Research Associate and Lecturer in international law, Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, Brown University

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The process of self-determination in the Western Sahara reached a crucial stage in June 1993. Despite a military ceasefire, the political stalemate crystallized around the issue of voter eligibility for the referendum In his visit to the area at the beginning of June 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali presented to the parties a "compromise" solution for interpreting the criteria for the electorate - effectively a formula delivered in the form of an ultimatum. Meanwhile, in an effort to ensure resolution of the conflict based on the willingness of both parties, a United States initiative led to agreement for direct talks in mid-July between Morocco and the POLISARIO.

To assess the obstacles to the referendum process, an unofficial fact-finding mission was dispatched from America to the area. The objectives of the mission were:

(i) to visit the Territory of the Western Sahara;
(ii) to meet all interested regional parties, as well as United Nations officials;
(iii) to determine the status of the referendum process; and
(iv) to report on the delegation's conclusions.

To ensure its objectivity, it was emphasized that the delegation should be bi-partisan and representative of both Democratic and Republican political traditions of the United States. In addition to myself, the delegation was composed of three former United States Ambassadors and a Vice-Presidential candidate from Uruquay.

Between 8 and 16 July 1993, the delegation visited Rabat, El Ayoun, Casablanca, Algiers, Tindouf and Madrid. It met with the highest-level officials in Morocco, the POLISARIO and Algeria. It also met with senior UN representatives in the area and former Spanish colonial governors and generals in Madrid.

I would like, Mr. Chairman, to present here my own, personal conclusions and findings during my visit with the delegation.

A. Direct Talks

ORIGINS: The notion of direct talks between the parties as a means to reconciling the stalemate in the peace process followed attempts by the UN Secretary-General and some members of the Security Council to force the issue of voter eligibility. It was a United States initiative to ensure resolution of the Western Saharan conflict based on the consent of both parties. In a television broadcast after the fact, however, Morocco claimed credit for the initiative.

APPROACHES: The parties approached the nature and the focus of the talks in an irreconcilable manner. Since Morocco was under pressure to accept the fact of direct talks, it wished to diminish their significance as much as possible. It considers the Western Sahara conflict an internal matter and did not approach the meeting with its sincerest intentions. The POLISARIO, by contrast, wished to increase the importance of the meeting as much as possible and expended efforts and extended its good will to do so.

AGENDA: Morocco did not discuss with the delegation issues relating to the agenda, although some of our meetings foreshadowed their intentions. Morocco preferred the talks to focus on local issues and to exclude reference to obstacles to the peace process. However, a precondition for the meeting had been an agenda focussing on the process as a whole. Despite guarantees, Morocco forced its own agenda at the talks. The POLISARIO expected the agenda to tackle the stalemate and hoped at least to agree at this meeting to talk again regarding larger issues. It left the matter in the hands of the UN following assurances that the UN shared the same opinion of the agenda.

REPRESENTATION: Morocco did not discuss with our delegation the representatives they were sending to the talks. In an attempt to diminish the significance of the meeting, Morocco preferred talks to be exclusively between Sahrawis from the two sides of the Western Saharan divide. Nevertheless, they assured the UN that the delegation would be led by His Excellency Ambassador Ahmed Senoussi, who they guaranteed would not sit merely as an observer. This was already provocative for the POLISARIO, who preferred higher level meetings, but accepted Ambassador Senoussi to ensure that direct talks with Morocco took place. However, on the day of the talks, in breach of their commitments, Morocco's delegation was led by local Sahrawi's with Moroccan officials only as observers.

RESULTS: The single result of the talks was that the parties agreed to meet again. However, there was no indication of any agreement regarding a future agenda and the parties seem poised to approach future talks in the same irreconcilable manner, unless both sides approach negotiations sincerely and seriously.

OBSERVERS: Given the failure of Morocco to fulfil its commitments in the past and its manipulation of agreements reached, the POLISARIO maintained throughout the period leading to the talks that the presence of the UN was a precondition for the meeting. They further stated to the delegation that other international observers - governmental or non-governmental - should be present in future talks to testify to agreements concluded.

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations was not able to guarantee agreements reached between the parties. The date of the talks was delayed and while assurances were given, the modalities of the meeting were never really confirmed. In addition to the switching by the Moroccans of the agenda and the level and nature of their delegation, the meeting place was altered and its conditions provocative. There was even some question whether the UN would be present at all and consequently security preparations were poor.

PRESS: Agreements had not been reached between the parties regarding relations with the press and consequently Morocco used the press provocatively. The local Moroccan press presented the talks, before and after the fact, as a Moroccan fait accompli . The Algerian press was at first hopeful and then pessimistic about the meeting and blamed Morocco for its intransigence.

B. The Peace Process

REFERENDUM RESULTS: Both Morocco and the POLISARIO explicitly stated to the delegation that each would accept referendum results favouring the other side. When we asked the Kingdom of Morocco's Minister of the Interior, Driss Basri, what Morocco's reaction would be if the POLISARIO won, he stated: "As we Moroccans were the first to recognize the United States as an independent country, we will be the first to recognize the POLISARIO and establish diplomatic relations with it if it wins." The Sahrawi National Council gave us the same guarantees. Since Morocco is in complete control of the Territory, it states this confidently without qualification. The POLISARIO emphasizes that it would only accept results reached in a just, free and fair referendum; it would not accept the fate of the Territory decided by "others."

GUARANTEES: Since the options for the referendum - sovereign independence or integration with Morocco - are mutually exclusive, the parties appear unwilling to enter the process unless each is assured success. Currently, this is determined by adoption of one or another definition of the electorate.

ALTERNATIVES: There appears no alternative acceptable to the parties other than the mutually exclusive options of the referendum. The POLISARIO feels it has sacrificed too much for too long to accept an alternative, and its stated duty is to at least provide the option of independence to its people. The POLISARIO leadership is under pressure to ensure this objective. Morocco's intransigence throughout the peace process indicates its unwillingness to loosen its hold on the Territory.

CONCESSIONS: The POLISARIO needs the peace process and therefore has made concessions throughout to ensure its success. These concessions have been unable to mitigate Moroccan intransigence.

IDENTIFICATION: The 1974 Spanish census constitutes the basis of the Western Sahara peace plan. According to the Security Council, the identification process is to proceed on this bases until further agreement can be reached on other criteria of voter eligibility. However, Morocco prefers to reach agreement on all criteria before registering voters. There is significant disagreement regarding the verification role of chiefs of tribes and a wide expectation of manipulation in the process.

OBSERVERS: These problems have led to disagreement regarding the presence of observers during the identification process. The POLISARIO is intent on transparency in the process. It has proposed an exchange of delegations and provided facilities for the purpose. Morocco has obstructed this.

UN RELATIONS: Both parties, at different times, have charged the UN with bias. Morocco considered the earlier MINURSO Headquarters staff biased, while the POLISARIO consider later UN leaders partial. Spanish observers of the process agree that the UN has been biased more against the POLISARIO. A change in UN leadership seems to have altered relations with the parties and conditions for UN personnel.

POPULATION TRANSFER: The movement of peoples into the Western Sahara to guarantee a Moroccan outcome of the election has been a provocative complication of the peace process. Inhabitants of tent cities are not free to move and UN military personnel are not at liberty to visit them. Additional numbers of voters proposed by Morocco are hindering the identification process.

C. Military Conditions

CEASEFIRE: The principal task of the military arm of the UN Mission is to observe the ceasefire. Since the UN's arrival the ceasefire has held and there have been no casualties as a result of direct conflict between the parties. However, there have been a number of ceasefire violations, mostly Moroccan. These are declining in number now, partly because a clearer distinction is being made between "allegations" and verified "violations." With a higher burden of proof of allegations and little means of verification, it has become increasingly difficult to prove violations. Mines continue to pose problem for the Mission.

MILITARY BALANCE: The POLISARIO has the willlingness and the capability to return to hostilities. This is despite the passage of information to Morocco regarding its defences. Moroccan strengths are lower than they claim and despite non-cooperation with the UN, the UN has obtained its order-of-battle through careful observation. However, the POLISARIO cannot and does not try to hold territory, and while the berm is breachable it still poses a barrier. It is not clear whether the berm is economically sustainable for Morocco. The POLISARIO has a culture of self-sufficiency and a certain industrial capability. There is not a clear indication of any severing of Algerian material support for the POLISARIO.

REFERENDUM SECURITY: UN military units will be entirely reliant on the good will of the parties during the electoral process. UN officials are confident that if the ceasefire continues to hold, UN forces will be able to provide security for voters. However, given the intransigence in the process to date, there is no indication that the process will be calm. UN forces are already hampered and it is dangerous to prepare for a best case scenario when the worst is likely to occur.

Based on these conclusions, it would seem that tackling current obstacles to the peace process in the Western Sahara and bridging the stalemate in the identification of eligible voters should be approached according to seven pillars:

I. CONSISTENCY: The Settlement Plan developed by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity, and accepted by both Morocco and the POLISARIO, should remain the backbone of the Western Saharan peace process. This will preserve international interest in the area and guarantee multilateral approaches to resolution of the conflict. It would be difficult to recreate enough momentum to establish a credible alternative of comparable magnitude on a multilateral basis. Reliance on the UN/OAU Plan means that for it to succeed it must be applied equitably and consistenly to both parties and at each stage of the process.

II. CONSENT: The peace process is based and must continue to be based on the consent of both parties. There are two levels of consent: (i) to the initial UN/OAU Settlement Plan and (ii) to its subsequent interpretation and implementation. Since agreement was reached on and commitments made to the terms of the Plan by both parties, the initial Settlement remains the principal source of authority in the process. Therefore, subsequently its terms must be interpreted in good faith and with continued consent, which must be developed to preserve its integrity. It should be recognized that without continued consent as developed through substantive negotiations within the context of the Settlement Plan, there is a high likelihood that hostilities will resume given the mutually exclusive nature of the approaches to interpretation of the peace process terms taken by the parties. Multilateral actions are required to hold the parties responsible for the obligations they have entered into, and to support and supplement the efforts of the United Nations to ensure consent to the furtherance of the peace-making process. UN Members should pursue new approaches which may encourage and develop a structure of consent to strenghthen this process leading to a free and fair referendum and to forestall the resumption of hostilitites in North Africa.

III. CENSUS: The 1974 Spanish census constitutes the core of the Settlement Plan and determines who may vote in the referendum. It has been agreed to explicitly by both parties as the practical basis for the exercise of self-determination. Consequently, the integrity of the 1974 census should be preserved as the basis of the identification process. While subsequent qualification may be necessary in its practical application, this cannot be such an unreasonable departure from the Plan as to alter its intent. The expressed opinion of the United Nations Security Council that registration of voters should proceed on the basis of the 1974 census is a recognition of the fact that the census provides the only reliable and objective statement of voter eligibility.

IV. CEASEFIRE: Priority consideration must be given to the maintenance of the ceasefire. UN military contingents have been and will continue to be reliant on the good will of the parties, unless a restructuring of the security arrangements for the remainder of the operation is considered. This, however, is unlikely to result in a UN enforcement capability. Since there were numerous violations during the establishment of the ceasefire and intransigence during the identification process, it is unlikely both parties will cooperate as the process accelerates through the balloting phase and announcement of referendum results.The United Nations must plan and prepare for the worst case scenario if the current ceasefire is to hold.

V. CORROBORATION: If the referendum results are to be recognized and accepted as "free and fair," as called for in the Settlement Plan, then the process must be transparent in procedure and intent. Given the intransigence to date and the fear of continued manipulation, negotiations and agreements reached additional to the Settlement Plan should be recorded faithfully. Independent observers - governmental as well as non-governmental - in addition to representatives of the UN and the OAU, may contribute to the process by verifying results and fostering openness. Observers should be present during all negotiations, witness the identification of voters and the later stages of the settlement process.

VI. COMMUNICATION: The parties should be encouraged to meet directly. Representatives should be of high rank to promote acceptance and understanding. Meetings should be scheduled regularly throughout the process to ensure continued agreement and understanding of agreements reached and commitments made. Direct talks between the parties must be encouraged to continue to develop the degree of political will necessary for an enduring settlement.

VII. CONTAINMENT: As there is a broad international interest to contain manipulation of the Settlement Plan, each stage of the multilateral process should be underwritten by bilateral support. The role of bilateral relations as part of the multilateral peace-making process should be intensified, particularly in relation to assuring the fulfillment of agreements reached between the two parties. Bilateral efforts should not interfere with but support UN objectives seeking to confine the dimensions of the conflict.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me say that while these seven pillars are approaches that can be taken towards the peace process, they do not constitute concrete proposals.

It seems to me that what is specifically missing from the process is an on-going negotiating capability between the parties. Consequently, each phase of the peace plan - the ceasefire, the identification, and probably the referendum to follow - has been confounded by disagreements, misunderstandings of or manipulations by the parties.

A number of other UN operations - in Cambodia, Angola, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia--have suffered by reliance on initial agreements, which may not have been underwritten in the long term by consent of the parties. This has led to attempts at enforcement. Military force does not seem to be a realistic option in the current case.

A mechanism is needed that can provide not only accountability for the process as a whole, but that can engage the parties and other international actors in a continuous dialogue to maintain clarity of decisions made and provide access when disagreements seem imminent.

I am reminded of a mechanism that assisted greatly the process in Namibia: the Joint Monitoring Commission, composed of Angola, Cuba and South Africa, as well as the United States and the Soviet Union as observers. The Commission helped develop consensus and an agreement initially and it played a significant role when the process nearly derailed on 1 April 1989.

I wonder if there is something that can be learnt from that experience and that the establishment of a Western Sahara Joint Monitoring Commission, composed of the POLISARIO, Morocco and other key Member States, may not prove a useful means of facilitating the conclusion of the peace process and ensuring its integrity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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