Remarks of Ranking Member Donald M. Payne

Hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations:

Getting to "Yes": Resolving the 30-Year Conflict over the Status of Western Sahara

1:30 pm in 2172 RHOB

November 17, 2005


Mr. Chairman, I commend you for calling this hearing on an issue whose resolution is well overdue. It is certainly time, as the title of the hearing suggests, to resolve the 30 year conflict over Western Sahara and the only just way to do so is to hold the referendum to allow the Sahrawi [SAW- ROW- EE] people to determine their own future.

First, I want to thank Mr. Toby Shelley of the Financial Times in London for coming all the way from London to testify today before the committee. We greatly appreciate the trip and your writings and work on the issue of the Western Sahara and understand you need to leave at 4:00 in order to catch your flight out to London this evening.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, this issue is one that I have been following for some years and have worked closely on with our colleague Mr. Pitts of Pennsylvania. I know Senator Inhofe and Mr. Diaz-Balart have also followed the issue closely.

The last remaining colony in Africa, Western Sahara remains one of the longest-running conflicts and I think we, as the United States, have a great deal of responsibility 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 democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and allow the people to be free of tyranny and oppression there but not allow the people of Western Sahara that same right.

In my opinion, the International Court of Justice's ruling in 1975 that Morocco has no claims to the territory of the Western Sahara should be respected by the international community. However, I understand we are at the point where the issue has been taken up at the UN for years on how to handle it. First former Secretary of State James Baker was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and he tried several proposals. As we know, all failed because the parties did not agree at the same time on the same issues.

I welcome the naming of the new Special Envoy this past summer and hope that he will put forth a new plan which calls for a referendum to be held immediately.

I have serious concerns, Mr. Chairman, about the increasing repression and violence being carried out against Sahrawis by Moroccan officials in the occupied territory of El Ayun [EL- A- YOON]. There is a clear clampdown against human rights defenders in Western Sahara and I call for immediate investigation into these activities.

Since late 2005 there have been peaceful protests and an uprising in the areas of Western Sahara under Morocco's control, 37 Sahrawi political prisoners are in jail as a result of theses demonstrations, among them are Mrs. Aminatu [A- MEN-A- TOO] Haidar [HAY-DAR], Mr. Tamek, and others.

I condemn in the strongest manner the death of a young Sahrawi who was a peaceful demonstrator, Mr. Lembarki, and the imprisonment of a human rights activists, Mr. Dahan for meeting with American officials from the U.S. Embassy in Rabat.

These kinds of activities are unacceptable and I call on the State Department to immediately take action against Morocco in response to these actions.

It's simply unacceptable and we must be clear that &endash; whether the country in question is a U.S. ally or not &endash; this repression and abuse will not be tolerated.

I know 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.

Lastly, I want to welcome the former Prisoner of War, the Lieutenant, to the committee. I am sure you are happy to be home finally. You suffered terrible conditions over the years and I wish you and the other recently released POW's all the best.

Mr. Chairman, I think that while this is certainly an issue that is thankfully resolved, there still remain many unresolved cases concerning Sahrawis.

According to Amnesty International, several hundred people were "disappeared" after arrest between the mid-1960's and early 1990's remain unaccounted for.

Also, several people who were in a position of authority in the Polisario camps when serious human rights abuses &endash; including torture &endash; were widespread, particularly during the late 1970's and throughout the 1980's, now occupy positions of authority in the Moroccan civil administration. This is based on information Amnesty has been privy to.

We must look into this and urge for the respect of human rights on both sides.

I look forward to the witness' testimonies. Thank you.


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