Hearing of Petitioners on Western Sahara by the Special Political and Decolonization Committee,
United Nations Fourth Committee, October 5, 2010
Remarks by Suzanne Scholte, President, Defense Forum Foundation & Chairman, US-Western Sahara Foundation
Thank you Your Excellency Mr. Chitsaka Chipaziwa and members of the Fourth Committee for this opportunity. As you know the IV Committee was founded on the principal "that all people have a right to self-determination" and that "colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end." Yet, with the situation for the people of Western Sahara there has been no right to self-determination and there has been no end, and certainly no "speedy" end, to the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.
While the United Nations can be commended for maintaining the cease fire between Morocco and the Sahrawis, it must also fulfill its promise of a referendum on self-determination. Not only has this continual delay of the referendum been a broken promise by the United Nations, but is also making the UN culpable in the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Sahrawis peacefully advocating for their right to self-determination. It is also making the UN culpable in the beating and jailing of those Sahrawis returning from international conferences and those returning from visits to the refugee camps, visits the UNHCR has encouraged and attempted to facilitate. The continual delay of the referendum has also put the health of hundreds of thousands at risk who are unable to return to their homeland of Western Sahara because of the Moroccan occupation. It has also led to the exploitation of the resources of Western Sahara.
The violence against the Sahrawis in occupied Western Sahara has been documented and reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the World Organization Against Torture, Reporters without Borders, and the U.S. State Department. In fact, Morocco's brutal occupation of Western Sahara has repeatedly led Freedom House to list Moroccan Occupied Western Sahara as one of the world's worst regimes. Even the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights has noted in its report that Morocco's human rights violations against the Sahrawi people are a direct result of the denial of the basic right to self-determination.
It is because of this violence that the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights has been advocating that the United Nations add human rights monitoring to the MINURSO mandate. I wholeheartedly endorse this recommendation especially in light of the fact that MINURSO is the only peacekeeping mission without a human rights component.
Despite the brutality of Morocco against unarmed Sahrawi men, women and children - the Sahrawis have continued to advocate for the referendum through peaceful, non-violence means and have followed the rule of law in trying to advocate for their right to self-determination. The Sahrawi leadership have relied on international law and this institution to achieve their objectives.
At a time in history, when the world is gripped in a conflict against those who practice terror as a means to accomplish their objectives, it is absolutely critical that this Committee use its influence and uphold its mandate to see that justice is done and self-determination is accomplished for the Sahrawi people.
In the face of this violence against them, the Sahrawis leadership has constantly pledged that they will abide by the outcome of a vote on self-determination: if the Sahrawis vote to become part of Morocco, so be it. But just give them a chance to vote. They continue to trust this institution.
Do not let their trust be in vain or you will send a terrible signal to the world that invasion, aggression and violence, as Morocco has employed, are the ways to achieve your ends. You will send a message that peaceful non-violence, reliance on the rule of law, and trust in the United Nations, will only result in your children growing up in refugee camps and your loved ones being beaten and tortured in black prisons. ###