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Speakers Addressing Fourth Committee Report Rights Violations in Tindouf Camps, Differ over Morocco’s Role, Continuing Consideration of Western Sahara

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GA/SPD/731

FOURTH COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-SIXTH SESSION, 4TH MEETING (PM)

Petitioners described human rights violations faced by women in Sahrawi refugee camps, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its hearing of petitioners on the question of Western Sahara today in the context of its consideration of items related to decolonization.

Petitioner Pablo Zardini, of John F. Kennedy Argentine University, said women in the Tindouf camps — which are located in Algeria and administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) — are detained against their will and subjected to sexual abuse, with some separated from their children. He added that the POLISARIO imposes early marriage on women, prevents family planning and forces young mothers to carry their pregnancies without access to medical care.

Khadija Ezaoui, a petitioner from the African Forum for Research and Studies in Human Rights, recalled her childhood in the Territory and her subsequent career as a renewable energy engineer. She said the region is witnessing a unique development momentum to which Sahrawi women contribute as successful professionals — doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, elected representatives and more. Nevertheless, she agreed that many Sahrawi women remain sequestered and oppressed in the Tindouf camps.

However, another petitioner, Romina Perino, offered a contrasting view of life in the Tindouf camps, describing Morocco’s claims that the camps are dangerous as utterly untrue. In fact, in her various visits to Tindouf, she witnessed people who have built a modern society in the refugee camps, she said, describing busy schools, bustling markets and vibrant families.

The POLISARIO Front’s total control over the Tindouf camps distinguishes them from the majority of refugee camps under United Nations supervision around the world, one petitioner observed, asking why the Organization allows a military group to manage people without any accountability, while requiring accountability from numerous other camps administered around the globe.

The role of Morocco also came under scrutiny, with a petitioner stressing that the country is using the COVID‑19 pandemic to impose a blockade and further curtail human rights in the Territory, and with Sahrawi detainees being held in Moroccan prisons far from their homeland.

In addition, several speakers said Morocco recently violated the ceasefire in the Western Sahara when it launched an aggression on the village of Guergerat. One petitioner noted that the Sahrawi army launched offensive operations against Morocco in response, while another petitioner denied that allegation, stating that the POLISARIO Front is attempting to give the impression that it is in a state of war with Morocco in order to manipulate the camp’s residents.

Petitioner El Mahjoub Maliha welcomed the appointment, just days ago, of a new Personal Envoy of the United Nations Secretary‑General — former Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura — and urged the international community to take concrete and meaningful steps towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He also asked it to create an international mechanism to protect the Sahrawi people and help them exercise their right to self‑determination.

Also delivering a statement today was the representative of Cuba.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 11 October, to continue its decolonization discussion.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

NAAMA SGHAYER, petitioner, expressed frustration toward the Special Committee for failing to accomplish the only task for which it was established — namely, decolonization. In fact, the ceasefire in the Western Sahara was violated recently by Morocco when it launched an aggression on village of Guergerat, he said. In response, the Sahrawi army launched offensive operations against Morocco, but the country denies those operations. Today a military blockade and plundering of natural resources continues, he said.

PABLO ZARDINI, John F. Kennedy Argentine University, described the situation of Sahrawi women living in the Tindouf camps, where major violations of human rights are a daily reality. Noting that the women there are detained in camps against their will and subjected to sexual abuse by the POLISARIO Front, he said some are separated from their children who are sent to far away countries. Moreover, the POLISARIO imposes early marriage on women, prevents family planning and forcing young mothers to carry their pregnancies without access to medical care. The situation is even more dire for single parent families, he said, calling on the international community to intervene effectively and put an end to the human tragedy.

TOURIA HMYENE, Association for the freedom of women sequestered in the Tindouf camps, said the POLISARIO Front is responsible for human rights violations in the Tindouf camps, which have become hotbeds for recruiting women and children. She further stressed that Hizbullah elements are training police and disseminating weapons in the camps, which threatens security in the region. Turning to the recent general elections in Morocco and Western Sahara, she pointed to the fact that people were able to choose their representatives in a transparent and credible manner and that the European Union and the League of Arab States sent observers to monitor those elections.

KHALID BENDRISS, petitioner, recalling Morocco’s proposed autonomy plan, described it is an innovative way to move forward with the political process and resolve the question of Western Sahara. He noted that the Security Council described the initiative as credible and serious, indicating that it can solve the conflict. The Moroccan initiative offers a clear division of power and provides for a democratically elected legislative and executive, he said, noting that it will allow the Sahrawi population to manage its own political, economic, social and cultural affairs. “It is high time to consider the autonomy seriously because it is only available solution,” he concluded.

MOHAMMED ELAISSAOUI, petitioner, said the presence of armed elements inside refugee camps poses a threat to their civilian and humanitarian character. This is the case for the Tindouf camps, which have been turned into militia training camps. Children in those camps have been forced to take part in military activities, exploited by the POLISARIO Front, he stressed. In addition, the camps have become breeding ground of terrorist groups looking to recruit members from among the disillusioned and disenfranchised youth, he said.

HAMMADA EL BAIHI, La Ligue Du Sahara Pour La Democratie et Les Droits de L'homme, said the Tindouf camps are home to misery, oppression, poverty, disease and torture, and have become a hotbed of extremism and terrorism. The POLISARIO Front now seeks to take back with arms what they could not take back with a ceasefire, he stressed, adding that the group is attempting to give the impression that it is in a state of war with Morocco, in order to manipulate the camp’s residents. The leadership of the POLISARIO Front is now convinced there is no option but to “act fast and ensure a comfortable retirement”, he added.

ROBERTO LEON, Fundación Global Chile Marruecos, said the people in the Tindouf camps have been taken hostage and the authorities continue to reject calls to conduct a census there. He pointed to human rights violations in those camps and said the actions of POLISARIO Front are unacceptable. Citing the delegation of power by Algeria to the POLISARIO Front, which is a source of profound concern, he drew attention to the case of a 14‑year‑old boy who was detained by police when visiting his family in the camp — a case which was submitted for consideration by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Algerian Government did not respond to the communication filed by the Working Group in connection with that case, he said.

SAAD BENNANI, petitioner, expressed concerned over the fate of the many children living in the Tindouf camps, which have become “a lawless zone” where police resort to inhumane practices such as forced disappearances, illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial executions. He stressed that children in the camps live in danger instead of enjoying their rights to education, leisure and recreation. Instead, they are exploited as slaves and groomed to join terrorist groups. In that context, he emphasized that the so‑called leaders of the POLISARIO Front should be held responsible for those crimes against humanity and inhumane practices.

GODWIN ICHIMI, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, observed that years ago the Moroccan Sahara was rife with poverty. Now, from a productivity standpoint, the situation in the region has vastly improved. Morocco’s multisectoral development programmes will grab the attention of any visiting team, he said, noting that the Territory now ranks at the top of the list of the world’s most transformed regions. Morocco’s proposed autonomy plan charts a positive path forward, including a mutually beneficial settlement plan, he added.

CYNTHIA BASINET, petitioner, recalled that she visited the Sahrawi camps 20 years ago. Now, the world needs to see inclusive solutions, including a voice from the Sahrawian refugee camp, she said, adding that the world needs to see inclusive solutions from self‑determined societies, not more of the rich and famous who seem to take credit for everything.

MOHAMMED AHMED GAIN, African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation, highlighted the dangerous situation in the Tindouf camps and the flagrant and criminal acts of the POLISARIO Front, which reached a peak when armed militias blocked the crossing point of Guergarate, impeding the movement of goods and persons to sub‑Saharan Africa. Calling on the Committee to redouble its efforts to definitively put an end to the POLISARIO’s destabilizing acts of provocation, he noted that the United States among others has reaffirmed its support for Morocco's serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal, as the sole basis of a just and lasting solution to the conflict.

YVONNE LODICO, Grace Initiative Global, noted with regret that while 2021 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), self‑determination for the Sahrawi people is more distant than when the Mission was first set up. Providing some background on the conflict, she called for the removal of Western Sahara from the United Nations list of disputed territories. She also emphasized that the Security Council needs to leverage its political weight to enable MINURSO to organize the implementation of a resolution mechanism and report on human rights violations.

ZINE EL AABIDINE EL OUALI, African Forum for Research and Studies in Human Rights, pointed to the recent opening of a consulate general of Sierra Leone in Dakhla, Western Sahara, describing it as a clear signal of the international community’s support for Morocco’s legitimate claims over the Territory. As countries continue to open their consulates, the world is only waiting for a suitable opportunity to follow suit, he said, recalling that the United States also set up a consulate — a historic act and a historic turning point. He went on to observe that the majority of African countries oppose separatist trends in the Western Sahara.

YOUSSOUF COULIBALY, Université de Bamako, said the camps under POLISARIO control have become “a hub or even a sanctuary for organized international crime” and a source of insecurity. Stressing that the activities of the POLISARIO Front have impeded the Western Sahara’s social and economic development, he said criminal practices lead to corruption affecting political life and undermining social values. He further called on the United Nations mission in the Western Sahara to prioritize human safety without abandoning the political process. The United Nations needs to pay attention to the autonomy proposal put forward by Morocco, he added.

SHERRY ERB, Erb Law, said the POLISARIO Front’s total control over the Tindouf camps distinguishes the latter from the majority of refugee camps under United Nations supervision around the world. Asking why the Organization allows one military group to manage people without any accountability, while requiring accountability from numerous other refugee camps, she noted that lack of oversight invites mistreatment and corruption. That is why humanitarian assistance intended for residents of the Tindouf camps has been found in many North African countries, as documented in a 2014 report by the European Anti‑Fraud Office, she said.

PABLO DE LA VEGA, Asociación Ecuatoriana de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui, said the Sahrawi people have been living in a state of permanent besiegement, subject to systematic violation of their human rights by Morocco. Many years have elapsed since the International Court of Justice determined that there is no sovereign link between the Western Sahara and Morocco. Likewise, it was many years ago that Morocco stated that it stands open to a referendum and would provide all the necessary facilities and observers. Yet, the Western Sahara remains on the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories list and the situation has led to a political and diplomatic limbo, which is now witnessing a rupture of the ceasefire and intensified repression by Moroccan security forces, he said.

FATIMETU BACHIR JATRI EMHAMED, Peace and Justice Center, Decorah, Iowa, expressed frustration at the Special Committee’s lack of action to facilitate the right to self‑determination for the people of Western Sahara. Pointing out that the same resolution is issued by the Special Committee every year, she went on to recall that she was born and raised in the camps of south‑west Algeria. There, women have made the education of their children their highest priority, as evidenced by her own experience. However, while she and many of her peers are educated, they are still considered refugees, she emphasized, adding that young Sahrawis are fed up and willing to sacrifice anything for change.

SALKA BARCA, Karama Sahara, expressing her frustration about the lack of a resolution to the question of Western Sahara, said the Committee on Decolonization has renewed its therapeutic hearings but has not solved the conflict. She stated that Morocco is not an administering Power and called on the Fourth Committee to end the colonialism and occupation of the Western Sahara.

ANDRES RODRIGUEZ, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, describing what is happening today in the Western Sahara as an invasion, called on the Committee to draft a resolution recognizing the real problems facing the Territory. The people of Western Sahara should have a right to say whether they want to be governed or be independent, he stressed, noting that the Committee has not fulfilled its mandate. “It is our obligation to make sure that justice prevails,” he emphasized.

KHADIJA EZAOUI, African Forum for Research and Studies in Human Rights, noting that she grew up in the Moroccan Sahara and is now a renewable energy engineer, said the region is witnessing a unique development momentum to which Sahrawi women contribute effectively as successful professionals — doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, elected representatives and more. However, while women such as her live in peace and prosperity, many Sahrawi women remain sequestered and oppressed in the Tindouf camps. The POLISARIO Front is gravely violating the rights of the camps’ residents and promoting terror, she said, adding that its leaders are enriching themselves by diverting humanitarian assistance intended for the camps’ population.

ROMINA PERINO, petitioner, recalling her visits to the Sahrawi refugee camps, said Morocco makes baseless claims that the camps are dangerous, which she found to be utterly untrue. In fact, she witnessed people’s determination to realize their own country. When Morocco violated the ceasefire agreement, the Sahrawis did not flee, but came back to defend their homeland. Against that backdrop, they have built a modern society in the refugee camps, she said, describing schools, bustling markets and vibrant families.

AHMED MOHAMED FALL, Codesa, recalled that the question of the Western Sahara has been under consideration by the United Nations since 1966. Meanwhile, the Moroccans steal resources throughout the region, he said, pointing out that a number of countries have taken stances that are inconsistent with international law, supporting those who seek to make gains at the expense of helpless people. Furthermore, Morocco is using the COVID‑19 pandemic to impose a blockade and further curtail human rights in the Territory, he said, reporting that Sahrawi detainees are held in Moroccan prisons far from their homelands. The ransacking of natural resources must stop, he stressed, calling for a United Nations entity to be established to supervise, in that regard.

EL MAHJOUB MALIHA, petitioner, said that as a Sahrawi, the violent reality of occupation has been always part of his daily life. The fate and future of the Sahrawi people rests in the hands of the Security Council, he said, noting that its members have actively contributed to the occupation. Recalling that the African Union was among the first organizations to recognize the Western Sahara, he pointed to a recent decision by the European Union, which confirmed that the POLISARIO Front, not Morocco, holds the legal capacity to represent and defend the interests of the Sahrawi people. Welcoming the appointment of a United Nations Special Envoy, he urged the international community to take concrete and meaningful steps towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict and create an international mechanism to protect the Sahrawi people and help them exercise their right to self‑determination.

FATMA EL GHALIA CHARRADI, Association féminine pour le Développement durable, asked whether Sahrawi people in the Tindouf camps were able to participle in the 8 September elections, which saw a very high‑level participation across Morocco. Noting that the camps’ residents were deprived of the right to vote, she pointed to human rights violations and stressed that the camps have been transformed into lawless areas where people’s fates are uncertain. Moreover, conducting a census remains banned, despite appeals by the Security Council and other international bodies. Against that backdrop, she called on the Fourth Committee to address such violations.

BRAHIM EL AHMADI, petitioner, said the high turnout in recent local and regional elections proved the people of the Western Sahara are committed to their political maturity and democratic principles. They exercised their right to self‑determination, proving that they can manage their own affairs through democratically elected bodies, despite the propaganda put forward by the POLISARIO Front. Describing the situation as a failure of the POLISARIO’s senile leadership, he joined other speakers in observing that some countries have opened consular agencies in the Territory.

GHALLA BAHIYA, Conseil Régional de Dakhla-Oued Eddahab, reported that she was made an elected official as a result of the 8 September elections in Morocco. She is now a legitimate representative of the Western Sahara according to democratic principles, unlike those who impose leadership by force, she said. The high election turnout proves that the Sahrawi people consider themselves Moroccan. In fact, the vast majority of Sahrawis live in the southern provinces of Morocco, she said, adding that the elections were a step towards advancing local government, paving the way for a deep reform of State structures and advancing political and administrative functions. The people of the Tindouf camps must be able to turn the page and walk together towards unity and solidarity, she said.

EL FADEL BUA DA MOHAMED, Human Rights Defenders, referring to his personal experience of being kidnapped and tortured in the Tindouf camps, accused the POLISARIO Front of torture, slavery and carrying out forced disappearances. He noted that the Sahrawi people, who live in camps, cannot speak from the rostrum to shed the light on the actual situation there. The POLISARIO Front imposes major movement restrictions preventing people from leaving the camps, which lack staples necessary to sustain daily life. Noting that trucks with food and medicine en route to the camps are diverted by POLISARIO officials and used to sustain their terrorist activities, he said the violation of the ceasefire agreement reveals a link between the POLISARIO Front and terrorist groups operating in the area.

CARMEN JOHNS, petitioner, described the context in which people in the city of Laayoune live. Noting that Moroccan flags can be seen in large clusters all over the city, which is monitored by the Moroccan police, she recalled a 2010 incident in which two Moroccan police officers in full uniform witnessed two Moroccan thugs assaulting a Sahrawi house but did not take actions to prevent violence. That incident demonstrates how far Morocco is willing to go to achieve its quest of legitimacy over the Western Sahara, she stressed.

RAFAEL JORGE ESPARZA MACHÍN, Asociación de Amistad y Cooperación Canario-Marroquí, observed that elements of Al‑Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) have appeared in the area of the Tindouf camps, threatening the stability of the region. As such, the only possible solution is to grant autonomy to the Sahara, so the development of the entire region is possible. The autonomy plan proposed by Morocco should be viewed in a different context today than in previous years, he stressed. The POLISARIO Front has used death and destruction to achieve its aims, he said, adding that there is complicity by the host State when it comes to the situation in the Tindouf camps.

ERIKA PATRICIA BOTERO VARGAS, Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras, said Morocco has implemented measures to support victims of the conflict in the Western Sahara, including economic and infrastructure programmes to ensure the dignity of the Territory’s inhabitants. Adding that the Sahrawi people have participated in the implementation of such plans, she warned that interference of external actors nevertheless continue to threaten those achievements.

JUAN CARLOS MORAGA, Rehabilitación y Esperanz, said the POLISARIO Front has never responded to accusations of keeping political prisoners in camps, and instead diverted attention from those violations by pushing forward discussions about colonialism. He further noted that Morocco’s proposal for regional autonomy has been supported by an overwhelming majority of countries and called the recent elections in Morocco a “genuine referendum”. Those elections saw a high level of participation from the local people, which puts an end to separatists’ claims over Western Sahara, he added.

JEROME BESNARD, petitioner, also pointed to the recent elections in Morocco, spotlighting the high voter turnout in the Moroccan Sahara, with over 76 per cent of people casting their votes in the city of Laayoune and over 58 per cent in Dakha. That demonstrates the “attachment of this area to Morocco”, he said, noting that the “new step in the life of the Moroccan Sahara” was also monitored by international observers. He described the democratic trend as a result of decentralization and a massive investment in the development of the Sahara, pointing out that some $8 million has been mobilized since 2015 to develop the southern regions and improve transportation, health care and education.

YUMIRKA FERNÁNDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba) said her delegation rejects the remarks made today by petitioner Pablo Zardini, as they refer to ideological indoctrination efforts by her country. She wondered if he is referring to study programmes Cuba offers for students of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, which are well known to the United Nations. Such programmes train students in humanism and solidarity, she stressed, expressing opposition to efforts to politicize the discussion by referring to countries that do not fall within the scope of the session.

For information media. Not an official record.