African Delegates Press for Greater Regional Cooperation in Efforts to Resolve Western Sahara Question, as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate

Delegates from several African countries called for greater regional cooperation in the peaceful resolution of the Western Sahara question today, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization.

Senegal’s representative said that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution to the dispute and the reinvigoration of cooperation among countries of the Arab Maghreb region. As such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized trans-boundary crimes and irregular migration, among others, he noted.

Burkina Faso’s representative agreed that the final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle counter-terrorism, adding that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region.

Kenya’s representative stressed that Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and Western Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.

Also drawing attention to regional efforts, South Africa’s representative highlighted the African Union’s strong commitment to the decolonization of Western Sahara with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as the bloc’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara. He recalled that the African Union had made a decision in 2015 calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding the referendum in the Territory.

Ahmed Boukhari, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the organization had always had a clear position governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union. The continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations, but today, the Secretary-General wished the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said, adding that Polisario was resolved to work cooperatively with him.

Also speaking today were representatives of Togo, Peru, Gabon, France, Central African Republic, New Zealand, Benin, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Mexico, Mauritius, China, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Saint Lucia, Lesotho, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Venezuela and Namibia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, Argentina and Spain.

Petitioners on Western Sahara also addressed the Committee.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, to continue the decolonization general debate.

General Debate

KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo) expressed regret that the different parties to the thorny conflict over Western Sahara had not reached agreement. Emphasizing that negotiation was the only realistic way forward, he said Morocco’s initiative to grant Western Sahara broad autonomy was a constructive step towards a resolution of the dispute and represented a middle ground between the two sides. He welcomed Morocco’s spirit of compromise, its efforts to develop the region and its progress on human rights. Municipal elections in 2015 had been held without incident, he noted. He called for a census in the Tindouf camps, in accordance with the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report. Underlining the vital need to end the conflict, he pointed out that it posed the risk of tragic consequences for the Sahrawi people and was also preventing regional development at the risk of instability. Settlement of the Western Sahara question would also require improved relations between Morocco and Algeria, he stressed, calling for dialogue between those countries.

FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American nations (UNASUR), pointed out that more than half a century since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 on granting independence to colonial countries, more than 80 territories had won independence. However, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, he said, calling upon the United Nations to reverse that unjust reality. Decisive political will was essential, he added, emphasizing that the administering Powers must cooperate with the Committee and ensure the sustained growth of colonized Territories. He went on to voice support for Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands*, declaring: There is no possible solution to resolve the Malvinas problem except through the involved parties.

LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) reaffirmed her delegation’s support for the political process in Western Sahara, welcoming the ongoing efforts of the Secretary-General and his Sahara Envoy. She also commended the Moroccan autonomy initiative, saying it had the potential to end the impasse and allow for a final settlement. We need to take up all the political initiatives, she said, emphasizing the role of regional countries in maintaining stability and security in the Sahel region.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), calling for a new approach to the Western Sahara question, pointed out that the Security Council considered Morocco’s autonomy proposal a serious and credible option. That initiative had been put together in

good faith and constituted an appropriate framework for a solution to the regional dispute. He asked neighbouring countries to make their contribution as part of the United Nations process. Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution and the reinvigoration of cooperation between the countries of the Arab Maghreb region, he said that, as such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized transboundary crimes and irregular migration, among others.

JACQUES LAPOUGE (France) said his country had cooperated fully with the United Nations on New Caledonia. Earlier in the year, a United Nations mission had set out to observe the review of the special electoral list for the Territory’s provinces and congress as well as its efforts to establish a special electoral list for consultations. The French authorities had read the mission’s report closely, and had encouraged and freely administered many of its recommendations concerning Caledonian local government. Looking ahead to the coming weeks, he said that if a political accord was reached on the matter of electoral list inscriptions, the complementary review period could be longer than it had been in previous years, increasing the availability of United Nations teams. France wished to play the role of arbitrator in the situation, rebalancing the local government situation while taking local culture into account, he said. Recalling that the Noumea Accord had set out a new division of competencies, he said that, accordingly, the gradually ascending competencies granted to the government of New Caledonia gave it the means to act within a legislative framework. In short, New Caledonia is sovereign, he added.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) expressed regret that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still did not possess the right to self-determination, noting that the people of Western Sahara had been waiting for decades to exercise that right. In August, the Secretary-General had launched a negotiation process between the parties and appointed a new Personal Envoy, he recalled, expressing hope that he would receive the support required to achieve a peaceful and lasting solution. The African Union remained strongly committed to the Territory’s decolonization with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as Special Envoy for Western Sahara, he said, recalling also that in 2015, the regional bloc had made a decision calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding a referendum in Western Sahara.

AMBROISINE KPONGO (Central African Republic) said it was unacceptable that some were still fighting for their independence more than 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We seek emancipation for the countries and Territories still under colonization, she said, while emphasizing that it would be wise to avoid radical positions with unknown impacts. Spotlighting Morocco’s economic investment in Western Sahara, and the holding of democratic and free processes, she welcomed its serious and credible efforts and expressed support for the processes under way at the United Nations for the autonomy of Western Sahara. All parties must be realistic and show compromise, she said, adding that resolving the long-standing dispute called for greater cooperation among neighbouring countries. Reiterating the African position, she said all must be done to ensure that the continent was not fragmented by external forces. She also reiterated the need to address the plight of refugees and ensure their human rights were protected.

CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand), underscoring his country’s commitment to its relationship with Tokelau, said it was guided by the pace that Tokelau alone sets as it develops towards the future of its choosing. In the Territory’s last referendum on its relationship with New Zealand, in 2006-2007, the majority required for Tokelau to become a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand had not been met, he recalled. While self-determination efforts were now paused, Tokelau continued to strive to improve its capacity and confidence in governing and managing its own affairs. That was the best preparation for any future discussion of self-determination, he said, noting that Tokelau had built its own international profile in multilateral meetings on climate change. New Zealand would support such efforts as long as Tokelau wishes us to.

JEAN-CLAUDE DO REGO (Benin) said that a consensual settlement must remain focused on ensuring greater stability in the Maghreb region. Expressing support for any Security Council initiative laying out a timetable for the political process, he emphasized, however, that no initiative would succeed without a spirit of compromise on the part of all involved. They must come to the table in order to secure a sustainable peace, he added.

MAHE ‘U.S. TUPOUNIUA (Tonga) said any compromise must be realistic, fair and in accordance with Security Council resolutions. The Committee was currently at an important juncture in relation to the long-standing issue, he said, urging all involved to make important contributions to the United Nations led process in order to ensure the realization of a political solution. Human rights and economic and social development must be guaranteed, he added.

AHMED ABDELRAHMAN AHMED ALMAHMOUD (United Arab Emirates) emphasized his country’s support for Morocco’s territorial integrity and for the kingdom’s efforts to reach a solution. Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) described Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious and credible, he welcomed the kingdom’s efforts to develop Western Sahara, including through the new development model recently launched for the southern provinces. It was important to enhance cooperation among members of the Arab Maghreb to ensure regional stability, he added.

YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), associating herself with CELAC, stressed the need for ongoing dialogue among administering Powers, the Special Committee and the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Concerning the Malvinas Islands question, she emphasized Argentina’s legitimate rights to that Territory, urging renewed efforts for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. She said her delegation had demonstrated its support for Argentina on various occasions, recognizing that country’s sovereign right to the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. She reiterated that all Latin America supported Argentina’s claim.

RODOLFO FLORENTINO DA�AZ ORTEGA (Mexico) said that throughout the years, the United Nations had ensured that more than 80 colonies achieved independence. However, it was important to remember that colonialism is not over, and that championing the principles of the United Nations Charter was a collective responsibility of the Organization. Mexico reaffirmed its support for efforts to find a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the dispute over Western Sahara, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, he said, expressing support for the holding of a referendum that would determine the future of the Sahrawi people. He called for efforts to ensure that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) continued to carry out its mandate fully and effectively. On the Malvinas issue, he urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a peaceful, fair and definitive solution to their dispute, and to avoid taking unilateral actions that could undermine prior agreements.

JAGDISH D KOONJUL (Mauritius) said no progress would be made unless the administering Powers dedicated themselves to the decolonization process. An end to the suffering of the Sahrawi people was long overdue. We must ensure that the situation does not escalate into violence, he stressed, pointing out that economic integration of North Africa had been delayed due to the situation in Western Sahara. MINURSO must be free to carry out its mandate to organize the self-determination referendum, he said. Since it was the General Assembly’s responsibility to complete the decolonization process, it would benefit from an advisory board of the International Court of Justice in relation to the legal consequences of the purported excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, he said, encouraging all Member States to participate in that process in support of completing the decolonization of Mauritius.

CHENG LIE (China) said the Non-Self-Governing Territories represented the legacy of Western colonialism. While the Third International Decade for the Eradication for Colonialism was making progress, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, he observed. China supported the efforts of those Territories towards exercising the right to self-determination. On the question of the Malvinas Islands, he said China supported Argentina’s rights, and called upon the parties concerned to engage in peaceful dialogue and negotiations towards finding a just, lasting and acceptable solution for all.

YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso) welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) extending the mandate of MINURSO until April 2018 for the purpose of holding a referendum, saying that confirmed the Council’s firm will to help the parties reach a solution. He said Burkina Faso supported the process under the auspices of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, noting that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute, and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region. In the context of counter-terrorism, he said a final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle that problem as well.

HUSSEIN ABDULLAH (Nigeria) expressed regret at the continued existence of Non-Self-governing Territories that faced the challenge of exercising the right to self-determination. As new conflicts emerge, we must not lose focus on ongoing, unresolved old conflicts, he said, noting that Western Sahara remained a Non-Self-Governing Territory even 40 years after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justices on that issue. The question of a homeland for the Palestinian people and the quest for a free and impartial self-determination referendum for the Sahrawi people were among the most urgent tasks on the United Nations agenda, he emphasized, calling on the Organization to set a date for the referendum. This Committee would be shirking its responsibilities if it fails to prick the conscience of the nations of the world to stand up, he said.

CARLOS COSTA (Mozambique) said it was imperative to intensify efforts to end colonialism in all its forms. Expressing great concern over the expansion of Israeli settlements, he called upon the international community to advance concrete actions for the attainment of a durable two-State solution to the question of Palestine. Concrete action must also be taken to ensure that the people of Western Sahara could exercise their right to self-determination through implementation of the referendum and other elements of the relevant United Nations resolutions. Lesotho welcomed Morocco’s re-entry into the African Union family, which could provide an additional avenue to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, he said.

KINTU NYAGO (Uganda) reaffirmed his country’s support for the principle of self-determination. As we debate this today, many people still live under the bondage of colonization, he said. The issue of Western Sahara remained very much one of occupation and colonization in Africa, and Uganda was committed to the holding of a free and fair referendum as well as the total decolonization of the continent. Morocco’s recent rejoining of the African Union offered an opportunity to resolve the Western Sahara issue. Noting the Security Council’s call for a relaunch of the political process in a new dynamic spirit, he welcomed the appointment of the Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and urged him to establish time-bound negotiations between Polisario and Morocco.

COSMOS RICHARDSON (Saint Lucia) drew attention to the torrential rains, massive destruction and tragic loss of life suffered recently by Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Voicing his country’s solidarity with their peoples, he said the task of recovery and reconstruction would be daunting and external assistance would be required. The annual resolutions on assistance in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council would be of special importance. Recalling the role of the United Nations in his own country’s self-determination process, he expressed concern that the same promise remained unfulfilled for many others, especially small island Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The process had remained virtually static for more than a quarter of a century, he said, calling upon the Secretary-General to identify specifically that lack of implementation and take appropriate measures to move the process forward.

KELEBONE MAOPE (Lesotho) said colonialism violated the human rights of the colonized, and it would be in the best interest of humanity to implement the decolonization Declaration as part of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. He reiterated the call to end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, including through negotiations on Western Sahara. To that end, he expressed support for Western Sahara’s struggle for self-determination, emphasizing: Denial of this fundamental right will remain a source of conflict until independence is attained.

MOHAMED CHERIF DIALLO (Guinea) said the question of Western Sahara must be resolved through a political and constructive dialogue. Morocco’s autonomy initiative had the merit of transcending traditional positions, and it could also be instrumental in the holding of fair and free local and regional elections. He noted with concern the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the protection of their human rights.

FREDERICK M SHAVA (Zimbabwe), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern that all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question had failed so far. Noting that most of the Sahrawi people were subjected to severe poverty and forced to seek asylum in neighbouring countries, he said the refugees looked to the international community for assistance. Zimbabwe supported self-determination for the people of Western Sahara as well as fair and transparent dialogue. Pointing out that MINURSO was mandated to ensure a free and fair referendum, he said: The people of Western Sahara are still waiting. He expressed support for the African Union’s call for immediate and direct talks between the two sides.

KOKI MULI GRIGNON (Kenya) said her country’s long struggle for national liberation from colonialism had set a strong foundation for its foreign policy orientation. Kenya’s architects had underscored the link between national independence and humanity’s right to a shared heritage. Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, she said, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and those of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Western Sahara is still colonized because it is rich in natural resources, she said, adding that the prevailing deadlock in the peace process only heightened tensions in the Territory. Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and West Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said administering Powers had responsibilities under the Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. As such, they should develop time-bound work programmes on a case-by-case basis, in regular compliance with their reporting obligations. He highlighted the need for educational and training assistance for students in those Territories, expressing appreciation for Member States that made scholarships available to them and requesting that others follow suit.

AMADU KOROMA (Sierra Leone) observed that the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism would end soon, but progress towards the goals set out in its programme of action was not encouraging. Recalling that efforts had been made in previous years to forge a closer working relationship between the administering Powers and the Special Committee on Decolonization, he encouraged the administering Powers to provide information on the socioeconomic situation in the Territories, and to cooperate with visiting missions so that Special Committee members could receive information on the actual situation on the ground. Concerning Western Sahara, he said that his delegation fully supported the ongoing process. As for New Caledonia, the 2018 referendum would be crucial, he said, emphasizing that the problems of the electoral list must be settled amicably before the voting process.

INTISAR NASSER MOHAMMED ABDULLAH (Yemen) said her country supported the aspirations of Territories to independence, commending the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization towards that end. Regarding Western Sahara, she said all relevant Security Council resolutions must be implemented and Morocco’s efforts to reach a solution must be supported. She also highlighted Israeli settlement activities, stressing that they were the source of conflict in the Middle East.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in regards to a 3 October statement on Gibraltar, said the Territory’s people enjoyed the right to self-determination, a constitution supported by the referendum, and a vigorous political life. The United Kingdom refuted allegations that it was illegally occupying the waters surrounding Gibraltar, she said, underlining that the State, which was sovereign over the land, was also sovereign over the waters. Concerning taxation in the Territory’s, she said Gibraltar maintained a fair tax system and was in compliance with all legal European Union directives. As for claims of cigarette smuggling through Gibraltar, she recalled the European Commission’s efforts to address that issue and Gibraltar’s commitment to work with partners, including its counterparts in Spain.

In response to the delegations of Peru, Mexico, Honduras and China regarding the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, she reiterated that the United Kingdom harboured no doubt about its sovereignty over the Territory.

The representative of Argentina, in right of reply, recalled that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas were a part of Argentina, illegally occupied by the United Kingdom. That was recognized by various international organizations, and the illegal occupation had led the United Nations to adopt various resolutions on the matter, he said. All those resolutions recognized Argentina’s jurisdiction over the Malvinas, she pointed out, emphasizing also that the interests of the Territory’s people as well as their lifestyle were monitored and guaranteed under the Argentine Constitution.

The representative of Spain, speaking in right of reply in response to the United Kingdom, said the Treaty of Utrecht governed the question of Gibraltar. Under that agreement, the waters fell under Spanish sovereignty and had never been ceded. Therefore, the United Kingdom was illegally occupying the isthmus of Gibraltar. She noted that there were no agreements between the European Union and Gibraltar on tax matters since Spain was a member of that bloc. Spain was a democratic State governed by the rule of law, she said, describing the referendum said to have taken place in Catalonia as illegal. Spain protected the rights of all citizens, and its police and Civil Guard responded to orders from the courts and judicial system to ensure legality and respect for all Spaniards. If there had been excesses, that would be up to the courts to determine.

The representative of Algeria said the daily press releases were not reflecting the Committee’s discussions, recalling that his delegation and others had raised that issue in the past. The matter had been raised during an informal meeting on the revitalization of the General Assembly. At that time, lack of resources had been blamed, but considering the situation today, that seemed not to be the case. The names of people who had not yet addressed the Committee were included in the press release, he said. If that was a mistake, it was unjustifiable, he stressed. He asked the Department of Public Information not to deviate from its objective, and the Secretariat to shed light on the reasons for what was happening. He also asked for formal apologies and corrections. What happened in the meeting must be faithfully reflected in the releases, he said, emphasizing that a representative of the Department of Public Information must appear before the Committee to explain the issue.

The Chair said he shared the delegate’s disappointment and anger, adding that the Secretariat and the Department of Public Information must clarify what had happened and provide an apology in an information note, as well as with an appearance before the Committee.

A Secretariat official apologized on behalf of the Fourth Committee Secretariat, saying it was following up with the Department of Public Information, and that a correction was being posted.

The representative of Algeria said the apology must not be directed to his delegation but to the entire Committee.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

NAVJOT KAUR, Chief of Staff, Young Progressives of America, said that building walls to keep people out instead of welcoming them in was cruel. While Morocco had divided the Sahrawi, they refused to accept violations of their human rights. Recalling former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2014 visit to the Territory, she said that during the visit he had noted the anger of the people who had lived there for more than 40 years and felt the world had forgotten their cause. Indeed, they had every right to be angry because no progress had been made, she said, expressing hope that more would be achieved under the new Secretary-General. However, the absence of cooperation from Morocco and its refusal to give the Sahrawi the freedom they deserved was concerning. Both the European Union and the African Union were in support of the Sahrawi, and neighbouring countries around Morocco continued to accept refugees, she said, strongly urging the United Nations to resolve the decades-long dispute.

SILVIA BOAVENTURA, Justice for Western Sahara, said the people of Western Sahara were still waiting for freedom since Spain had occupied the Territory and then illegally transferred it to Morocco. Those who lived under the violent and abusive Moroccan occupation could not live free, and the occupation authorities did not offer proper health care, education and other basic services, in contravention of human rights, she said. The occupation had also built a large wall guarded by heavily armed guards. It is a war zone, she said, adding that Morocco continued to unlawfully exploit both the people and their natural resources. Many companies around the world did business with Moroccan firms benefitting from those resources, and the silence from the United Nations, other countries and the media and showed a lack of interest in the issue. The United Nations must help the Sahrawi people’s pursuit of self-government, she stressed, calling for an end to the occupation.

FERAT AHMED BABA DIH, PhD student and adjunct instructor, New York University, said she was a refugee born in the camps, and outlined the history of the Sahrawi people, saying they still had a strong sense of belonging with a Territory that is still their own. Noting that 2017 marked the forty-second anniversary of the Madrid Accord, which had been followed by the war between Spanish forces and the Polisario Front, she said many Sahrawi had been tortured or killed and those who had escaped had fled to Algeria’s Tindouf region where they remained to the present day. In Western Sahara, the occupation continued, based on the idea that the Territory was a fundamental part of Morocco, and police brutality against the people was common. She called upon the Government of Morocco to end its occupation and on the international community to stop listening passively to our demands.

AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations. Dozens of political prisoners languished in Moroccan jails as that country plundered the Territory’s natural resources, bringing drugs and instability to the region. He recalled that after the agreement to hold a referendum, MINURSO had been established to organize it, but Morocco had unilaterally broken off its commitment and had been sabotaging the peace process ever since. In August 2016, the kingdom had violated the terms of the ceasefire by trying to build a road in Guerguerat, which had almost led to violent conflict, he recalled. Noting that today the Secretary-General wanted the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said Polisario was resolved to cooperate with him, because it had always had a clear position, governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union. The question was one of decolonization, he stressed.

The representative of Venezuela asked for greater detail on the occupying Power’s exploitation of natural resources in the Territory and how it affected Western Sahara’s capacity to develop in the future once the issue had been resolved.

The representative of Namibia said her country contributed aid for the refugee camps, and asked for information about accusations that it had been sold. She asked what measures were in place to ensure that aid reached the refugees.

Mr. BOUKHARI said natural resources constituted one of the main reasons for the occupation, estimating that Morocco made between $7 and $12 million a year from the Territory’s resources.

Responding to Namibia’s representative, he said there had been no report of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in Tindouf or any other camp. Instead a visiting woman accompanied by a French deputy had given information to the press. Basically, the information was false, he said.

The representative of South Africa asked how the referendum would unfold.

The representative of Morocco, on a point of order, asked about the system for asking questions and responding within a time limit. He also requested that petitioners be mentioned by name rather than by title.

The representative of Algeria said the floor could not be denied to a Member State because each had a sovereign right to speak.

The representative of Morocco said he was not trying to deprive Member States of the right to speak, but instead to group questions together.

The representative of Zimbabwe asked about the new Personal Envoy and expectations for his appointment.

Mr. BOUKHARI said in regard to the question of self-determination that three months would be enough to organize the referendum. As for the Personal Envoy, he was a person of great authority, but he faced major problems because of Morocco’s insistence on maintaining the status quo so that it could continue to occupy the Territory. He called upon all members of the Security Council to work together to ensure his success.

FATIMETU JATRI EMHAMED, Sahrawi student in Iowa, said that despite having pursued a college education and a career in the United States, she remained dispirited about her people’s plight. It was regrettable to see France, a permanent member of the Security Council, constantly and blindly support Morocco in the United Nations on the issue of Western Sahara. Calling upon all States to support the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, she said they remained oppressed and made to feel like foreigners in their own land. Protesters and fighters had been imprisoned, she said, asking Who else is going to speak for us? It was painful to call oneself a refugee when one still had a homeland, she said, rejecting allegations made yesterday linking refugees in the camps with terrorism.

KIM GUEST, President, Artists for Kids Rights, noted that freedom of expression in Moroccan-occupied areas of Western Sahara was strictly curtailed. Moroccan authorities detained or expelled Sahrawi, Moroccan, Spanish and other foreign reporters covering sensitive issues related to Western Sahara. The Government of Morocco asserted judicial and penal administration within the Territory and its security forces there had a history of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention and disappearances, she said. Noting that Western Sahara possessed extensive natural resources, including phosphates, iron ore, hydrocarbon reserves and fisheries, she said a history of resource exploitation by foreign companies had left the local population largely impoverished. The international community could not allow decolonization in that latest of colonial enclaves to be diverted as a result of the biased analysis or temporal interests of certain Powers, she said, emphasizing that the General Assembly must confirm its commitment to the relevant resolutions and decisions.

CHRIS SASSI, President, S.k.c., said the legal status of Western Sahara was unequivocal and it remained under occupation by Morocco. Recalling that the International Court of Justice had rejected the historical links invoked by the occupying Power to justify its occupation, she said the European Court had reaffirmed that position in 2016. The Territory’s status must be decided by the Sahrawi people, he emphasized. Morocco continued its cruel oppression, pillaging natural resources and violating human rights, she said. The kingdom also continued to refuse all visits to the Territory by parliamentary delegations, NGOs and others, she added, noting that Morocco enjoyed impunity with the complicit support of some Member States, even permanent members of the Security Council. The Secretary-General and his new Personal Envoy must work to renew negotiations on the question of Western Sahara, she said.

JUAN CARLOS DUQUE, Executive Director, ONG Rehabiilitacion y Esperenza, also voiced concern about breaches of human rights, noting that the Polisario Front had marginalized the population, including people who questioned their authority. He also voiced concern about the lack of liberty for those living in the Tindouf camps, drawing attention to a related Human Rights Watch report. While the Polisario Front was on record as firmly opposing slavery, more must be done to eliminate residual slavery among the minority black population, he said.

CLARA RIVEROS, political scientist, CPLATAM Observatory, noted that the rate of political participation in Western Sahara was among the most notable in Morocco. People had been elected democratically at the provincial, municipal and regional levels, and there was competition between the various political parties, she noted. One of the very traditional parties had been displaced by an emerging political force, which was what democracy was all about. Preferences had been changing in the region, leading to a new civil society because of the new sedentary living conditions of a formerly nomad population, she said.

RACHID TAMEK, President, Assemblee Provinciale d’Assa-Zag, said he wished to clarify Morocco’s history. The kingdom had enjoyed internationally recognized borders for several centuries, he recalled, noting that, alongside Ethiopia, Morocco had been the last country on the continent to become a protectorate, divided between France and Spain. The kingdom had been divided into six parts between those two Powers, and had regained its independence incrementally. The repercussions of those events were still being witnessed today, he said, asking why there had never been a demand for a referendum in any other region, and why only Western Sahara was demanding one. Speaking as a Moroccan Sahrawi citizen, he said it was because the region had borders with a neighbouring country that was interfering in its internal affairs.

NAGLA MOHAMEDLAMIN SALAM, representative in the United States of Nova (Western Sahara), said the Territory’s people were fighting for dignity and to choose where they would belong. Ending the dispute over Western Sahara meant allowing the Saharawi people to vote and to choose by themselves, she said, underlining that they would not compromise the right to self-determination under any circumstances.

* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Source: United Nations