Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Approximately one year ago, there was a decidedly different aura surrounding the peace process for the Western Sahara. The Secretary-General's newly appointed Personal Envoy, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, concluded that according to the desires of the parties the solution to the question of the Western Sahara still lay within a free and fair referendum. Remedying the fundamental flaw of the pre-1997 meetings, the first open and direct negotiations were held in Lisbon, London and finally in Houston to reach agreement on the disputed elements of the implementation plan. Among the first issues resolved was that of the contested tribes: both parties agreed not to present any member of these tribes to the identification commission, aside from those on the 1974 census.
The United Nations Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been initially deployed in 1991 to the territory without the formal acceptance of both parties to a peace agreement, and thus was unable to develop beyond its cease-fire monitoring role and assume the 'second generation' activities authorized under its mandate. Furthermore, as reported by Human Rights Watch, the inability of the operation to act in an autonomous manner strengthened the impression that the MINURSO presence in Laayoune was effectively being held hostage by the Moroccan authorities.
For a short time, MINURSO appeared to have been resurrected from mismanagement and paralytic stalemate. The operation would finally begin to execute the tasks originally envisioned, ranging from the demobilization and cantonment of both forces to the implementation of the codes of conduct for the election. Resources were mobilized and plans were prepared under the impression that the UN would assume transitional authority over the territory on 7 June and that the referendum would occur in December 1998.
The core weaknesses within MINURSO's mandate, force structure, and timetable still remained. For an operation mandated to supervise the governance of a territory and the demobilization and cantonment of approximately 200,000 troops, the mandated deployment of 2,800 civilian and military personnel is woefully inadequate. Neither the Military Observers nor the Civilian Police (CIVPOL) are in a position to directly ensure conditions of security, but have only been provided a monitoring role. The Moroccan authorities are the only functioning security agents; a situation directly hampering the decision by the refugees to return. Furthermore, MINURSO has suffered particularly from unrealistic timelines dictated by external political considerations and not internal reality. For example, Moroccan forces are to be reduced from nearly 120,000 to 65,000 in only three months. Although the mandate may be renewed following the referendum, MINURSO is slated to completely withdraw one month later in the midst of a potentially violent political environment.
These renewed hopes following Houston proved futile and transparent. Small obstructions betrayed the larger dysfunction. Diplomats and foreign correspondents were once again banned from MINURSO flights to Laayoune; the armaments and communications equipment for both the Pakistani and Swedish demining contingents were withheld by the Moroccan government; and accusations of disappearances escalated throughout the summer. In the end, the 7 June D-Day passed unheralded and the paralysis continued. Implementation has yet to extend beyond the identification process and continues to be mired in its pre-D-Day status.
After a summer of dashed hopes and continued frustration, it became clear that the resumption of high level direct negotiations(now slated for late October in Lisbon( would be required to put the process back on track. Yet this exposes another flaw in the negotiation process, the fact that the parties do not continue to meet away from the bargaining table. Thus, because a mechanism has not been created for the ground level resolution of disagreements, problem-solving is either separately addressed with the UN(with limited success( or allowed to intensify until high level negotiations once again become an acute necessity.
Before this committee, Jarat Chopra of the Watson Institute at Brown University has repeatedly advocated the necessity of creating a Joint-Monitoring Cell for the Western Sahara, which would directly involve the associated regional and international powers in order to monitor compliance and symbolize the continued attention of the international community. The absence of both of these institutions reveals a negotiation process that has become reactive rather than preemptive.
Given the weaknesses of both the negotiation process and the peacekeeping force, it is necessary to evaluate their implications for the return of the Sahrawi refugees from the Tindouf camps to the Western Sahara. This will be the true test of whether peace will hold, or whether the conflict will acquire a darker character. The international community's role and responsibilities should not end with the holding of the referendum; yet the referendum is viewed by states as their sole exit strategy. The total focus on and continued paralysis of the identification process has handicapped(at both the field and headquarters level( the development of the capacities and institutions required for the safe and sustainable return of Sahrawi refugees.
Until now, every stage of the UN-sponsored presence within the territory has resulted in conditions favorable to the de facto Moroccan authorities. Neither of the parties have had the ability to dictate the terms of victory on the battlefield. Instead, the protracted nature of the conflict has been accepted, and the final victor will be determined by its 'staying power.' The UN monitored cease-fire allowed the Moroccan authorities to consolidate their presence and cohesively begin to alter the demographic character of the territory so that it may adhere to their conception of its 'Moroccanness.' This continued during identification, with fundamental changes occurring in the field formally altering the nature of the referendum, both in terms of who would participate and how it would be conducted. The prospect that this trend could extend to the repatriation of refugees would endanger the safety of an entire population.
The current conditions within the Moroccan-controlled western portion of the territory and the prospects and challenges of their alleviation necessitate such a cautious response to the UNHCR-sponsored repatriation program. Whereas the last decade has seen UNHCR play a role in 'collapsed states,' where governmental authority and central control are minimal, the situation in the west of the territory reflects the opposite: an excessive rather than absent authority presence, whether legitimate or not. The massive Moroccan security presence within the territory has been repeatedly documented. Furthermore, the political-geographical factors, with the harsh desert environment and the division of the territory by a mined bern, pose obstacles for access.
The current situation is one in which neither MINURSO nor UNHCR have freedom of access or movement within the territory; thus, directly impeding program planning by severely limiting the acquisition of knowledge on the conditions. With the Organization of African Unity's referendum monitors, these are the sole representatives of the international community in the Western Sahara. Given the severe reprisals within Morocco for questioning the territorial sanctity of the state, domestic NGOs have yet to extend their activities to the territory. Nor have international NGOs and the press, despite having sent delegations to the territory, been able to develop the consistent presence necessary to ensure either the transparency of the referendum or the security of the returnees.
In past repatriation operations, such as those in Cambodia, Namibia, and Mozambique, UNHCR has shown an operational capacity capable of successfully providing the logistical requirements, which in this case are daunting. 120,000 refugees will have to be maintained and transported(either by air or by road(with their belongings across one of the most inhospitable areas of the globe. In addition to transporting the refugees, UNHCR has also been tasked with the monitoring of the returnees' safety and for establishing a reintegration and rehabilitation program following the referendum. An applicable problematic criticism that has emerged of UNHCR concerns the diversion of its attention from its protection mandate to the provision of humanitarian aid.
All of these factors further emphasize the need for the establishment of an active UN transitional authority within the territory( a role most recently reemphasized in Security Council Resolution 882. Blatantly apparent is the necessity that both MINURSO and UNHCR be immediately granted complete freedom of access and movement. During the transitional period, the United Nations would immediately assume a more active role in the governance of the territory and the creation of the conditions necessary for the safe and sustainable return of refugees. These additional tasks include the reform of Moroccan law and the promulgation of new laws for the referendum; the demobilization and reform of the security presence; and an immigration authority.
The past decade has seen the rapid development of human rights monitoring capabilities from both within the UN and among various regional bodies, such as the OSCE. The conditions within the territory and UNHCR's exclusive mandate to solely monitor returnees requires the incorporation of these additional actors.
The repatriation of Sahrawi refugees cannot be viewed as an independent component of the peace plan to be mechanically implemented at the dictated time without regard to the conditions in the territory. One would think that such a prescription was a matter of common sense; however, UN operations in Bosnia (with the choice between facilitating ethnic cleansing through displacement or complacency with human rights abuses) and Rwanda (with the manipulation of refugee camps by genocidal forces) have illustrated that humanitarian initiatives can become easily subverted when operating alongside a weak peace operation with a dearth of international political resolve. What will happen in the Western Sahara? UN peacekeeping, especially since the explosion of operations in the early 1990s, is rife with examples of the potential end-states: the successful transition from colony to independence in Namibia; the corroded short-term success of Cambodia; long-term peaceful stalemate in Cyprus; and Angola's tenuous dance between war and peace. The lessons for success and failure are readily apparent; it is only your political willingness that may be in question.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.