Congress of the United States

House of Representatives

Committee on Appropriations

Washington, DC 20515-6015


January 25, l995
2:00 P.M.
2360 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittee on the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies

Witness List


before the Subcommittee on the Departments of Commerce, Justice, State an the Judiciary and Related Agencies

I am honored to be invited here today among such distinguished company. I will speak briefly about the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) where I spent most of last year.

People who know a lot more than I do have written books on the history and politics of Western Sahara. Let me just note that Western Sahara is the former Spanish Sahara. MINURSO was created in September, 1991

  1. to monitor a cease-fire in the war which had been raging between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio Oro, better known as the POLISARIO, since the Spanish withdrew from the area and
  2. to conduct a referendum on the future of the area.
The referendum, originally supposed to take place in 1992, is meant to decide whether Western Sahara would become an independent state or a part of Morocco. The next-to-the-latest referendum date was February 14, 1995, and even His Majesty, King Hassan II of Morocco, just last November that he was 100% certain it would take place on that date. The referendum has since been pushed back to some time in November 1995. As of this writing, the referendum business in Western Sahara is stalled yet again, at a cost of $100,000 a day by MINURSO's own estimates.

A first step in a referendum is taking applications from the would-be voters: that should have meant bringing people in to U.N. offices and having them anwer set questions, in writing, in order to establish their eligibility to vote.

At some point in 1993, MINURSO had decided not to take applications itself but to delegate this crucial task to the parties: The Moroccans registered their people in their own centers in Western Sahara, and the POLISARIO did the same in Southern Algeria. MINURSO merely received whatever registration information the parties chose to provide. That proved to be a very unwise decision.

Our own (Identification Commission) Arabic speakers came to me to report that Sahrawis coming in for what is called identification were complaining to them (in Hassania, the local Arabic dialect) that members of their families and friends had fiIIed out applications at the Moroccan-run centers but did not not appear on the Iist of people to be identified and hence were disenfranchised. Others complained that relatives and friends were on the list to be identified, but the Moroccans refused to put them on the van. (A word of explanation. Only those Iocal people who are cleared by the Moroccans are permitted to enter the MINURSO Identification center or the U.N. offices at all, for that matter. The police keep everyone else away. People coming to be identified on a given day can't just walk in. They are rounded up by the Moroccans at some central point and sent by van to the MlNURSO identification center.) In this way, the Moroccans control who gets identified. That's just not the way it's supposed to be, and that's not the kind of process the U.N. is supposed to be funding. All of this was reportel within channels at MINURSO. It was never taken up with the Moroccans so far as I know, and for certain U.N. Headquarters in New York was never informed.

This is the same reason, by the way, we were unsuccessful in inviting Sahrawis to fill out voter application at our centers. Nobody was allowed anywhere near us without Moroccan Government approval.

0ne other observation: Some Sahrawis who reported what the Moroccans were doing to them asked that our U.N. people keep an eye out for them after they left, in case they disappeared. Many said they were scared for their lives if the Moroccans saw them talking to U.N. people. Others asked not to be recognized outside the U.N. center. Terrorized may be too strong a word, but they were afraid. Their comments reminded me of nothing so much as South Africa in the early 70's when blacks would talk to you freely in the safety of the U.S. embassy then pretend they didn't know you as soon as they left.

I should note here that when I say Moroccans I am referring to the Ministry of Interior people who ran the show in Western Sahara. It is hard to believe, and I personally don't believe, that a statesman like King Hassan II knew, let alone authorized, the Mafia-like behavior exhibited by his representatives.

After registration, the next step is to see if the people who applied are qualified to vote. To do this, a part of MINURSO called the Identification Commission, conducts hearings and makes findings, like a court. This is the process that is continuously, and currently, stalled in MINURSO.

There are 233,000 people aIready applying to vote, and they all have to go before the Identification Conmission at some point to be identified. If you add another 10%, a reasonable estimate by all accounts, to cover other eligible voters living in remorte parts of Algeria, Mauritania or in The Canaries, Spain or France, the number rises to over 250,000. It takes 7 minutes in the most routine cases to identify someone, and, as of December, 1994, MINURSO identification centers were averaging somewhere around 400 or so persons total a day. That's not much of a bite out of 250,000. The process, through no fault of the Identification Commission staff who work very hard, is moving at a snail's pace. Even in the most optimistic of scenarios, where the problems are simply technical and logistical, and the identification teams are increased ten-fold, the sheer weight of numbers makes it vlrtually impossible for the process to be completed in time for a November, 1995 referendum. When, however, there is added to the mix a conscious effort to obstruct the process, as is the case right now, the November, 1995 date becomes quixotic.

So-called Morocco experts tell me that Morocco doesn't want the referendum because the risks outweighany possible gains. The status quo is not so bad. On the other hand, Morocco cannot afford to appear to be the villain of the piece and will find the means to slow the process down until everyone is sick of it. I will leave Morocco's motives and strategies to the experts of which I am definitely not one. I merely note that in December of last year, Morocco halted the identification process for over a week, at a cost, once again of $100'000 a day on the question of an adverb used in a schedule proposed by MINURSO. This resulted in an exchange of formal letters and a good deal of sophomoric quibbling. If Morocco had been interested in clarifying the matter, as opposed to simply delaying the process, it seemed to me it could have been done so in two minutes in a phone call or meeting with the native-French speaker, a former Togolese ambassador, who drafted the letter.

In the same month, the Moroccan liaison officer with MINURSO bragged publicly to a group of MINURSO people in a bar, that he alone was the one to decide whether identification would go forward the next day (it was then scheduled to resume), and to prove his point he picked up the phone (it was then about midnight), and, in front of everyone, cancelled the next week's identification sessions.

These are not the actions of people serious about getting the referendum on track or saving the U.N. money. These demagogic actions should have been, but were never, reported to U.N. New York.

The identification process was supposed to begin on June 15, 1994, but the start was delayed two and a half months, at a cost of millions of dollars, while the U.N., the POLISARIO and Morocco negociated over what to call the O.A.U. representatives who were to come to observe the identification. The Moroccans had walked out of the O.A.U. years ago when it recognized the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic created by the POLISARIO and now said they didn't want O.A.U. people in Western Sahara. The POLISARIO insisted the O.A.U. representatives were part of the referendum process and had to be there. In the end a compromise about what they were to be called was reached, and they were permitted to enter. The irony is that this had all been worked out in 1993, and there was no need, as far as any of us could see, except delay for the sake of delay, to reinvent the wheel in 1994.

Each person who appears before the Identification Commission gets a receipt, and when the findingsare made public, the persons who are found eligible to vote turn those receipts in for a voter's card. What was happening in Laayoune is that Sahrawis returning from the identification centers on those same vans I was talking about were being forced to turn in their receipts to the Moroccans before thex can leave the vans. This opens up the very real possibility that the wrong people may be presenting receipts and getting voter cards. This is a very serious problem, indeed, and was reported within channels at MINURSO. U.N. New York was never informed.

The identification process began in earnest on August 28, 1994, simultaneously in Western Sahara and Southern Algeria. One can say that surely, as of this date, MINURSO ceased to be a U.N.-run operation and became the instrument for Morocco's domination of the identification process.

You need government permission to buy space on Moroccan media, and Morocco had always denied MINURSO permission to buy space in the Moroccan newspapers or radio to alert people to register to vote and participate in the identification process. That was small potatoes compared to what was to come after August 28. Harold Macmillan once referred to how the Borgia brothers would take over a Northern Italian town. Watching the Moroccans at work, I thought of that description.

On August 27, the evening before the process began in Laayoune, the Moroccanš Liaison with MINURSO upbraided the chief-of-Mission in a public dining room before Moroccans and MINURSO staff and directed him to remove all U.N. flags from the U.N. building where the identification was to take place, or he would close down the identification. Unfortunately, the Chief-of-Mission gave in and even the U.N. flag in the room where the opening ceremony was to take place was removed. This shameful event was probably too embarrassing to report to U.N. Headquarters in New York. In any event, it never was.

During the days of the opening sessions in Laayoune, Moroccan "journalists" photographed and videotaped every minute of every day and took the picture of each Sahrawi who came to be identified. These "journalists" were, as our press people and the head of our police observers (CIVPOL) noted Moroccan state security people. The proof was that not one second of these hours of television coverage ever appeared on Moroccan television. This flagrant abuse of press coverage was never reported to U.N. New York.

A few weeks later, telephone taps were found on local and all international lines at MINURSO headquarters. The taps went to a local Moroccan line. This was hushed up. There was no investigation, but the person most likely to have installed the taps was transferred immediately. Mail had regularly been tampered with, and rooms of MINURSO personnel were regularly searched, but this was a new wrinkle. Big brother was now listening to, as well as, watching us, and U.N. New York was never informed.

In the following weeks, Morocco dictated even our work and flight schedules. When the Moroccan observers chose to be in Western Sahara, we worked. The Moroccans also insisted that U.N. planes fly empty, and at great expense, from Laayoune where the planes are based, across the desert to the POLISARIO camps at Tindouf in order to demonstrate their control of the process. This inexcusable waste of flying hours and fuel was never reported to New York. Interestingly enough, and this is a good example of how the U.N. works, once criticism of this practice became public, MINURSO continued the flights, but stuck a few military observers on for effect, so no one could say they're dead-heading.

On another occasion, Morocco announced that a MINURSO staff member was barred from returning to Western Sahara for inflammatory and provocative remarks he had made while conducting an identification session in Southern Algeria. Fortunately, there was a video and audio tape of his remarks, and they shown to be perfectly harmless. The Moroccan note protesting his remarks, which were not prepared or available before he made them, was handed to the senior MINURSO representative before the remarks were even made. This was a clear case of harrassment, but, under Moroccan pressure, the Chief-of-Mission relieved the individual of his duties. The incident was not reported to U.N. New York until a month later when I decided I had to. Once Morocco's action became public, he was allowed to return to Western Sahara.

In Laayoune, the Moroccans continue to treat the U.N. identification facilities as their own, running groups of visiting firemen in whenever they like and keeping the facilities open, if that's what it takes, to accomodate late arrivals. It's not a question of if; it's a question of when. On one occasion, when the Moroccan liaison with MINURSO arrived at the identification center, he was furious to find he had to wait a few moments for the gate to be unlocked so he could enter what he called "chez moi", my place. And that is how the Moroccans have been permitted, through MINURSO timidity, to think of the U.N. facilities in Laayoune.

Ambassador Albright was gracious enough to invite me to New York to give her my assessment of MINURSO, and I have done so. I have also been asked to give my observations on any procurement irregularities at MINURSO to a member of her staff, and I shall. I was not at all surprised to hear Ambassador Albright say that the problems of MINURSO are not political but management issues which cut across party lines. In these hard times, it is not enough that the U.N. try to do the right thing. There's just not enough money to go around for that. The U.N. must, as the ambassador said in a Baltimore Sun article last summer, "emphasize results".

I read the transcript of the Secretary-General's private meetings when he was in Western Sahara and Algeria last November, and I had the honour to escort him around MINURSO. He pulled no punches. He was well aware of the fiscal responsibility this Congress will demonstrate (what he called "une nouvelle attitude négative chez les Américains", a new negative American attitude), and he spoke of tough love. There is just too much for the U.N. to do to waste its times with parties which lack the will to work to resolve their differences. Ironically, as he spoke, the process in Western Sahara was once again broken down and would become even worse after he left.

Many people I respect in MINURSO, people from the Middle East and the Maghreb and old Arab-hands, tell me the Moroccan influence in MINURSO is too far ingrained to be excised. MINURSO, they say, as a credible institution, is not salvageable. I don't believe that has to be the case. True, both the Moroccans in Western Sahara and MINURSO are out-of-control right now. I think if Rabat and the palace is shown first hand what has been carried out by the thugs in its name, it will make the necessary changes. As it is now, it is, to quote Voltaire, worse than a crime; it is a mistake, and His Majesty, King Hassan II, doesn't make many mistakes. The United Nations does not have within its ineffective bureaucracy the initiative to cure the management problems at MINURSO, but that same "nouvelle attitude négative chez les Américains" that Boutros-Ghali talked about can work wonders in making the U.N. to take a hard look at MINURSO and its management which is accountable to no one and operates on a plantation mentality. A good management team could clean that place out and reestablish MINURSO's credibility within the Security Council and throughout the international community.

Thank you very much.

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