Opening the substantive portion of its 2018 session today, the Special Committee on Decolonization took up the long‑standing questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara, while also approving several annual resolutions relating to the dissemination of information about its work and the dispatching of visiting missions to the world’s 17 remaining Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.
The Special Committee — formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — first considered the question of Gibraltar, on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, first listed as a Non‑Self‑Governing Territory in 1946. It postponed additional consideration of that item to a later date, then proceeded to consider the question of Western Sahara, hearing numerous delegations outline their positions on the more than 50‑year‑old dispute.
Algeria’s representative emphasized that the Special Committee’s mandate was clear — decolonization — and there could be no other calculations of any sort. The international community should not turn a blind eye to the exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources, he said, stressing that there was “no other choice” but for the Territory’s people to exercise their right to self‑determination.
Morocco’s delegate, on the other hand, stressed that the issue at hand was not decolonization but territorial integrity. Indeed, the Security Council considered the situation to be a regional dispute and treated it as such under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter. The Moroccan Sahara would remain a part of Morocco until the end of time, he vowed, underlining that his country’s autonomy initiative was the only path towards resolving the dispute.
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, described the impact of economic sanctions imposed on the Territory by Spain in recent years. Underlining the undeniable right of Gibraltar’s people to determine their own future, he said it had already been recognized by the General Assembly, and called upon members of the Special Committee to visit the Territory. Its people were ready to reach mutually beneficial agreements on establishing a constructive friendship with Spain, he added.
Spain’s representative, meanwhile, summarized the United Kingdom’s occupation of Gibraltar since 1704 and said that a final solution to the question would involve the return of territory covered by the Treaty of Utrecht and of illegally occupied areas. Gibraltar’s place on the decolonization list proved its colonial relationship with the United Kingdom, she said, appealing to the administering Power to do its part to honour the aspirations of the Territory’s people. Spain remained open to dialogue, she said.
Speaking on Western Sahara, Ethiopia’s delegate expressed concern that while the Special Committee had assisted more than 80 former colonies in gaining independence, the question of Western Sahara continued to linger. Calling for the prompt resumption of negotiations, he said it was encouraging that both parties to the dispute were working closely with the Secretary‑General’s new Special Envoy on the issue.
Namibia’s representative, however, said that ongoing tensions were hampering the Special Envoy’s efforts to realize a just and lasting political solution that would allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own future. Expressing concern about the Security Council’s recent “short renewal” date of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), he said the Organization must continue to lead the negotiation process with full support from the African Union. He also voiced deep concern about the continued exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources.
South Africa’s delegate said that his country’s long‑standing solidarity with the people of Western Sahara was born of its own history of fighting apartheid as well as its firm belief in the right of people living under foreign or colonial occupation to self‑determination. “To think that there are people who were born in refugee camps and who are over 40 [years old] who have never tasted freedom is a strong indictment of all of us as an international community,” he emphasized, describing Western Sahara as Africa’s last colony.
Dominica’s representative was among the speakers expressing support for the Security Council’s most recent resolution on MINURSO and the question of Western Sahara — resolution 2414 (2018), adopted on 27 April — and for Morocco’s proposed autonomy initiative. Resolving such disputes would strengthen security in the Saharan/Sahel region, which currently faced threats from terrorist groups, organized crime and other illegal activities, she said.
In other business today, the Special Committee approved, without a vote, an annual draft resolution titled, “Information from Non‑Self‑Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations”. By that text, the General Assembly would request that administering Powers respect their Charter obligations by transmitting information on economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories to the Secretary‑General, subject to such limitation as security and constitutional considerations might require.
Acting again without a vote, the Special Committee approved a draft resolution titled “Dissemination of information on decolonization” by which the Assembly would approve the decolonization‑related activities of the Department of Public Information and the Department of the Political Affairs, and request that they continue their efforts to make information on relevant United Nations efforts widely available. It also approved a draft resolution titled “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories”. By that text, the Assembly would request that the Special Committee develop, on a case‑by‑case basis, a plan for the conduct of visiting missions to the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. It would also call upon the administering Powers to cooperate with the United Nations in that process if they had not yet done so.
The Special Committee also acceded to requests for hearings on the situations concerning Puerto Rico, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, French Polynesia, Guam, Gibraltar, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara. It decided that it would hear petitioners from Puerto Rico on 18 June, and take up the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) on 21 June. It would consider the questions of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Tokelau on 22 June.
Also speaking today were representatives of Cuba, Indonesia, Ecuador, Timor‑Leste, United Republic of Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela, Antigua and Barbuda, Nicaragua, Belize, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uruguay, Gabon, Guinea and Senegal, as well as representatives of the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Public Information. Several petitioners from Western Sahara also participated.
The Special Committee will reconvene its formal session at 10 a.m. on Monday, 18 June.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Special Committee took up an annual resolution titled “Information from Non‑Self‑Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations”. By its terms, the General Assembly would request the administering Powers concerned to respect their Charter obligations by transmitting information to the Secretary‑General on issues related to the relevant Territories’ economic, social and educational conditions, subject to such limitations as security and constitutional considerations might require. For its consideration of that item, the Special Committee had before it the most recent document containing information submitted (document A/73/64).
Speaking on that item, the representative of Cuba said Member States administering Non‑Self‑Governing Territories were required to submit useful and essential information related to the situations in the relevant Territories. That information should be current and updated, she said, expressing concern that in the latest report covering 2017, some administering Powers had not submitted information. Urging them to submit the omitted information, she added that it would also be useful if the administering Powers would attend meetings of the Special Committee as well as its regional seminars, which they currently failed to do on a regular basis.
NANETTE BRAUN, Officer‑in‑Charge, Strategic Commissions Division, Department of Public Information, introduced the Secretary‑General’s annual report covering the period April 2017 to March 2018 on the Department’s efforts to disseminate information on decolonization. She said that during the reporting period, the Department had completed a range of activities promoting related issues, including the issuance of 30 press releases on decolonization and the deployment of a press officer from the Department’s Meetings Coverage Section to cover the 2017 and 2018 regional decolonization seminars, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, respectively. In addition, the Department’s dedicated website continued to highlight meetings and decolonization issues, while its social media accounts directed users to the decolonization website, which had seen a 106 per cent increase in traffic compared with the previous year.
JOSIANE AMBIEHL, Chief, Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, said the Unit regularly updated the United Nations Decolonization website to reflect its work as well as those of the Special Committee, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and other relevant bodies. Information submitted from the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories was complemented by information from other sources, she said, adding that, in accordance with its mandate on dissemination of information, the Unit was working to modernize the current website and make it more modern and user‑friendly.
The representative of Cuba, urging the departments to continue to provide crucial information on United Nations decolonization efforts, expressed regret that 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories continued to exist more than seven decades after the founding of the United Nations. The Organization must continue to provide the peoples of those Territories with information on their options, using all available media and means, she said, stressing that any reforms of the Secretariat must not impact the dissemination of that critical information.
The representative of Algeria said the issue of dissemination was of great importance, adding that her delegation had prepared a statement on the matter and would provide it directly to the Secretariat for circulation.
The representative of Indonesia said the eradication of colonialism remained one of the core priorities of the United Nations. Expressing alarm that the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism would soon end, he said “our work is far from over”, emphasizing that the Special Committee must continue to carefully study the situations in each of the remaining 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. The dissemination efforts of the Department of Public Information and the Department of Public Affairs must continue despite any resource challenges, he stressed.
The Special Committee also approved, without a vote, a draft resolution titled “Dissemination of information on decolonization” (document A/AC.109/2018/L.4), by which the General Assembly would approve the decolonization‑related activities of the Department of Public Information and the Department of the Political Affairs, and request that they continue their efforts to make information on the Organization’s decolonization work widely available.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories” (document A/AC.109/2018/L.5). By that text, the General Assembly would request that the Chair and Bureau of the Special Committee develop a plan, on a case‑by‑case basis, for conducting visiting missions to the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. It would also call upon the administering Powers to cooperate with the United Nations in that process if they had not yet done so, while taking note with satisfaction the Special Committee’s March 2018 visiting mission to New Caledonia.
Question of Gibraltar
FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that some of the worst economic sanctions imposed by Spain had affected the Territory in recent years in that country’s attempt to break down relationships with Spanish businesses and with people on a human level. However, the people of Gibraltar had an undeniable right to determine their own future, which had already been recognized by the General Assembly. As such, administering Powers and all concerned parties must abide by the United Nations Charter and the findings of the International Court of Justice, he said, describing Spain’s attempt to carve out an exception as legally unconvincing. “Our right to self‑determination is clearly established,” he emphasized, adding that moves had been made towards self‑governance. However, the Special Committee had yet to provide feedback on queries about the next steps, he said, calling on members to visit Gibraltar and to provide guidance. Stressing his readiness to reach mutually beneficial agreements on establishing a constructive friendship with Spain, he said that the ball was now in their court.
The representative of Spain, providing a summary of Gibraltar’s occupation since 1704, said her country believed that a final solution would involve the return of territory covered by the Treaty of Utrecht and of illegally occupied areas. Gibraltar’s place on the decolonization list had proven its colonial relationship with the United Kingdom. Citing several relevant General Assembly resolutions, she highlighted resolution 2429 (1968), which states that the administering Power must end its occupation by 1969. She recalled that the Assembly had adopted annual resolutions calling for a negotiated solution, and appealed to the United Kingdom to do its part to honour the aspirations of the people of Gibraltar. Spain had repeatedly invited that country to comply with General Assembly resolutions and remained open to dialogue, she said, adding that it was committed to the Special Committee’s outstanding work.
Question of Western Sahara
Taking up its next agenda item, the Special Committee first considered a working paper by the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2018/17) as several delegations delivered general statements.
The representative of Ecuador expressed concern that colonialism continued to impede the development of international cooperation, noting that the Special Committee had long worked to eradicate colonialism while bearing in mind the principles of territorial integrity and self‑determination on a case‑by‑case basis. Such efforts required the full cooperation of administering Powers, he said, calling for the recognition of the “proper names” of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories as well as efforts to “clean up the list” of Territories in order to advance the Special Committee’s work. Thirty years of work on decolonization — without a full resolution of the issue — was unacceptable, he stressed, noting that the situations of Western Sahara and Palestine were clear cases for the exercise of self‑determination. It was the Special Committees’ obligation to ensure the realization of that right, he said, emphasizing that the “R” in the acronym for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) stood for “referendum”.
The representative of Timor-Leste also called for accelerated efforts to support the estimated 2 million inhabitants of the 17 remaining Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. Reiterating her delegation’s support for the proposal that the Special Committee draw up a plan of action for visiting missions on a case‑by‑case basis to the listed Territories — and urging the relevant administering Powers to cooperate fully on that plan — he said such missions would be able to obtain first‑hand information about each situation on the ground with regard to the aspirations of the Territories’ peoples as well as their progress towards decolonization. He further welcomed the referendum to be held in New Caledonia in 2018, a “milestone year”, and recognized the Frente Polisario as the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara, as per General Assembly resolutions 34/37 and 35/19. Timor‑Leste recognized the sovereignty of the Sahrawi Arab Republic and had established diplomatic relations with the Saharan people, he added.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, reaffirming his country’s support for efforts to help people living under colonial rule to exercise the right to self‑determination, said that Morocco’s recent return to the African Union had allowed that country to become fully involved in talks on the question of Western Sahara. The United Republic of Tanzania supported reinvigorated efforts to find a durable solution acceptable to the key protagonists in accordance with all relevant United Nations resolutions.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said that ending colonization hinged on all stakeholders agreeing to real progress. Welcoming the Secretary‑General’s commitment in that regard, he said efforts being made to resolve the case of Western Sahara were clear. Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) had extended MINURSO’s mandate, which would in turn allow concrete gains to be made towards the holding of a referendum. Commending that new positive momentum, he said that his delegation supported negotiations leading towards a lasting political solution.
The representative of Dominica expressed her delegation’s support for the ongoing United Nations‑led process, resolution 2414 (2018) and Morocco’s autonomy initiative. Resolving such disputes would strengthen security in the Saharan/Sahel region, which currently faced threats from terrorist groups, organized crime and other illegal activities, she said.
The representative of Grenada said a political solution based on the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions was the way forward, while underscoring the importance of paying close attention to conditions in refugee camps to ensure full respect for human rights.
The representative of Papua New Guinea, noting that the last page of the Secretariat’s working paper referred to the Security Council’s work, expressed regret that it did not include the Council’s most recent resolution on the question of Western Sahara — namely, the adoption on 27 April 2018 of resolution 2414 (2018) — an important component of that work. Voicing full support for the work of the Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy aimed at reaching a mutually negotiated, lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara, he said the Council’s most recent resolution emphasized the need for progress towards that goal “based on compromise”. Resolution 2414 (2018) further recognized the credible efforts of the parties to identify a way forward, he said, commending Morocco for its substantial investment in Western Sahara, including providing employment opportunities. Urging the Special Committee to bear in mind “case‑by‑case” consideration of visiting missions, he recalled that the question of Western Sahara fell under Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter, by which the General Assembly was prohibited from making any recommendations on situations under consideration by the Security Council unless the Security Council so requests.
The representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis recalled that the Security Council had welcomed Morocco’s efforts on the question of Western Sahara, and expressed her delegation’s support for that country’s proposed autonomy initiative.
The representative of Ethiopia, recalling that the Special Committee had assisted more than 80 former colonies in achieving independence, nevertheless expressed concern that the question of Western Sahara continued to linger. Calling for the prompt resumption of negotiations, he said it was encouraging that both parties were working closely with the Secretary‑General’s new Special Envoy. Ethiopia would continue to support the Special Committee’s efforts in its consideration of the question of Western Sahara, he said.
The representative of Venezuela, commending Charter‑guided efforts led by the Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy, said the fourth and subsequent rounds of negotiations were valuable initiatives that must be supported, with a view to reaching a just and lasting solution. The international community’s cooperation could help to mitigate the situation, including by providing assistance to populations in need. Calling on all parties to abide by the provisions of the relevant General Assembly resolutions, he emphasized that the administering Power must safeguard and guarantee the inalienable right of the people in occupied areas to their natural resources.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda underlined the importance of reaching agreement on the situation in Western Sahara on the basis of compromise.
The representative of Nicaragua said a lasting solution must be found, as the situation had languished for far too long. Expressing support for all Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, he voiced hope that Morocco and the people of Western Sahara could come to an agreement on terms for a resolution of the situation.
The representative of Namibia said ongoing tensions were hampering Special Envoy Horst Köhler’s efforts to realize a just, lasting political solution that would allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own future. Raising concerns about the short renewal date of MINURSO, he said the United Nations must continue to lead the negotiation process with full support from the African Union. However, it seemed unlikely that a referendum would occur within six months, he said. He went on to voice his delegation’s deep concern about the continued exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources and called upon the Security Council to live up to its responsibility by implementing its own resolutions.
The representative of Belize said Western Sahara was the last territory in Africa slated for decolonization, but remained embroiled in conflict with a neighbouring country. The General Assembly had full responsibility to complete the decolonization process, she said, recalling that the Security Council had adopted resolution 2414 (2018) in April, extending MINURSO’s mandate for six months. The short renewal period represented a clear and strong message to those concerned, she said, expressing hope that the Special Envoy would recommend that the General Assembly establish a date for the referendum.
The representative of Cuba recalled that the Special Committee had declared Western Sahara a Non‑Self‑Governing Territory 55 years ago, and since then, numerous General Assembly and other resolutions had endorsed the right of its people to self‑determination. In 2017, the Assembly had further requested that the Special Committee consider the situation in Western Sahara and report back to it, yet despite all those efforts, the situation had nevertheless remained deadlocked for more than four decades with little progress made. Cuba supported the right of the people of Western Sahara to self‑determination — as well as the recent decision by the Heads of State of the African Union calling upon the two sides to commit to negotiations without preconditions, leading to the holding of a referendum. The people of Western Sahara needed the international community’s support, she said, noting that her country had long supported education efforts in the Territory, and that Cuban medical brigades had worked in the refugee camps for years.
The representative of South Africa said his country’s long‑standing solidarity with the people of Western Sahara was born out of its own history of fighting apartheid as well as its firm belief in the right to self‑determination of people living under foreign or colonial occupation. South Africa was concerned that Western Sahara remained the last colony on the African continent despite the General Assembly’s consistent recognition of the inalienable right of its people to self‑determination and independence. “To think that there are people who were born in refugee camps and who are over 40 [years old] who have never tasted freedom is a strong indictment of all of us as an international community,” he emphasized.
Aspiring to self‑determination was not unreasonable, he continued, underlining the critical principles of multilateralism and international legality as well as the centrality of the African Union and the United Nations — including the former’s Constitutive Act. South Africa urged respect for international human rights law in occupied territories, for international humanitarian law, for predictable, sustainable and timely assistance to the Territory’s refugees, and for an end to the illegal exploration and exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources. South Africa and other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) expected to hold a solidarity conference on the matter in the course of 2018, he added.
The representative of Algeria noted that the Special Committee’s mandate was to monitor implementation of the General Assembly’s cornerstone resolution 1514 with respect of the 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. “So it is clear; your mandate is decolonization”, not any other topic or principle, he said, emphasizing that the Special Committee was therefore obliged to put to an end all situations of colonization in accordance with the principles of peace, freedom and common sense. There could be no calculations of any sort, he said, stressing that the free will of all peoples must be encouraged. The situation of Western Sahara was on both the Special Committee’s agenda as well as that of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). Western Sahara shared borders with Algeria, which had sheltered hundreds of thousands of refugees for more than 40 years. All international opinions, including those of the General Assembly, reflected the conclusion that the people of Western Sahara should be able to exercise their right to self‑determination, he said, calling upon the Secretariat to post that conclusion on the United Nations decolonization website.
The situation in Western Sahara was also an African issue, he continued, recalling the 1991 agreement brokered by the African Union and endorsed by the Security Council. Reiterating his delegation’s full support for the African Union’s High Representative for Western Sahara, he called upon the United Nations to ensure the immediate return of observers to MINURSO. The Frente Polisario’s representation of the people of Western Sahara could not be questioned, he said, pointing out that while the long‑standing fight for national liberation was no longer an armed conflict, Polisario was instead now taking it forward in a peaceful way. Nobody should take advantage of that peaceful resolve, he cautioned, adding that, at the same time, the international community could not turn a blind eye to the exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources. Urging the Special Committee to consider sending a visiting mission to the Territory as soon as possible, he said there was “no other choice” but for the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self‑determination. He also paid tribute to the late Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario representative who had often spoken before the Special Committee, who passed away in April.
The representative of Saint Lucia, associating herself with the statement delivered earlier by the delegate of Grenada, welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) which emphasized the need for progress towards a realistic, durable solution to the conflict in Western Sahara through compromise. Welcoming positive developments, including Morocco’s engagement in the African Union dialogue on the matter, she voiced support for that country’s efforts to enhance the region’s development.
The representative of Sierra Leone, emphasizing that United Nations decolonization efforts should be conducted on a case‑by‑case basis, welcomed the opportunity to listen to a broader range of stakeholders on Western Sahara, including briefings by two petitioners from the Territory during the Regional Seminar in Grenada. The question of Western Sahara could only be resolved through a sustainable political solution, he said, welcoming the Security Council’s decision to place the issue on its agenda until such a permanent solution could be reached. He also urged Morocco to support the well‑being of people of Western Sahara.
The representative of Zimbabwe said his delegation supported the right to self‑determination for the people of Western Sahara, describing that position as a matter of principle. “The people of Western Sahara should be allowed to determine their destiny,” he said. Security Council resolution 690 (1991) was clear on the referendum for the self‑determination of the people of Western Sahara, he said, adding that the settlement plan signed by both sides that same year, and endorsed by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations provided for the holding of a self‑determination referendum and should be implemented unconditionally and without delay. He expressed hope that the ongoing African Union‑United Nations consultations on Western Sahara would pave the way for a resumption of talks between the two parties with the aim of reaching a permanent solution consistent with General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the matter.
The representative of Uruguay said efforts to resolve outstanding decolonization issues must be stepped up, and relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions implemented. The parties must move forward on negotiations for a just and lasting solution, she added, encouraging them to cooperate with the United Nations and to ensure full respect for the human rights of those living in refugee camps. However, one side was exploiting the natural resources of the other, she pointed out, underlining the need to bring the parties closer together.
The representative of Gabon expressed full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts, the ongoing United Nations‑led political process and the Morocco autonomy initiative. Information on the ground demonstrated that the model being implemented was making inroads, she said, commending all such Moroccan efforts in that regard.
The representative of Morocco stressed that the issue at hand was not decolonization but territorial integrity. Indeed, the Security Council considered the situation to be a regional dispute and treated it as such under Chapter VI of the Charter. Providing a summary of Morocco’s history under the control of colonial occupiers, he said his country had eventually managed to regain its territorial integrity, including the region of the Sahara that had been under the control of Spain. In short, the Moroccan Sahara would remain a part of Morocco until the end of time. Describing a broad range of infrastructure projects that had been implemented, he said the Moroccan Sahara featured many services and initiatives geared towards promoting economic development. With that in mind, the political stalemate should not prevent its development.
He went on to note that the population had elected officials and parliamentarians in a democratic and transparent manner. The Security Council had recently adopted resolution 2414 (2018) which supported the Moroccan proposal and the political process to resolve the situation, without linking the matter to decolonization. The Moroccan initiative was the only path towards resolving the issue, he said, adding that the solution to the question of the Moroccan Sahara remained a United Nations‑led political process that respected Morocco’s territorial integrity and dealt with relevant political issues. He said the population in the Tindouf refugee camps should be registered to ensure accurate information.
The representative of Guinea called on all parties and neighbouring countries to work towards a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution, which would in turn help to stabilize the security situation in the Sahel. Highlighting results from the transparent, fair elections in 2017, he said Morocco’s 2015 development plan sought to boost economic development. The Moroccan autonomy initiative should be the only framework for achieving a compromise to the dispute.
The representative of Senegal expressed support for the Security Council’s call for progress on resolving the conflict, as contained in resolution 2414 (2018), urging all neighbouring countries to heed that call. The international community must bear in mind the immense potential of a solution, not just for the cause of development, but also due to the need to confront major challenges in the Sahara/Sahel region and beyond. Morocco’s autonomy initiative was a good‑faith effort to resolve the conflict, he said, adding that it was also realistic and based on compromise.
SIDI MOHAMED OMAR ABDELLAHI, introduced by the Chair as a speaker on behalf of the Frente Polisario and Western Sahara, said the question of the Territory was a “clear‑cut issue of self‑determination” despite efforts to convince the Special Committee otherwise. Recalling that the General Assembly had deplored Morocco’s 1975 invasion and occupation of the Territory on many occasions, he said it had also called upon Morocco to terminate the occupation immediately. The continued occupation, therefore, remained the major obstacle. Rejecting Morocco’s attempt to impose itself on the Territory without a decolonization due process, as well as its policies that tried to alter the Territory’s demographic character, intimidate its people and plunder its resources, he said the lingering colonial situation — and the Assembly’s relevant resolutions on it — testified to the fact that the right of all peoples to self‑determination was indeed inalienable, and could not be sidestepped by long‑standing occupations or aggressive policies. The Special Committee should consider the request, made on several occasions, to deploy a visiting mission to Western Sahara, as the last such visit had been in 1975. It was the Special Committee’s duty to tell Morocco that it was indeed a colonizing Power, and ask that country to end the occupation.
MHAMED ABBA, petitioner from Western Sahara, described economic investment in Western Sahara by local elected leaders such as himself in development, tourism, agriculture and infrastructure development, among other areas. He said that his Council was supporting social investment, encouraging private investment, preserving the local culture, enhancing sustainable fishery practices, generating jobs and stimulating trade. Once of its major priorities was to boost Western Sahara’s gross domestic product (GDP) and create more opportunities for the local people, he said, stressing that since his elected council represented the local population and promoted its welfare, they were the “real representatives” of the people.
A petitioner, describing herself as an elected official from Morocco, said the two regions of the Sahara had recently been transformed and now enjoyed high levels of health, literacy and access to infrastructure, including airports, roads and connectivity to water and electricity. Democratically elected officials had adopted a development model, including an aquaculture plan that would create thousands of jobs alongside a range of projects focused on the agricultural, tourism and cultural sectors. The impact of those efforts was the creation of jobs, the promotion of investment and the creation of a business hub in the region, she said.
NAMA SHAHIR, a petitioner, emphasized the need to ensure the protection of his people’s rights. Morocco had committed human rights violations, including torture and intimidation, in Western Sahara. Since 1975, the Moroccan policy in occupied zones had been one of genocide and attempts had even been made to change the region’s demography. In addition, the media lacked access to report on what was happening under the occupation. The Secretary‑General had addressed those and other concerns, he said, while pointing out that MINURSO lacked a component dedicated to protecting human rights. As such, a mechanism should be established to address human rights in Western Sahara, he stressed.
MOHAMED ALI ARKOUKOU, a petitioner, said he represented a United States‑based non‑profit organization in two Western Sahara refugee camps. The Frente Polisario was the legitimate representative of the people, but the debate on the situation in Western Sahara continued in the United Nations. Spain had betrayed its responsibility to conclude the decolonization process and now Morocco, the occupying Power, had tried to play tricks to legitimize its occupation. Its systematic human rights violations continued today, he said, adding that current challenges included holding the referendum and addressing the brutal conditions in the refugee camps.
HAMAD MOHAMED FALL, a petitioner, said the buffer strip had split the Sahara into two parts and was laden with landmines. The consequences included many injuries and fatalities as well as psychological and economic suffering. The zone facilitated protection for Moroccans and the stealing of natural resources, he said, underlining that, because the wall’s construction was in violation of international law and human rights, it should be dismantled.
Ms. ABBA, a petitioner, said freedom of the press was not only important to democracy, it was democracy. In the case of Western Sahara, the price of a free press had become too high, with Morocco perpetrating human rights violations against journalists or preventing them from entering the Territory in order to shield the situation from the global gaze.
A petitioner said Morocco was undisputedly an occupying Power in Western Sahara. Significant evidence collected by international organizations had revealed the adverse impacts of the occupation, she said, noting that the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had raised concerns about the people’s right to access their own natural resources. Local civil society organizations had documented similar illegal economic activities, she said, adding that the Territory’s people continued to be treated as second‑class citizens in their own land. The goals of all the development projects implemented by Morocco were intended not for their benefit, but only for Moroccan settlers, and for that country to gain further access to Western Sahara’s resources. By involving other international actors in those activities, Morocco also sought to legitimize the occupation and other flagrant violations of relevant United Nations resolutions, she said.
* 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).