Oxford Chambers
Oxford Place
Leeds LS1 3AX
tel/fax: 0113 245 4786 / 250 8353
e-mail: wsc@gn.apc.org


16 JULY 2001  


Former US secretary-of-state James A Baker III has written a confusing letter to The Economist newspaper over an article published by the Economist on 30 June 2001.

In a letter published by The Economist today, Baker, now the UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, suggests The Economist of providing "inaccurate" analysis of his "framework" proposals for the autonomy of Western Sahara under Morocco.   Under these framework proposals, the existing UN Settlement Plan for a referendum enabling the Saharawi people alone to determine the independence of Western Sahara, would be replaced with a vote on limited autonomy.   

Any vote to decide the "final status" of Western Sahara would, under the proposals, include hundreds of thousands of Moroccan settlers currently occupying Western Sahara rather than the 86, 386 Saharawi voters recognised under the existing UN Settlement Plan as eligible to vote.  The "final status" of Western Sahara is not defined by the agreements.  Under the existing agreements, signed by Morocco and the Polisario, analysts and diplomats have advised the Campaign that the Saharawi people would vote overwhelmingly for independence.  Richard Stanforth, spokesperson of the Western Sahara Campaign UK, fears "that occupying Moroccan settlers would determine the future status of a country the Moroccan government annexed in 1975.  

In their article of 30 June, The Economist questions whether any referendum on the "future status" of Western Sahara would actually take place.  Under the terms of the proposals,  Moroccan settlers, will be allowed to elect a legislative assembly.  After four years, this assembly will control the appointment of an executive.  Under his proposals, the executive and assembly can together make "modifications" to "change or abolish" the status of Western Sahara.  Richard Stanforth says "it appears likely to the Western Sahara Campaign that a Moroccan controlled assembly and executive would not wish to allow any referendum from taking place."     

In his letter, Baker argues that the UN is not abandoning the existing UN Settlement Plan, as claimed by The Economist.  In his report of 20 June 2001, the UN Secretary-General advocated the freezing of these agreements to allow time for discussions on the framework agreement. Instead, on 29 June 2001, the UN Security Council reaffirmed its commitment to the existing UN Settlement Plan and instructed Baker and the parties to consider Saharawi proposals to overcome the obstacles to the existing agreements alongside the framework proposals.  The Western Sahara Campaign UK asks why the UN wishes to consider new proposals if they are not abandoning the referendum.  Carlos Wilson of the US-Western Sahara Foundation met with senior UN officials recently and was privately advised "the referendum could take place this afternoon."  The problem remains the lack of political will on the part of some members of the Security Council.

Baker, quoting the UN Secretary General, suggests that the "proposed framework agreement is not unlike agreements used to address similar situations elsewhere, where a devolution of authority to the inhabitants of a non-self-governing territory is granted with the final status of the territory to be determined by a referendum".  Richard Stanforth, Co-coordinator, of the Western Sahara Campaign UK says, "we are not aware of any situations where hundreds of thousands of occupying settlers and are enfranchised, enabling them determine the sovereignty of a non-self-governing territory.  This is clearly what the proposed  framework agreement offers.   The United Nations did not grant the people of East Timor or Namibia autonomy." 

The United Nations resolutions on decolonisation are very clear.  UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (1960) states:

"Immediate steps shall be taken in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories, and all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, ... in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom."

The International Court of Justice ruled that the people of Western Sahara held these rights on the 16 October, 1975.  

CONTACT: RICHARD STANFORTH , WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN UK   +44 (0) 113 245 4786 / 250 8353  wsc@gn.apc.org 




Western Sahara's Future


Your article on Western Sahara ("The UN's U-turn", June 30th) contains information about the framework agreement on the status of Western Sahara that I helped draw up and that is, I believe, inaccurate. First, you say that there "may&emdash;but only may&emdash;be a referendum". In fact the agreement says there will be one within five years.

Second, you say that "the UN now appears to have decided to abandon" the settlement plan. In fact, the secretary-general's report to the Security Council says "the settlement plan will not be abandoned." And Security Council resolution 1359 of June 29th 2001 affirms that by engaging in negotiations over the framework agreement the parties will not prejudice their final positions. The resolution also provides that while discussions regarding the framework agreement go on, proposals submitted by the Polisario Front to overcome the obstacles preventing implementation of the settlement plan will be considered. Third, you say Morocco would be "responsible for law and order during the transition." The framework agreement plainly assigns exclusive competence for "law enforcement" and "internal security" to the population of Western Sahara. Fourth, you say that the proposed executive "will be responsible to [the] assembly". The relationship of the executive and the assembly is not laid out in the framework agreement and would be determined by negotiation.

Finally, let me answer the question posed at the start of your piece: "Has the UN's new plan for Western Sahara dropped self-determination?" The answer is an unqualified no. As the secretary-general says in his report: "The proposed framework agreement is not unlike agreements used to address similar situations elsewhere, where a devolution of authority to the inhabitants of a non-self-governing territory is granted with the final status of the territory to be determined by a referendum." In the light of the complexity and importance of these matters, it is hoped that you will exercise the utmost care in reporting them.

James Baker

copyright The Economist (London) page 16, 14-20 July 2000

Report of the SG, S/2001/613, 20.06.01 (PDF)(HTML)

Annex I

Framework agreement on the Status of Western Sahara

The authority in Western Sahara shall be as follows:

1. The population of Western Sahara, through their executive, legislative and judicial bodies shall have exclusive competence over local governmental administration, territorial budget and taxation, law enforcement, internal security, social welfare, culture, education, commerce, transportation, agriculture, mining, fisheries and industry, environmental policy, housing and urban development, water and electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure.

2. The Kingdom of Morocco will have exclusive competence over foreign relations (including international agreements and conventions) national security and external defence (including determination of borders, maritime, aerial or terrestrial and their protection by all appropriate means) all matters relating to the production, sale, ownership or use of weapons or explosives and the preservation of the territorial integrity against secessionist attempts whether from within or without the territory. In addition, the flag, currency, customs, postal and telecommunication systems of the Kingdom shall be the same for Western Sahara. With respect to all functions described in this paragraph (2) the Kingdom may appoint representatives to serve it in Western Sahara.

3. In Western Sahara the executive authority shall be vested in an Executive, who shall be elected by a vote of those individuals who have been identified as qualified to vote by the Identification Commission of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and whose names are on the United Nations provisional voter lists (completed as of 30 December 1999) without giving effect to any appeals or other objections. To qualify as a candidate for Executive, one must be an individual who has been identified as qualified to vote as aforesaid and whose name is on said provisional voter lists. The Executive shall be elected for a term of four years. Thereafter, the Executive shall be elected by majority vote of the Assembly. The Executive shall appoint administrators in charge of executive departments for terms of four years. The legislative authority shall be vested in an Assembly, the members of which shall be directly elected by voters for terms of four years. The judicial authority shall be vested in such courts as may be necessary, the judges of which shall be selected from the National Institute for Judicial Studies but shall be from Western Sahara. Such courts shall be the authority on territorial law. To be qualified to vote for members of the Assembly, a person must be 18 years or older and either (i) a continuous resident of the territory since 31 October 1998, or (ii) a person listed on the repatriation list as of 31 October 2000.

4. All laws passed by the Assembly and all decisions of the courts referred to in paragraph 3 above must respect and comply with the constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco, particularly with respect to the protection of public liberties. All elections or referenda referred to in this agreement shall be conducted with all appropriate guarantees and in keeping with the Code of Conduct agreed to by the parties in 1997, except where to do so would be inconsistent with the terms hereof.

5. Neither the Kingdom nor the executive, legislative, or judicial bodies of the Authority of Western Sahara referred to above may unilaterally change or abolish the status of Western Sahara. Any changes or modifications of this agreement has to be approved by the Executive and the Assembly of Western Sahara. The status of Western Sahara will be submitted to a referendum of qualified voters on such date as the parties hereto shall agree, within the five year period following the initial actions to implement this agreement. To be qualified to vote in such a referendum a voter must have been a full time resident of Western Sahara for the preceding one year.

6. The Secretary-General of the United Nations will offer his mediation and good offices to assist the two parties hereto in the implementation or interpretation of this agreement.

7. The parties agree to implement this agreement promptly and request the assistance of the United Nations to this end.

Executed this ______ day of _____________ 2001.

[Documents, letters, communiqués...][Western Sahara Homepage]