Mr. Alexander Downer

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Fax:02. 62734112


24 June 2001

Dear Mr Downer

Re: Report to UN Security Council on Western Sahara

I'm writing to draw your attention to the most recent alarming developments in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. In his latest report to the Security Council of 21 June 2001, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan advocates abandoning the existing UN Settlement Plan in favour of limited autonomy for the Saharawi people. This is a complete reversal of its position on the Western Sahara where the UN has spent 10 years and millions of dollars preparing the territory for a referendum on self-determination.

As you are aware the central plank of the UN-brokered Peace Plan that brought an end to the 16-year war between Morocco and the Polisario Front was the referendum. It was agreed to by both Morocco and the Polisario, who represent the indigenous people of the Western Sahara. The referendum is consistent with international law which protects the rights of the Saharawi people to determine their own future. It is consistent with UN conventions where such rights are further enshrined and which Australia is a party to. The Saharawis' inalienable right to self-determination was confirmed by the verdict of the International Court of Justice in 1975 and has been recognised by UN resolution after UN resolution.

It is these very rights however, that seem to count for nothing as the UN's Special Envoy, James Baker, bows to pressure from Morocco for a pseudo "political solution" and recommends that the UN walks away from its responsibilities, thus legitimising Morocco's colonisation of the territory of Western Sahara and its people. The UN's 10-year mission in the territory, the millions of dollars spent and the assurances of successive UN Secretary-Generals to the Saharawi people languishing in refugee camps regarding a free and fair referendum, are seen as farcical.

The Australian Government played a leading role in securing the support of the international community for the indigenous people of East Timor to be allowed to exercise their vote in a referendum on self-determination. This followed graphic footage in the media of violent and brutal oppression of the East Timorese by occupying Indonesian forces. Although organisations such as Amnesty International have compiled documentation of similar campaigns of ethnic cleansing of Saharawis by Morocco within its occupied territory, and indeed the UN itself has reported myriad incidents of Moroccan human rights abuses, there has so far not been any film footage of such incidents. The international community has subsequently been able to put out of its mind the Saharawi people's suffering for 25 long years.

A report by Andrew Meares in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers today raised the fact that Polisario Representatives had not to date been granted a meeting with you. This is despite the fact that many other similar movements had been granted the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting. The Western Sahara Alliance, whilst recognising the substantial demands on your time, requests that you meet with Polisario's Representatives to discuss the urgent issue of the Western Sahara as soon as possible.

We also request that you convey to the UN Australia's dismay at the recommendation of Special Envoy Baker to abandon the referendum in Western Sahara and leave the Saharawi people to be illegally occupied by a country ruled by an undemocratic regime. The Polisario has said that if citizens of the international community such as Australia allow the UN to betray its stated promises, then it has no choice but to resume its military activities. Will the Saharawi people have to go to war before Australia will help?

Yours sincerely

Stephanie Brennan

Convenor &endash; Western Sahara Alliance

The Western Sahara Alliance comprises activists from trade unions, human rights, refugee and student groups and is committed to supporting the struggle of the Saharawi people for independence. Correspondence can be addressed to 73 Day St Leichhardt 2040 or email the Convenor Stephanie.Brennan@fsunion.org.au (phone 61 2 9320 0042 or mobile 0411 239934)

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