Western Sahara ‘Last Decolonization Process in Africa’, Fourth Committee Told, As Unresolved Territorial Disputes, Including Gibraltar, Dominate Agenda
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
4th Meeting (PM)
Western Sahara ‘Last Decolonization Process in Africa’, Fourth Committee Told,
As Unresolved Territorial Disputes, Including Gibraltar, Dominate Agenda
Decades-Old Situation in Western Sahara Untenable, Petitioners Say, Urging
End to Impasse; Disputed Status of Gibraltar Hostage to ‘Sterile Proposition’
Calling attention to the failure of the United Nations and the international community to preserve the human rights of Saharawis, petitioners for Western Sahara called for a resolution to the “last decolonization process in Africa”, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories this afternoon.
While the people of Western Sahara had placed faith in the United Nations decades ago, they were still striving for human liberty and freedom, and had developed mistrust as a result of years of disappointment and continuous human rights violations, petitioners said. As the world’s second oldest group of refugees, the people of Western Sahara were increasingly disaffected.
Petitioners saidthat, while other people had a country where they lived, those from Western Sahara had a country that lived inside them. It was heartbreaking and inhuman to live waiting for a hope that might never come while one’s very existence remained blurred and their suffering was forgotten.
The international community must help Western Sahara to seize this historic moment and preserve its own destiny through Morocco’s proposed Autonomy Plan, some petitioners urged. One was convinced that Western Sahara needed Morocco, as well as the other way around. It was vital to take advantage of that unique exchange, as it would not likely be repeated in the future.
Until such time as a free and fair referendum was held to give a voice to the people of Western Sahara, said petitioners, they would call on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to extend its mandate to cover human rights abuses within the occupied territories, as had been echoed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others.
Some stated that, while the Algerian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario) threatened and imprisoned those who expressed any dissent, in Morocco, Saharawi refugees were welcomed and housed, given training and employment, and enjoyed their full democratic human rights. Others argued that Morocco openly rejected any peace efforts and played with the destiny of more than 200,000, while the United Nations and world watched indifferently.
On the issue of Gibraltar, Chief Minister of Gibraltar Peter Caruana said that some of the United Nations Member States, led by Spain, continued to propagate and defend a “sterile proposition, anchored in anachronistic, ambiguous and non-binding resolutions of a bygone era”.
Mr. Caruana said that the proposition to ignore Gibraltar’s right to self-determination and replace it with bilateral negotiation between the United Kingdom and Spain, in which the wishes of the people of Gibraltar would count for nothing, was not reconcilable with democracy.
Thus, the need to decolonize Gibraltar was made even more relevant, he said. As the United Kingdom and Spain were both members of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, he knew that neither would be content to see a European territory handed over from one country to another, contrary to, and trampling over, the wishes of the people in that territory.
John Joe Bossano, Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, said that repeating the same decision every year only brought the United Nations into disrepute and made people lose confidence in the Organization’s relevance. That outdated and discredited approach made “nonsense” of the Secretary-General’s message in February, that creative solutions were now needed for the remaining territories.
Such solutions could only emerge, he said, by ensuring that constitutional development in each territory achieved the yardstick of self-government.
The colonial situation in Gibraltar ran counter to the Charter of the United Nations, undermining the territorial integrity of Spain, that country’s representative said. The new constitutional decree given to Gibraltar could be used as opposition to avoid a decision. Likewise, attempts to exclude Gibraltar from the decolonization agenda were not admissible since they weakened the procedure established by the United Nations.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Serbia, and Spain.
Other petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Lamira Alisalem, a student at the College of the Atlantic in Maine; Hilde Teuwen, Comite Belge de Soutien au Peuple Saharaoui; Rafael Esparza Machin, a sociologist and professor in Grand Canaria; Felipe Briones Vives, International Association of Jurists for Occidental Sahara; Kei Nakagawa, Hagoromo University of International Studies; Teresa Smith de Cherif, Sahara Fund, Inc.; Sara Amina Adem, a college student; Katlyn Thomas, attorney at law and former commission member of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); Sydney Assor, Surrey Three Faiths Forum; Tanya Warburg, Director of Freedom for All; and Lord Francis Newal, International Committee for Tindouf Prisoners.
Further petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Jane Bahaijoub, Family Protection; David Eriksson, Swedish businessman and consultant; Javier Ruiz Garcia, Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Castilla La Mancha para el Sahara Occidental; Moussaoui Sidi Khadad, Conseil Royal Consulatif pour les Affaires Sahariennes; M’Barka Bouaid, member of Saharawi parliament; Nina Nedrebo, United Nations Association National Capital Area; Claude Moniquet; Ahmed Fateh, Association pour la protection des droits de l’Homme; Alain Hutchinson, Belgian deputy; Anna Maria Stame Cervone, Internationale des Femmes DemocratesChretiennes; Denis Ducarme; and Hairach Abdellah, Association Sud Migration et Developpement Sahet Dchira.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday, 7 October, to continue its debate on decolonization.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues. It was expected to hear the remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, as well as petitioners on the questions of Gibraltar.
Question of Gibraltar
Román Oyarzun ( Spain) expressed the full commitment of his delegation to the work of the Special Committee for Decolonization and stressed that Gibraltar was a priority for the Spanish Government. The colonial situation in Gibraltar ran counter to the Charter of the United Nations, undermining the territorial integrity of Spain. The principle of self-determination was not applicable to the decolonization of Gibraltar. That principle was to be applied to colonized peoples, but the current inhabitants of Gibraltar were not a colonized people.
Two controversies existed, he said. One regarded sovereignty, referring to the territory ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The second had to do with the isthmus which was occupied by the United Kingdom. The consolidated doctrine of the United Nations was considered inseparable in the case of Gibraltar, and weakened the territory of Spain. The mandate of the United Nations in regard to Gibraltar had been clear since 1964. Annual resolutions and decisions called for bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain to find a negotiated solution. Following that mandate for another year, Spain reiterated a firm desire to resume direct conversations with the United Kingdom.
He said the new constitutional decree given to Gibraltar could be used as opposition to avoid a decision. Likewise, attempts to exclude Gibraltar from the decolonization agenda were not admissible since they weakened the procedure established by the United Nations. Spain would continue to work with full dedication to solve the issue of local cooperation for the well-being of the inhabitants of Gibraltar, through dialogue.
PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that there remained at the United Nations some Member States — led by Spain — who continued to propagate and defend a “sterile proposition, anchored in anachronistic, ambiguous and non-binding resolutions of a bygone era.” Those States argued that with Gibraltar, the sacred principles of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples should be ignored and replaced by bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain, in which the wishes of the people of Gibraltar were to count for nothing.
Such a proposition could not be reconciled with democracy, yet curiously, Spain believed that argument actually strengthened its case. Indeed, in a statement to the Special Committee on Decolonization in June this year, Spain’s representative had said the need to decolonize Gibraltar on “this eighteenth century basis” was made even more relevant since the United Kingdom and Spain were members of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allies. He knew that neither the European Union nor the NATO respected fundamental principles of democracy and human rights and that neither would be content to see European territory handed over from one country to another, “contrary to and trampling over the wishes of the people in the territory”.
Faced with that inescapable dilemma, the representative of Spain had “resorted to the quite extraordinary argument” that the people protected by the Declaration were not the people who inhabited the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Gibraltar but rather people of Spain, in their capacity as descendants of the few hundred Spanish people who used to inhabit Gibraltar 306 years ago and left in 1704. “Well, Mr. Chairman,” he said, “tell that to the descendants of most dispossessed indigenous peoples of most ex-colonies who then went on to see the decolonization of those territories brought about by the exercise of the right to self-determination, not by their own indigenous forefathers, but by the descendants of the very colonizing people who had done the dispossessing.” Of course, that would include descendents of Spanish colonizers in many parts of South and Central America, he added.
Spain sought to convert the United Nations principle of territorial integrity into some sort of “right of restitution” to territory that it had lost more than 300 years ago, on the basis that the peoples of that territory were an enclave and colony maintained on what Spain said was still its territory. Spain argued that while “happily sitting on a dozen separate enclaves on another continent, Africa, including two cities in the territory that would naturally be Morocco’s territory.” Spain passionately believed those to be “Spanish” by virtue of history and the passage of some 500 years, as well as the fact that Morocco did not exist at that time and in the same legal form that it did today.
With respect, those distinctions seemed wholly insufficient to justify Spain holding and advocating diametrically opposed positions in the cases of Gibraltar and enclaves in North Africa. Regarding Spain’s arguments, on the one hand it said Gibraltar was its territory, and on the other, Spain invoked the Treaty of Utrecht, under which it ceded sovereignty to Britain in perpetuity, which it said remained valid and binding. “They cannot be both,” he said, calling the two positions “flat contradictions.”
The fact that Gibraltar was not part of Spain was not just because Spain had lost it to military conquest in 1704. Gibraltar was not Spanish because it was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Spain had repeatedly acknowledged the validity of that Treaty. As that was the case, it was a total distortion of the facts for Spain to now urge the Committee to help it recover territory that it ceded in a treaty which Spain itself maintained was valid and binding. He noted that the United Nations recognized integration with a Member State as a valid and effective means of decolonization, therefore, if Gibraltar were to integrate with the United Kingdom, Gibraltar would have been validly decolonized without the transfer of sovereignty to Spain.
He said that Spain’s attempt to abuse the decolonization process to win a sovereignty claim, at the expense of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, could not succeed. The bottom line was that “we have a European democracy that wants the sovereignty of Gibraltar to be negotiated and transferred to [ Spain], regardless and ignoring the wishes of its people, based on a unilateral assertion of international law, that [ Spain] is unwilling to test at the International Court of Justice.” Bilateral discussions about Gibraltar between the United Kingdom and Spain under the Brussels Statement of 1984 had not occurred since 2002 and won’t happen again. The United Kingdom had promised that. He remained committed to the Trilateral Forum of Dialogue, and made it clear that we would not genuflect to Spain’s position on sovereignty of his homeland.
JOHN JOE BOSSANO, Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, said the consensus before the Committee provided for the United Kingdom and Spain to agree on the territory’s decolonization, which would make it Spanish, whether the citizens of Gibraltar liked it or not. “We don’t and it is not going to happen,” he declared, adding that last year, the United Kingdom had made it clear that it would not discuss, let alone negotiate, the territory’s sovereign status unless the people of Gibraltar wanted it, “knowing that we don’t and never will.” He trusted that the United Kingdom would maintain that commitment.
He said that secret proposals put forward by Spain in 1973 would annex the territory while maintaining the colonial relationship then existing with the United Kingdom. In spite of that obvious attempt to replace an unsatisfactory colonial situation by an even worse one, the Special Committee and the General Assembly approved the 1973 Consensus that reiterated the hope that negotiations with Spain would start with a view to finding the “final solution to the problem.” He said that those “ominous words” meant the elimination by Spain of Gibraltar’s people as a separate and distinct member of the human family and of the international community. He said the opposition had fought that decision in 1973, and was fighting it toady.
“We will fight for as long as it takes, until Spain accepts our nation or this Committee honours its Charter obligations and rejects Spain’s arguments.” Indeed, repeating the same decision every year only brought the United Nations into disrepute and made people lose confidence in its relevance. That outdated and discredited approach made a mockery of the Secretary-General’s message to the Special Committee in February, that creative solutions were now needed for the remaining Non-Self Governing Territories. Such solutions could only emerge by ensuring that constitutional development in each territory achieved the yardstick of self-government. “Yet you refuse to do this, which Article 73 [of the Charter] requires you to do,” he told the Committee.
He went on to stress that the position as regarded listed Non-Self-Governing Territories was “crystal clear”, and moreover, in light of the recent International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Kosovo, even in the case of territories within a nation State — let alone one that separated in 1704 — the right to independence and the exercise of self-determination were not prevented by the principle of territorial integrity, which only affected relations between existing sovereign States.
Finally, he said that the even as Spain’s “aggression and invasion of our territorial sea” continued, the worst attack on Gibraltar’s territorial integrity had taken place only last week, when the paramilitary Spanish Guarda Civil had attacked the Royal Gibraltar Police and physically removed from their custody a Spanish citizen under lawful arrest. That action, which followed from the recent Spanish position that Gibraltar had no territorial waters, repeated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Spanish Parliament last week, had to be stopped once and for all by the United Kingdom.
Question of Western Sahara
LAMIRA ALISALEM, a student at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, said she was born and raised in the refugee camp of Dakhla, in southern Algeria. She said it was exhausting not knowing what tomorrow might bring. It was heartbreaking and inhuman to live waiting for a hope that might never come, and “it is brutal to live longing to return to a home that means the world to you, while your very existence and suffering remain blurred and forgotten.” While her people had placed faith in the United Nations decades ago, they were still striving for human liberty and freedom. Meanwhile, many oppressed nations sought comfort in the United Nations mission. But she wondered had they been wrong to do so. Mistrust was a result of years of disappointment and continuous human rights violations. When the United Nations and world watched indifferently, Morocco openly rejected any peace efforts and played with the destiny of more than 200,000 people. “We can’t be blamed for losing hope in the United Nations credibility,” she said.
HILDE TEUWEN, Comité Belge de Soutien au Peuple Saharaoui, said that there had been no result of the direct negotiations between Morocco and the Frente Polisario. Even press releases showed little reason to believe that direct negotiations would bring a definite solution to the conflict and end the last decolonization process in Africa. Numerous reports documented human rights violations. Despite the lack of political progress, the Saharawi people were not giving up. She called out to the people who had a voice in the search for the solution to listen carefully to the people of Western Sahara.
RAFAEL ESPARZA MACHIN, a sociologist and professor in Grand Canaria and an expert in Maghreb, said this was the third time he had spoken at the United Nations. He said the problem was not resolved, but he saw a solution to a problem that had begun 35 years ago. The main political actors were in different circumstances today. Spain was a full democracy; Morocco’s situation had improved; Algeria had risen above its domestic problems to become pluralistic; and Mauritania was working to integrate in the region. In terms of Western Sahara, he was still optimistic that direct negotiations could be established. He called the proposal of autonomous rule “a magnificent solution”.
FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, International Association of Jurists for Occidental Sahara, said that this was a decolonization issue and Morocco did not have sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Occupation was illegal. Whatever the description might be, Morocco was not exempted from the norms of the United Nations General Assembly. He noted that the special envoy criticized Morocco and held it responsible for the deadlock in negotiations. The United Nations should impose autonomy or free association and should reactivate the referendum.
KEI NAKAGAWA, Hagoromo University of International Studies and a researcher in Maghreb, highlighted the economic surge in provinces of southern Morocco that had become modern centres. Nonetheless, the Saharawi people were living in makeshift camps. He noted that freedom of expression was not guaranteed in Tindouf, and he called for the United Nations to enable those in the camps to express their views and have access to details on self-governance.
LORD FRANCIS NEWALL, from the International Committee for Tindouf Prisoners, said that several prisoners in the Tindouf camps who had disappeared should not be forgotten; to date, they were not accounted for. Regarding specific proposals for a solution, he agreed with the Moroccan proposal for autonomy. Thousands of people remained unaccounted for, and he called for their release. His organization also called on the international community to pay attention to the plight of the Saharawis. Granting them full autonomy would lead to a solution. That approach was laudable and was accepted by the international community. It should be welcomed by Morocco. Those in the Tindouf camps wanted to go home and, thus, direct talks between Morocco and Algeria should be encouraged. All parties would benefit, and it would bring social and economic development to all the people.
JANE BAHAIJOUB, Family Protection, said that nobody knew how many people were in the Tindouf camps, and added that a census would clarify the number of refugees and their identities. Algeria had proposed a referendum for the Saharawis; they were entitled to self-determination but that did not automatically imply independence. Hundreds of youths had escaped via Mauritania, and independent reports indicated that those in Tindouf camps had no freedom of movement and could be subjected to intimidation. Noting that Algeria generated some $100 billion in revenue from oil exports, she said that just 1 per cent that could be used to help those in the Tindouf camps. The camps should no longer be used as a smokescreen to deflect Algeria’s internal problems. Autonomy was the only viable solution.
DAVID ERIKSSON, a businessman and consultant from Sweden, pointed out that the future of Mediterranean security hinged on the conflict. Since the ceasefire between Morocco and Frente Polisario, Morocco had seen a change for the better regarding human rights and economic development. At the same time, refugees in Polisario-controlled camps had seen little development since 1975. Due to massive corruption by the Polisario camp management and lack of refugee rights by the Algerian authorities, the majority of camp occupants lacked hope for the future. Support for the Frente Polisario was decreasing. But as political opposition or hopes of ever being able to leave the camps was not a real solution, people were looking for other alternatives, and those included religious extremism, terrorism, kidnapping and smuggling.
JAVIER RUIZ GARCIA, Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Castilla La Mancha para el Sahara Occidental, noted the numerous human rights violations against the Saharawi and the lack of freedom, especially with regard to freedom of movement. Additionally, several Saharawi were arrested after visiting their families. He called on the international community not to turn their backs on the Saharawis, adding that the behaviour of the occupying Power could not be ignored.
MOUSSAOUI SIDI KHADAD, Conseil Royal Consulatif pour les Affaires Sahariennes, drew attention to the fact that he came directly from Western Sahara to speak for the people. He noted the adoption of Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara that were “clean breaks” from previous focuses that had led to an impasse. Successive resolutions showed the value of negotiations to reach mutually acceptable solutions.
M’BARKA BOUAID, member of Saharawi parliament, said that the question most frequently asked was what Morocco was doing for the Western Sahara and the Saharawis. Since the Green March in 1975, the Southern Saharan region had received more investment than anywhere else in Morocco. In fact, an impressive highway now linked places in the south and created a bridge with neighbours like Mauritania, and airports in every city also facilitated increased contact. A rigorous legal framework regulating local marketplaces had also been put in place, as well as a telecommunications system, Internet, and many other forms of new technologies.
She said that Morocco had also supported the exploration of renewable energy sources to take advantage of the considerable solar and wind energy resources. It was important to stop the manipulation by Algerian political and military interests, and she was convinced that Western Sahara needed Morocco, as well as the other way around. It was vital to take advantage of that unique exchange, as it would not likely be repeated in the future, and Western Sahara must seize the moment to preserve its own destiny.
NINA NEDREBO, United Nations Association National Capital Area, said that United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) should extend its mandate to cover human rights abuses within the occupied territories, as had been echoed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others. Also, fishing agreements pertaining to Western Sahara should be examined in terms of their legality, according to international law. The international community must not lose its belief and humanity. The abuses experienced in the camps were real. The history of the Saharawis was true, as was the need for a free and fair referendum to give a voice to the people of Western Sahara.
CLAUDE MONIQUET said that the Frente Polisario was a danger to the entire region and was incapable of reforming itself. Regional security had considerably changed, and terrorist activities from north-east Algeria were spilling over into the southern Sahel. That was a major security risk and the Frente Polisario was incapable of getting real prospects for its members. The Frente Polisario was similar to the Irish Republic Army (IRA), in that both had developed a powerful policy apparatus, but both had ultimately failed and would do so, without laying down their arms, as the IRA had ultimately done.
AHMED FATEH, Association pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme, said that for more than 35 years, he had served in militias and belonged to the security forces in the Saharawi camps. Through those experiences, he had come to know many things that “did not serve human interests”. Just several days ago, he was still living under the misery and suffering in the Tindouf camps and in the Algerian desert. He had seen torture and pain for more than three decades. Any future gains for those living in the camps depended solely on the whims and fancies of the Frente Polisario, which largely oppressed them. Today, however, he felt that he was a free human being. He had regained his freedom and was living with dignity in Morocco. He asked that safe conduct be provided for others who wished to leave the camps.
ALAIN HUTCHINSON, Belgian deputy, said he had long been involved in the issue of Western Sahara, and was Vice-Chair of the delegation that dealt with the European Union and countries of the Maghreb. Having closely followed the conflict that painfully affected families, he said that much had changed in the world in the past 35 years, and the people in Western Sahara had changed as well. A massive investment of the Moroccan Government in the complex region would help support young people and provide future prospects. He called for the different parties to renew dialogue and focus the debate on helping the people involved.
TERESA SMITH DE CHERIF, Sahara Fund, Inc., said the Fund was the only group that brought medical missions to the Western Saharan areas that lay beyond Morocco’s control. Speaking about anniversaries, and about “hope and despair”, she said that while her son had an American passport, he would not be able to visit his homeland of Western Sahara. She did not know when he was born 21 years ago, that in more than two decades, Western Sahara would still not have been given independence. In a few days, 8 October would mark the one-year anniversary since seven Saharawi human rights activists had been imprisoned for high treason, which brought the death penalty in Morocco. Visits to the relatives of those activists in refugee camps from Western Sahara were called “confidence-building” measures by the United Nations. She asked how it was possible that the mandate for Western Sahara had no human rights directive. As a medical doctor, she expressed concern for the “Saharawi seven”, who had been deprived of daylight and medicine for serious disease for nearly five months. All former and current Saharawi prisoners had endured such deplorable conditions.
SARA AMINA ADEM, a college student, said she had first been exposed to the issue of Western Sahara as a child at school, when she wondered why the Saharawi boys and girls at her boarding school did not go home on the weekends. At the age of 15, she had become friends with Lamira Alisalem, who was Saharawi. She felt their difference only when they were introduced, when Lamira said she was from Western Sahara. It was then that she realized that while she had a country where she lived, those from Western Sahara had a country that lived inside them.
KATLYN THOMAS, attorney at law and former commission member of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) where she was responsible for legal issues, stressed that there were no technical or other reasons why a referendum could not take place, if Morocco wanted it to take place. The provisional voters list prepared by MINURSO was the accumulation of years of work under trying conditions, and although certain other tasks remained to be completed, those tasks were not impossible. The reason why the referendum had not taken place was simply that Morocco did not want it to. It was no coincidence that Morocco had decided to withdraw from the referendum after the provisional voters list was published, as the country knew there was an excellent chance that the Saharawis would vote in favour of independence.
SYDNEY ASSOR, Surrey Three Faiths Forum, said that family visit exchanges remained blocked despite the Human Rights Council’s appeal to unblock them. That was why he once again came to plead for fairness. It pained him to be on that side of the hall instead of where those persons sat who had the power to act and help the “Tindouf prisoners”, who had been plunged into a state of disease and starvation. The aid sent to them did not wind up in the camps, but instead ended up in the markets of Algiers and elsewhere. Poverty, disease, and despair plagued that “wretched people”, and he was only concerned, as were other non-governmental organizations, about the physical condition of the detainees — their physical integrity and health.
TANYA WARBURG, Director of Freedom for All, said that those in the Tindouf were the world’s second oldest group of refugees, and they shared an increasing sense of disaffection. While the Algerian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario ) threatened and imprisoned those who expressed any dissent, in Morocco, Saharawi refugees were welcomed and housed, given training and employment, and enjoyed their full democratic human rights. Human rights activists whom she had met in Laayoune were establishing new institutions and informing their fellow citizens of their democratic rights. A vibrancy, optimism and pride were evident. Those she had met supported Morocco’s plan for autonomy and welcomed its provisions to protect their democratic rights and freedoms. Those people believed the plan would enable them to re-unite with their fellow Saharawis in Tindouf.
ANNA MARIA STAME CERVONE, Internationale des Femmes Democrates Chretiennes, noted that the plight of the women in the Tindouf camps was unrelentingly subjected to the caprice of the Frente Polisario, and they were the weakest link in the chain of suffering. Women constantly faced life’s risks in a hostile desert environment, working in summer and winter in extreme temperatures. The Frente Polisario had turned the women into child-bearing machines, forcing them to endure pregnancy under duress. Polygamy was another feature of the camps. Women were the last to be assisted in the camps, and their voices were not heard.
DENIS DUCARME, in a statement largely about human rights and regional security, noted that children were separated for 10 to 15 years from their families. Indeed, the rights of the family were flouted, and he urged the United Nations to protect families and refugees. In addition, he noted that the agreement on family exchanges was fraught with impediments; the visits did not take place as agreed, and in fact, visitors were turned back. He followed closely the failure in security, and the fact that there were at least 11 State militias in the region. After 35 years, the suffering of civilians continued. Public policies must improve family conditions.
HAIRACH ABDELLAH, Association Sud Migration et Developpement Sahet Dchira, and an expert on human development and nurse care, said that through his personal experience, he was able to talk directly to all segments of the population and look at the intolerable living conditions of some societies. He was pleased to take part as an activist following western society. He asked what Morocco had done to ensure the development of this Saharawi region. In the aftermath of Spanish colonization, much remained to be done in that regard, including to develop the isolated provinces.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the United Kingdom reaffirmed his country’s long-standing commitment to the people of Gibraltar that it would never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes. The United Kingdom also confirmed that it would not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar was not content. Although the United Kingdom would be part of the consensus decision on Gibraltar, the reference to the Brussels Process must be seen in that context. The implications of that and of Gibraltar’s well-known position on the Brussels Process, as regarded both sovereignty and bilateralism between the United Kingdom and Spain, was clear.
He went on to say that the trilateral process on Gibraltar between the United Kingdom, Spain and Gibraltar continued to make progress. The implementation of the historic package of agreements, announced by the Tripartite Forum in September 2006 in Cordoba, Spain, was working well. The third ministerial-level meeting of the forum, held in Gibraltar on 21 July last year, had reviewed progress on the implementation of the Cordoba Statement and recommitted the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Spain’s full implementation to those areas still outstanding. The United Kingdom welcomed the timetable for further progress in those areas, as agreed by all parties. There had been a series of technical meetings in the past year, and the United Kingdom expected a further ministerial meeting in the next few months.
The positive atmosphere of the process and the real difference the Cordoba agreement was having for people on both sides of the frontier, underlined the value of three-way dialogue, which was without prejudice to respective differences on sovereignty, he said. The United Kingdom enjoyed very cordial relations with Spain and would continue to work constructively on all Gibraltar-related issues. The Cordoba agreement was without prejudice to the United Kingdom and Spain’s respective positions on sovereignty, on which the United Nations did not take a view. The United Kingdom had no doubt about its sovereignty over Gibraltar and the territorial waters surrounding it. On several occasions, the Government of Gibraltar had reminded the Fourth Committee that the trilateral process had an open agenda. The United Kingdom was ready to consider any mechanism to advance negotiations, which would find favour with the other two parties.
He said that the Gibraltar Constitution, which entered into force on 2 January 2007, provided for a modern and mature relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. That description would not apply to any relationship based on colonialism. As was well known, the United Kingdom regretted that the outdated approach of the “Committee of 24” seemed not so far to have allowed that to be recognized. The criteria used by the Committee in its deliberation on whether a Non-Self-Governing Territory should be de-listed failed to take into account how the relationship between the United Kingdom and Gibraltar had been modernized — in a way that was acceptable to both parties. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom shared the view that Gibraltar was now politically mature and that the United Kingdom-Gibraltar relationship was non-colonial in nature.
As a separate territory, recognized by the United Nations and included since 1946 in its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, Gibraltar enjoyed the individual and collective rights accorded it by the United Nations Charter, he continued. The new constitution, therefore, confirmed the right to self-determination of the Gibraltarian people, the realization of which must be promoted and respected in conformity with the United Nations Charter and other applicable international treaties. Gibraltar’s right to self-determination was not constrained by the Treaty of Utrecht, except insofar as, in the view of the United Kingdom, article X gave Spain the right of refusal should Britain ever renounce sovereignty. Independence would only be an option with Spanish consent. The act of deciding to accept the new constitution in a referendum was an exercise of the right of self-determination by the Gibraltarian people in that context. The referendum, organized by the Government of Gibraltar, was a democratic, lawful and an entirely proper act.
He said that the constitution did not in any way diminish British sovereignty of Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom retained its full international responsibility for Gibraltar, including its external relations and defence, and as a Member State responsible for Gibraltar in the European Union. That fully accorded with the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and he called on the Committee to review how its future deliberations might better take into account the modern relationship shared by the United Kingdom and Gibraltar. For the record, the principle of territorial integrity had never been applicable to the decolonization of Gibraltar, nor did the United Kingdom accept the assertion that the people of Gibraltar did not have the right to self-determination.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply to statements made on the situation on Gibraltar, Spain’s representative said that her country had not modified its position on the question of the waters surrounding Gibraltar. She said, “We have let it be known to the United Kingdom Government that we don’t recognize the United Kingdom’s rights to maritime spaces surrounding Gibraltar,” which were not included in article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht. In short, what was not article 10 was not recognized.
The representative of Serbia replied to the statement made by Joseph John Bossano, Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, regarding the claim that the International Court of Justice, in its opinion on the unilateral declaration of the independence of Kosovo, concluded that the right to independence and self-determination was not prevented by the concept of territorial integrity. She emphasized that the Court’s opinion did not express any value judgement on the right to proclaim independence. It only stated, based on the question asked, that the declaration of independence did not violate general international law, which did not contain explicit prohibitions of such declarations. That could not be interpreted as giving rights to any territory to proclaim independence in violation of the principle of territorial integrity of States or other basic principles of the United Nations, as the Court itself had pointed out in paragraph 56 of the opinion.
* *** *