Human Rights, Regional Security under the Magnifying Glass as Fourth Committee Hears Western Sahara Petitioners
The human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, as well as regional security, came under scrutiny today as petitioners on that matter continued to share their divergent views for a third and final day before the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
El Fadel Bua Da Mohamed of the Association Sahraouie contre l'Impunité dans les Camps de Tindouf (ASIMCAT) recounted his experience as a refugee and human rights defender who was abducted for five months and lived in secret detention centres. The Sahrawis are being used by the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), he said, emphasizing that the rights of refugees must be upheld, including the right to movement, work and education.
Lemaadla Mohamed Salem Zrug of Association Sahraouie contre l’Impunité dans les Camps de Tindouf told the Committee that her father was tortured to death by the Frente POLISARIO. “There has been no human right that has not been violated against women” in the Tindouf camps in Algeria, she said, pointing to human trafficking, forced marriage and rape. Erika Botero of Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras underscored that boys, girls and adolescents must be excluded from the ranks of armed groups so that they can grow and develop with their rights fully guaranteed.
However, Catherine Constantinides of SA Solidarity Movement with Western Sahara, said that despite the dire situation in the camps, the Sahrawis there are still safe from the constant terror of occupation and the evil regime of torture. There is no regard for or monitoring of human rights in the occupied territory, she said, adding that under a black curtain of tyranny, nobody is safe, not women, not the elderly, not even children.
Mula Ihfid Sid Ahmed Ahmed, who said he has lost count of how many times he has petitioned on this matter, denounced the Moroccanization of Western Sahara and called for a fact-checking mission as well as a human rights mandate for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Another petitioner, Hassan Fanan, added that the Moroccan regime is denying the Sahrawis opportunities for education, employment and development.
Many petitioners put the question of Western Sahara in the context of regional security. Mohammed Ahmed Gain of the African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation described the Tindouf camps as a goldmine for separatist movements, with its geographic position in a strategic corridor encouraging the recruitment of terrorists, the smuggling of drugs and weapons, human trafficking and the protection of war criminals.
“Africa opposes the creation of microstates,” said Coulibaly Youssouf of the Université de Bamako in Mali, adding that African capitals all agree that only a political settlement would provide a lasting solution. He called on the United Nations to adopt Morocco’s 2006 proposal for autonomy and to place Frente POLISARIO and other armed groups in northern Mali and the Sahel on its list of terrorist organizations.
For petitioner Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela, from South Africa, Western Sahara was a reminder of his own country’s experience with colonialism. The very thought of colonial occupation on the African continent must be abhorrent to the international community, he said, calling on Morocco to relinquish its imperialist ambitions.
The representative of Morocco took the floor several times on a point of order, emphasizing that petitioners must respect the General Assembly’s rules of procedures and refrain from using their presentations to attack Member States.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 11 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.
Petitioners on Western Sahara
PEDRO DÍAZ DE LA VEGA GARCÍA, Banco de Alimentos, said the Moroccan Sahara used to be one of the poorest areas in Morocco, but now it has one of the country’s highest rates of development. Morocco is investing greatly in this part of the Sahara as part of its initiative to create a modern State, he said, adding that the area has the potential to become a transatlantic cooperation hub.
ANDRÉ GRIMBLATT, Scanner Internacional, said that Morocco’s autonomy proposal is credible and sustainable, and that it underwent extensive public consultations within Morocco before it was submitted to the United Nations. It is the only viable alternative that can lead to peace, he said, adding that Frente POLISARIO is refusing all negotiations, even as it recruits children and diverts humanitarian aid.
MOHAMMAD ZIYAD ALJABAR, Palestinian Moroccan Friendship Society, said that Morocco’s proposal for self-government is a good basis for negotiations, and that realism dictates that it is the only solution. Frente POLISARIO continues to threaten the security of the buffer zone, in violation of Security Council resolutions, he said, adding that the question of the Moroccan Sahara is not similar to that of Palestine.
ADRIENNE KINNE, Veterans for Peace, said that she travelled to Western Sahara twice this year and witnessed the brutal oppression of Sahrawis by Moroccan occupation forces. Rampant human rights abuses perpetrated by those forces must be the subject of an international investigation, she said, adding: “The only way to know what Sahrawis want is to hold a free and fair referendum.”
ERIKA BOTERO, Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras, said boys, girls and adolescents must be excluded from the ranks of armed groups so that they can grow and develop with their rights fully guaranteed. The international community must have the will to take steps so that the rights of minors are not violated. Stressing the need to protect the rights of children in the Tindouf refugee camps, she said that more than 460 million children live in conflict zones, and more than 15 per cent of child soldiers are girls.
MOHAMED EDABADDA, Association Rotary International à Boujdour, said that in the south of the Kingdom, important initiatives have led to constructive projects that cover all aspects of life, including sustainable development, social justice and civil rights. A common fabric in the cities of the Sahara serves as a platform for the exchange of ideas and local decision‑making processes. Different civil society organizations in the south enjoy a great responsibility and play their role in evaluating all democratic practices, he added.
BAHI LARBI ENNASS, Centre la Paix pour les Études Politiques et Stratégiques, noting that he used to be a military leader in the Frente POLISARIO, recalled the violations in the Tindouf camps. The host country “is manipulating the human components” of the camps, he said, noting that it attracts people from Mali, Niger, Mauritania and southern Algeria who speak the same Hassaniya Arabic dialect as the Sahrawis to create a new demographic that can serve the Frente POLISARIO project.
MOHAMMED AHMED GAIN, African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation, said Frente POLISARIO was the first armed group to creep into the Sahel in the 1970s when the region enjoyed a relative degree of peace. The geographic position of the Tindouf camps in a strategic corridor encouraged certain members of Frente POLISARIO to join terrorist groups, he said, noting also the smuggling of drugs and weapons, human trafficking and protection for war criminals. The camps have become a goldmine for separatist movements, he added.
AGRON PALI, petitioner, recalling that the United Nations added Western Sahara to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1963, pointed to multiple resolutions that have reaffirmed its people’s inalienable right to self‑determination. The decolonization of Western Sahara was obstructed in 1975 when Morocco invaded the Territory, he said, adding that the United Nations has never recognized this illegal annexation. Morocco has no right to transport its people into that Territory or use its natural resources, he said, adding that this view was confirmed by the European Court of Justice.
RAY T. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, reminded speakers to refrain from personal attacks and straying from the item under consideration.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco), on a point of order, said that petitioners have an obligation to be respectful to Member States and not to use terms such as regime or totalitarian which are unacceptable at the United Nations.
GRACE NJAPAU, Women Investment Network (WIN), said the Security Council has been clear since 2001 that a referendum is no longer an option, adding that the Moroccan autonomy initiative is gaining more support around the world. The Moroccan Sahara has a vibrant civil society with 8,000 organizations registered in the region. She deplored Frente POLISARIO’s treatment of women and children in the camps, which remain an open-air prison. She called for a quick resolution of the regional dispute, underscoring that Morocco’s proposed solution based on autonomy is the only one that corresponds to parameters set forth by the Council.
JUAN DE DIOS GUTIÉRREZ BAYLÓN, petitioner, introduced himself as a professor of international law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He said that since 1945 60 territorial conflicts have been resolved peacefully based on the principle of autonomy. Through a plan of autonomy, the populations of the south will be able to establish elected authorities that represent all parts of the population and respond to specific realities of the region. The autonomy plan is an initiative for compromise pursuant to international agreements, the United Nations Charter, General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and the right to self‑determination. All parties to the conflict must commit to a round‑table process to achieve an autonomy-based political solution, he added.
CATHERINE CONSTANTINIDES, SA Solidarity Movement with Western Sahara, said she has lived and worked with the Sahrawis who have been left in the camps for more than 50 years and have been forgotten. Despite their dire situation, the Sahrawis are still safe without the constant terror of occupation and remain protected from the evil regime of torture and human rights abuses, she said. “There is no regard for or monitoring of human rights in the occupied territory. Nobody is safe, not women, not the elderly, not even children. Everybody lives under the black curtain of tyranny,” she added.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, once again reminded all speakers to refrain from personal attacks and remarks, and not to stray from the agenda item under consideration.
MOHAMED H RADOUI, petitioner, said that the Moroccan regime has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity since the military invasion of 1975.
Mr. KADIRI (Morocco) said that petitioners must limit their statements to the item under discussion and to respect the Member States and the rules of procedure. He reiterated that at the United Nations, speakers refer to Governments and Member States, not regimes. He asked the Chair if the petitioner uses the same terminology that he should have the floor withdrawn from him.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, took note of the representative of Morocco’s remark and repeated his reminder to speakers.
Continuing, Mr. RADOUI said that the people of Western Sahara are subjected to arbitrary detention and forced exile. The voices of those who tell the truth are muffled, he said, naming an activist who was killed.
Mr. KADIRI (Morocco) said that the petitioner was attacking a Member State on an issue that has nothing to do with Moroccan Sahara. He was also referring to individuals who have nothing to do with the Moroccan Sahara and also engaging in lies and insults. He asked the Chair to withdraw the floor from the petitioner.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, asked the petitioner to stay on the topic of Western Sahara.
Continuing, Mr. RADOUI said that in Morocco and Western Sahara, those who demand their rights are thrown into secret prisons. He then named a Moroccan activist who was tortured and killed.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, asked the petitioner to stand down.
Mr. KADIRI (Morocco) said that he will not stand for the petitioner to use the Committee to attack his country.
AHMED FANAN, petitioner, said that he was representing an organization.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa) reminded speakers once again to refrain from making personal remarks and not to stray from the item under consideration.
Mr. KADIRI (Morocco) asked the Chair to impose on the petitioner the obligation to respect the rules of procedure. The petitioner is not representing any organization, but rather has come to the General Assembly to attack a Member State. He cannot be authorized to do that, he said.
Mr. SITHOLE (South Africa), Committee Vice-Chair, requested the petitioner to stand down.
MAGDALENE MOONSAMY, Women's Justice Foundation, South Africa, noting that Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara for more than 40 years, said that that country remains a great violator of human rights. “Where is the common sense of the United Nations?” she wondered. Common sense is the simplest solution, she said, adding that it is for the United Nations to sanction Morocco until it fully and unconditionally ceases its illegal occupation.
HASSAN FANAN, petitioner, said that Morocco is occupying Western Sahara through intimidation and the rejection of political solutions. At the same time, he added, the Moroccan regime is denying the Sahrawis opportunities for education, employment and development that would convince them that it would be better to live within Morocco. Sahrawi resources are being plundered, he said.
Mr. KADIRI (Morocco) said that one does not talk about regimes when referring to Member States. He requested the Chair to oblige individuals not to use the Committee debate as a tool. He added that he will not allow petitioners to attack Morocco and emphasized that respect for Member States is an obligation.
JUAN CARLOS MORAGA, Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras, describing conditions in the camps in Algerian territory as subhuman, said that the current leaders of Frente POLISARIO are under investigation for crimes against humanity. Internal dissent is suppressed, he said, adding that Frente POLISARIO is no longer a revolutionary group. He also recounted his experience of detention and torture by members of that organization.
COULIBALY YOUSSOUF, Université de Bamako, said that sub-Saharan Africa is infested with conflicts and multidimensional crises which affect its development. He expressed concern about the plight of Moroccan people who are squeezed into the Tindouf camps who have no greater desire than to live in peace and security and to return to the motherland in Morocco. Today, the African capitals all agree that only a political settlement would provide a lasting solution and end more than four decades of suffering. The Moroccan initiative is realistic, fair, objective and feasible, he said. “Africa opposes the creation of microstates,” he added, calling on the United Nations to adopt the Moroccan initiative and to put Frente POLISARIO and other armed groups in northern Mali and the Sahel on its list of terrorist organizations in the interests of collective security.
ROMINA PERINO, petitioner, recalling her visits to the refugee camps, said that while Morocco claims that Sahrawi camps are dangerous, her experience was different. Noting the warm welcome she received from her host family despite their struggles, she said that the people in the camps have tried to make the best of their situation. The food assistance they receive is not enough, and doctors and nurses are forced to work with limited resources in a harsh environment, but the refugees have built a modern society with schools, she said.
ZWELIVELILE MANDLESIZWE DALIBHUNGA MANDELA, petitioner, noting that Spain, the former colonial power, has extricated itself and conveniently washed its hands of Western Sahara, recalled his own country’s experience with colonialism and how it affected its development trajectory. “I speak as a human being standing in solidarity with the people of Sahrawi Republic,” he said, adding the very thought of colonial occupation on the African continent must be abhorrent to the international community. Just as South Africa triumphed because its cause was just, the Sahrawi people will also triumph against all odds of history, he said, calling on Morocco to relinquish its imperialist ambitions, release all political prisoners and implement the long-promised referendum.
ABDUL BASITH PATTINATHAR K SYEDIBRAHIM, World Humanitarian Drive, said women in the camps are deprived of their fundamental rights and are victims of sexual aggression by Frente POLISARIO gangs. Noting their dire situation, he said the Sahrawis have no basic human rights and are exploited to enable Frente POLISARIO gangs to be eligible for humanitarian aid. No armed group should have a free mandate to enslave the Sahrawis, he said, drawing attention to the embezzlement of humanitarian aid by Frente POLISARIO.
M'RABIH ADDA, Acteur associatif, said he was expelled from the Tindouf camps by Frente POLISARIO leaders after undergoing the worst forms of torture for exercising his freedom of expression and requesting an identity card as a refugee. He was a victim of Frente POLISARIO’s criminal practices since he was a child, he said, adding that he was taken from his mother at 11 years of age to be sent to Libya to be indoctrinated in a manner alien to his culture.
CATERINA LUSUARDI, Rete Saharawi, said she is the president of the Sahrawi network and represents the Italian association that has united in solidarity with the Sahrawi people. It is necessary to follow international law, to render what is due and what has been taken with violence under the expansionist propaganda of colonialism. The referendum for self‑determination is an “emergency” to restore peace, she said.
SARA LUSUARDI GARRAMONE, petitioner, said that when she visited the refugee camps, she was amazed to see so many children. The refugees she met were kind, generous and hoping for a better future, she said, highlighting in particular the situation of young people and the friendships she made. The Committee must ensure that youth in the camps have the same rights that she and her friends have, she said, adding that teenagers around the world must have the same rights.
LEMAADLA MOHAMED SALEM ZRUG, Association Sahraouie contre l’Impunité dans les Camps de Tindouf, said that women in the Tindouf camps are routinely subjected to human trafficking and forced marriage. Her father was abducted and tortured to death by Frente POLISARIO, she said. Several instances of rape have occurred in the camps, she said, adding that a case against Frente POLISARIO’s leader is before a Spanish court. “There has been no human right that has not been violated against women” in the Tindouf camps, she said.
MULA IHFID SID AHMED AHMED, petitioner, applauding the courageous people of Western Sahara, whether in the occupied Territory or in the refugee camps, said that many of the experts who addressed the Committee have no idea about the conflict. He said that he has lost count of the number of times he has petitioned before the Committee, adding that its lack of action favours Morocco’s oppression and the Moroccanization of Western Sahara. He called on the Committee to send a fact-checking mission to the Territory and for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to be given a human rights mandate.
KHADIJA EZAOUI, African Forum for Research and Studies in Human Rights, said she is a Sahrawi woman, born and raised in the Sahara, who graduated from an engineering school in Rabat as a renewable energy engineer. She has been part of collective efforts to create sustainable solutions for Moroccan Sahara and prepare the region for more electricity production based on renewable energy. The special projects in Moroccan Sahara are part of Morocco’s energy strategy aimed at making the region the leader in climate policies that respond to a growing international need for renewable energy.
EL FADEL BUA DA MOHAMED, Association Sahraouie contre l'Impunité dans les Camps de Tindouf (ASIMCAT), said he is a refugee and human rights defender who was abducted for five months and who lived in secret detention centres. He said that the Sahrawis are being used for commercial purposes by Frente POLISARIO and that families with strong links to Algeria and Frente POLISARIO are not implementing relevant United Nations resolutions. The rights of refugees must be upheld, including the rights to movement, work and education, he said.
HAMMADA EL BAIHI, La Ligue du Sahara pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme, said that everyone in the Tindouf camps has been suffering from a catastrophic situation for decades. Warning of a hunger crisis in the coming weeks at the refugee camps, he said that 600 vehicles were loaded with medical and food aid, but only 50 reached the camps. “There is systematic theft of aid that is supposed to be delivered to the Tindouf camps. We’ve had enough of the promises. We need real action now,” he said.
ROBERTO EDUARDO LEON RAMIREZ, Fundación Global Chile Marruecos, recalled his visits to Tindouf and testified to grave human rights violations in the camps. Algeria controls free movement and “does not allow other countries to provide them with any kind of remuneration”, he said, pointing to anecdotal evidence that some aid deliveries wind up on the black market in the south of Algeria. He highlighted the plight of women in the camps, adding that not even children are exempt from the worst kind of physical and psychological violence.
KHALID BENDRISS, Association de Soutien à l'Initiative Marocaine d'Autonomie, pointing to the infrastructural development in the southern provinces, said that the level of socioeconomic growth in that region has been internationally recognized, including by the United Nations. Moroccan Sahara has two airports, 10,000 kilometres of roads and one of the biggest ports in the country, he said, adding that the Government of Morocco has improved the quality of life of the local populace through schools, libraries and hospitals.
INMACULADA ZANOGUERA GARCIAS, Federacion Saharaui de Deportes, said that while Western Sahara has been in the news lately, anything that Donald Trump, former President of the United States, or Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Prime Minister of Spain, might have said does not modify the legal status of the Territory or its people’s rights. Recalling the independence struggles of Algeria, India, South Africa and various Latin American countries, she said that the Sahrawi people have repeatedly proclaimed their right to self‑determination, from the anti-colonial fight against Spain to demonstrations and protests which continue today despite Morocco’s intimidation tactics, “including what was seen today”. Noting that today is Indigenous People’s Day, she called for an immediate referendum.
EVARISTO JÚLIO GOMES, Grupo Zem, said that the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 1960, takes into consideration the needs of independent groups in the areas of development and stability, with an emphasis on territorial integrity. In Africa, separatist groups threaten the territorial integrity of some States, he said, adding that aggressions seen in the Tindouf camps impede subregional cooperation aimed at establishing stability. To resolve the conflict, the international community must look specifically at Morocco’s territorial integrity, he said.
ZINE EL AABIDINE EL OUALI, African Forum for Research and Studies in Human Rights (AFORES), said that the Council holds the Moroccan initiative to be the most serious, realistic and credible way to resolve the issue of Moroccan Sahara. Noting Morocco’s “one main adversary”, he said it is a belligerent country that is “very hostile” and has armed and harboured armed groups to further its agenda of hegemony in the area. He called for diplomatic efforts to settle the issue.