In 1975 U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim sent Andre Lewin to shuttle around Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria in a last ditch attempt to avoid war in Western Sahara, then Spanish Sahara, which King Hassan II of Morocco was about to invade. Lewin failed. Last year a new U.N. Secretary General asked former Secretary of State James Baker to retrace Lewin's steps and sort out the new mess in Western Sahara which in the intervening decades Morocco had turned into a Colorado-sized concentration camp.
Morocco had been at war with the POLISARIO FRONT over Western Sahara from 1975 until 1991 when a U.N. organized cease-fire took hold. The quid pro quo for the cease-fire was a referendum to be held under U.N. auspices to let the indigenous people of Western Sahara decide whether to be an independent state or part of Morocco. It was that simple. The referendum was scheduled for 1992, but for reasons I will go into, postponed and postponed until it was suspended in 1996. Baker's job was to get the referendum back on track. To the amazement of many people, Baker, the champion of the New World Order and coalition builder in the Gulf War accepted the challenge. He not only accepted it, he succeeded. After much shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Baker was able to get both sides, Morocco and the POLISARIO, to agree in Houston on a proposal for voter identification, refugee repatriation, troop confinement and a code of conduct, which, if carried out in good faith, would produce a free and fair referendum. These were the Houston Accords which permitted the referendum preparations to get under way again late last year, with the actual vote anticipated in early December 1998. The December date no longer seems realistic under any circumstances, and sad to say, we are witnessing the same bad faith and the same obstructionist tactics that caused the referendum to fail earlier. I am not, by the way, as will probably become apparent quite quickly, an arabist or expert on the region. I am just a witness, just somebody who was there, but as some great philosopher said, I think it was Woody Allen, just being there is 90 % of something, but I forget of what. Before I comment on prospects for a free and fair referendum this time around, let me take a moment to explain how things got this far.
Western Sahara used to be Spanish Sahara. For years Spain resisted U.N. demands to de-colonize, but by 1974, Spain was not just exchanging diplomatic notes with the U.N., but fighting a shooting war with the POLISARIO FRONT, then as now the indigenous independence movement. Spain's neighbor Portugal gave up Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau in 1973 after ruinous wars, and in August 1974, Spain advised the U.N. that it would acquiesce to the U.N. and hold a referendum to allow the people of Western Sahara [called Saharawis] to determine whether they wanted to be independent. Morocco thereupon announced that it would reject any referendum that included independence for the Saharawis because they belonged to Morocco as did Western Sahara, which Moroccan claimed it would recover "by whatever means."
Ignoring Perry Mason's advice never to ask a question you don't know the answer to, Morocco sought an advisory opinion of its claim to Western Sahara before the International Court of Justice, and on October 16, 1975, the Court found Morocco's historic claims to the region, which were very similar to Iraq's appeal to history to justify its invasion of Kuwait, too tenuous to create legally enforceable rights to the territory. The Court rejected Morocco's claim and reaffirmed the right of the Saharawis to the referendum the U.N. had demanded and Spain had done the groundwork for, going so far as conducting a census of eligible voters. In what my old N.Y.U. law professor Thomas Franck called an Alice in Wonderland interpretation, King Hassan announced that what the World Court meant when it rejected Morocco's claim was that Morocco won, and in a jihad atmosphere, the king announced that he was recruiting 350,000 civilian volunteers to march into the Spanish colony and "rejoin our brothers." The invasion, euphemistically called the Green March, (green is a holy color in Islam), took place November 6, despite the mission of Mr. Lewin. It didn't get very far, but it was crossing the Rubicon. Morocco was never going back. In the words of King Hassan, it was God's will: "Dieu a coronne nos demarches de succes et nous avons regagne nos foyers couverts de gloire et de grandeur, car nous avons enfame notre lutte la foi plein de coeur." The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev used to say the same thing in more secular terms: "What we gain, we keep."
The U.N. Security Council, including the United States, of course, made face-saving condemnations, but took no action to rein in Morocco's aggression.
On November 14, 1975, almost a month to the day after the World Court had ruled against Morocco and reaffirmed the right of the Saharawis to a referendum, Spain, under U.S. and French pressure, buckled, and in the Madrid Accords turned Western Sahara over to Morocco and Mauritania, a transfer that was clearly null and void as a matter of law. Suddenly, colonialism and the referendum for Western Sahara which the U.N. General Assembly had said was so important no longer mattered, nor did the irony of two African ex-colonies sharing their own colony. In any event, in one of the most shameful episodes in its long history, Los Espanoles salieron corriendo, as they say, the Spanish split, taking everything, even exhuming their dead for burial on Spanish soil.
The vacuum created by Spain's withdrawal resulted in war between the POLISARIO representing the Saharawis, and their new colonizers. Mauritania which never had its heart in the war, having been pressured by Morocco, and perhaps realizing that by the logic of Morocco's claims, it was next for annexation after Western Sahara, quit, after being badly beaten by the POLISARIO and renounced its claims to the area. Sure enough, Morocco then claimed that part of Western Sahara which Mauritania renounced, and the war between the POLISARIO and Morocco would last until the cease fire of 1991 when the U.N. agreed to create a peace-keeping mission called MINURSO to hold the referendum Spain was supposed to hold in 1975.
MY BRIEF CAREER WITH THE U.N.
I got into the act in 1994. MINURSO was about three years old then and recovering from a major scandal in which a U.N. staffer leaked sensitive POLISARIO data to the Moroccans. The U.N. decided that having an American in a serious position would assure everyone MINURSO was on the up and up, at least an unindicted American. The State Department recommended me. I would run the referendum.
I had seen the movie, and if George Patton liked the Moroccans so much, I knew they had to be good guys in the referendum. One of the United States oldest allies, a bulwark against Islamic terrorism, a help in the Middle East, Morocco was O.K. in my book and certainly a lot better than the POLISARIO: guerrillas for sure, Marxists maybe, I really wasn't sure what they were, but they had the wrong friends in the Cold War, and they didn't get much of my sympathy now that those friends weren't around anymore. When I visited the State Department before leaving, North African desk officer, Steve Buck, stressed the United States impartiality. "Hands off the referendum. That's our policy, just like the Bush administration." I expected him to add with a wink "but, of course, Morocco has to win the referendum." But he didn't. He never did.
MOROCCO BOUND: Morocco treats Western Sahara as a Moroccan province. Morocco even includes it in the national census, and they're a little touchy about people who don't see it that way. Leave off "Morocco" after Western Sahara when you send a letter there, and it's returned to sender. Let some local question Morocco's right to be there, and he'll find himself in the hoosegow. In 1996 a group of teenagers peacefully protesting Moroccan occupation got 15 years in the slammer. That old civil libertarian King Hassan cut it to one year. Not only does Rabat say Western Sahara is Morocco's; Allah does too. It's not just a crime, but a sin to deny it.
Like any good drama, the referendum had its cast of characters. Some have been replaced. Others carry on like the troupers they are.
King Hassan had made Interior Minister, Driss Basri, responsible for Western Sahara. Basri is known in human rights circles as "Butcher Basri" for failing to treat political prisoners as deferentially as say, Bull Connors. Basri is the go-to guy when the king needs results. The joke going around when I got there was of President Mobutu asking King Hassan's help to fix the presidential election in Zaire. Hassan sent Basri. Mobutu lost and complained bitterly to Hassan who called Basri on the carpet to explain. "Mobutu ?" replied Basri. "You won the election , Your Majesty, by six million votes." Morocco intends never to leave Western Sahara. Basri's job is to make it legal. In 1740, after swearing in a solemn treaty not to do so, Frederick the Great invaded Silesia. "You handle the legalities," he told his minister Podewils, "I've given the order to march." Basri is Hassan's Podewils.
Dealing with Butcher Basri for MINURSO was Boutros-Ghali's personal representative, Erik Jensen. Born in Denmark, educated in England, Jensen became a Malaysian along the way. A delightful mimic of Boutros Ghali and Butcher Basri and Moroccan luminaries, a painter and anthropologist, Jensen was just the person to have visit for the weekend, but the wrong man for the job he was in. Like his U.N. colleague, Margaret Anstee, who botched the elections in Angola, Jensen was just not someone serious politicians took seriously. Bertie Wooster in a safari suit. Once I asked him why he didn't protest when Basri had arbitrarily prohibited MINURSO from announcing the referendum in the press, Jensen replied: "He yelled at me. What could I do ?"
Basri seldom came to MINURSO himself but sent his chief gofer, a flic from one of the security agencies (There are 5 security services in Morocco, all watching each other). His name was Azmi, and he was like the charming and vicious Captain Segura in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. Azmi didn't think the U.N. had any business in Western Sahara and his goons dogged the U.N. staff as closely as Segura watched the expatriates in Batista's Havana. The ingratiating Jensen acted like his aide, coming to meetings when Azmi called them, snapping to attention like a cadet when Azmi entered the room and staying until he was given leave to go. When Azmi said "There will be no registering of voters in Madrid or in the Canaries,", they weren't registered, even though that was part of Jensen's job. If Azmi didn't want Jensen registering desert nomads, the nomads weren't registered.
OUR MAN IN RABAT:
Jensen was no admirer of the United States which he held up as exhibit # 1 of the kind of international maverick the U.N. existed to rein in, nor of U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsburg, who to Jensen represented the lowest form of diplomat: a political ambassador who could only "cock up the works" (Jensen's phrase) by involving himself in the referendum. Nonetheless, Jensen did have to meet with Ginsburg from time to time, and Jensen came away from these meetings, as he often said, convinced that the United States was not the disinterested referendum-observer I claimed it to be, but very much parti pris, one of Jensen's favorite phrases, very pro Moroccan. I just couldn't buy that until I met Ginsburg on July 4, 1994, along with political officer, Kirk McBride and mentioned Jensen's impressions. I threw in the Steve Buck-State Department spiel about United States policy being to keep hands off the referendum. "That's not the way this White House sees it," Ginsburg replied. I could understood how Jensen got his impression about United States policy. It certainly sounded to me that the United States embassy, at least, had taken sides.
CHE GUEVARA & COMPANY:
I arrived at MINURSO no fan of the POLISARIO. As if their reputation weren't bad enough for a Reaganaut like me, they lived in a part of Western Algeria that looked like a set from MAD MAX, where summer temperatures could reach 165 Fahrenheit, and they dressed unusually, with what looked like black crepe wrapped around their heads. When I went to their camps I expected to be greeted by some desert Che Guevara, but their spokesman was more like David Niven. Polished, reserved, he spoke English and Spanish as well as French and Arabic. The only concession to my imagination were his army fatigues. Like his boss, the Numero Uno of the POLISARIO, he slept in a canvas tent like everybody else's, and as far as I could observe, there was no privileged class, no nomenklatura. Officials were elected, and women held key posts, something rare in the Arab world. In Laayoune, where we stayed in Western Sahara, the U.N. put us up at Club Med (really !), and served us confit de canard and medaillons de veau, but in the desert, with the POLISARIO, we got camel meat, canned fruit and sweet tea.
THE CASTE SYSTEM
As an aside, there is a caste system in the U.N.,and the POLISARIO, like representatives from other unimportant places are supposed to know their place, and, when they don't, they are reminded. When Boutros-Ghali was in Bujumbura a while back, as The N.Y. TIMES reported, he wagged his finger at a room full of government officials as if they were errant school boys. He shouted at them like some colonial viceroy berating the hapless natives. He repeated this performance to African officials in Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Zaire and Ethiopia. Boutros-Ghali called people like these underdogs. Of course, he would never talk that way to the right people, like his old North African pal, King Hassan, but with underdogs he could be one tough customer. When Boutros-Ghali met with the POLISARIO, their David Niven suggested a modest change for improving the referendum. Boutros-Ghali gave him the underdog treatment: he said. Not just "Taisez Vous" (shut up) which would have been rude enough but, but "Fermez-la,"the term one uses to a yapping dog. The uppity POLISARIO had to be shown their place.
The POLISARIO camps are like a shadow country, each camp named for a different city in Western Sahara, where the POLISARIO all have family: parents, brothers, sisters, children, and, in some cases, spouses. Fighting age men were up on the cease-fire lines, and the camps were peopled largely by women, children and old men. The old men included many sheiks (they say chioukh), tribal leaders whose authority pre-dated the arrival of Islam in North Africa. Not sheiks like Rudolph Valentino, but old ones with weather-beaten faces, like wood carvings, dignified, wise old men, who had lived their lives in the desert as had their fathers and fathers' fathers for as long as they could remember, and who were regarded by all Saharawis almost as holy men as well as leaders [until, as documented in the Human Rights Report of 1995, the Moroccans started suborning perjury].
Wearing their best robes, sitting in richly carpeted tents, the chioukh spoke to me in Spanish, telling me about how they risked their lives to get the Spanish and the Moroccans out of their country and how they were willing to risk them again. One old fellow boasted of a son killed in action against the Moroccans. I was very upbeat about the referendum, but they told me, politely, they had heard that song before and had no faith in the U.N.'s ability to keep Morocco from sabotaging it. "Prove us wrong," they said. "Hold the referendum. We've been in the desert for 20 years without seeing our families in Western Sahara. We have no future in the desert. Our children have no future here. Hold the referendum. Unite is with our families. That's all we want."
Maybe the POLISARIO camps were some great Potemkin village, and maybe all the chioukh I met were giving me some programmed pitch the Castro people give to naive visitors to Cuba. I've attended Mass with the saintly thug, Julius Nyerere in Dar Es Salaam; breakfasted on grits with Guinea's late and unlamented Seiku Toure, drunk and dined with the late great kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seku and been denounced as a spy and actually been object of a manhunt by Benin's once and current President Kerekou. In short I have dealt with some of the great conmen of Africa, and I think by now I can tell when someone's handing me a line. I thought the chiuokh were the genuine article, and more importantly, they just wanted what I was there for: a free and fair referendum.
In August of 1994, on the night before the identification of voters, the first step of the referendum, was to begin, Azmi, like the MC in some Catskills resort, spotlighted Jensen in the crowded dining room of the Club Med, in front of U.N. staff and Moroccan officials, and ordered him to strike the U.N. flag from the U.N. buildings where the identification was to take place. It was clearly a test, but Jensen crumpled at once. The Spanish call that feeling verguenza ajena for when you are ashamed for someone else. The flag didn't matter, of course. It was just a little show to remind everyone who was in charge. When Moroccan security agents arrived the next day disguised as TV cameramen to videotape and intimidate every Saharawi who came to participate in the referendum, Jensen gave them carte blanche. ( Of course, not one moment of any of those tapes ever appeared on Moroccan TV.)
GETTING THEM COMING AND GOING:
Under the system Jensen had set up, Saharawis living in Western Sahara had to register for the referendum, not with the U.N. as would be expected, but with the Moroccan authorities, and, of course, as Saharawis told us bitterly, the Moroccans "lost" many of those registrations. (We knew from the applications Morocco sent us that they also added 100,000 ringers living in Morocco.) Saharawis whose registrations were not lost still had to get to MINURSO to be interviewed, and that was easier said than done. There are Moroccan cops every 100 meters in a city like Laayoune. There is nothing like a right to speak or assemble. No ordinary citizen in Western Sahara is allowed to talk to U.N. personnel, even enter the hotels where the U.N. stays or even come within 200 meters of U.N. buildings, including those where the referendum was, without a Moroccan O.K. How strict are they ? The Moroccans prevented an 84 year old Spanish priest who had spent over 50 years in Western Sahara from having dinner with me at Club Med. The only way Saharawis could get to MINURSO to be interviewed without being arrested was via special Moroccan Security buses, and as Saharawis who did reach us told us repeatedly, the Moroccan authorities decided which registered Saharawis got to board and barred the rest, denying them the chance to vote. One final touch: Saharawis who had run the Moroccan gauntlet and managed to get interviewed at MINURSO got a receipt which they would later turn in for a ballot. When the Saharawis re-boarded the same Security buses they arrived in to go home, Moroccan police commonly forced them to hand over the receipts they got from MINURSO. The Moroccans were literally getting the Saharawis coming and going.
Morocco's thuggery reminded me of the bad old days in South Africa. Saharawis registering would ask if there were some way we could keep an eye on them. They were afraid they might just disappear. At the same time, they were scared to be seen talking to U.N. people on the street. Shopkeepers would ask if we could drop by for some toothpaste or something just to see if they were still there. Their fears reminded me of traveling through South Africa in the early '70s with NAACP Chairman Roy Wilkins. Blacks would tell Mr. Wilkins with me listening, in the safety of our embassy, horror stories of beatings by the Special Branch and disappearances; Then, the next day on the street these same people would act as if they didn't know you. They were terrified, with good reason. So were the Saharawis.
We regularly passed these horror stories on to Erik Jensen, and neither he nor the U.N. took any action. But the U.N. couldn't bottle up Morocco's thuggery which was fast becoming a joke. As Chris Hedges reported in the NY Times, Foreign diplomats in Rabat were amused at the Morocco's brazenness, but no Moroccan-watchers, including Moroccans themselves, I spoke to then or since were actually surprised by Morocco's tactics to control the referendum at all costs. The United States certainly knew what they were up to. We regularly briefed embassy political officer Kirk McBride on what was going on when he visited MINURSO. By the way, for those who see agendas and right-wing conspiracies everywhere, Katlyn Thomas, a classmate of Mrs. Clinton's at Wellesley and a Clinton campaigner, worked at MINURSO and personally briefed U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's staff about Morocco's turning the referendum into a sham. The U.S. Intelligence community knew what was happening there. A C.I.A. official had asked me in the summer of 1994 how I could explain Morocco's domination of MINURSO. "Was it bribery or was Jensen just that [bleeping] weak ?" The U.S. military, including the commanding general of U.S. peace-keeping forces assigned to peace-keeping, who had visited MINURSO, were briefed by U.S. Army Colonel Dan Magee, about what was going on. One reason the New York Times and Human Rights Watch would be able to confirm Morocco's abuses of the Saharawis and the referendum was that everyone knew what was happening.
SOLIDARITY: A FAMILY REUNION
If the Moroccans had any doubts where Saharawi sympathies lay, they were dissipated once Saharawis came together as the referendum formalities got under way. Interview sessions became family reunions. There were tears, laughing, ululations and fainting spells as Saharawis from Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara embraced old friends and relatives from the POLISARIO camps. Twenty years of news was compressed in as many minutes, and family letters were smuggled past Moroccan censors. It was like what happened when the Pope visited Communist Poland. Solidarity: One people deeply linked to each other and not to some alien ideology. It didn't take Margaret Mead to figure out that the referendum would not be about politics or ideologies. As far back as 1975, A U.N. fact-finding mission sent out to Western Sahara to study attitudes concluded that the Saharans were overwhelmingly in favor of independence. Nothing had changed. The referendum would still be about whether the Saharans would be one people again, and that would not happen if they remained separated by Morocco's occupation.
PLAN B :
If the U.N. referendum failed, Morocco might not vindicate its right to be there, but, at least, it would still keep Western Sahara. So Morocco changed tack, and like the North Koreans in the Panmunjang Peace talks arguing over the size of the negotiating table, Morocco opted to bring the referendum to a halt by obstructing every step. Referendum work schedules, Morocco complained, were too lax, then too intense. Plane schedules had to be adjusted every week, and it was Azmi, the Moroccan, not Jensen, the U.N. official, who decided when the mission would work. One of the more imaginative ploys took place in the fall of 1994 when, like something out of Ionesco, Mr. Azmi stalled the referendum for over a week, at a cost to the U.N. of $100,000 a day, because he objected to an adverb used in a MINURSO schedule and insisted the matter could only be addressed by an exchange of correspondence.
With tactics such as this, with no protest from Jensen or the U.N., Azmi actually gained control of the day-to-day scheduling of the U.N. mission. Towards the end of 1994 I found myself reporting to Jensen and Azmi together. Even the pretense of an independent MINURSO management had disappeared.
My contract expired the end of 1994, but before leaving I faxed Kofi Annan who was then head of U.N. Peace-keeping a report describing the sham the referendum had become and offering to come to New York to discuss the referendum with him. His people met with then-Ambassador Albright's people, and his reply came back that the matters I mentioned were "not serious."
That would have been the end of my story if I hadn't been asked to testify in January, 1995 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee looking into U.N. Peace-keeping. I was a small fry on a panel with Ambassador Kirkpatrick, former Attorney General Thornburgh and other luminaries, and I did little more than read part of a prepared statement outlining Morocco's gangsterism in Western Sahara, and the wire services sent it around the world. The N.Y. Times sent Chris Hedges out to Laayoune to investigate, and on March 5, 1995 he confirmed that: "Former and current U.N. officials say that Morocco is trying to control the outcome of the [referendum] vote and maintain its hold on the area. Morocco has tapped U.N. phones, confiscated voter documents from voters here in the largest city in the region and denied others the right to enter registration centers, these officials and local residents said." Later the same year, after visiting MINURSO, Human Rights Watch would release a scathing 40 page indictment of MINURSO and its craven abandonment of the referendum and the Saharans' right of self-determination.
GUARDING THE GUARDS:
Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, The U.N. was "shocked, shocked" to read all these reports of misfeasance in Western Sahara and had at first to deflect the bad publicity by having the brand new U.N. Inspector General produce a whitewash, but they couldn't even get that right. The Inspector General had to admit that under U.N. rules he was not allowed to investigate the Moroccan gangsterism people like Hedges had mentioned because that might involve criticizing a member of the U.N., a definite no no. Apparently, at the U.N. you are allowed to inspect as long as you don't inspect too closely. Just what a fraud the inspection was is reflected in the inspection team's interview of a couple of Americans: The U.N. Inspector's man told Mara Hanna from Pittsburgh, as she recounted publicly on Capitol Hill: "Keep your mouth shut if you want to work for the U.N. again." She spoke up and, as predicted, has been black-balled by the U.N. Colonel Dan Magee, commander of U.S. forces in MINURSO said his interview consisted of: "Hi, How're you doing ?" and the inspector took no notes. Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General, John Bolton, said if the inspector general of a U.S. Government agency had produced such a report, his resignation would have been sought before the ink was dry. Within days of the report's appearance, Argentine U.N. Ambassador Emilio Cardenas said of the report in the Washington Post: "The mission [MINURSO] is completely bogged down, and all we're getting from the U.N. is tall tales."
The referendum wound up costing over a quarter billion dollars (about $2,500 for each Saharan who never got to vote) until it was suspended in 1996. Thanks to the Houston Accords, identification of applicants to vote resumed again in December, 1997, and, under a new Special Representative, Ambassador Charles Dunbar, 127, 472 persons have been identified as of last week. There are fewer than 30,000 persons from non-contested tribes to be called, but there is a stumbling block in another group of 65,000 persons of dubious credentials, people from tribes only marginally related to Western Sahara. The POLISARIO maintain that since these 65,000 live in Morocco, only those who are on the Spanish census of 1974 (which contained 74,000 names) should be identified. For obvious reasons, allowing 65,000 Moroccans to vote on the future of Western Sahara might have made even Mayor Daley wince. The Houston Accords are not, after all, a suicide pact. Nonetheless, it is Morocco's position that all 65,000 be identified. Secretary General Kofi Annan had suggested a compromise in which 4,000 of these 65,000 be identified as a test case. That has not succeeded to date even though it is a concession to the Moroccans who, like the POLISARIO, had agreed in the Houston Accords not to do what they are in fact now doing, pushing members of these contested tribes for identification.
In addition to the question of these 65,000 from the contested tribes, one has to wonder what Morocco is up to in its government-orchestrated demonstrations in front of U.N. facilities in Western Sahara and its virulent press attacks against what it calls MINURSO's pro-POLISARIO bias, both of which were commented on and lamented by Secretary General Annan who asked Morocco to call them off. There is no such thing as spontaneous demonstrations or freedom of the press in Morocco, and one has to wonder why Morocco is trying to discredit the very process it agreed to in the Houston Accords.
More significantly, in a smoking gun or more appropriately a smoking memo that has now become public, Interior Minister Driss Basri earlier this year instructed Governors in Morocco how to hold ethnic workshops to enable Moroccans to pass themselves off as Saharawis in U.N. identification sessions.
Most discouraging of all perhaps, Morocco has over the years enticed tens of thousands of Moroccans to move to Western Sahara with subsidies and tax breaks. Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, has huge tent cities full of these carpetbaggers. As the Economist noted, Morocco is spending lavishly to expand the port and water supply with apparently no thought and no plan for repatriating the large number of Moroccan immigrants. Judging from their actions, they don't seem to be taking the referendum very seriously.
This June is very important for the future of the referendum. How things stand by month's end may well determine whether the Security Council allows the process to continue. Kofi Annan has said as much. At stake is not just another U.N. snafu or even peace in a place few people ever heard of before James Baker got involved, but important issues: for one, the stability of the entire region, and for another the leverage of the U.N. to achieve what should be a classic slam-dunk U.N. peace-keeping operation. As the Economist pointed out, "the world cannot go to war every time a despot grabs a piece of land," but if principles are involved when seizure is resisted in Kuwait, then they should not be forgotten in modern Anschlusses like Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and Morocco's invasion of Western Sahara.
In How Democracies Perish, Jean Francois Revel said that the best example of the unique Communist "talent for creating non information" was the Chinese occupation of Tibet where no information emerged to perturb the Sinolatry of the West." He called it "almost perfect genocide that unfolded in almost perfect secrecy." Morocco has taken a page from China'a book, invading and colonizing Western Sahara without drawing the world's ire or attention and holding itself out as a great friend of the West as it crushes the Saharawis right to determine their future, something the U.N. Charter says the U.N. was created to ensure.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant Justice Brandeis said. Awarding the Nobel Prize to Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta brought Indonesia's slaughter of the people of East Timor on the world stage. A movie actor and as unlikely heroes as the Beastie Boys, among other rock groups, have made China's subjugation of Tibet a cause for a new generation. Perhaps another kind of celebrity, a political one like James Baker, will be the one to help shatter the world's silence over King Hassan's lebensraum in Western Sahara.
Voltaire said it was as futile to expect appeals to law to stop a king from taking what he wants as it was to establish a book of rules for highwaymen. In this second half century of the United Nations, it will be interesting to know whether the king of Morocco can still run roughshod over international law and defy the rules of the community of civilized nations as he might have in Voltaire's day.