Sahara Press Service (El Aaiun)

30 December 2012

Western Sahara: Saharawi People's Right to Self-Determination Affirmed By UN, International Consultations in 2013 to Unlock the Conflict

Washington — The UN General Assembly and the Security Council reaffirmed the solution for self-determination of Sahrawi people in their many resolutions adopted during ending 2012, while the UN personal envoy Christopher Ross is to begin international consultations to unlock this issue, lingering for more than 35 years.

Western Sahara's issue witnessed a rebounding during this year, particularly, with the publication of the UN Secretary General's hard-hitting report, criticizing barriers imposed to the MINURSO's mission by the Moroccan authorities and by Morocco's withdrawal of confidence to Christopher Ross, which later changed its position after heavy international pressure.

In addition to these new developments, Ross proposed a new approach in the treatment of the Sahrawi issue.

In its Resolution adopted unanimously last April, the UN Security Council called on the Polisario Front and Morocco to continue the negotiations, without any preconditions and in good faith, in order to reach "just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution which allows the self-determination of people of Western Sahara."

He also requested Morocco to improve the situation of human rights in the Sahrawi occupied territories.

It is expected that the UN personal envoy Christopher Ross begins, in 2013, consultations with the key international parties to the Sahrawi issue, before making "shuttle diplomacy" through many visits to countries of the region, including Western Sahara.

With regarding to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the decision-making body of the UN responded positively to the recommendations of the Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon on the challenges facing this UN mission.

Indeed, in its report on Western Sahara, Ban Ki-moon deplored the difficulties experienced by MINURSO to carry out its missions, stating that it is not able "to fully exercise its functions of supervision, observation and liaison related to peacekeeping, or contain, on his own authority, the erosion of its capacity to implement its mandate."

He also noted that the principle of neutrality of the UN mission "is, for many years, compromised by Morocco."

The UN Security Council stressed, in his resolution, the need to "fully cooperate" with the operations of MINURSO in order to enable them to "operate freely with all stakeholders in the field" including the Saharawi people, human rights defenders, media and observers.

It also urged to take "necessary measures to ensure the security and circulation without obstacles" for MINURSO personnel in the execution of its mandate.

A few weeks after the publication of the report by Ban Ki-moon and the adoption of this resolution by the Security Council, Morocco then accused Christopher Ross of "biased and unbalanced" and withdrew confidence from him.

Reacting to the defiant attitude of Morocco, Ban Ki-moon, then affirmed repeatedly confidence in Christopher Ross, now in his mission.

This position was, however, fully shared by the U.S. State Department which expressed its support for the process of UN negotiations led by American Christopher Ross.

Given this international pressure, Morocco eventually reverse, welcoming Mr. Ross in Rabat in October during his regional tour.

Following the footsteps of the Security Council, the General Assembly of the UN, in turn, adopted a resolution on Western Sahara issue in which it supports the negotiation process, "in order to reach a solution that allows the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara."

But, like informal meetings held between the Polisario Front and Morocco in recent years, the ninth round, which took place in March at Manhasset (New York), has not achieved any substantive progress.

To the perplexity of this situation and at the end of his tour in the region and in Europe from 27 October to 15 November this, Mr. Ross had then announced that a new approach is to undertake extensive consultations internationally and regionally, rather than immediately convene another round of negotiations between the two sides.

It is thus expected that the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Western Sahara began in 2013 consultation with key international stakeholders in the Saharawi question, before performing "shuttle diplomacy" through several visits to countries of the region including the Western Sahara.

Moreover, the question of violation of the Saharawi human rights by Moroccan authorities has prompted the mobilization not only of the UN but also NGOs and the U.S. Congress.

After traveling in Morocco and Western Sahara in September, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, said Moroccan authorities resorted to torture against Sahrawi, stressing that Morocco "is far can affirm to have eliminated torture."

Mr. Mendez, who will present his report to the UN Council for Human Rights in Geneva in March 2013, also criticized the heavy police and Moroccan military presence in Western Sahara and the numerous cases of police brutality against Saharawi peaceful protesters.

A similar finding was reported by the U.S. Center Robert F. Kennedy for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) after a visit last August to the occupied territories of Western Sahara by a delegation led by its president, Ms. Kerry Kennedy, and mainly composed of lawyers and international experts in the field of human rights as well as the former Secretary-General of the World Organization against Torture.

In its report on the violation by Morocco of the Saharawis' human rights, the Organization cited cases of disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, abuse of police force, threats, intimidation and extrajudicial.

The NGO, based in Washington, called for urgent establishment of a permanent international mechanism to protect the human rights of the Saharawi people.

This flagrant violation of human rights has even been deplored by the U.S. State Department which noted in its report, sent to Congress last October that the situation raised "serious concerns" over the use by Moroccan forces of arbitrary detention and physical and verbal abuse against the Saharawi detainees during arrest, imprisonment and interference with the freedom of expression and assembly.

This report was prepared by the U.S. Department of State under Hillary Clinton a law passed by Congress that requires now the State Department to ensure compliance with human rights in Western Sahara before granting any military assistance to Morocco.

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