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Statement of the Frente Polisario before the UN Special Committee on Colonialism

AUTHOR:   Polisario



New York, 16 June 2009


Mr Chairman,

Western Sahara remains under the illegal occupation of Morocco. The efforts employed so far by the United Nations with a view to finalising the decolonisation of the Territory have not been successful due to Morocco’s current rejection of the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence.


In 1990, when Morocco accepted the Settlement Plan approved by the Security Council, it had committed itself to cooperate with the United Nations with a view to holding a self-determination referendum that would allow the Sahrawi people to choose between independence and integration into the occupying power. That task was entrusted to MINURSO that was deployed in the Territory on 6 September 1991 following the coming into effect of the ceasefire agreed by the two parties.

Such acceptance on the part of Morocco gave rise to real hopes for a fair and lasting solution to the conflict, mainly after the withdrawal of Mauritania from the conflict by virtue of the Mauritanian-Sahrawi peace agreement of 1979. Morocco confirmed this acceptance in 1997 to the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker, when the two parties signed the Houston agreements that were also approved by the Security Council. 

Nevertheless, when everything was in place for an effective implementation of these agreements, Morocco reneged on its commitment. This breach was formulated in a letter addressed to the Secretary-General in April 2004, in which Morocco made it clear that it did not accept any solution that would include the option of independence of the Territory.

It has ever since been trying to impose on the intentional community, through influential friends inside the Security Council, the so-called proposal of autonomy whose starting point consists in considering, in advance, that Western Sahara is an integral part of the Moroccan territory. The Security Council is aware that it is dealing with a decolonisation issue on the agenda of the General Assembly, which cannot be resolved outside or against the doctrine established by the United Nations. This doctrine stipulates that the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence is, and should always be, the essential parameter for the solution of the conflict.

It was evident that, with Morocco’s breach of its commitment, the absence or the prolonged obstruction of a peaceful process of solution would imply serious risks for the maintenance of the ceasefire.

In June 2007, the Security Council requested us, the two parties, to begin direct negotiations, without preconditions with a view to achieving that solution in the framework of that essential parameter. The negotiations began in Manhasset in June of the same year, and the fourth round took place in April 2008. It is already known, Mr. Chairman, that there was no progress at all. The reasons for that lie in the fact that Morocco came with a precondition that was simply unacceptable. In reality, it did not want to negotiate but rather to impose its so-called proposal of autonomy as the only possible solution, presenting it on a “take it or leave it” basis. It was unwilling to discuss the proposal presented by the Sahrawi side, of which the Council had taken note. In our proposal, we say that the Sahrawi people should have the chance to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination by means of a referendum that includes all the options recognised by the United Nations in the context of General Assembly resolutions 1514 and 1541. This means that the referendum should necessarily include the option of independence. This option is not only something that cannot be renounced, but is also an option that Morocco had already accepted when it signed the Settlement Plan and the Houston Agreements. In our proposal, we also said that, in case the Sahrawi people would choose the option of independence in that referendum, the Frente POLISARIO would be willing to look to the future and to offer Morocco the chance to negotiate the bases for a strategic relationship in economic, security, commercial and social domains, among others.

Morocco’s rejection of this vision, which is based not only on the criteria established by the abovementioned resolutions of the United Nations but also on logic and common sense, is what caused the lack of progress in the negotiations.

The Secretary-General appointed a new Personal Envoy, Ambassador Christopher Ross, in August 2008. Mr. Ross did not officially assume his functions until January 2009 due to Morocco’s initial rejection.

In February this year, Mr. Ross made a first tour in the region of which he gave an account in the report submitted by the Secretary-General to the Security Council in April 2009. The mandate of the new Personal Envoy was to try to reactivate the negotiations that began in Manhasset, and he proposed, as a preliminary step, informal meetings between the two parties. We expressed our support for the Personal Envoy, but we do not know why those meetings have not yet taken place.


Meanwhile, Mr. Chairman, the situation on the ground does not inspire optimism. Morocco maintains occupation forces comprising an estimated 150 thousand soldiers. The Territory is divided in two parts by a shameful wall protected by those forces and 5 million antipersonnel landmines. As an occupying power, Morocco intensifies, on a daily basis, its exploitation and commercialisation of the natural resources of the Territory, especially phosphates and fishing, offering them to the highest bidder, whilst trying to implicate foreign companies in onshore and offshore oil prospecting in our country.

This activity is carried out in flagrant contravention of international legality applicable to a territory pending decolonisation. The Special Committee has a great deal to say about this activity. The graveness of this breach is more than evident when taking into account that, according to what was confirmed by the legal opinion of the then Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Dr. Hans Corell, on 29 January 2002, the United Nations does not consider Morocco as a sovereign or administering power of the Territory. We are before an illegal exploitation that is carried out by what General Assembly resolution 34/37 qualified as an “occupying” country. 

The situation does not inspire optimism either if we analyse the situation of human rights in the areas occupied by Morocco. As has been confirmed by the reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights in October 2007 and Human Rights Watch in December 2008 and the report of the ad hoc delegation of the European parliament in February 2009, Morocco violates human rights in Western Sahara. All these reports, made by different and unrelated bodies, concur in their assessment by considering that the violation of human rights by Morocco stems from the fact that the right to self-determination has not been respected. Furthermore, they agree on the need for the United Nations, through MINURSO, to play the traditional role played by all other UN missions in relation to monitoring and protection of human rights as long as the conflict has not been resolved in a just and lasting manner. The UN Secretary-General, in all his reports submitted to the Security Council since October 2006, expressed his concern about the situation of human rights in the Territory.

Both in 2008 and 2009, several delegations from non-permanent members of the Security Council tried to include, in the Security Council resolution, an extension of the mandate of MINURSO so as to incorporate the issue of human rights. Morocco, with the support of France, did not allow this noble attempt to go beyond a mere mention of the “human dimension” of the conflict, a fact that unfortunately can only lead to consolidating the perception that there is a double standard policy, which does not serve the credibility of the Council.


Mr. Chairman,

More than four decades have already passed since the adoption by the General Assembly of  resolution 1514 (XV) in December 1960 whereby the United Nations assumed the noble responsibility for ensuring that all peoples and countries under colonial occupation could exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. The fact that the decolonisation of Western Sahara remains on the agenda of this Committee makes it a living symbol of the failure by the United Nations to fulfil fully and effectively that collective responsibility.

The Sahrawi people were colonised by Spain from 1884 to 1976. Spain, which had considered the Territory as a “Spanish province”, accepted, by the end of the 60s, the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence. As I had already stated during the sessions of the seminar held in Saint Kits and Nevis in last May, since 1969 Morocco had recognised repeatedly, explicitly and solemnly, before this Committee and before the General Assembly the right of the Sahrawi people to full independence.

The work carried out by the Committee in this regard, which was crowned by the report of its visiting mission dispatched to the Sahrawi Territory in May 1975, the multiple resolutions of the General Assembly on Western Sahara as well as the verdict of the Court of The Hague of October 1975, which rejected conclusively the validity of Morocco’s territorial claims on our country, all constituted a solid legal and political corpus that should have safeguarded the decolonisation process, and should have brought it to its natural conclusion by the peaceful accession of our country to its full independence.

Members of the Special Committee would recall what happened afterwards. Spain, the administering power, abdicated its obligations assumed before the United Nations by calling on Morocco and Mauritania to invade, occupy and partition our country. This act was carried out in Madrid agreements of November 1975. This way, our people were forced to continue their legitimate struggle for national independence against colonisers this time coming from within Africa. The European colonialism had retired, but it had been replaced by African colonialisms. There are no precedents in the annals of decolonisation of this terrible tragedy for Africa. However, several African leaders had warned against this threat to the security and independence of the continent. Hence, the importance that was accorded, at the beginning, to the intangibility of the borders inherited from colonialism in the constitutive Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The Court of The Hague concluded, as I have said earlier, that before the Spanish colonisation there was never any tie of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and its new colonisers. This verdict and the inclusion of the principle of intangibility of borders into the Charter of the OAU, made that the Mauritanian-Moroccan attempt to annex our country was seen as an act with very serious consequences for Africa.

It was the President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, who said that “colonialism does not have any specific colour”. Already in 1960, against the backdrop of the territorial claims made by Morocco on Mauritania, President Senghor of Senegal said, in a proper way, that some African nations had acquired the illness of the European coloniser. More recently, President Mbeki of South Africa said that it was a shame for Africa that the Sahrawi people had not even been able to enjoy their right to independence.


Mr. Chairman,

Perhaps one could say that all this is known, and that it may be advisable not to highlight it in order to keep the consciences dormant. That is to say, to accept, as a last resort, the notion that the right to self-determination of peoples in the framework of decolonisation shakes the consciences of some people who end up saying privately and sometimes publically, after perhaps signing or securing a contract here and there with Morocco, that that fundamental right, which made possible the current configuration of the world, should give way in the case of Western Sahara to the “politically correct” notion proposed by Morocco, i.e., pure annexation of our country, disguised in a proposal of autonomy.

The Sahrawi people, armed with the firm conviction in the legitimacy of their right to freedom and independence and in the pre-eminence of the principles and values of the UN Charter over the siren songs of a cynical and dangerous notion of political realism, will never give up the full realisation of that right. We are also convinced that the immense majority of the UN members share this judgement and the vision that, in a case of decolonisation as clear as this one, there should be no exception to the general rule that was established by resolution 1514, which gave birth to this Committee.

It is true, Mr. Chairman, that the Sahrawi people will continue suffering, and will continue seeing their development and progress being mortgaged by an anachronistic, unjust and unjustified occupation. It is our suffering, but it is also your failure as United Nations.

In our modest opinion, this Committee can and should reactivate its commitment to the decolonisation of the last African colony on its agenda. The Committee was historically very courageous in the face of the persistence of the Spanish colonisation of Western Sahara. You should not give up this courage because the decolonisation of Western Sahara has not yet been concluded. Spain left, but Morocco came in its stead. The UN considers Morocco neither a sovereign power nor an administering power, but this country considers itself capable of interfering, conditioning and even changing the principled positions and the minimum rules of procedure of this Committee, as it happened, Mr. Chairman, in the recent seminar. The Sahrawi people have not yet exercised their right to self-determination. Hence, the responsibility of the Committee is still as full as our trust in it and in the international community.

Thank you very much indeed!

Source: Statement of the Frente Polisario before the UN Special Committee on Colonialism (Palestine Think Tank)

Original article published on July 2, 2009.

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