Petitioners Condemn Corruption, Diversion of Aid Intended for Refugee Camps as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate

Stagnation, corruption and terrible conditions threaten the well-being of young people in Western Sahara’s refugee camps, petitioners from Non Self Governing Territories told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it continued its general debate on decolonization.

Describing the situation in the Tindouf camp where she grew up, one petitioner said: Entire generations are learning how to be so patient that it hurts, expressing worry that their patience will someday fade away. Another petitioner said the Sahrawi people have been trapped in a desperate situation inside the Tindouf camps and have been used and abused for political and criminal gain.

Some petitioners expressed outrage over the beating and torture of youth by Morocco’s police while others said young people have little access to education, adequate health care or freedom of movement. The message transmitted is clear: wealth and power are more important than human dignity, one petitioner emphasized, calling for the boycott of, divestment from and sanctions against Moroccan State companies that exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources.

Describing the disillusionment of young people in Tindouf, another petitioner warned: These unresolved issues cause the youth to be susceptible to the pull of clandestine activities such as smuggling of arms, people and drugs, and embracing terrorism as a way of life.

In a similar vein, another petitioner said that for years the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, (POLISARIO Front) has promised Sahrawi youth in the camps a resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara but they have so far been disappointed and are vulnerable to recruitment by rogue groups conducting activities that cause further destabilization.

Some petitioners expressed alarm over the diversion of humanitarian assistance intended for refugees, and called for the development of a comprehensive data collection plan to determine how many people live in the camps.

One petitioner described the diversion of provisions as a web of deception reaching across North Africa, while another equated it to a mafia operation circumventing the established legal structure in place to provide aid.

Another petitioner said that if simple steps had been taken aid 43 years ago to stop the theft of humanitarian assistance, the question of Western Sahara could have been settled soon after its inception.

Also speaking today were representatives of Cameroon, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and the Russian Federation.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 12 October, to continue the decolonization discussion.

Statements

The representative of Cameroon said that, following consultations, he proposed that the Special Committee on Decolonization defer consideration of two requests for hearing by petitioners Samuel Ikome Sako of Africa Solidarity for Sahrawi and Martin Ayong Ayim of Living Stories and Memories, listed as numbers 60 and 61 in the requests for hearings on Western Sahara contained in document A/C.4/73/7.

The Chair accepted Cameroon’s request.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

PEDRO PINTO LEITE, International Platform of Jurists for East Timor and Stichting Zelfbeschikking West-Sahara, denounced the European Council’s decision to incorporate Western Sahara into the European Union-Morocco trade protocols. He noted that although the European Court of Justice does not allow the European Union to consider the territory of Western Sahara as part of Morocco, the European Council and the European Commission are incorporating that territory into their agreements with Morocco, thereby disrespecting their own Court and violating international law.

JANET LENZ, International Faith and Peace Dialogue, said it is tempting to fall into a debate on why the Sahrawi should have an opportunity to choose their own future through a referendum. However, this is not a matter of their deserving that vote because they have already won the legal right to hold it, she said, emphasizing that the referendum must take place for the Sahrawi, who are real people living in a tragic situation.

ERIC CAMERON, World Action for Refugees, lamenting the inaction surrounding the Tindouf camps, said that a political solution can be achieved through the Moroccan initiative for autonomy, which guaranteed good governance and fundamental rights. Calling on the international community to conduct a census in order to define the true number of refugees and give the camp-dwellers a free choice to resettle in a society of their own choice, he stressed the need to crack down on racketeers who embezzle supplies of food and medical resources.

WINDSOR SMITH, The Potomac School, said that although the United Nations Charter guarantees the Sahrawi people the right to self-determination, no referendum has occurred. The International Court of Justice found that Morocco does not have rights over Western Sahara, yet Morocco ignored and invaded the Territory anyway, thereby undermining the rule of law, she said. The Sahrawi people live under terrible conditions in the refugee camps, while the Moroccans plunder the natural resources of the region, she noted, calling upon the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to fulfil its mission.

AGAILA ABBA HEMEIDA, petitioner, said Morocco has dedicated its resources to the exploitation of the Sahrawi people. Journalists are prevented from entering the Sahrawi capital because the Government of Morocco is afraid of exposure there, said, asking the Special Committee on Decolonization to keep in mind the rights of Sahrawi and all other journalists who suffer under dictatorship.

MA�RIEM DEHBI TALBOT, French-Canadian filmmaker, said her experience making a documentary in Western Sahara enlightened her to the plight of the refugees in the Smara camp, adding that the Sahrawi do not have the tools to tell their own stories. The promise of a referendum is magnifying the hope of young Sahrawi, she said, urging the United Nations to give them the tools they need to share their stories.

NAAMA SGHAYER, activist, said that although 25 years have passed since the ceasefire in the region, many Sahrawi are waiting to hear about the fate of their imprisoned loved ones. Listing the names of people who were kidnapped or died in prison, he said Morocco is purposely turning a blind eye to deaths caused by the occupying Power.

AHMED MOHAMED FALL, petitioner, said the gross domestic product (GDP) of Western Sahara is dropping and if the loss of natural resources is deducted as well, it becomes clear that the Moroccan occupation has negatively affected the region. When the occupying Power talks about development in the Territory it is speaking of military and security operations, not investment in education, he said, pointing out that young people must travel miles to school or university. The Sahrawi have become a minority in their own city, he noted, recalling the small percentage of Sahrawi in Dakhla.

AHMED MOHAMED FADEL, petitioner, said the Egyptian people have joined the Sahrawi people in their cause. Tourists in the Canary Islands are taking advantage of a stolen coast while thousands of Sahrawis suffer marginalization. Moreover, Morocco is stealing the natural resources of the Sahrawi people, he said, adding that both Egyptian and Sahrawi people have been disappointed by the Charter of the United Nations.

JEDEN AHMED, petitioner, describing Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa, said the Fourth Committee is no longer a source of hope for the Territory’s people, but represents disappointment instead. The Committee continues to fail in its main objective, which is the eradication of colonialism, he said, emphasizing that the people of Western Sahara are entitled to their inalienable right to self determination.

VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said Western Sahara is a Non Self-Governing Territory occupied by Morocco in clear violation of international law. The International Court of Justice acknowledged claims in favour of Western Sahara and the General Assembly condemned the pilfering of the Territory’s natural resources, she recalled.

BOUELA LEHBIB, Sahrawi Association for Human Rights, said he was not yet born when his family and other Sahrawi people had to flee their homes and seek refuge in Algeria. The United Nations has been unable to secure basic human rights for the Sahrawi by allowing MINURSO to monitor and collect information on Morocco’s violations. I come from a place where young people like me grow frustrated, he said, adding: Young Sahrawis are saying it is time to act, or never.

SEKOUBA CISSE, petitioner, describing himself as a former diplomat from Mali, said that Morocco, faced with regional threats and challenges, has adopted various means to foster its own domestic development and contribute to stability. The kingdom has contributed to peacebuilding in Africa and holds regular conferences and seminars, inviting African experts on border control and other issues. Internal stability has allowed Morocco to contribute to security and development beyond its borders, he noted.

KATLYN THOMAS, petitioner, said Morocco uses the resources of Western Sahara illegally, without the slightest attempt to obtain the approval of the people there, and in many cases labels products from the region as coming from Morocco. While noting that the courts of Europe have taken steps to prevent Morocco’s exploitation of the Territory’s fisheries and agricultural products, she emphasized that the Committee has the power to stop the illegal activity by demanding that Morocco grant the people of Western Sahara the right to self-determination.

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, said that had simple steps been taken to stop the theft of humanitarian aid 43 years ago, the question of Western Sahara could have been settled soon after its inception. Today, the diversion of aid is rampant, marked by a web of deception reaching across North Africa, she said, urging the United Nations to conduct a head count of Tindouf camp residents and to properly oversee all aid designated for the camps. Furthermore, the Committee should accept Morocco’s autonomy plan as the simplest and fastest resolution of the issue, she said.

CARROLL EADS, Capitol Hill Prayer Partners, described the condition of the Tindouf camps and the disillusionment of youth there. These unresolved issues cause the youth to be susceptible to the pull of clandestine activities such as smuggling of arms, people and drugs, and embracing terrorism as a way of life, she said, urging the Committee to consider Morocco’s autonomy proposal.

NAGLA MOHAMED-LAMIN, Nove, said that, as a refugee born and raised in the Tindouf camps, she wants the right to determine her own fate. People who have never visited the camps have dehumanized and lied about the Sahrawi people, she said, adding that refugee has been her only label one forced upon her, in part, by this Committee. Entire generations are learning how to be so patient that it hurts, she said, expressing worry that their patience will someday fade away. She implored the international community to support her right to choose her own future and the freedom of self-determination.

DONNA SAMS, petitioner, Antioch Community Center, asked the international community to accelerate its efforts to improve the conditions in the Tindouf camps, where people live in impoverished conditions. Warning that the region could become a magnet for countries and leaders with an agenda of war and destabilization, she asked for the development of a comprehensive data-collection plan since there is resistance to anyone outside of POLISARIO knowing how many people are in the camps.

JONATHAN HUFF, Safety and Security Instructional Services, said the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies accuses Hizbullah of purposely seeking out people like the Tindouf Sahrawis who are vulnerable to terrorist ideologies. For years, POLISARIO has promised Sahrawi youth in those camps have been promised a resolution of the dispute but they have been disappointed. Indoctrinated youth are willing to help rogue groups conduct activities that cause further destabilization, he said, adding that Morocco can best stabilize the region by enforcing its national sovereignty over it.

SARAH GIAMPIETRO, Western Sahara Resource Watch, called on the United Nations to ensure that a solution is found to prevent foreign companies from exploring and exploiting natural resources in Western Sahara. Morocco is still violating the right of the Sahrawi people to dispose of their own resources and depriving them of their own means of subsistence, she said.

BRIAN JAMISON, Date Palm Consulting, shared the experience of his six visits to the Sahrawi refugee camps, citing the community’s hospitality and ability to dialogue with those of different faiths. The Sahrawi deserve the right to self determination, he emphasized, saying: They deserve this right because Allah says it’s the right thing to do.

YOUSSOUF COULIBALY, University of Bamako, said the Sahel region suffers insecurity and human rights violations of perpetrated by political and armed groups of all categories. Citing POLISARIO’s responsibility for the degradation of the security situation, he emphasized that Morocco is the only actor able to offer security in the present context. Sahrawi inhabitants voicing dissent are taken hostage and face threats, he said, calling for urgent and specific actions while stressing that Morocco’s autonomy proposal seems the right solution.

STEPHANE DOMINGUES RODRIGUES, Lallemand and Legros Law Firm, called attention to agreements reached between Morocco and the European Union, pointing out that while the European Union Court of Justice lacks the jurisdiction to resolve international disputes, some organizations have tried to give it that role. According to recent decisions that Court has reached, the European Union can continue legally to negotiate agreements over Western Sahara with Morocco. Therefore, the European Union has clearly recognized Morocco as the appropriate and legitimate interlocutor with which to negotiate matters relating to Western Sahara.

INMACULADA ZANOGUERA GARCIAS, Associacio d’Amics del Poble Saharaui, said her mother was born in Laayoune, Western Sahara, but had to flee to Spain, where a Spanish family adopted the petitioner and her siblings. Emphasizing that the Sahrawi must have their fundamental human right to self-determination, she declared: The Sahrawi have their own clear and loud voices, it is up to us whether we will give ourselves the gift of listening. Colonialism has brought enough cruelty to the world, she said, demanding that the Security Council and the African Union come together to ensure that the Sahrawi are heard in the form of a just and well monitored referendum.

SUSAN ASHCRAFT, retired special agent, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Department of Justice, said the Sahrawi people have been trapped in a desperate situation inside the Tindouf camps. They have been used and abused for political and criminal gain, she added, asking the international community to take swift and decisive action to adopt Morocco’s autonomy plan and restore the Sahrawi to their homeland in Western Sahara.

MICHELLE-ANDREA GIROUARD, filmmaker, reported that she filmed a documentary in the refugee camps in Algeria, where she witnessed the inhospitable conditions the Sahrawi face. Access to hospitals and universities is non-existent and the second largest wall in the world blocks them from returning home, she said. Beyond the wall lives the other half of the Sahrawi people, who are beaten and tortured by Morocco’s police. The message transmitted is clear: wealth and power are more important than human dignity, she emphasized, calling for the boycott of, divestment from and sanction against Moroccan State companies that Western Sahara’s natural resources.

SARAH DUBORD-GAGNON, petitioner, said the Sahrawi living in Tindouf are denied freedom of movement, adding that a documented practice of slavery prevails in the camps. The separatist POLISARIO movement is responsible for depriving the people of Tindouf of their basic rights, she said, adding that Morocco’s autonomy initiative seems to be the only consensual solution to end the regional dispute.

NESTOR HUGO BLANCO, petitioner, said the duration of the conflict in Western Sahara destabilized the Maghreb region. Peace can only occur through the United Nations, he added, noting that the dispute is based on the principle of territorial integrity. Indeed, the United Nations urges neighbours to cooperate in facilitating solutions, he said, emphasizing that Morocco is committed to working with other entities under United Nations auspices to ensure stability and territorial integrity.

ADALBERTO CARLOS AGOZINO, petitioner, denounced POLISARIO’s diversion of provisions sent to the Sahrawi people. Emphasizing that the dispute should be resolved in a transparent and non-political way, he lamented that an established legal structure was used to divert aid for refugees to African markets, equating the practice to a mafia structure connected to illicit and illegal activities. In light of this, many entities have had to suspend their aid, he said.

JUAN CARLOS MORAGA, Rehabilitacion y Esperanza, said compensation for victims is rare. He said that is why he values the actions of the King of Morocco, who has created a national commission to shed light on past violations. Morocco is a model of transitional justice throughout the world, he said, adding that the Moroccan commission is unique in investigating violations in their various forms.

FRANCOIS-PIERRE BLANC, University of Perpignan, said he is a professor of law and reaffirmed the legitimacy of the agreements between the European Union and Morocco. Noting that the principle of sovereignty over natural resources is customary under international law, he emphasized that sovereignty is a State issue, not a people issue as POLISARIO claims. Morocco is setting up a process of regionalization and involving the southern provinces in a general development policy, he said, adding that the kingdom’s autonomy proposal includes a referendum and allows the Sahrawi their right to self-determination.

FATIMETU JATRI EMHAMED, Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center, expressed disappointment that the United Nations has not made any serious effort towards Sahrawi self-determination, as Western Sahara’s natural resources are illegally exploited and sent to wealthy countries. This is more than injustice, it is pathetic neglect of fellow human beings, she stressed, demanding: How can you all go to sleep knowing this illegal occupation is still happening in the twenty-first century? She called on the people of France to demonstrate against their Government’s abuse of international law and its violation of her people’s right to self-determination.

ANDRA� GRIMBLATT, Centro de Estudios del Magreb, said the separatist discourse accuses Morocco of excessive exploitation in Western Sahara, but that is not true. Instead, Morocco is more interested in the Territory’s development and growth than in exploitation. Moroccan Sahara’s fishing industry is known around the world for its high quality and standards, he pointed out, saying the kingdom has developed policies for the region so that its people can benefit from all the rights and privileges that Moroccan citizenship implies.

FULVIO RINO, Bambini Senza Confini�Onlus, said Western Sahara should have the right to self-determination. Recalling his three visits to the refugee camps, he said the inhabitants are forced to live on rationed water and rely on declining humanitarian assistance. On the other side is a monarchy that jails and tortures people and does not respect resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, he said, emphasizing that an immediate referendum is necessary. He added that the matter should be moved from Chapter VI to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

HUBERT SEILLAN, Barreau de Paris, said no one can dispute that the people of Western Sahara have human rights, including the right to education and basic services as well as the right to democratic participation in elections. He said that, as an observer, he recently published a book, Policy Against Law, which documents violations.

BRAHIM EL AHMADI, petitioner, said the question of Western Sahara has been on the Committee’s agenda since 1963. Recalling that Morocco was the only regional State independent of Western colonialism at that time, he said Western Powers took slices of the region through horse-trading, and Morocco never ceased to fight against two colonial Powers France and Spain.

JAVIER ANDRA�S GONZA�LEZ VEGA, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oviedo, said the persistent violation of the right of the Sahrawi people to self determination is accompanied by the continuous breach of their sovereignty over their natural resources. The occupying Power, the Kingdom of Morocco, has concluded many agreements related to the exploitation of Western Sahara’s fishing resources, he said, condemning the signing of the agreement between the European Union and Morocco.

The representative of Morocco said that petitioners who are absent when it is their turn to speak should not be allowed to take the floor, requesting that the rule be applied strictly.

The representative of Algeria recalled the established practice that involves the Secretariat ensuring that all petitioners on the list can address the Committee. If petitioners are not present for their turn, they will have a chance to speak later if they are in the room.

The representative of Egypt recalled that a petitioner claiming to belong to his country spoke about irrelevant issues and made fabrications and false claims. He sought clarification on that issue.

The Committee Chair responded by reminding delegations that if they wish to ask questions of a petitioner, they must indicate their wish well before the petitioner has finished speaking. Turning to the representatives of Algeria and Morocco, he said the list of petitioners was provided by the Secretariat, and he is following it according to practice.

The Secretary clarified that when petitioners switched places on the list, it is done by mutual consent between them.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed support for Egypt’s request for clarification relating to one of the petitioners, saying he wishes to hear a response from the Secretariat.

The Committee Chair asked the representative of Egypt to clarify the petitioner’s name.

The representative of Egypt said the petitioner’s name is Ahmed Mohamed Fadel.

The Chair said the Bureau will follow up on the matter.

The representative of Morocco said the Chair should abide by his previously stated rule that petitioners who are not ready to speak should be withdrawn from the list and requested that all petitioners who have not yet spoken be removed from the list.

The Committee Chair said Morocco’s assertion of his previously stated rule will be verified against procedural notes.

The representative of Algeria said the time allocated for petitioners must be reserved to allow them to express themselves and delegates must not create obstacles in that regard.

The Committee Chair said the Bureau has checked the notes and they contain no statement that petitioners not present in the room will not be allowed to speak. Morocco must have misunderstood, he added.

Source: United Nations