Petitioners Put Forward Different Views on Western Sahara as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate
The persistent question of Western Sahara took centre stage in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today as petitioners from both sides presented differing positions regarding that Non-Self-Governing Territory’s relationship with Morocco.
Among those addressing the Committee was Sidi Mohamed Omar of Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), who denounced Morocco’s continued illegal occupation of Western Sahara as an insult to the Organization’s Charter. Stressing that his organization is the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara, and reaffirming its commitment to a peaceful and lasting solution, he called on the Committee to take concrete action to speed up the decolonization of the last colony in Africa.
Several speakers, including Josefa Milan Padron of Coordinadora Sindical Canaria De Apoyo Al Pueblo Saharaui, criticized the position taken by Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Prime Minister of Spain, who on 14 March, in a letter to Morocco, recognized unilaterally the Moroccan nature of the Territory. “The unexpected turn in Spain’s position gives carte blanche to the Kingdom of Morocco to continue to exert all kinds of violence against the Sahrawi people,” said petitioner Pino Esther Ortega Romero of CCOO Canarias.
Several other petitioners from the Canary Islands spoke today, highlighting the archipelago’s relationship with Western Sahara, which is only 100 kilometres away. Manuel Marrero Morales of Grupo Parlamentario Si Podemos Canarias described the Spanish Prime Minister’s change of position as a betrayal of both Sahrawi people and Canary people, while Pedro Quevedo Iturbe of Nueva Canarias added that relevant United Nations resolutions must be seen as the only framework for the Territory’s decolonization.
On the other hand, the Committee heard from petitioners such as Moulay Brahim Chrif, who chairs the municipal council in Smara, which he described as a cultural capital in the Moroccan desert. Thousands of Sahrawis had elected him in a free and transparent election, he said, adding that the residents of the Sahara actively support Morocco’s proposal for autonomy. Hmed El-Aaleme of Chambre des représentants, who noted that he is a parliamentarian who was fairly elected in Morocco’s most recent legislative elections, emphasized: “We are the ones who are elected to observe and administer these territories and protect its resources and its people in a just project to develop democracy in the Territory without the exclusion of any social group.”
Other petitioners expressed concern about conditions in the Tindouf refugee camps, with Nancy Huff of Teach the Children International drawing attention to a report from the European Anti-Fraud Office into Frente POLISARIO’S involvement in the theft of humanitarian aid. Anna Maria Stame of Il Cenacolo spoke of the organization recruiting and mistreating child soldiers in their training camps, a concern echoed by Giulia Pace who said Frente POLISARIO disengages children from their families. Sahrawi children in the camps are not provided a good education, she added.
Eliezer Benito Wheatley, Special Envoy of the Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands, also addressed the Committee today.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 7 October, to continue its consideration of decolonization matters.
Petitioners on British Virgin Islands
ELIEZER BENITO WHEATLEY, Special Envoy of the Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands, recalled the political crisis in his Territory earlier this year, noting that substantial progress has been made in the last three months since the United Kingdom and the Territorial Government agreed to implement reforms under continued democratic governance. Citing a recent report issued by the Governor of the Territory, he said it reflected some misunderstandings. Highlighting one such issue regarding tender waivers, he said the Government is transitioning previously signed contracts into a new system.
The reforms are going in the right direction, he said, adding that any undue pressure can weaken democratic governance. Stressing the importance of trust and support for the aspirations of the Territory’s people, he called for sensitivity for the feelings of the commonwealth Caribbean. A new modern partnership can be established only if both parties act in good faith, he said, requesting a visiting mission from the Special Committee.
Petitioners on Western Sahara
SIDI MOHAMED OMAR, Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), describing his organization as the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara, said that the Sahrawi people look to the United Nations as the defender of their right to self-determination. The continued illegal occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco is an insult to the Organization’s Charter, he said. Calling on the Committee to take concrete action to speed up the decolonization of the last colony in Africa, he reaffirmed his organization’s commitment to a peaceful and lasting solution to the decolonization of Western Sahara. Citing Assembly resolutions, he added that the Sahrawi people will never give up their non-negotiable right to freedom.
INES MIRANDA NAVARRO, Asociación Internacional de Juristas por el Sahara Occidental, said that Western Sahara is under military occupation with an apartheid regime imposed on the Territory’s population. She condemned the position of the Prime Minister of Spain supporting the Moroccan proposal to annex Western Sahara and cited United Nations resolutions reaffirming that no territorial acquisition derived from use of force is legitimate.
JOSEFA MILAN PADRON, Coordinadora Sindical Canaria de Apoyo al Pueblo Saharaui, said Spain, the administering Power, is not fulfilling its obligations under the United Nations Charter. He condemned the position of Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Prime Minister of Spain, who on 14 March, in a letter to Morocco, recognized unilaterally the Moroccan nature of the Territory, thus endangering the Canary Islands and placing it outside of “international illegality”.
LUIS ALBERTO CAMPOS JIMENEZ, Grupo Parlamentario Nueva Canarias, said that he belonged to a political organization which aims to fight for a better world based on the principles of international solidarity, justice, equality, peace and freedom, pointing out that for the Sahrawi people, those principles are being violated. He called for international solidarity, noting that after 47 years, Spain has not complied with its responsibilities with regard to decolonization, turned its back on the Sahrawi people and allowed the illegal occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.
VICTOR MANUEL SANTANA GONZALEZ, Asociación Canaria de Enseñantes por La Paz y la Solidaridad (ACEPS), demanded the end to the colonization and occupation of Western Sahara. Spain must play a decisive role within the framework of the United Nations in resolving that colonial conflict, which has gone on for 47 years, he said.
CONCEPCION REYES FERNANDEZ, Canarismo Y Democracia, introducing herself as a member of a delegation from the Canary Islands, said that the people of Western Sahara have put their trust into the hands of the United Nations. Failure on the part of the United Nations and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has forced Frente POLISARIO to exert an armed defence, she said, asking why the Organization does not condemn the deployment of Moroccan armed forces in the Western Sahara as well as the looting of the Territory’s natural resources. Had the United Nations forgotten that a large part of the Territory’s population lives in subhuman conditions, she wondered.
JOSEFA ISABEL FARRAY CUEVAS, Fundacion Canaria Farrah para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Sostenible, noting that for almost five decades, the Committee has called for the decolonization of Western Sahara, said that given the lack of progress, the trust of the people of that Territory has been broken. Neither the ceasefire nor the call for referendum has been effective against Moroccan occupation, she said, adding that Morocco has been imprisoning human rights defenders and looting natural resources.
PEDRO QUEVEDO ITURBE, Nueva Canarias, noting that his organization is a political party in the Canarian archipelago, 100 kilometres from the coast of Western Sahara, expressed concern about the methods used by the occupying Power to illegally appropriate that Territory, including unilateral actions and “ongoing blackmail with migration”. He condemned Spain’s assertion that the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara is the most legitimate one, adding that it is crucial to recognize the resolutions of the United Nations as the only framework for the decolonization of that Territory.
MAHMUD ABDELFATAH CHEJ-MOHAMED, Activista Saharaui en Canarias, said Moroccan troops must withdraw from the occupied zone so that the people there can live in peace and dignity. It has almost been five decades of tragedy in the presence of MINURSO and the silence of the international community. He asked Spain to assume its historic responsibility on Western Sahara and rectify its serious mistake of taking the wrong path.
MARIA ESTHER GARCIA GONZALEZ, Liga canaria de la Educación y la Interculturalidad, said human rights violations by Moroccan occupying forces are seen every day in Western Sahara with no one, not even the United Nations, putting a stop to it. She voiced regret that the Prime Minister of Spain has defended the Moroccan nature of Western Sahara. The only stable and lasting solution is to allow the Sahrawi people to exercise the right to self-determination through a referendum, she said.
MARIA CONCEPCION MONZON NAVARRO, Consejera de Cabildo de GC por "Si Podemos", said the Government of Morocco has looted Western Sahara economically and culturally, with the complicity of those who have done nothing to ensure that international legality is respected. She urged the Committee to take action on the Canary Islands and for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.
DUNIA ESTHER GONZALEZ VEGA, Plataforma Canaria de Mujeres por el Sáhara Tejiendo Futuro, said that the people of Canary Islands have been praying and dreaming for the Sahrawi people for many years. For 47 years, Sahrawi women have been organizing in the refugee camps in the desert to create schools and other social structures. Their husbands have been fired and imprisoned and tortured, she said, yet they still go on hunger strikes so that the occupied Sahara will be free one day. Many of them live under house arrest but they still raise the Sahrawi flag every day, she said, paying tribute to their resistance.
NIEVES MARIA GARCIA LORENZO, Ateneo Cultural Juan García El Corredera, said that natural resources of Western Sahara are the heritage of the colonized peoples of that Territory. Western Sahara has a solid foundation for its future because of its wealth, she said, adding that Morocco has blocked the referendum and has undermined the future of the Sahrawi people by plundering their resources. Expressing concern about Morocco’s exploitation of raw phosphate rock as well as the fish stocks of Western Sahara, he said that Morocco has changed the demographic composition of the Territory by settling Moroccan fisheries workers on Western Sahara’s coast.
VICTOR MANUEL LUBILLO MONTENEGRO, Instituto Canario de Peritos Judiciales, said that Morocco’s “wall of shame” is a crime against humanity. Morocco began building this wall in 1980, he said, noting that it is composed of sand, stone and landmines. It is three metres high and about 2,000 kilometres long, separating the occupied areas of Western Sahara from the territories liberated by Frente POLISARIO, he explained. Thus, it is a containment barrier that enables Morocco to appropriate resource-rich areas while separating Sahrawi families and undermining their livelihoods, he said.
SERGIO AGUSTIN SUAREZ MORENO, Juntos Por Guía, noting that the political party he belongs to in the Canary Islands fights for justice, said that every day for more than 47 years the complicit silence of Spain and the international community has made possible Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara. He urged the Committee to adopt effective measures, so that the Sahrawi people can freely decide their future.
LETICIA MARIA HERNÁNDEZ GONZÁLEZ, Asociación Canaria de Solidaridad con el Pueblo Saharaui, noting the historic relations between the Canary Islands and Western Sahara and the strong ties between their peoples, said the conflict in Western Sahara has caused much suffering and condemned many generations of Sahrawis to live in intolerable conditions. It is impossible to continue prolonging the agony of innocent people, she stressed, pointing out that the Moroccan occupied forces with total impunity prevent international human rights organizations’ access to the territory.
PINO ESTHER ORTEGA ROMERO, CCOO Canarias, rejected the new position of the Government of Spain, which constitutes a betrayal of the Sahrawi people and contravenes United Nations resolutions on Western Sahara. “This unexpected due turn in the position of the Spanish Government gives carte blanche to the Kingdom of Morocco to continue to exert all kinds of violence against the Sahrawi people and takes us further and further away from a just solution for the Sahrawi people.” International law does not recognize any Moroccan sovereignty or jurisdiction over the territory of Western Sahara, nor does it consider Morocco as an administering Power, she said.
MARINA PEREZ SANCHEZ, Asociación Siembra Canaria, noting that she is a retired teacher who is accustomed to welcoming the children of Western Sahara during the summer, expressed concern that Spain has abandoned the Sahrawi people to their own fate while the decolonization process remains incomplete. The people in the Tindouf camps depend exclusively on humanitarian aid, she said, noting that boys and girls in those camps have nothing but an empty sky. Highlighting Sahrawi women’s resistance, she said that humanitarian action must be accompanied by political action.
SIMPLICIO DEL ROSARIO GARCIA, Asociación Canaria de Juristas por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos, said that Morocco’s judicial system is using illegal trials and imprisonment as a weapon against the Sahrawi people. Journalists and activists are being targeted while Moroccan occupation forces prevent observers from accessing occupied territories, he said. Frente POLISARIO is a nationalist liberation movement and is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people by the United Nations and the European Union, he added.
MARIA LOURDES BENITEZ GONZALEZ, Red de Solidaridad Popular de Jinámar, describing the Madrid Accords as illegal, drew attention to the effects of 47 years of brutal repression, exile in harsh conditions and international crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since November 2020, there has been a resumption of hostilities between Frente POLISARIO and Morocco, following that country’s violation of the ceasefire, she said. Spain is failing to fulfil its responsibilities towards the Sahrawi people and has become an ally to the occupying force which it is even arming, she added.
MANUEL MARRERO MORALES, Grupo Parlamentario Si Podemos Canarias, urged the United Nations to promote a just and lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara through the holding of a referendum. Noting the change in the position of the Prime Minister of Spain, he condemned the betrayal of the Sahrawi people and the Canary people, who have spoken in defence of international legality.
SERGIO RAMÍREZ GALINDO, Universidad De Las Palmas De Gran Canaria (ULPGC), said that whenever conferences on Western Sahara are held at the university, messages come in from Morocco saying that any collaboration with Western Sahara will prompt the rupture of existing agreements with Moroccan universities. Underscoring the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, he said that a referendum is the only solution that would be fair for the Sahrawi people.
MARIA DAVINIA GONZALEZ PINEDA, Mi Hijo y Yo, Psicólogas en el Hogar para las Familias con TGD, said that Spain is selling weapons to Morocco which are then used against the Sahrawi people. She condemned the Prime Minister of Spain for scorning the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. She called on the Committee to make the decolonization of Western Sahara a reality and to fulfil its mandate with justice.
FLORA MARRERO RAMOS, Coalicion Canaria, describing herself as a Canarian jurist, noted that 18 February is Sahrawi Women’s Day. Thousands of Sahrawi women have been imprisoned and tortured, she said, adding that in the last 20 years, 25 per cent of Sahrawi women have been victims of sexual exploitation and other violations by occupying forces. Morocco keeps raping Sahrawi women and girls with impunity, she said, calling for a free fair and transparent referendum.
MARIA DEL SOL FORTEA SEVILLA, Fundación Canaria de Apoyo a los Trastornos del Neurodesarrollo, said that the Sahrawi people have been living in a horrific situation for half a century. One cannot plan for the future if one cannot enjoy basic rights, she said, adding that Morocco’s ceasefire violation further distances the possibility of a dignified life for Sahrawis. Life in Tindouf has deteriorated due to the global crisis, she said, adding that cuts in aid have particularly affected people with disabilities.
LUISA TAMAYO DOMINGUEZ, Izquierda Unida Canaria, rejecting the unilateral position of the Prime Minister of Spain, said that this is contrary to that country’s historic position as well as United Nations resolutions. It validates the brutal Moroccan occupation, she stressed, adding that in the Canary Islands, there is a general feeling of solidarity for the Sahrawi people due to historic and geographical ties. Western Sahara must be able to develop its own institutions and manage its own resources, she said, adding that the international community must end Morocco’s expansionist actions.
MARIA JOSE BELDA DIAZ, Sí Podemos Canarias Cabildo de Tenerife, said that the lack of political compromise in holding a referendum has been normalized for decades, causing the forced displacement of thousands. The statement of the Prime Minister of Spain contravenes the statement of the Court of Justice of the European Union dated 10 December 2015 which recognized that Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is invalid and not recognized by the European Union or the United Nations.
ANTONELLA ALIOTTI, Arona Si Podemos, said that for more than 40 years, Sahrawi women have been organizing and leading the resistance against colonialism in Africa. To date they have managed to sow one of the most progressive Arab societies with respect to gender equality. Spotlighting the desperation of mothers of prisoners in Moroccan prisons, she said that those who were convicted in the “judicial farce” of 2017 were convicted without material evidence and based on statements under torture. She called for strong political will, courage and decisiveness, adding that the solution to the question of Western Sahara lies within the Committee.
ALBERTO MAESTRE FUENTES, Centro De Estudios Sobre El Sahara Occidental, said that Spain, the administering Power, has failed to honour its commitment to hold a referendum for the Sahrawi people. For this reason, Africa has not closed the last chapter on decolonization, he said, calling for political will to apply the right to self-determination. He added that MINURSO must be given more powers, especially regarding the protection of human rights.
PABLO A DE LA VEGA M., Asociación Ecuatoriana de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui, recalled the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice regarding the absence of sovereignty links between Western Sahara, Morocco and Mauritania as well as Spain’s abdication of its responsibilities as an administering Power. As a State party to international human rights covenants, it is unacceptable that Spain would sell arms to Morocco, thus worsening the condition of the occupied people, he said. Morocco must uphold its obligations as a member of the United Nations as well as African Union, he said.
ALBERTO NEGRIN REBOSO, Asociación Canaria de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui, condemning the ongoing violation of Sahrawi people’s rights, said they have demonstrated peacefully, calling for a cessation of the occupation and defending their identity as a people. “Sahrawi people have been divided far too long,” he said, stressing that Morocco must urgently comply with the ceasefire agreement and hold a referendum. “When are we going to resolve this conflict, when are we going to listen to these victims?” he wondered.
ANNA MARIA STAME, Il Cenacolo, recalled the terrible scandal that a 2018 petitioner brought to the Committee’s attention by speaking of how Frente POLISARIO recruited children and subjected them to training. These children were using weapons bigger than they are, she said, adding that the case was brought before various international organizations. However, Frente POLISARIO continued to mistreat these child soldiers in their training camps, she said. These children are protected by an arsenal of international laws, from the Geneva Convention to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she said, adding that “none of those was enough to awaken the conscience of those criminals”.
AHMED EL-AALEME, Chambre des représentants, noting that he is a parliamentarian who was elected fairly in Morocco’s most recent legislative elections, asked: “Where are the sons and daughters of this territory in this made-up conflict?” He continued: “We are the ones who are elected to observe and administer these territories and protect its resources and its people in a just project to develop democracy in the Territory without the exclusion of any social group.” He said that the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Territory by the United States as well as African, Arab, Asian and European countries, including Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, proves international recognition of the Moroccan nature of the Territory.
GIULIA PACE said Frente POLISARIO uses child soldiers and disengages children from their families. Sahrawi children in the camps are not provided a good education and are forced allegiance to Frente POLISARIO doctrine. She urged the Committee to consider collaboration between United Nations agencies to ensure the best response to the needs of the Sahrawi children, including their reintegration into a safe environment where they can receive good schooling and psychosocial support. Moreover, the international community should set up mechanisms and instruments for the protection of all Sahrawi children against all forms of abuse, exploitation, violence and organized crime in Tindouf camps. The host country who seeks deniability by devolving its authority to Frente POLISARIO must assume the fullness of its international responsibility, particularly regarding the safety and protection of children living in its territory, she said.
ELIZABETH DAIL, New Life, noting a decline in educational opportunities in the camps over recent years, suggested that children in the Tindouf camps be educated in an environment not controlled by Frente POLISARIO and completely away from the unsafe conditions in which they now live. They should have exposure to cultures and a well-rounded curriculum. Sahrawi people living in the Tindouf camps must learn a spirit of solidarity and compassion between them and those they have been taught to hate. It is time to implement a Moroccan autonomy plan as it is the best solution for the future of the children in the camp, she said, explain that this would unite the children with friends, aunts, uncles and cousins in Western Sahara.
MBARKA EL AHMADI, Conseil Provincial de Boujdour, introduced herself as a Sahrawi and a member of a regional council in Moroccan Sahara, elected by the province’s population in a democratic vote. Stressing that women’s rights in the southern provinces are protected, she said that international conventions on women’s rights, labour, social justice and sustainable development are implemented in the region. Further, the Constitution enables women’s access to decision-making, and has opened the doors for women in the provinces in the south to participate in political life, she said.
MOULAY BRAHIM CHRIF, La Commune d’Es-Semara, said that he is the chair of the municipal council of Smara and speaking on behalf of thousands of Sahrawis who elected him in a free and transparent election. Smara is a cultural capital in the Moroccan desert, he said, noting that his council works in cooperation with other specialized committees and elected municipal councils to implement a comprehensive development framework. Pointing to major infrastructure from hospitals to sanitation networks in his city, he said that the residents of the Sahara actively participate in political processes and support the Moroccan autonomy proposal.
NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, raising concern about humanitarian aid theft by Frente POLISARIO, recalled her visit to the Tindouf camps. She drew attention to a report by the European Anti-Fraud Office detailing Frente POLISARIO’S involvement in humanitarian aid theft, saying that such aid is often sold in the black market. The United Nations has not condemned the theft or blacklisted any members of Frente POLISARIO, she said, adding that the organization’s leadership live comparatively luxurious lives and maintain homes throughout the world.