Speakers Differ over Self-Determination for Western Sahara as Special Committee on Decolonization Continues Session
Meeting Adjourned as Morocco Opposes Intervention by Polisario Front
Speakers today emphasized the right of the Saharans to seek self-determination through a referendum that would be held under United Nations auspices, as the Special Committee on Decolonization took up the question of Western Sahara on the second day of its substantive session.
Some speakers insisted that the Organization make good on decades of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions by assuming responsibility for resolving the issue and ensuring the full redeployment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
While some referred to Morocco as “the occupying Power”, others expressed support for its proposal of broad autonomy for Western Sahara, as well as its development plan, announced in 2015. Several speakers, meanwhile, voiced concern about the humanitarian and human rights situation faced by Saharans living within refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
Morocco’s representative recalled his country’s proposal to grant autonomy to its southern provinces, describing it as a “win-win” solution, as well as the $18 billion development programme unveiled by the King of Morocco during the 2015 fortieth anniversary of the “Green March” intended to force Spain, then the colonial Power, to hand over the Territory to the kingdom.
Algeria’s representative — affirming the Saharans’ right to self-determination — said a peaceful settlement was still “possible, feasible and attainable”, but warned of the risk of regional stability amid rising terrorism and transnational crime.
Rafael Dario Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, adjourned the meeting after Morocco’s representative raised a point of order regarding a statement to be delivered by a representative of the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro (Polisario Front).
The Special Committee will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.
The representative of Cuba said that despite repeated efforts, there had been no progress towards an effective resolution of the Western Sahara question, and the situation of its people had become unbearable. Cuba supported the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, as well as a fair and lasting solution, in accordance with Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. Urging the Special Committee to continue its scrutiny of the issue, he said only the people of Western Sahara could determine their future.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire affirmed his delegation’s support for negotiations under United Nations auspices, calling upon the parties to demonstrate a spirit of compromise. Morocco’s plan for broad autonomy seemed to be a pledge of the kingdom’s intention to seek a definitive solution and Côte d’Ivoire supported it, he said, adding that his delegation supported the Security Council’s intention to refocus the discussion, as per resolution 2285 (2016).
The representative of Grenada expressed hope that the Personal Envoy’s efforts would lead to a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution. Expressing appreciation of Morocco’s new development model for Western Sahara, she said it was a long-term strategy that would guarantee a positive impact for the Territory’s people. Morocco had also made important strides in the area of human rights, which the Security Council welcomed in resolution 2285 (2016), she added.
The representative of Venezuela expressed concern about the situation in Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony, which was under unjust and deplorable occupation by Morocco. Noting the large number of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on the issue over more than 25 years, he said the rights of the Saharans had been flouted despite United Nations endeavours to resolve the situation. Venezuela urged the Organization to face up to the Moroccan authorities so that MINURSO could return to full deployment, noting that the Mission’s main purpose was to hold a referendum.
The representative of Uganda said the United Nations had failed to fulfil its responsibility to the people of Western Sahara, who were denied the right to live in their own nation, even as their resources were plundered. The Special Committee should consider an official visit to Western Sahara, he added.
The representative of Namibia, noting that the Saharans had been living in limbo for 40 years, said it was incumbent upon the United Nations to implement its own resolutions calling for a referendum. The Organization could not accept the expulsion of one of its missions or delays in the implementation of its resolutions, she emphasized, calling upon the Security Council to assume its responsibilities.
The representative of Nicaragua said that, besides threatening regional peace, the current stalemate had continued for too long. Now was the time for a fair and lasting solution.
The representative of Ethiopia expressed his full support for the principled positions of the African Union and United Nations, as expressed in a series of resolutions. Acknowledging the lack of progress and the need to reinvigorate the negotiating process, he called for renewed efforts to overcome the current impasse.
The representative of South Africa emphasized that the General Assembly and the International Court of Justice had settled Morocco’s status as an occupying Power. South Africa called upon the United Nations to expeditiously implement United Nations and African Union decisions to actualize the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, he said, expressing disappointment at the Security Council’s failure to respond firmly and decisively against a decision by the Government of Morocco that had placed a United Nations mission in jeopardy. South Africa was also deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation driven in part by reduced funding for refugees, he added.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda said he supported Morocco’s initiative, which constituted a serious effort to end the dispute. He called on all parties to demonstrate the political will to work in an atmosphere of continuous dialogue, with political, economic, human rights and security concerns at the forefront of all negotiations.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said the Secretary-General was correct to say that, now more than ever, the status quo was no longer an option. The Saharans should have a chance, through a referendum, to determine their own future, she said, appealing to Morocco and the Polisario Front to begin negotiations in good faith and without preconditions.
The representative of Ecuador said her country was concerned by the subjugation of the Saharans, the violation of their human rights and the exploitation of their natural resources. “We are here in the twenty-first century and colonialism still exists,” she noted, saying she trusted that the Security Council would shoulder its responsibilities to ensure compliance with its decisions and that MINURSO would be able to carry out its work.
The representative of Angola expressed deep sadness at the death of Abdelaziz Mohamed, President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and noted with concern the severe living conditions of the Tindouf refugee camps. Urging MINURSO to pay greater attention to human rights in the Territory, she warned that the lack of progress on the one hand, and the frustrated hopes of the Saharans on the other could lead to frustration — particularly among young people — that could in turn prompt armed conflict of serious proportions in the region.
The representative of Morocco emphasized that peace and security were the remit of the Security Council. The Sahara issue was on its agenda and negotiations were under way within the framework of Council resolutions, but not that of the General Assembly. If a referendum did not take place, it was not because Morocco did not want one, but because there were deep differences over the interpretation of electoral issues, he emphasized. For that reason, the United Nations considered a referendum inapplicable. With the referendum put off, the Security Council had called for a mutually acceptable political solution, and Morocco had thus proposed a negotiating plan for autonomy status in 2007. The international community had been greatly involved in developing that initiative, which was in line with international law, the United Nations Charter and international standards, he said, describing it as a “win-win” solution and the basis of a political process under the auspices of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy. In several resolutions, the Security Council confirmed the parameters of a solution to the issue of Moroccan Sahara, he said, stressing the essential need for a negotiated settlement, reached in a spirit of compromise.
He recalled that in 2015, on the fortieth anniversary of the “Glorious Green March”, the King of Morocco had paid an historic visit to the southern province, receiving a warm welcome. There, he had launched a development programme that envisioned $18 billion in investments and the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. That integrated development programme was based on the participation of the inhabitants of the southern province, he said. During recent elections, the population of the Sahara region had reiterated their commitment to their homeland, Morocco, and had chosen their representatives freely, without incident, as monitored by international observers. Those living in the Tindouf camps were in a unique situation, because those were the only refugee camps whose inhabitants were not known by the international community, he said. A census was, therefore, essential and a duty of the host country, he said, adding that the lack of assistance for the camps had led to the personal enrichment of Polisario Front members. In presenting its autonomy initiative, Morocco had demonstrated its determination to end the regional dispute, he said, underlining that other parties must exert the political will to move forward since the status quo did not help those with aspirations to development.
The representative of Algeria said he hoped that the commitment of the Special Committee’s members, as reflected in its report to the General Assembly, would be followed by concrete action. Implementation of “the gilded resolution 1514” (1960) must remain at the heart of its actions, he emphasized. The conflict was a decolonization issue that could only be resolved by granting the Saharans their inalienable right to self-determination. The United Nations bore specific responsibility for the Saharans, he stressed, recalling that for 41 years, the Saharans had relied on the international community, and the United Nations in particular. Every resolution adopted by the Security Council, including resolution 2285 (2016), reaffirmed its commitment to their right to self-determination, and so long as the question was not settled, two issues must be watched: human rights and the exploitation of natural resources.
He went on to recommend that the Special Committee visit the region “and make your own opinion”. It was an African issue to its roots, and Algeria welcomed the African Union’s contribution to efforts of the United Nations. “We still hope and think that a peaceful settlement is possible, feasible and attainable,” but the Saharans’ patience should not be abused, he cautioned. No one had the right to change the rules set by the Security Council and the General Assembly, who were the referees. That would pose a risk to regional stability amid rising terrorism and transnational crime, he said, adding that no one could be more concerned than Algeria. Emphasizing the need to support the Special Envoy and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, he said there was no alternative to giving the Saharans the free choice to decide the future they wanted. It was a matter of paramount importance for the Maghreb, for Africa and beyond, he said.
The representative of Morocco, speaking on a point of order, said that the representative of the Polisario Front could not be given the floor because, unlike in previous years, he had not requested to be heard by the Special Committee. Moreover, he could not speak as the representative of Western Sahara, he said, emphasizing that the Special Committee’s rules must be observed.
Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela) Special Committee Chair, said the Bureau had decided that it would hear from the Polisario Front representative, and he saw no grounds for denying that. He asked those who were not members of the Special Committee to leave the room, and adjourned the meeting.