Polisario Front Calls for Intensified Efforts to Resolve Dispute over Western Sahara, amid Strong Objections by Morocco
The Special Committee on Decolonization continued its discussion on the question of Western Sahara today, with the representative of the Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) calling for intensified efforts to resolve the dispute over the Territory’s status, amid strong and repeated objections to his participation by the observer for Morocco.
Ahmed Boukhari of the Polisario Front pressed the Special Committee to support total decolonization of Western Sahara, which it could not do unless it respected the relevant General Assembly resolutions. He reiterated the request for a special meeting to update information about the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), established in 1975.
He noted that the Special Committee worked with legitimate representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, recognized by the United Nations and administering Powers under article 73 of the United Nations Charter, a status that Polisario had enjoyed since 1973. On the other hand, Morocco was not a legal administering Power to relate with the Special Committee on Western Sahara, he said, describing it as a colonial Power that used aggressive practices and was opposed to the panel.
Citing resolution 3437 (1979), he said Morocco was illegally occupying the Territory, and had transferred thousands of colonists there, making a minority of its people in their own land. International law and the Geneva Conventions were clear on the illegality of those actions, he said, emphasizing that the outcome of any political, administrative or electoral act that brought Morocco into Western Sahara could not be “instrumentalized” to influence the way in which the Special Committee performed its duties.
“The Special Committee was established to eradicate colonialism not legitimize it,” he continued, citing General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XIX) and 3437 (1979), as well as the advisory opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice of 16 October 1975. To deviate from the road map was to find complicity with a colonialist venture against a peaceful people. “Morocco is a colonizing Power and you know this,” he said, adding that developments since the Special Committee’s June 2015 regular meeting supported that position.
Morocco’s unilateral expulsion of MINURSO staff demonstrated the occupying Power’s decision to pursue a course of confrontation with the international community, he said. Security Council resolution 2285 (2016) expressed the Security Council’s wish to recover the expelled personnel, and requested that the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy organize a fifth round of formal negotiations between Polisario and Morocco. And yet, staff had not returned and negotiations had not resumed, he noted, stressing that the Council must not wait until 30 July to inform the Secretary-General. It must shoulder its responsibility.
MINURSO was a symbol of the international commitment to resolve the final problem of decolonization in Africa, he said, calling for the resumption of direct negotiations and for the people of Western Sahara to freely determine their own future. “There is no alternative,” he said. “The rights of our people are being impeded by Morocco,” an international crime in terms of General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV). Calling attention to the exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources and violations of human rights, he urged the Special Committee to accelerate the decolonization of Western Sahara. “Somebody must do something.”
In the ensuing discussion, delegates commented on the constant interruptions to Mr. Boukhari’s statement, with Ecuador’s representative stressing: “We’re not in a street protest.” Underlining the need for coexistence and politeness at the United Nations, he recalled that the General Assembly had decided in 1972 to send a visiting mission to African territories then under Portuguese domination, saying that could provide an example for the Special Committee’s work today. He asked the Secretariat to examine that precedent and seriously consider Polisario’s invitation, while requesting that Mr. Boukhari provide more information on the situation of the referendum.
Venezuela’s representative said Mr. Boukhari was a “valid interlocutor” for Western Sahara. Noting the latter’s conciliatory attitude, he expressed hope that all parties would follow his lead. Meanwhile, Venezuela rejected certain expressions made during Mr. Boukhari’s intervention, which were unacceptable at the United Nations, he said.
Mr. Boukhari, responding to the question from Ecuador’s representative, said the self-determination referendum had long been recognized as the key element of a peaceful solution to the dispute. The United Nations had worked on the list of voters, but in 2000, Morocco had refused to go forward with the referendum process. It had obstructed the referendum since 2004, claiming ownership of the Territory, he said, adding that Morocco had expelled MINURSO staff with the clear aim of obstructing any progress towards self-determination.
At the meeting’s outset, a Secretariat official presented, on behalf of the Special Committee Chair, a summary of the proceedings in a closed 15 June meeting, approved without a vote during a closed meeting this morning. The non-paper outlined members’ support for the Chair to conduct business in accordance with Rules 106 and 107 of the Rules of Procedure, she said. Following a regrettable incident on 14 June, when a Member State that was not a Special Committee member had disrespected formal procedure, the Bureau had called an extraordinary meeting in which members recalled that Assembly resolutions 3437 (1979) and 35/19 (1980) both stated that the Polisario Front represented the people of Western Sahara.
She said members had also stated that the Special Committee should not challenge a General Assembly resolution and that representatives needed only the subsidiary body’s consent in order to speak. There had been different past practices, she said. The Special Committee was aware that, in the absence of established practice, the Chair was not obliged to follow the steps of predecessors. The Special Committee had agreed to hear the representative of Frente Polisario as the representative of Western Sahara on the basis of General Assembly resolutions and Rules of Procedure.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative then proposed that Mr. Boukhari speak as a representative of the Polisario Front, rather than Western Sahara.
On that point, Rafael Ramírez (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, said that during the closed meeting this morning, many members had stated that the Polisario Front represented the people of Western Sahara. They had recognized that there were different viewpoints and that the Special Committee could not change Assembly decisions. Charting a way forward was within the Special Committee’s purview, he affirmed. “Unfortunately, we have wasted a lot of time on this,” he said, noting that all had agreed to approve the non-paper and advance the discussion on that basis.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda said he had hoped that the non-paper would be circulated since he had not had a chance to review it.
As the meeting unfolded, the representatives Ecuador, Chile and Cuba agreed that the non-paper had been approved by consensus and reflected different positions.
Grenada’s representative suggested that delegations did not have adequate time to review the document in print, while Nicaragua’s delegate noted that discussions had indeed been conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner. Syria’s representative said that, at the end of the day, there had been no objections to the non-paper. The importance of moving forward with the Special Committee’s work had been stressed, he said, a point echoed by Bolivia’s representative.
Indonesia’s delegate said there were clearly many diverging points of view on how to move forward, adding that his delegation had asked to compile all the inputs and suggestions, which had fed into the creation of the non-paper as a means to identify a solution.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 20 June.