Mr Mhamed Khadad
MINURSO Coordinator, POLISARIO Front
Sahara: from stalemate to statehood”
Ladies and gentlemen
I am deeply grateful to the South African Department of Foreign Affairs
and the University of Pretoria for hosting this international
conference. I want to extend on this occasion my sincere thanks
and gratitude to the people of South Africa and its government for
their dedication to peace, stability and freedom across the African
continent. The Frente POLISARIO and the Saharawi people have
always enjoyed the support and solidarity of the South African.
We are eternally grateful for this support, which has sustained us in
the past and continues to do so today. We can achieve little
without the fortitude of our friends and allies.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The Charter of the United Nations represents a social pact that
underpins relations between states and the basic tenants for human
interaction based on commonly accepted legal and moral
principles. This does not include the law of the jungle.
The UN’s multilateralism was aimed at creating an international
democratic order in which all states start from a level playing
field. Decolonization was the promise of the United Nations
Charter and was born out of the legitimate struggle of colonies to
exercise their right to self-determination Any analysis of Western
Sahara must start from this basic premise.
Thirty-three years have now passed since the invasion of my country by
Morocco. It is worth dwelling for a moment on that time
span. Thirty-three years of occupation and dispossession.
Thirty-three years in which the international community has had more
pressing concerns. Thirty-three years of oppression and the systematic
abuse of the human rights of my people inside their territory.
And thirty-three years of displacement for the refugees driven from
their homeland, left to dwell in camps in the desert, longing for their
Those thirty-three years speak clearly to all of us here today.
For the Sahrawi, multilateralism and international law have so far
produced very little. We remain oppressed and dispossessed, and
Morocco remains unchallenged in its illegal occupation of the territory
of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa.
Since the International Court of Justice pronounced its emphatic views
on the subject in 1975, there have been scores of UN resolutions – in
both the Security Council and the General Assembly – reiterating the
right of the Saharawi to a process of self-determination. But to
this day, our people have been signally unable to exercise that
right. As recognized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights in its 2006 report, all human rights abuses in the
territory flow directly from the denial of one fundamental right - the
right to self-determination.
After sixteen years of war, the UN mission for the referendum in
Western Sahara – MINURSO – was deployed in 1991, to monitor and carry
out the exercise of that right. Despite its long history in the
territory, MINURSO has barely begun that task, let alone complete
it. Morocco, with the complicity of certain members of the
Security Council, has succeeded in serially obstructing its work for
more than 17 years. And despite this abject failure, the Security
Council continues to renew the mission’s mandate, doing nothing to
challenge or circumvent Morocco’s blocking tactics. MINURSO is a
living embodiment of the UN’s failure to enact its own decisions.
What is the right way forward? It is tempting to lose hope in
international law, lose hope in multilateralism, and lose hope that a
peaceful resolution is possible. It begs the question: should the
Polisario return to battle to dislodge the occupier from our
land? There is indeed considerable frustration both inside the
territory and in the refugee camps that the international community has
manifestly failed its own standards, its own laws, in its feeble
approach to the Western Sahara. And despite this neglect, we have
been steadfast in our resolve to honor our side of the ceasefire agreed
in 1991, waiting for the international community to deliver. We
have very little to show for our patience. And patience has its
Against this backdrop, I will now lay out simply the key themes for the
Polisario’s political and diplomatic strategy going forward, all with a
view to ending the occupation, and at last liberating our people and
our land. In other words, this is the current blueprint for our
journey from “stalemate to statehood”.
Theme 1: the United Nations
During the lifetime of the United Nations, over 80 colonies have
attained their independence. But the so-called UN process of
decolonization has in our case been an empty one. The Polisario
would welcome a peaceful and mutually agreeable fulfillment of the
international community’s responsibility. But following the involvement
of more than ten special representatives and personal envoys, three
unfulfilled peace plans, more than one billion dollars in MINURSO
budgets and dozens of UN resolutions, the Saharawi people continue to
wait patiently for a democratic and legitimate outcome. The
status quo cannot continue indefinitely.
Following four rounds of the Manhasset talks, we wait again for the
appointment of a new Personal Envoy, charged with resuming talks by
mandate of the Security Council. We are very concerned at reports
of ongoing Moroccan efforts to delay the appointment of the
Secretary-General’s chosen candidate, Ambassador Christopher Ross, and
to somehow insist that Ross pick up where his predecessor, Peter Van
Walsum, left off. The new Personal Envoy must be free to
discharge his work, operating according to his mandate from the
Secretary-General and the Security Council, and without interference
from either party. The Secretary-General must confirm the
appointment without further delay.
The Polisario was happy to work with Peter van Walsum. But his
personal, and final, statement to the UN Security Council earlier this
year, was frankly unacceptable. He overstepped his role as a
mediator in the negotiations. Van Walsum in essence argued that
the only “realistic” solution to the dispute was for the Polisario to
accept the Moroccan colonial fait accompli, and to exclude the option
of a free and open process of self-determination with the possibility
There are several reasons why this statement was unacceptable: first,
it is not for the UN to say which part of international law it chooses
to ignore - if the UN sides with an illegal occupier, there is no hope
for the dispossessed, the occupied, worldwide; second, Van Walsum’s
statement completely disregarded the very reasonable proposal for a
solution put forward by the Polisario on 10 April 2007; and third, Van
Walsum’s statement was itself unrealistic. There will be no
solution which does not in some way reflect the legal requirement for
decolonization, and one that allows the people of Western Sahara to
exercise their fundamental right to self-determination. Morocco’s
“autonomy” plan claims to fulfill this right by offering a vote on that
autonomy. But to rightfully reflect the free expression and will
of the people, the process cannot be predetermined nor
circumscribed. It must leave all options on the table, including
the option for
our people to choose the establishment of an independent state.
Of all the world’s institutions, the UN must reflect this basic legal
reality. This reality has been reflected in the language of every
single Security Council resolution since the invasion, through to this
day. It is a reality well understood by previous Personal Envoy,
James Baker, and one which Christopher Ross will need to accommodate
and ultimately reflect in his work, once appointed. To this end,
he will enjoy our full cooperation.
We do not want nor expect our own fait accompli, just respect for
international law. We are ready to discuss with Morocco and the
international community, as reflected in our proposal of 10 April 2007,
the nature and contours of a future Western Saharan state within its
internationally recognized borders. We are ready to accommodate
in some way the security needs of others and to address and respect the
rights of all those who now live in the Western Sahara, including
Moroccans. A Saharawi state would be cognizant of the concerns of
our neighbours further to the north, including migration, people and
drug smuggling, the sustainable development of natural resources and
the ever-present scourge of terrorism. We are ready to discuss
how our state can properly address these issues. We stand ready
to cooperate. What more could be expected of us? This is our firm
Theme 2: Natural resources
The second element or pillar of our campaign is to end the illegal
exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources. It is clear
to all observers that Morocco’s theft of our natural endowments is an
important driver of its ongoing illegal occupation. And the
knowing customers for these illegal exports are equally at fault.
On most estimates, Morocco’s exploitation of Western Saharan phosphates
alone earns it at least $2 billion per year in illegal income, and
likely much more. And to its considerable discredit, the EU pays
Morocco tens of millions of dollars a year to allow European vessels to
pillage the world-class fisheries resources that rightfully belong to
the people of the Western Sahara. As confirmed in 2002 by then-UN
Legal Counsel Mr Hans Corell, the exploitation of these resources, in
flagrant disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western
Sahara, is in clear violation of international law.
These illegal activities must be curtailed and terminated, and has
become a focus for our political strategy and decision-making.
The Polisario is considering - with its partners and allies - what
steps it can take legally and diplomatically to combat this theft of
property. All options are on the table.
We call upon all states to ensure that their companies do not
collaborate with Morocco in this illegal behaviour. We call upon
the EU to exclude Western Saharan waters from the scope of its
fisheries arrangements with Morocco, and to do the same in respect of
any agreement that flows from Morocco’s pursuit of enhanced status with
the EU. It is bizarre and unconscionable that the EU, which
prides itself on its commitment to human rights and international law,
should collaborate in, and benefit from, the theft of Western Sahara’s
resources. The Saharawi Government will not allow this to
Theme 3: Human Rights
The third pillar of our campaign is to draw attention to Morocco’s
continuing and systematic abuse of Saharawi human rights. Today,
this year and for thirty-three years of occupation, Morocco has
repressed the Saharawi people. It imprisons Saharawis illegally;
it denies them proper trial. Saharawis in the territory are
regularly arrested without cause, beaten and sometimes tortured.
Some have died. And Morocco has still failed to account for the
more than 500 Saharawi prisoners who have disappeared following arrest
by Moroccan authorities.
This record of abuse has been documented by several international human
rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch. Francesco Bastagli, the former head of MINURSO, testified
bravely and honestly to the General Assembly Fourth Committee this year
that the UN has failed to protect the Saharawi people in their homeland.
Only once in thirty-three years of occupation – in 2006 – did the UN
send a mission by its human rights officials. The as-yet
unreleased report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights recommended clearly that the UN should institute regular
monitoring of human rights in the territory and the camps, a
recommendation which we in the Polisario are happy to
accommodate. But this recommendation, now over two years’ old,
has not been implemented by the UN. No other UN peacekeeping
mission operates without this indispensible requirement. There is
no reason why MINURSO should be the lone exception to the rule.
Ladies and gentlemen
I have described for you today the tapestry of the long Saharawi
struggle – the journey from stalemate to statehood. The common
thread for this journey has, and will always be, the inalienable right
to self-determination. To those who would bet on our resolve
weakening, it will not. Thirty-three years of determination and
suffering are not enough? Backed by international law, full
membership of the African Union, and a growing number of friends a
cross the world, we stand ready to take our rightful place among the
community of nations. We are ready to assume the mantle of statehood
Our struggle is symbolic of a broader theme, which our hosts here in
South Africa know as well as anyone – the struggle for liberation and
the end to colonialism. We are inspired by South Africa’s victory
in this struggle, and we are heartened by its solidarity with us as we
walk our own ‘road to freedom’. South Africa’s strong support,
and its special influence in the Security Council over the last two
years, has meant a world of difference for the Sahrawi people. Isn’t it
high time for Africa to have a permanent seat in the Security Council?
Our struggle is not one of choice. Self-determination is a
fundamental human right, a peremptory norm of international law, and a
sine qua non for resolving the dispute over Western Sahara.
Without a free and fair referendum, there can be no way forward.
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