Margot Kessler MEP
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the beginning of the third millennium, the former colonial powers still have not solved the problems they have created in 1884/5, with their agreements at the so called "Kongokonferenz" in Berlin.
Since 1991, the UN did not achieve their decolonisation mandate in the Western Sahara.
Since December 1999, the reports of the Secretary General are making rather negative assessments of the implementation of the UN Peace plan for Western Sahara, underlining more the difficulties than the progress achieved in the process. The UN Secretariat's last three reports to the Security Council follow this line. In July this year, there was the suggestion of settling the conflict of Western Sahara that is through other means than the referendum of self determination. This makes me fear that the UN might withdraw from their obligations regarding the decolonisation of Western Sahara.
This concern is what makes me to be here today. I am a Member of the European Parliament. Among other commitments, I am the Chair of the Intergroup "Peace for the People of Western Sahara", a committee that already exists since 1986 and is being supported by members of different political groups.
At the last Intergroup meeting at Strasbourg, members of the same expressed their deep concern at the Moroccan attitude of obstruction to the peace plan. The UN must make international law respected and organise the referendum, several participants stated. The fact that the right of self-determination has been systematically denied to the Saharawi people makes it necessary for people like me to stand up and speak for them. Back in 1975 the International Court of Justice already ruled that Marocco had no legal claim on the territory of Western Sahara. But in spite of all their obvious offences against international law and explicit UN decisions, there was never taken any sanction against Morocco.
The states with a seat in the Security Council and those of the member states of the EU are able to prevent a new war in the desert. A Canary Government report, classified as "secret", made public a warning of the possibility of a return to war by POLISARIO FRONT. The danger of breaking the cease-fire becomes daily more imminent, if the date for the referendum is not fixed for 2001, says this report.
The more the implementation of the UN peace plan is delayed, the more the referendum of self-determination is postponed, the more imminent is a resumption of the armed conflict. On varions occasions Saharawi President Abdelaziz has warned, the Saharawi people should prepare for a return to arms. The threat of war is real.
Recently, government officials from Belgium and Italy visiting the region have noticed that Morocco has renewed its military installations on the wall.
The French Embassy Review in Rabat in July took note of the efforts by the Moroccan military, to recruit and train new soldiers.
Occupied territoriesIn the occupied territories, Morocco has used the time to strengthen its hold with the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Moroccan settlers and soldiers, turning Saharawis into a minority. Actually, they outnumber them by 7 Moroccans to 1 Saharawi. The move of non-Saharwi civilians to the territory of occupied Western Sahara is contrary to article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention.
The human rights situation in the occupied territories is of deep concern. Since 1987, the human rights watch organisation AFAPREDESA is monitoring the situation of Saharawi prisoners and those disappeared. In the first years of occupation, many were arrested, and thanks to assistance of Spanish human rights associations and Amnesty International they managed to register more than 500 cases of disappeared, 40 of them lost their lives. In 1991, the year of the cease fire, 310 prisoners have been liberated. As per 3rd September 2000, there are still 526 persons reported disappeared. Since September 1999, there are continuous demonstrations of Saharawi people against Moroccan oppression. The Moroccan security forces arrested many people.
During 2000, every month we get reports on gross human rights violations, arrests and torture of Saharawi students as well as of, long term imprisonment. MINURSO seems to be unable, or not willing, to intervene or protect people.
The Movement against Racism and for the Friedship between People (MRAP) underlined that heavy sentences where passed against the demonstrators for offences of opinion. The MRAP stressed on this occasion that "opinions should not be criminal" since the demonstrators only expressed their Saharawi identity. Even some Moroccan media start criticising the violent police actions.
The forces of Moroccan repression have been considerably reinforced by military elements after the 10th September 2000, both in Laayoune and Smara, on the eve of the anniversary of the bloody riots of September 1999. In Laayoune, the sit-in of many unemployed graduates continues. The police forced them to leave the building. Morocco is trying to resolve the problem of unemployment by moving Saharawis to Morocco. A protest march against deportations took place in Smara on 7th September.
The living conditions under Moroccan occupation are such that in some cases they force people to take desperate action: such was in August the case of three young Saharawis who drowned in their attempt to swim over to the Canary Islands.
The 52 session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva drew attention to the bloody events of September 1999, which show that persecution of the inhabitants of Western Sahara is not only the work of the Morrocan security forces, but also of groups of Moroccan settlers supported by armed militia, which cannot fail to recall the use of militia in East Timor.
The UNHCR occasionally praised the 4 camps as the "best organised refugee camps in the world". They have got schools, factories, everybody has a place in one of the Committees of Public Health, Schooling, Social Affairs, Justice, Distribution. But they are still camps, in the desert. When I visited the refugee camps in April this year I was asked one question again and again: When will we return?
And they are depending almost totally on international aid, and despite the regufees efforts I can tell you that the nutritional status and the food situation in April was terrible. The stocks were empty. A thin lentil soup was all the children in the boarding school I visited had, no vegetable, no meat. Not even a blanket was available for everyone to cover in the cold nights.
By blocking the referendum, the situation of food supply is difficult. Coordination between the donors was completely insufficient in 1999. Worse, UN and other suppliers have reduced their aid and announced more cuttings for the future. During summer 1999, ECHO had to start an urgency supply in order to cover at least the minima. Food supply has to be calculated at least for 15 to 18 months to guarantee a reserve for 3 to 6 months.
This disastrous supply situation is the cause of many diseases. A study of the Norwegian Church Aid, led by the Oslo University, from march 1997 showed that 46% of the children are too small for their age and 10% too thin for their height. Problems of malnutrition start when children must be fed more than breastfeeding. The earlier the problem of malnutrition starts the higher the risk of early death. The most vulnerable groups are children under 5, women in childbirth age and pregnant, elderly people, school children and ill peopleŠ.
But it cannot be our aim just to keep the people of the Western Sahara alive. As well as any other nation in the world, it is their right to decide about their own lives, their country, their state.
Prisoners of War
The UN peace plan foresees the exchange of prisoners. I would like to draw your attention to the plight of the Moroccan POW's whom I met in their camp and I call for an early repatriation of all remaining POW's.
Undoubtedly the United Nations have achieved important results maintaining the cease-fire, the identification of voters and the preparation of the repatriation of the refugees. Since 1991 more than 600 Mill. US Doll. were spent to allow the MINURSO achieve these results. For all these reasons I ask you not stop on halfway. As a Member of the European Parliament I would like to remind you that the United Nations have the full support of the European Parliament, as expressed in our resolution of 16 March 2000.
A delegation of Members of the European Parliament that visited the camps in September 2000 reaffirmed that the European Union must support the United Nations in its work towards the full implementation of the Peace Plan and the Houston Accords, and the re-inforcement of humanitarian aid for the refugees.
The European solidarity movement with the Saharawis (which has groups in Great Britain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Austria), Trade Unions, and European development NGO's all call for the European Union and its Member States to put enough pressure on the United Nations so that the referendum takes place as quickly as possible. This strong solidarity movement made it possible that 11.000 Saharawi children could spend this summer some months for recreation in the European countries.
We welcome the declarations of the King of Spain, during the recent visit of King Mohamed VI to Madrid, when he asked him to co-operate with the UN in order to end the long lasting conflict in Western Sahara. This is very important since Spain has a special responsibility regarding the territory.
On the eve of the crucial negociations between Morocco and the Polisario Front which are due to take place in Berlin, we call on the European Council, especially the French Presidency, to play a much more constructive role in order to support and uphold the speedy and full application of the UN Peace plan and the Houston Accords. Only a solution respecting the right of the Saharawi people to self determination will allow for the people of the region, among them the Moroccan people to construct their future in peace and stability.
Let us go for a just and lasting solution by peaceful means.