Chairman Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

MAY 9, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The secret of illusionists is to concentrate the audience’s attention on the left hand while the right hand creates the deception. Morocco has shown itself to be a first class illusionist. On the one hand, it is drawing the attention of the U.N. and various foreign offices to its proposal of autonomy for Western Sahara as a long-awaited solution to the stalemate in North Africa while at the same time it conceals the essential cause of the stalemate: Morocco’s illegal invasion and occupation of Western Sahara.

Facts are stubborn things, and despite Morocco’s ignoring them, they won’t go away. In 1975, in response to a request by Morocco for an advisory opinion by the World Court, that Court stated that the record did “not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco….”  The World Court also upheld the validity of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) on the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of Western Sahara. Thereupon Morocco invaded Western Sahara and has occupied that country ever since. It was what the British journal The Economist called an Anschluss. Despite 59 Security Council resolutions since 1975 reaffirming the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and the U.N.’s 4th Committee’s treating Western Sahara as a Moroccan colony, Morocco continues to put itself above the law and remains firmly in place, and in charge, in Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony.

A referendum on whether Western Sahara would be integrated with Morocco or remain independent was scheduled for 1991 but was pushed back until 1994. I ran that referendum which was sabotaged by Morocco when it became clear that the Saharawis, the indigenous people of Western Sahara, would opt for independence. I documented Morocco’s dirty tricks, which Morocco carried out with the U.N.’s complicity, in my testimony before a Congressional committee in this building in 1995.

The Moroccans now say their proposal will be submitted to a referendum, but a referendum to be voted on by whom? By the Moroccan people? Were such the case, Morocco and not the Saharawis would be exercising the right to self-determination.  Or will it be a referendum to be voted on by the Saharawis themselves? And if the Saharawis vote no, will that mean independence for the Saharawis? If the Moroccans were honest in proposing a referendum, they would let the people of Western Sahara choose an autonomy plan where all options were on the table. The only real solution for Western Sahara is one that the people of Western Sahara can endorse. Otherwise it’s just back to square one.

The history of this conflict is not encouraging. Morocco has behaved unconscionably since its invasion of Western Sahara until the present day. It has had tremendous internal political motives for doing so. It has come up with various approaches, some brutal, some ingenious, for trying to make Western Sahara Moroccan. The proposal we are discussing today is just the latest. Sadly our own government has not confronted Morocco’s lawless behavior, and despite our country’s fine words about the rights of peoples everywhere to self-determination, we are willing to jettison the rights of one small nation to determine their own future for a bowl of pottage in the form of appeasing one ally, specifically Morocco’s, territorial expansionism.

 In the time allotted to me today, I have had to omit many things. With the Chairman’s permission, I request that I be allowed to submit seven attachments with my statement.

I thank the Chairman and the other distinguished members for inviting my comments.

[ARSO HOME] [ Other Statements of Hon. F. Ruddy ]

Western Sahara Briefing:
    Current Developments and Challenges to Self-Determination

Opening Statement

Chairman Donald M. Payne
Chairman Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

May 09, 2007

Good morning, and thank you all for joining us.  The purpose of this briefing is to examine the current developments on Western Sahara and challenges to self-determination as presented by Morocco’s recent “autonomy” proposal.

Those of us who follow Africa closely are well aware of the long struggle of the Saharawi  people to resolve the 30 years of conflict over Western Sahara. The last remaining colony in Africa, Western Sahara remains one of the longest-running conflicts.  The only just way to solve this conflict is to hold a referendum to allow the Sahrawi  people to determine their own future.

This issue is one that I have been following for some years and have worked closely on with my colleague Mr. Pitts of Pennsylvania. We are sharing a deep concern over the continued lack of settlement of the conflict over Western Sahara. 

Mr. Pitts, myself and 45 members of Congress, including most of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter to President Bush 2 weeks ago calling on his administration to embrace a solution for Western Sahara based on the respect of freedom and human rights which are the basic values of the foundation of our own country.

The people of Moroccan-administered Western Sahara have been denied their right to self-determination and their basic human rights for more than 30 years since the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.

On April 10th, Morocco presented an "autonomy" plan for Western Sahara in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The proposal would impose Moroccan sovereignty on the territory. The autonomy proposal would be an imposition against the will of the Sahrawi  people and would deny them their right to a referendum to vote on their own destiny.

Here in the U.S. Congress, there is a long history of support for a referendum – the opposite of what Morocco has proposed -- particularly reflected in the unanimously passed legislation (H.Res. 245) of the 105th Congress which expressed support for a free, fair, and transparent referendum in which genuine Sahrawi  people vote. 

The United Nations Security Council has continued to uphold the right of self-determination.  Sadly, the continued delay of this referendum has brought disunity among countries in North Africa and could cause instability in this region.  In addition, the delay has caused terrible suffering for the Sahrawi  refugees who have lived in refugee camps since 1975, continuing to hope for the actualization of the 1991 promise of a referendum for self-determination held by the United Nations.

In light of the recent autonomy plan offered by the Government of Morocco, we are concerned about the continued violation of international law which goes against the ruling by the International Court of Justice to grant self-determination to the Sahrawi  people. The right to self-determination is a founding principle on which our own country was built, and it is vital that we uphold this principle both in theory and in practice.

On April 30, 2007, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1754, welcoming Morocco’s efforts. The resolution called upon the parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions to achieve a political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. It further requested the Secretary-General to set up these negotiations and to report on their status in two months, thereby seeking expeditious action.

Although Morocco and the Polisario are reported to have agreed to hold direct talks on the basis of the Security Council resolution, which extended the mandate of the U.N.  Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) for six months, it however has to be considered that after more than a decade and over at least $500 million spent, there is still no resolution to this conflict. Only a democratic process would provide a just and lasting solution that will lead to peace and stability in North Africa.  Such a democratic process would also send a signal to the broader Maghreb region and the Middle East that there are successful alternatives to violence in the pursuit of national aspirations.

There needs to be more responsibility on the side of the United States to pressure our close ally, Morocco, to agree to allow a referendum to be held. If the Sahrawi [SAW- ROW- EE] people want their country to be integrated into Morocco, then that is what they will choose. But we must provide the leadership as the U.S. to respect and uphold the right to self-determination or we are hypocrites.  We cannot say we want to promote democracy elsewhere and allow the people to be free of tyranny and oppression there but not allow the people of Western Sahara that same right.

I have also serious concerns about the repression and violence being carried out against Sahrawis  by Moroccan officials in the occupied territory of El Ayun .  The crack down on human rights defenders has been going on for years in Western Sahara. It’s simply unacceptable and we must be clear that – whether the country in question is a U.S. ally or not – this repression and abuse will not be tolerated.

Morocco holds up its long-standing history with the U.S. since the 1700’s, being the first country to recognize the U.S. as an independent country.  But this relationship also has a checkered past.

The U.S. used Morocco to prop up the brutal dictator Mobutu in Congo, which then became Zaire. Then Morocco gave refuge to Mobutu in 1997 as he fled Zaire due to the popular revolt taking place. 

Morocco is also known for propping up dictators in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea as well.  So we have to set the proper example to our allies and encourage the right behavior, not what is currently taking place or what took place in the past.
I hope during the course of our briefing today each of our speakers will give their assessment of the situation with its challenges and developments.

We are honored to have Ambassador Frank Ruddy with us. He previously served as Deputy Chairman of the U.N. Peacekeeping Referendum for Western Sahara (MlNURSO). Thank you, Ambassador Ruddy for being with us.

Our first speaker is Mr. Jacques Roussellier . He is adjunct scholar from the Public Policy Center at the Middle East Institute.

Our third witness and moderator is Suzanne Scholte , president of the Defense Forum and Chairman of the U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation.

Welcome to each of our panelists. 


Statement by Suzanne Scholte
President of the Defense Forum Foundation and Chairman of the US-Western Sahara Foundation


Chairman Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

MAY 9, 2007

Thank you to Congressman Donald Payne for organizing this briefing and to Congressman Joseph Pitts for his participation.  It is a great honor to join this briefing with these distinguished leaders in the U.S. Congress who are known for their steadfast commitment to human rights and their great integrity.
In 1945, when the United Nations was established nearly one third of the world lived under colonial rule.  Now, largely because of the work of the United Nations and those who advocate for self-determination and democratic ideals, less that 2 million of the world’s population live under colonial rule and among them are the Sahrawis.
The Sahrawi people were first promised a referendum in 1966 when the UN adopted a resolution calling on Spain to organize a referendum.  The International Court of Justice affirmed this right in 1975.  After Spain’s withdrawal and Morocco’s invasion of the Western Sahara, the UN once again promised a referendum in 1991 when it intervened to successfully broker a cease fire when the war broke out as the Polisario fought Moroccan invasion.
While the Sahrawi people have placed their trust in the rule of law and the international community, they have seen their country invaded by Morocco, their civilians brutally jailed, beaten and even killed for peacefully demonstrating for the right to vote, their families separated for over thirty years, and the UN fail year after year to follow through on the referendum.
While we appreciate the historic and long-time friendship between the United States and Morocco, we cannot have credibility if we fail to uphold and stand up for the very principles for which our own nation was founded: self-determination.  The Moroccans, rather than allowing the long-promised United Nation-backed referendum on self-determination to be held, have worked aggressively to thwart MINURSO and are now proposing an autonomy plan which is in violation of international law.
Furthermore, the Sahrawi people represent everything our country has been striving to achieve in the Middle East and outreach to the Muslim community:  They are a Muslim people who believe in the rule of law, democracy, human rights, equal rights for women, and religious tolerance.  They renounce terrorism and instead have worked to achieve their goals through the rule of law and through peaceful non violent protest.  The Sahrawi people living in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, are regularly beaten, tortured and jailed for peacefully demonstrating for the right to vote.  This brutal treatment of the Sahrawis has led Freedom House to rank Moroccan-Occupied Western Sahara as one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
It is time for our country instead of allowing Morocco to stop the referendum and continue its brutal occupation of Western Sahara, to follow through on the referendum with a specific deadline.  Failing that, the international community including the United States should call upon Morocco to withdraw from Western Sahara and thereby free the last remaining colony in Africa.  It is time for the United States to make clear its commitment to Muslim democracy, self-determination and the rule of law by supporting the Sahrawi people.

Western Sahara Briefing:
    Current Developments and Challenges to Self-Determination

Statement by

Congressman Joseph Pitts

May 09, 2007

"Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today's briefing on Western Sahara, Current Developments and Challenges to Self-determination.  It is vital for all parties involved, particularly the Sahrawi refugees, that this conflict be resolved in fair and just way.

I remain concerned that the conflict between these two parties, if left unresolved, has the potential to disrupt peace and stability in the Mahgreb region, thus threatening the people and interests of countries in the region, of the continent of Africa, and of the U.S.

This conflict is an issue of the 21st century that must be addressed urgently and fairly to the benefit all peoples of the region.  The peaceful resolution of this conflict will provide an important signal to the North African and the Broader Middle East region that there are successful alternatives to violence in the pursuit of national aspirations.

I strongly believe that the only resolution to the conflict that will last is one that includes a free, fair, and transparent referendum for self-determination - any other solution may not have the legitimacy in the eyes of the people that is needed for long term stability.

It is important that the parties to the conflict work together to implement a solution sooner rather than later, particularly with the threats our world faces today.