implement self-determination.
SHERRY ERB, Administrator, Oasis Teaching Ministries, recalled that two shipments of phosphates had been detained in South Africa and Panama earlier this year following claims that the cargo had been transported illegally. While Polisario may consider their ploys to detain in-route phosphate shipments a victory, the truth was that the Sahrawi were the ones who truly suffered. She noted that 100 per cent of the profits from the sale of phosphates mined in Western Sahara were reinvested in the region — directly benefitting the local population through sub-contracts with 50 local companies. The real victims were the people who lived and worked in Western Sahara, as well as the impoverished people living in the camps.
CARROLL EADS, of Capitol Hill Prayer Partners, said she had taken up the cause of the Saharawi refugees despite never having visited the Tindouf camps, and had worked for 10 years to help them return to their homelands. During that time, she had urged both the United State Congress and the House of Representatives “to become active on behalf of a people who cannot speak for themselves”, and there were now many congressional leaders interested to learn what the United Nations was doing on the question of Western Sahara. In that regard, she voiced concern that the issue remained at a stalemate and urged the Organization to consider the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco as a “reliable, serious and credible option” for the issue’s resolution.
NANCY HUFF, President, Teach the Children International, said humanitarian aid intended for the Tindouf camps had been sold instead by Polisario. That demonstrated the group’s blatant disregard for the very people it was using to make a political statement to the international community, she added. Children might starve because food intended for them was being sold on the black market, she emphasized, asking the Committee not to allow that unresolved issue to continue.
JONATHAN HUFF, President, Safety and Security Instructional Services, said the lack of oversight in the Sahel and Maghreb regions had allowed terrorists to create alliances with often estranged regional ethnic groups. While malcontents might not embrace the terrorists’ ideology, they were more likely to share short-term objectives that would allow an increase in terrorist activities, he warned. “We cannot sit idly by while an international disaster becomes a problem that costs lives,” he emphasized, adding that a peaceful settlement in Western Sahara would create stability and defeat terrorism in the Sahel.
DONNA SAMS, Antioch Community Church, asked the Committee to consider the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco and supported by the Security Council. Emphasizing that the children living in the Tindouf Camps in Algeria were the most vulnerable people because they lacked education, she declared: “While the Polisario holds the solution to this issue in limbo, wanting to impose their way without any compromise, the future of the children in the camps gets trampled.”
MOHAMED ALI ARKOUKOU, Human Rights Activist, pointing out the brutal and bloody war in the Western Sahara, said that the referendum should have been held some 25 years ago. Yet, the people of the Western Sahara were still waiting for the international community to deliver what had been promised. Morocco had violated every single international law, including the Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians in times of war. A systematic violation of human rights continued, although Morocco was covering them up. The people of Western Sahara were still waiting for the international community to ensure their right to self-determination through a referendum.
NAVEEN ABU ELULA, Student, Westminster College Department of Transnational Studies, said that for 42 years, the Committee had done nothing but make useless promises, while the people of Western Sahara were enduring all types of human rights violations. “It is shameful that this Committee is failing to fulfil its simplest promise of a referendum, where the Sahrawi people can decide their fate,” she said. It was time for tangible actions that could change the lives of the Saharawi people, including the protection of their basic human rights, such as the right to live freely with access to health care and education.
BRIAN JAMISON, Gibraltar Products, said he had visited the Sahrawi camps five times since 2013 and had experienced hospitality, witnessed an impressive level of organization, and been granted the freedom to express his opinions and beliefs with senior-level leaders. Those who had never visited might make accusations about inappropriate activities against the Sahrawi people, but if that had been the case, they would not invite and extend hospitality to visitors, he pointed out.
SYDNEY SOLOMON ASSOR, Chairman, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, said that the situation had the potential of becoming fertile for terrorist recruitments. It was critical to close the displacement camps and allow its prisoners to vote with their feet. An institution like the United Nations opened itself to blame when it failed to act. “We are living in an era when it is not easy anymore to deceive,” he added. People had a right to return to their homelands and live a decent life. “Free them,” he said.
MOHAMMAD ZIYAD ALJABARI, President, Palestinian-Moroccan Friendship Society, said the region, particularly Libya and the Sahel were facing serious challenges, which, in turn, had greatly affected the region as a whole. He welcomed economic relations with African countries and expressed serious concern that hundreds of thousands of Moroccans were in the camps against their will. The exact number of inhabitants must be known so that aid could reach them. Morocco was against terrorist groups in the Sahel region. “They are trying to jeopardize the ceasefire,” he said, adding that the Committee must help reach a settlement that respected human rights.
NGUYEN MANH HUNG, Associate Professor and Director General, Institute for Africa and Middle East Studies in Hanoi, Viet Nam, said autonomy for Western Sahara was the only feasible political solution at present. It was a compromise between opposing views of the dispute and could bring about order and justice by preserving Morocco’s territorial integrity while also accommodating the Sahrawi people’s right to their homeland. It was not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, he emphasized, explaining that its content would be negotiated among the concerned parties, thereby offering the Sahrawi people an opportunity to have their voices heard. Politically, the Government of Morocco had indicated its willingness to engage in harmonization and integration because two Sahrawis had been elected as regional council presidents during the 2015 elections, he said.
SAMUEL PACIENCIA, Researcher, Youth Movement, recalled that Morocco had struggled under the rule of two different colonial eras and that the Western Sahara region was not distinct from the rest of the country. If sceptics were to read the history of Morocco they would understand that it would be impossible to separate Western Sahara from the rest of the country. The real history of the Moroccan decolonization process showed that recovery of Western Sahara was simply the result of the natural process of the country reclaiming its territory following colonization. The international community must either cut up Morocco or respect its territorial integrity and call on the parties to continue negotiations based on Morocco’s generous proposal.