ARAB MAGREB DELEGATION
MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP
français - español
Dear members of the European Union Maghreb Delegation,
A Spanish colony since 1884, Western Sahara was occupied by force in 1975 by Morocco and Mauritania, with the complicity of Great Powers in the amid of indifference, passivity and the silence of the International Community. The regrettable behaviour of the colonising power contributed to this state of affairs. In 1979, Mauritania pulled out of the Conflict, but Morocco continued to impose its military and colonising power over the territory. Today, this conflict is put forth to the reflex ion of the Maghreb Delegation of the European parliament.
Ever since it existed, the conflict in Western Sahara has been a decolonisation conflict, rightly coming under resolution 1514 of the United Nations, as was strongly confirmed to date by all UN resolutions, and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. As for the solution to this decolonisation conflict, it lies in the exercise, by the Saharawi people, of its right to self-determination.
Let us briefly remind you that in 1990/91, after 15 years of war, the United Nations took again the initiative towards a peaceful solution to the conflict by means of the organization of a referendum of self-determination, which would give the Saharawi people the opportunity to choose its destiny in all freedom. It was at that moment that both parties in conflict, the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco, accepted the Peace Plan jointly elaborated by the UN and the OAU- a document which regulated the implementation of a cease-fire on 6 September 1991, and which planned the holding of the referendum for February 1992. It is towards this end, that is, the implementation of the Peace Plan, that the Security Council gave the green light to the MINURSO- the UN mission for the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara.
We must underline that, for the Saharawi people, the humanitarian consequences of this war have been devastating: the illegal occupation of the territory by Morocco triggered the exodus of most of the population into south-western Algeria, while those who stayed behind have been enduring ever since 1975 a most repressive regime of occupation.
Recently, on the occasion of a visit to the refugee camps, several European MEPs were able to form a more concrete opinion of these ordeals. There, they were able to see for themselves the almost inhuman conditions in which the refugees live- conditions worsened by the extreme harshness of an exceptionally hostile desert environment. Yet it there that the Saharawis nevertheless achieved the impossible and took their destiny into their own hands with total dignity. In the occupied territories, the repression
Which accompanied the invasion goes on unabated to this very day, with well known exactions such as arbitrary detentions, forced removals, tortures, and other persecutions which are regularly denounced by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. For all the Saharawis, whether in exile or in the occupied territories, the only solution to this 25 years old conflict lies in the strict implementation of the United Nations Peace Plan.
But what is actually this peace plan?
It consist in a series of measures, all leading from one to the other: first of all, the cease- fire on both sides of the Moroccan military wall which cuts through the entire territory of Western Sahara. Then, the identification of voters, followed by the exchange of prisoners of war, the liberation of all Saharawi political detainees by Morocco, all of this being followed by the declaration of a period of transition by the special Representative of the UN, and finally, the organization of the referendum, preceded by a 3 weeks political campaign.
In 1997, the UN peace plan was completed by the Houston accords, signed under the auspices of Mr James Baker, Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General Mr Kofi Annan, and which reconfirmed the commitment of the 2 parties towards all the points previously mentioned, while it also made explicit the practical means towards their implementation. As the only way towards a peaceful solution in accordance with international legality and the rightful expectations of the Saharawi people, the UN peace plan is therefore irreplaceable.
Since then, the UN tackled this task and dealt with what was considered to be biggest challenge in the countdown to the referendum, that is, the identification of voters.
By early 2000, the MINURSO completed the identification of some 198 thousand candidates to the referendum of self-determination. Started in 1994, this difficult task was the corner stone of the whole process- a work accomplished with determination by the identification commission of the MINURSO. On 16 January 2000, at the end of all these years of hard work, the United Nations published a revisable list of 86 349 voters.
In order to understand the crucial and decisive achievement, which this list represents, one must underline the efforts it took to compile it: since the implementation of the cease-fire, 600 million dollars were spent on the MINURSO. The same period saw the successive efforts of 3 Secretary Generals, 6 special representatives, and one personal envoy in the person of Mr James Baker. As far as international texts are concerned, nothing less than 30 Security Council resolutions, and 10 from the general assembly.
But, you will ask me, why some much efforts and money?
To answer this question, I have to tackle the topic of the recurrent difficulty which has tried and still tries to block the peace plan, that is, Morocco's demand that thousands of its own settlers ands citizens be identified by the MINURSO in order to participate in the referendum and change its outcome. The publication of the voters roll could have put an end to Morocco's obstructionist moves, but no, this was not the case: once more, this country tries to create a deadlock in the implementation of the peace plan by flooding the Identification Commission with tens of thousands of appeals- appeals brought forth by all the Moroccan citizens rejected by the Commission because they did not fit the UN selection criteria. Today, the Commission is facing the overwhelming number of 135 thousand appeals, 95% of which have neither legal basis nor practical justification.
It is clear that this behaviour, which tends to challenge the laborious work often accomplished in difficult conditions by the Identification Commission, treats with utter contempt the considerable efforts and financial means mobilised by the international community to accomplish this task. With this behaviour, Morocco simply ignores the repeated warning expressed in many reports by the Secretary General and the Security Council that the appeal procedure should not be turn into a second process of identification.
Morocco's stumbling blocks do not appear only with respect to the voters roll: the repatriation of the Saharawi refugees provoked more or less the same type of behaviour, in the sense that any progress gives rise to new setbacks. The UN HCR completed the pre- registration of the refugees, with that of their immediate relatives- a task performed in accordance with the peace plan and various Security Council resolutions. Today, there are 107 149 refugees the majority of whom, for security reason, told the UN HCR that they would rather be repatriated in the territories of Western Sahara free of Moroccan occupation.
In this last example too, it is all too clear that Morocco is multiplying the stumbling blocks and delaying moves at all steps of the implementation of the UN peace plan. Its unsaid objective is to sabotage the referendum process, or postpone endlessly its various deadlines.
In this context, we must underline 2 things:
First of all, it is regrettable that the Secretary General and the UN Security Council do not show more determination to bring Morocco to respect its commitments and cooperate loyally with the MINURSO.
More importantly, the perception of the efficiency of the MINURSO is getting distorted: for example, in December 1999, the UN Secretary General made a particularly negative evaluation of the implementation of the peace plan in Western Sahara, which highlighted present and possible future difficulties. As a result, the many progresses of the peace process are diminished in importance when they do not remain in silence. The 3 following reports belong to the same approach. This warped and negative perception of the work of the MINURSO is by and large the product of the unrelenting pressures of one great European nation member of the UN Security Council, France, not to name it. The purpose of these pressures is to have the present process be deviated by imposing a solution exterior to the framework of the peace plan to the conflict in Western Sahara- a solution motivated by the increasing certainty that Morocco will loose a free and transparent referendum.
Let us be absolutely clear on all of this: there is no acceptable option for the Saharawi people other than the holding of a referendum of Self-determination, the organization of which is the sole "raison d'être" of the MINURSO. There is no way that the Saharawi people will ever abdicate their right to the holding of a referendum which in itself constitutes the natural expression of an oppressed people when it chooses its freedom and dignity.
As it happens, on 3october e UN general assembly solemnly reconfirmed the validity of the peace plan while drawing the boundaries of the mission of the Secretary General and that of its personal envoy, which consist in pursuing their efforts towards the organization of a free, fair, and transparent referendum of self-determination.
One must underline that this resolution comes after repeated examples of Morocco's bad faith with the failure of several meetings, which aimed at finding the means to overcome several practical problems in the implementation of the peace plan. Thus in July in Geneva, Morocco categorically rejected all UN propositions dealing with the means to handle the stumbling blocks which prevent the implementation of the referendum, more particularly on the issues of appeals and measures of confidence.
At the end of September in Berlin, Morocco did it once again when it refused to discuss any question relative to the referendum, and this, inspire of the efforts of the mediator Mr James Baker and the obvious readiness of the Polisario Front. Rather than entering into constructive discussions, Morocco preferred to express its abandonment of the peace plan, as it deviated the discussions on the legitimacy of the "fait accompli" of its colonial presence in Western Sahara.
In front the lack of political will of Morocco, in front the underhanded manoeuvres of those who support this attitude, it is important to remind everybody of the Polisario Front's position, namely, that any abandonment of the peace plan can only be interpreted as a breach of the cease-fire which started in 1991, and that this will put an end to the presence of the MINURSO in Western Sahara.
Therefore today, we are facing very painful decisions, which are also a matter of concern for the European Union.
I am addressing the members of the Maghreb delegation, and beyond them, the European MEPs, to ask the European Union, interested in the other regions of the world, may take a fuller responsibility towards the respect of international legality, such as it is represented by the UN peace plan and the referendum. In fact, the European parliament already expressed its commitment on the occasion of its resolution dated March 2000.
But some crucial points must be briefly mentioned now as far as the importance of the responsibility of Europe is concerned:
First of all, some European countries continue to encourage Morocco to maintain an attitude, which turns its back to international legality and may compromise the balance of the whole region.
Yet the European Union has at its disposal all the political means necessary to convince Morocco to change its attitude and obtain its cooperation in order to insure the implementation of the UN peace plan- all the more so that Europe is part of the MINURSO.
What's more, the European Union is the provider of all types of aides to Morocco, and there are many voices that say that if Morocco persists in its intransigent and resentful attitude, it is because it enjoys the passive complicity of Europe on the question of Western Sahara.
Yet the European Union demands a partnership between its region and the Mediterranean world, must specifically the Magreb region.
How can this partnership exist without the advent of a Maghreb region where the Sahara people, one of its component, would finally have the respected and recognised place it rightfully deserves, a stable, united, and reconciled Maher region which would banish all denial, ware, and exclusion? And how can this stability exist without a just and lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara, in accordance with international legality? The European MPs should rather be well aware of this: no stable or united Maghreb will ever rise on the ruins of Western Sahara.
To work towards a just and lasting peace in Western Sahara is to work towards the peace and stability of the whole region, as well as for its social and economic development.
Now, what can the Maghreb delegation of the European Parliament when faced with the present deterioration of the situation in Western Sahara and the risks of degeneration of the conflict?
First of all, the time has come for the Maghreb Delegation to take action and concretise the visit of an official delegation of the parliament so that it may talk with both parties, that is, the Polisario Front and Morocco, and gain a direct knowledge of the reality shared by the refugee camps, and the territories occupied by Morocco. As far as this last point is concerned, only a visit on the ground will allow the European parliament to see for itself the reality of the occupation and repression exerted by Morocco and the urgent need to bring at last some help and protection to the Saharawi people who live in the occupied territories.
I therefore send an urgent appeal to the European MEPs so that the question of Western Sahara be placed at the centre of their preoccupations: they must realise that the return to peace or the rise of tensions, uncontrolled events, and resumption of hostilities with Morocco, with all their devastating consequences for the Maghreb and backfiring problems for Europe, now largely depend on the attitude of the European Union towards this whole issue.