New York, September 27th 2000
Distinguished Delegates and Representatives of States belonging to the United Nations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish first of all to express our gratitude for the opportunity we have been given to intervene at this session on behalf of some international NGOs engaged in humanitarian activities in support of Sahrawi Refugees living in Algeria.
The subject of our statement is the situation of Western Sahara, which is, as all of you know, exactly related to the wider issue of the de-colonisation. We would like to reiterate here the need, for the UN System as a whole, to speed up its support to a durable and fair solution of the Western Sahara case.
The organisations that here I represent are actively engaged in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Saharawi refugees from the very beginning of the conflict. As humanitarian organisations we believe that our task cannot absolutely substitute the political commitment of the international community. In other words, while for the time being the support to the refugees has to continue in the absence of other possibilities of survival for the civil population, on the other side the international community has to continue to look for a stable solution able to guarantee to the Sahrawi people a life outside the borders of refugee camps.
We strongly believe that the first priority is to continue to approach the question of Western Sahara as an issue of de-colonisation, which implies the involvement of the UN system. The rationale of this priority lies on the need to safeguard the humanitarian rights of the population. In Western Sahara as in other areas of conflict the involvement of international neutral actors is the only guarantee that local communities can trust.
The UN General Assembly, the Security Council, the Fourth Commission and the other relevant bodies of the UN System are the only means to guarantee to the political process of Western Sahara the required neutrality, credibility and, hopefully, success.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we might here mention hundreds of names of young women and men who were born in the refugee camps and have there spent all their life. The reason why, after 25 years, these people keep on staying in the camps is very simple: they have actually no other choice. In no other place they could feel safe. We can witness that they have no other wish higher than that of starting a new life in a free place, in their place, in their country. In other words they have chosen to sacrifice their life now in the perspective of a future durable freedom. I think that we have to work for these people at the best of our capacity.
We have never to forget that the Sahrawi refugees are living since 1975 in a totally desert area without any possible access to productive assets and resources. Even in these circumstances, the Sahrawi have done their best to reduce as much as possible the dependency from outside, organising a network of local services and institutions in support of the civil population. Of course, despite all these efforts, the dependency from outside aid is very high. How could it be avoided in a situation where agriculture, livestock and other productive activities cannot be significantly developed? Notwithstanding such limits, both assistance and development should be provided.
We are working in the framework of the European Union and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees plans in order to provide to the refugees with the basic needs &endash; starting from the food &endash; and to assess and monitor, in a scientifically oriented way, the health and nutritional status of the population.Our data indicate that women and children are the most significant vulnerable groups. That is why special programmes are being implemented in their support. For instance, we are implementing a UNHCR project against the anaemia of women in fertile age. Data of 1997 show that the prevalence of anaemia among women belonging to the age group 18-45 is above the 60%.
With regard to the children nutritional and health status, data from the same year indicated a chronic malnutrition for the age group 0-59 months of 46.4%. These data are regularly updated and all the humanitarian projects, starting from the definition of appropriate food basket, are built upon these information.
Although NGOs, UN agencies, donors like the European Union are doing their best in order to improve the conditions of life of the Sahrawi refugees, the reality is that these refugees are at risk.
The reason why we have mentioned these few data is to make clear from which point of view humanitarian organisation appeal the UN System for a new, strong initiative in support to a fair solution to the Western Sahara case.
We fully support the strategy endorsed by the UN from the very beginning of the decolonisation process of former Spanish Sahara. This strategy has been always based on the principles of self determination and the right of the peoples to decide on their own future. Without here giving account of all the historical process from the Spanish times to our days, we can simply remind the Resolution number 2072 (XX) of the UN general Assembly of 1965, the Resolution number 2229 (XXI) of 1966, the Resolution number 2711 (XXVII) of 1972 and the Resolution number 3162 (XXVIII) of 1973. The International Justice Court in 1974 gave its favourable opinion to the Resolution number 3292 (XXIX) of 1974. Again the principle of self determination of the Sahrawi people was confirmed and officially proclaimed.
Ladies and Gentlemen we strongly believe that the historical issue of Western Sahara requires now a new attention and commitment based on the very same principles that have always leaded the UN System so far. Humanitarian, political and juridical reasons support this request. Coherence, neutrality and firmness of international actors are essential elements to assert again the credibility of the UN and to achieve long term results for the negotiations on the referendum and peace
Finally we would like to encourage the UN System to continue its commitment towards:
1. A stable an fair solution to this case of decolonisation through the implementation of the UN decisions and resolutions;
2. A fair implementation of the peace process and the removal of the obstacle that have hampered the Referendum with the support of the UN member States;
3. A wide and strong humanitarian attention in order to safeguard the life and the dignity of the Sahrawi refugees.
On our side we will continue to be at disposal of the international community in order to facilitate the translation of the said priorities into reality.
Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli, CISP (Italy); Medico International (Germany), Solidaridad Internacional (Spain); Movimiento por la Paz, el Desarme y la Libertad, MPDL (Spain); Paz y Tercer Mundo (Spain); Caritas (Belgium); Oxfam (Belgium).