The Western Sahara: Can the U.N. Turn Failure Into Success

Remarks by

Commander Doug Dryden (USNR)

Ambassador Frank Ruddy

President Mohamed Abdelaziz

of the Sahrawi Republic




Held on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.



Information on the Speakers:

Commander Doug Dryden was assigned as the U.S. military representative to the POLISARIO government-in-exile in Tindouf, Algeria, as part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation. Assigned to this position because of his expertise in evaluating foreign military forces and his intelligence training, Dryden served from January through August, 1994. He was the first military observor to travel throughout the entire POLISARIO area of operations.

Ambassador Frank Ruddy served as the Deputy Chairman of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, from February, 1994 until December, 1994. A former Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, Ruddy was assigned to identify eligible voters among the population of the Sahrawi in order for the U.N. to administer a free and fair referendum. He is the one who blew the whistle on the corruption of the process which led to Congressional hearings on the issue.

President Mohamed Abdelaziz is the democratically elected President of the Sahrawi Republic and Chairman of the POLISARIO. He has served in this position since 1995.


Mr. President, and distinguished guests: I am delighted to be here and be re-united, although in a different capacity, with a man I respect very much, who leads a people who deserve so much, yet have received so little.

As you heard, I spent months with unhindered access to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and was the first military observor to travel throughout the entire POLISARIO area of operations. This and my background allows me to have various observations and conclusions, some of which I was unable to voice until recently. Let me address some of those by dismissing some of the accusations made against the POLISARIO.

First, "the POLISARIO is a communist movement." There are very few members of the American military who have better credentials than I as an anti-Communist, and the POLISARIO is not communist. Have they cooperated with communist and radical regimes during their war? Yes, just as we did during World War II. In speaking with ministers of the POLISARIO government, they defy anyone to find any evidence in the now-opened KGB files of collusion with the Soviets or any other communist movement. Do not confuse the necessities of organizing a population in refugee camps in the Sahara with communism or even socialism.

Second, "the POLISARIO is a terrorist organization." It's been said that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, but there is a clear difference. Other groups have tried to encourage the POLISARIO to use terrorist tactics, but the POLISARIO has refused -- terrorism is a criminal act, and inconsistent with the aims of the POLISARIO as a legitimate government.

Third, "the POLISARIO is a radical Islamic Movement." This is strange, considering that true radical Islamists condemn the POLISARIO for being too secular. The advances made by the POLISARIO in a number of social areas, particularly women's right, are impressive. While they may be devout, as well they should be, I have seen no evidence of a desire to return to the old cultural restrictions of the region, much less impose a radical agenda such as in Iran or recently in Afghanistan.

Fourth, "if hostilities occur again, the Moroccan army would be the clear victor because of their size and technological advantage." That technological advantage exists to some extent because of American weapons that have been shipped to Morocco. The American agreement on their use includes proscriptions against offensive or internal use. The U.S. government has never recognized the incorporation of the Western Sahara into Morocco, but one wonders how closely the U.S. investigates the use and distribution of these systems, as we investigate Turkey, for example. But even with these advantages, they did not result in a Moroccan victory in the sixteen years of fighting that led to the cease-fire, and it does not necessarily follow that they would now. The POLISARIO, I am convinced after close examination, have a clear capability, if planned and executed correctly, to seriously effect a military decision. Continued frustration with the United Nations and the blatant Moroccan attempts to stall and threaten the process should not be take lightly.

Fifth, an independent Saharan Republic would be "just one more poor country, unable to compete and best support its population." Similar comments were made about the United States during our revolution. There is every reason to feel that the natural resources of the area could sustain the economy and population of the native Sahrawis, but the vast phosphate deposits and fishing areas are being exploited by the Moroccans while the process continues to stall -- time, after all, is on the side of the Moroccans. The idea of self-determination, highly vaunted by the United Nations and called for by the International Court of Justice on the eve of the Moroccan invasion, is meaningless if the lack of clear and fair referendum on the Western Sahara continues.

This is a problem similar in many respects to that of East Timor. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to champions of that struggle for independence from Indonesian forces, who invaded at about the same time that Morocco invaded the Western Sahara. It is my hope that this administration, embroiled as it is with human rights concerns with China, and who, at least during its first campaign, championed the cause of East Timor, would champion this cause for the same reasons.

The continued occupation of the Western Sahara flies in the face of those who chant about justice in the world. For two years I sought to find in a completely impartial manner what reasonable justification Morocco had for its occupation. I can find none. Moroccan pronouncements to the world speak of cooperation with the U.N. and a seeking of a peaceful solution, but internally they say only that the Western Sahara will always be Moroccan. They say that the POLISARIO refuses to seek a joint resolution, but after the usual chants about the compassion of the king, they only dictate terms.

As opposed to the intransigence and belligerent attitude on the part of Morocco, I received only openness and cooperation from President Abdelaziz and all of the POLISARIO with whom I came in contact. I was free to converse with anyone I wished, and free to travel where I wished. They have nothing to hide, and theirs is a story that needs to be heard.



Returning from a 1943 conference where the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States had agreed to create a "postwar international organization to keep the peace," Secretary of State Cordell Hull said: "There will no longer be need for spheres of influence, for alliances, for balances of power, by which in the unhappy past, nations strove to safeguard their security or promote their interests."

In theory, as stated in the preamble of the U.N. Charter, the U.N. is a group of countries concerned about protecting "fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person and of nations large and small." U.N. members pledge to "practice tolerance and live in peace with one another as good neighbors and ensure that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest." The U.N. exists, says Article I of the charter, "for the suppression of acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace and to bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with international law, the settlement of international disputes."

This kind of utopian mush is apparently accepted by people who should know better. In the announcement of next month's American Society of International Law convention here in Washington, Columbia University professor Louis Henkin is quoted as stating, "Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all their obligations almost all the time."

In reality, of course, things don't work the way the do in Professor Henkin's dream world. China, for example, a permanent member of the Security Council, the executive organ of the U.N., forces its own citizens to have abortions, maintains an archipelago of political prisoners, trades in slave labor, suppresses religion and is now occupying Tibet which it is in the process of turning into a Chinese colony. Indonesia, another upstanding member of the United Nations, and a good friend of the current administration, has for more than 20 years conducted a bloodbath against its neighbor East Timor, a former Portuguese colony which Indonesia, itself a former Dutch colony, invaded in 1975 and attempted to annex it. Since then, Indonesia has killed, in one way or another, a third of East Timor's population.

The 1996 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Bishop Bello and Mr. Ramos Horta of East Timor for drawing the world's attention to Indonesia's genocide. Our own Foreign Assistance Act forbids assistance to countries such as Indonesia which regularly practice gross human rights abuses, but the United States has been and continues to be, sad to say, the arms supplier of choice to the killers of Indonesia.

There is not as yet a Nobel Prize for anybody from another little country whose history is remarkably similar to East Timor's. Western Sahara is also a former colony (Spanish) which became independent in 1974. Morocco, like Indonesia, a former colony and good friend of the United States, invaded Western Sahara that same year and waged a war against the Western Saharans that lasted until a U.N. supervised cease-fire in 1991. Part of that cease-fire was a Security Council Resolution directing the U.N. to hold a referendum to let the Western Saharans decide whether they wanted to be an independent state or part of Morocco. That referendum was cancelled in 1996 when the United Nations finally accepted the fact that Morocco was never going to risk a free and fair referendum.

Thanks to The New York Times, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Congressional testimony which was picked up everywhere from Bombay to Bujumbura, the world now knows why the referendum collapsed: not just the usual U.N. snafu, but Moroccan gangsterism, vote fraud, voter intimidation and a campaign of terror, complete with disappearances and show trials, waged against the Saharan people, a la apartheid South Africa. The world now knows, too, that the U.N. wasted more than one quarter billion dollars on a referendum established by a Security Council Resolution and flouted by Morocco; when rogue nations flout Security Council resolutions, they are censured, embargoed, and sometimes they are even bombed. When Morocco subverts a Security Council Resolution, no one, certainly not anyone in the current Administration, seems to care. While the world winks at Morocco's colonization of Western Sahara, the Sahrawis right to self-determination, one of the rights the U.N. was created to protect, has been stolen from them.

According to the Washington Post, Kofi Annan is getting ready to name former Secretary of State James Baker as his Special Representative for Western Sahara. This holds great promise for the future of the Sahrawi people. This nomination came about because people like Suzanne Scholte and our good friend Moulud Said, and you who are here and many others who can't be with us today, got out the word about the Sahrawis cause, and it is a worthy and noble cause. You may even agree it is a Nobel cause after hearing from our guest of honor and leader of the Sahrawi people, President Abdelaziz.

Thank you.



Good afternoon. I want to thank Ty McCoy, Suzanne Scholte, Randa Fahmy, Charisse Espy, and Bob VanWicklin, for their efforts and for making it possible for me to be in the presence of these distinguished people, and I am grateful to all of you for coming here today.

The prestigious U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said a solution that is not based on respect for the rights of a people of a nation cannot represent a lasting solution or a just solution. That same President said that people should not be treated as a merchandise given from one sovereignty to another sovereignty, changing their sovereignty. If anyone should know about the importance of these principles, it is us in the Western Sahara because we have to face the violation of these principles. And I am sure that unless these principles are respected in the Western Sahara, there will never be peace in the area.

I have been here for about a week, and I have had the privilege of meeting many people in the Congress, the symbol of democracy for the rest of the world. My objective is looking for peace. Respect. Justice. Looking for justice for a people, thousands of children and women and men but who all together are called the Sahrawi people. These people were a Spanish colony for almost a century. As soon as these people claimed their sovereignty and their freedom, they were invaded by the kingdom of Morocco.

This was a tragic invasion. There was a lot of suffering. We have hundreds of people who have disappeared. We do not know there whereabouts. They are in the Moroccan jails somewhere. We are hoping they are alive still. Thousands of people had to flee the country and now live in an area that is one of the least hospitable places on earth. They are living in difficult conditions. We are thankful to the Algerian government for giving us a piece of land where we can place our refugees.

The Moroccan invasion came as a response to the ruling of the International Court of Justice. The ruling was very clear. The Moroccans undertook this adventure challenging and defying the resolutions of the United Nations and the General Assembly which are also very clear. Here we have Morocco undertaking a colonial policy at the end of the 20th century a policy that's worth a policy from several centuries ago.

So, I am here among you and here visiting with friends these days. My only purpose is to look for justice and freedom for my people.

So, I am sure you are very familiar with the number of Moroccan delegations that come to Washington, D.C. whether military or political delegations. Their aim, their main purpose is to try to get weapons, to get ammunitions for the Moroccan army, to get some advances in technology with only one purpose to use them against the people of the Western Sahara to try to exterminate our people. Well, we came here just to ask for your support and understanding in achieving peace and justice in the Western Sahara.

And, I think that for America it will be a choice of either choosing to follow their conscience, their values, their principles or to take a position that is contradictory to the values and principles of the United States.

If the United States decides to stick to its principles and values then I don't think what we are asking from the U.S. is something impossible. We don't want the U.S. to sever its relations with Morocco. We don't want them to spoil their relation with Morocco. Work for the good relations between the two countries, but we are asking the United States something that is legitimate. A good relation between the U.S. and Morocco should not be at the expense of blood and suffering of the Sahrawi people. We believe that the United States in their hearts could combine two things: to have a good relation with Morocco and also to help the Sahrawi people who are trying to fight for democracy and freedom.

We are not against the United States arming Morocco. The U.S. could arm Morocco, but make sure that these weapons are used within the international recognized borders of Morocco and not to adventure and to take someone else's land with the U.S. weapons.

And we just also think that the United States has such close relations with the Morocco and they listen to the Moroccans, we hope that they will give us a fair hearing and listen to our arguments and our plea.

Recently there were some important developments such as the election of Mr. Kofi Annan as U.N. Secretary General and also the nomination of Mr. Jim Baker as the U.N. Personal Envoy for the Secretary General to the Western Sahara. And I can say, this I believe is going to be the last chance in order to preserve the peace, the stability and to regain justice in that part of the world. And for us the Sahrawis and also for the United States, we should not throw away this unique opportunity. And we now that Mr. Jim Baker will face a lot of problems especially with the Moroccans since the purpose of the Moroccans is to try to find a way to legitimize the occupation of the Western Sahara by any means.

We believe that the basis for a just and lasting solution, the best basis for a final and just solution is a free, fair, and democratic referendum that will be the expression of the will of the people. This is something that the Security Council has endorsed, and both parties have accepted. A democratic solution is a guarantee of a lasting solution. I think we should just work together and try to reach this goal of having a free, democratic referendum on the Western Sahara, and as I said before and as President Wilson has said if we don't have the respect for the right to self-determination, I don't see a possible solution to the conflict.

As Kofi Annan already expressed in written letter Mr. Jim Baker is coming [to the Western Sahara]. There are big similarities between the Western Sahara and Kuwait. And as Ambassador Frank Ruddy said before, it also similar to East Timor. And the practice is similar to the colonial occupation of Namibia by South Africa, and the solution finds itself in a free and fair referendum that respects the rights of self determination of the people.

Of course, we have some other elements in our area that we have to consider. Spain has relations with us and this problem, a historical and cultural relation, besides being our neighbors. Therefore, we should remember this. We have to keep these ties with Spain and in no way can we not include Spain in the area and the solution. Spain must remain a key player in finding a resolution to the Western Sahara issue. Spain was the one that colonized the country for about a hundred years. The Spanish culture is well alive in Western Sahara, and the strong links between Sahrawis and Spaniards are there. And the capital of the Western Sahara is only fifteen minutes by plane from the Canary Islands.

There is an effort to try to forget Spain in trying to find a resolution to the problem and the possible role Spain can play. If we have to organize the referendum, and we want to see who is eligible to vote or not, then we have to go back to the references of the Spanish. Spain will always remain an important reference on this issue. Madrid is one of the capitals that has to play a role in finding a solution to the conflict.

Moroccans are trying to falsify -- in all possible ways -- the referendum as you heard from the previous speaker. In the United Nations Peace Plan, everyone agreed the voters would be drawn from the Spanish Census of 1974. After the Moroccans accepted this, then they changed their minds. They said, "We will accept the referendum but we have to add three times the number of the people on the Spanish Census." This means the Moroccans would add three times the number of the population of the territory itself. That is not acceptable.

I want to thank you. I thank you very much. And as I said before, I hope that I get your understanding and support in trying to find a peaceful solution that will respect the right of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

I want to thank the several Americans you should be proud of it that lived in the Western Sahara who were part of this U.N. process. Ambassador Frank Ruddy. Commander Doug Dryden. General Al Zapanta. Captain Chris Ginther.

QUESTION: The United Nations asked the Secretary General to submit to the Council a report by the end of February of this year. Has this report been submitted and how much hope do you have about the effect of the report?

ABDELAZIZ: The report was published a week ago and the Security Council has started to look at it and will come up with a final recommendation. It is not a very important report, just a progress report. The most important report is the one that will come out at the end of May and that has to do with the future of MINURSO because that is when MINURSO will expire. The most important element that took place, and it was not included in the report, is the nomination of Mr. Baker as his [Kofi Annan's] special representative to the region.

For further information, contact Suzanne Scholte, Defense Forum Foundation, at 703-534-4313; fax: 703-538-6149 or email:

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