Rising Unrest in Sahel Spells Need to Resolve Long-Standing Western Sahara Dispute, Say Delegates as Fourth Committee Concludes Decolonization Debate
GENERAL ASSEMBLY FOURTH COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-THIRD SESSION, 8TH MEETING (AM)
Spiking insecurity and instability in Africa’s Sahel region indicates an urgent need to resolve the long-standing dispute over Western Sahara, delegates told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it concluded its general debate on decolonization.
Burundi’s delegate encouraged the two parties to the dispute over the Territory – Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO Front) – to begin true negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, emphasizing that each side must accept that not all its demands will be met. “Rather, a realistFic political, pragmatic and lasting solution should be promoted, based on a spirit of compromise,” he added.
Algeria’s representative said that his country has responded positively to the invitation from the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General in Western Sahara to a December round table in Geneva. He also welcomed the positive responses of the other invitees and their announced commitment to engage in good-faith talks without preconditions. “It is easy to build walls, but it is not so easy to build trust,” he pointed out, while emphasizing: “Hostility was never Algeria’s preferred choice.” He went on to cite Security Council resolution 2414 (2018), noting that it reaffirms the legal nature of the conflict and the validity of self-determination in the matter.
Morocco’s delegate, however, stressed that the principle of territorial integrity enjoys primacy over all other elements of international law, including self-determination. He observed that the new language contained in Security Council resolutions reflects that distinction, adding that it is no longer linked to self-determination but appeals to realism and the spirit of compromise, qualities that the Moroccan autonomy proposal for Western Sahara embodies.
Some speakers highlighted the African Union’s efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara. Zimbabwe’s representative recalled that the regional bloc recently established a mechanism to extend effective support to United Nations-led efforts.
Agreeing, the representative of Belize also cited the initiative by the African Union, welcoming the trajectory that process is taking and pointing out that dialogue is a start on the road to peace.
Also speaking today were representatives of Jordan, Fiji, Timor-Leste, Comoros, Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Gambia, Viet Nam, Solomon Islands, Nigeria, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Togo, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Nicaragua and Kuwait.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, Argentina, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 October, to take up a series of draft resolutions on decolonization questions.
MOHANNAD SHADDAD (Jordan) described decolonization as the most important accomplishment of the United Nations, while noting nevertheless that despite the gains made, the process remains unfinished and should remain a priority of the Organization. Underscoring the importance of self-determination under international law, he said the Palestinian people have that inalienable right as acknowledged by multiple Security Council resolutions, adding that a two-State solution is the way towards a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He went on to express appreciation for Morocco’s autonomy proposal for Western Sahara, describing it as earnest, credible and sensitive to the particularities of the region. He also praised Morocco’s economic development efforts in the Sahara.
GENE WAQANIVALU BAI (Fiji) expressed his delegation’s appreciation for collective efforts towards New Caledonia’s referendum on 4 November, and thanked that Territory’s president for providing important information to the Special Committee on Decolonization. He expressed support also for the statement delivered by Papua New Guinea, and went on to call for vigilance from now until the referendum, cautioning that the situation in New Caledonia remains fluid.
LEONETO MANTILO (Timor-Leste) recalled the Fourth Committee’s important role in the self-determination of his country, which gained independence in 2002. Expressing his delegation’s solidarity with Western Sahara, he underlined the role of POLISARIO as the legitimate representative of that Territory’s people. He also urged the Security Council to address the long-standing issues impeding the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). He went on to state that the referendum to be held in New Caledonia will allow that Territory’s people to decide between full sovereignty or in association with the administering Power. Concerning French Polynesia, he encouraged the administering Power and other parties involved to engage in dialogue.
LOIS MICHELE YOUNG (Belize) reiterated her delegation’s support for the rights of the Sahrawi people and their practical need to be masters of their own country. Noting the upcoming round table convened by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy between POLISARIO and Morocco, she said dialogue is a start on the road to peace. She also cited the initiative by the African Union to establish an African mechanism to support United Nations-led efforts, welcoming the trajectory that process is taking.
KADIM OUSSEIN (Comoros) expressed support for the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to reach a resolution of the long-standing dispute over Western Sahara. Comoros supports Morocco’s autonomy proposal, he said, noting the socioeconomic initiatives and infrastructure that the kingdom has put in place. Observing that Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco have been invited to a round table in Geneva, he expressed hope for the meeting’s success.
NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal) said that despite the progress made towards eradicating colonialism, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain on the agenda of the Special Committee on Decolonization. “We must act to break the status quo,” he said, emphasizing that ending colonialism is a shared international responsibility. Nepal supports the quest of people living in Non-Self-Governing Territories to fully realize their legitimate aspirations, he said.
YASSI MAXIMIN BROU (Côte d’Ivoire) called for collective, far-sighted approaches, considered on a case-by-case basis when addressing decolonization questions. Reaffirming his delegation’s support for Morocco’s autonomy proposal, he welcomed the kingdom’s socioeconomic programmes in Western Sahara. He also welcomed the and emphasis of Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) on the productive contribution of neighbouring States in negotiations for a lasting settlement of the dispute. He went on to commend the Personal Envoy’s efforts to find a solution to the dispute, saying his delegation looks forward to the forthcoming Geneva round table. In the interest of the parties involved, it is crucial that such a solution derive its legitimacy from relevant Security Council resolutions, he stressed, expressing hope that a settlement would allow Western Sahara to become a productive partner in the region.
LAZAROUS KAPAMBWE (Zambia) noted that, as a beneficiary and product of resolution General Assembly 1514 (1960), his country considers it an inescapable obligation to support all colonial peoples fighting for self-determination, asking: “How can we, in free conscience, proclaim support for justice when we still hold people under colonial administration?” He went on to question why decades have passed since a Non-Self-Governing Territory was granted independence through the efforts of the Committee and the United Nations.
FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE (Zimbabwe), describing Western Sahara as the only Non-Self-Governing Territory in Africa, noted that MINURSO has not been able to organize a self-determination referendum in the Territory. Children born in the refugee camps are now adults, he observed. Expressing support for all relevant resolutions and for the revival of negotiations by the Secretary‑General’s Personal Envoy, he also voiced support for the African Union initiative on Western Sahara. Recalling that the bloc recently established a mechanism to extend effective support to United Nations-led efforts, he said it will report regularly on the implementation of its mandate. He went on to express appreciation for the February ruling by the High Court of South Africa confirming that Morocco has no ownership over Western Sahara’s phosphates.
LAMIN FAATI (Gambia) said decolonization issues should be resolved through political dialogue and sustained diplomacy. The Gambia supports Morocco’s positive and constructive approach to ensuring that the political process in the Sahara is carried out in a peaceful and timely manner, he said, welcoming the kingdom’s efforts to develop the Territory through investments in infrastructure and socioeconomic projects. However, he cautioned, such efforts will only yield positive results if neighbouring countries play an equally positive and constructive role in supporting the peace process. Looking ahead, he said, Gambia supports the Moroccan autonomy initiative as a viable, long-term solution to the Western Sahara dispute that takes the local population’s desire for self-determination into account while contributing to the stability and security of the Sahel region.
NGUYEN NAM DUONG (Viet Nam), recalling his own country’s history with colonialism, said further effective measures should be taken to remove obstacles so that the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories may realize their self-determination goals. To that end, he said, administering Powers should cooperate fully with the Special Committee on Decolonization and not allow their special interests to interfere with the aims of the peoples of those Territories, including the protection of resources.
ROBERT SISILO (Solomon Islands), endorsing the statement delivered by Fiji on behalf of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, welcomed the upcoming referendum in New Caledonia, also commending France and the people of New Caledonia on the constructive way in which they have managed the process so far. However, he expressed particular concern over the list of Kanak voters who have not been registered, while remaining confident that the issue will be resolved before the vote. He went on to say that his delegation respects the aspirations of the people of Tokelau and expressed support for the political process currently under way in Western Sahara.
IBRAHIM MODIBBO UMAR (Nigeria) called for the speedy resolution of issues relating to the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, emphasizing that, given the limited progress made over the past few decades, tangible results are urgently needed. He called on administering Powers and peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to find peaceful ways towards implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Concerning the question of Western Sahara, he expressed support for efforts by the African Union troika and for the negotiations initiated by the Security Council, while expressing hope for a better, more “assured” outcome for MINURSO.
ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi) said the spike in instability and insecurity in the Sahel and neighbouring regions indicates an urgent need to resolve the long-standing dispute over Western Sahara. He encouraged the two parties concerned to begin true negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, emphasizing that each must accept the fact that not all its demands will be met. “Rather, a realistic political, pragmatic and lasting solution should be promoted, based on a spirit of compromise,” he said. In the context of negotiations, he encouraged the Secretary-General to continue advocating improved relations among the parties concerned, stressing the importance of addressing the conflict as part of a broader strategy in the Sahel and recalling that the Security Council has recognized the contribution of a regional approach to security and stability. Moreover, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy should step up his contacts with other countries in the region as well as subregional organizations to promote subregional ownership of the dispute, he said. Burundi also welcomes the Personal Envoy’s invitation to neighbouring countries to attend a round table in Geneva, as well as Morocco’s achievements in terms of human rights.
SAM CONDOR (Saint Kitts and Nevis) said that his country parted ways with colonialism upon attaining its independence in 1983. While 17 Territories across the world’s seven continents still aspire to independence, he added, “six of our Caribbean brothers and sisters know too well how non-self-governance restricts the ability to engage in regional multilateral opportunities available to independent States”. This fact prevails as the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism approaches its end in two years, he said, underlining that the will to end colonialism rests with all Member States.
FERNANDO DELFIM DA SILVA (Guinea-Bissau), emphasizing the importance of the principle of “realism” in seeking a resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara, called for a political solution that is realistic for all parties involved based on comprehensive dialogue and collective commitment. Congratulating the Secretary‑General’s Personal Envoy on his remarkable efforts, he called for a mutually accepted solution, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2414 (2018). Guinea-Bissau, he added, supports Morocco’s autonomy proposal and welcomes the Personal Envoy’s invitation to attend the upcoming round table in Geneva.
ZELMA YOLLANDE NOBRE FASSINOU (Benin) expressed support for the political process currently under way on Western Sahara and emphasized the importance of pursuing negotiations in good faith and in a spirit of compromise. Congratulating the Moroccan authorities for their prompt response to the invitation for round-table talks, she said that demonstrated the kingdom’s willingness to engage with a view to finding a resolution. She also expressed appreciation for Morocco’s socioeconomic projects in Western Sahara and reiterated her delegation’s support for its autonomy proposal. Benin hopes that the Geneva round table will promote a new, positive attitude in the region and realize the potential for stability, she said.
KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo) said the question of Western Sahara remains a “hotbed of tension” in the region, adding that negotiations are the only realistic option for achieving a lasting peace. He urged the involved parties to focus on a pragmatic approach, expressing hope for a consensus-based solution. Morocco’s autonomy proposal is a necessary constructive step towards resolving the crisis, demonstrating the kingdom’s sincere resolve to contribute to United Nations efforts, he said, encouraging POLISARIO to welcome the initiative in a constructive spirit. Togo also welcomes Morocco’s full cooperation, including in terms of the visit by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to three cities in the region, he said, welcoming also the invitation to Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania to the December round table in Geneva. He went on to call for the registration of the population in the Tindouf camps, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
SAADA DAHER HASSAN (Djibouti) highlighted efforts by the Secretary-General to create a frank and constructive dialogue so that the parties can arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute over Western Sahara. Djibouti reaffirms its support for the process facilitated by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, she said, welcoming his visit to the region and expressing hope that the upcoming Geneva round table will contribute to a resolution of the Western Sahara issue.
VICTORIA SULIMANI (Sierra Leone) said her delegation agrees with Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) that enhanced cooperation among neighbouring countries of the Maghreb is vital to a successful resolution of the Western Sahara question. She urged all stakeholders to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the forthcoming round-table discussion in Geneva. Commending Morocco’s efforts on human rights, specifically its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla, she expressed concern, however, for the people in the Tindouf camps and called upon authorities there to coordinate a proper registration process. She went on to voice support for Morocco’s autonomy proposal, while welcoming African Union support for the United Nations-led peace process in Western Sahara.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) urged all stakeholders to respond positively to the invitation from the Secretary-General’s Personal Enjoy on Western Sahara, also expressing appreciation for Morocco’s willingness to engage and for its efforts on human rights. MINURSO has proven effective, specifically in mediation efforts that have proven successful in terms of ceasefire agreements, she said, encouraging the parties to support the Mission’s efforts to fulfil its mandate. Affirming her country’s support for Security Council resolution 2414 (2018), she emphasized that the population in the Tindouf camps must have access to humanitarian aid and be included in a census.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), recalled that his country fought for its national liberation for years and, therefore, firmly supports the struggles of Non-Self-Governing Territories, half of which can be found in the Caribbean. He reaffirmed his delegation’s solidarity with and support for Argentina in its sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas while highlighting the urgent need to decolonize Puerto Rico in light of its debt situation and the effects of recent natural disasters.
BASHAR A. A. A. E. ALDUWAISAN (Kuwait) reaffirmed the need to end the occupation of the State of Palestine, emphasizing that Israel, the occupying Power, should withdraw from all Territories occupied since 1967, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative. He reiterated his delegation’s call that the Committee seek other ways and means to consider the individual cases of each Non-Self-Governing Territory. Expressing support for the efforts by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to reaching a settlement of the Western Sahara dispute, he also commended Morocco’s quick response to and acceptance of the Personal Envoy’s invitation to the round table in Geneva and its cooperation with the Human Rights Council.
SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) noted that Western Sahara remains the only African Non-Self-Governing Territory on the agenda of the Special Committee on Decolonization. He said that, as a neighbouring country in which Sahrawi refugees have found shelter, Algeria looks forward to a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Territory. Algeria encourages the Special Committee on Decolonization to conduct another visit to the Territory to see what has changed since its last visit in 1975 and report back to the General Assembly, he added. Recalling Security Council resolution 2414 (2018), the last on the matter, he said it reaffirms the legal nature of the conflict and the validity of self-determination in the matter.
The African Union has asked for the holding of a referendum and decided to strengthen the mandate of its special envoy, he said, noting that it has also decided to establish a follow-up mechanism. He went on to point out that the European Court of Justice ruled on the question of Western Sahara in February through a clear and indisputable decision. Regarding the invitation to talks in Geneva, he noted that his delegation has responded positively, and welcomed the positive response of the other invitees and their announced commitment to engage in good faith without preconditions, as requested by the Secretary-General. “It is easy to build walls, but it is not so easy to build trust,” he pointed out, emphasizing: “Hostility was never Algeria’s preferred choice.”
OMAR HILALE (Morocco) noted that the question of Moroccan Sahara is the only one under consideration every year by both the General Assembly and the Security Council, which is a violation of the United Nations Charter, he said. The rule was put in place to prevent a situation whereby two United Nations organs produce contradictory decisions, and to guarantee the primacy of the Security Council as a source of international law. Why is the question of Moroccan Sahara one of decolonization and not one of completing Morocco’s territorial integrity, he asked, stressing that the area has never been known outside Moroccan sovereignty. He emphasized that the principle of territorial integrity enjoys primacy over all other elements of international law, including self-determination.
The new language contained in Security Council resolutions reflects that distinction, he continued, adding that it is no longer linked to self-determination but appeals to realism and the spirit of compromise, qualities that the Moroccan autonomy proposal embodies. POLISARIO lacks popular legitimacy and historical validity, he said, noting that true representatives are freely selected in transparent elections endorsed by reports of the Secretary-General and independent observers. Development is an inalienable human right and must not be restricted or subjected to conditions, he emphasized, rejecting POLISARIO’s attempts to keep the region in a state of underdevelopment. Morocco’s public investments in many areas of the region have released its economic potential and created conditions that will benefit the entire African continent, he emphasized. Turning to the Tindouf camps, he called for a census and registration of the population within, as required under international law. In closing, he expressed support for the sovereign claim of the United Arab Emirates over contested islands in the Persian Gulf.
Right of Reply
The representative of United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his country’s Government has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and the surrounding maritime areas. Noting that Argentina refers to diplomatic support for its position, he emphasized that there can be no dialogue on sovereignty until the Territory’s inhabitants wish it, citing the 2013 referendum. Argentina continues to deny that the fundamental human right to self-determination applies to the people of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), he added.
The representative of Argentina said that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas constitute an integral part of its national territory and have been illegally occupied by the United Kingdom. The occupation led to the General Assembly’s adoption of resolutions recognizing the existence of the sovereignty dispute and its urging of the parties to resume negotiations. Moreover, the illegal vote in 2013 represents a unilateral act by the United Kingdom which does not affect Argentina’s legitimate rights, he said, stressing that the sovereignty dispute does not depend on the result of an alleged referendum of British citizens that distorts the principle of self-determination. He pointed out that the interests of the Territory’s inhabitants are adequately preserved by the relevant General Assembly resolutions and by the Constitution of Argentina.
The representative of Iran, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to Morocco’s statements about the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb. He said that his delegation does not recognize any dispute with the United Arab Emirates over those islands, emphasizing that they constitute an integral and inseparable part of Iran’s territory.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates stressed in response to Iran that Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb constitute an integral part of her own country’s territory. The United Arab Emirates rejects Iran’s continued occupation of the islands, she said, underlining its claims to ownership of the islands are null and void. If Iran wishes to prove its goodwill by entering into bilateral consultations, such talks should aim to resolve the situation in accordance with international law, she added.
- 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).