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Statement on the implementation of the Peace Plan for Western Sahara: stage of Referendum on self-determination and human rights situation

In 1975 just at the end of General Franco's Dictatorship, Spain abandoned the last of its colonies: the territory of Western Sahara. That same year, Morocco invaded the territory. The vacuum created by Spain's withdrawal resulted in war between the Frente POLISARIO -who, representing the Saharawis, claims the right of the People of Western Sahara to self-determination according to international law in force- and their new colonizers. The Madrid Accords of 1975 turned Western Sahara over to Morocco and Mauritania -country that would renounce its claims to the area-, a transfer that was clearly null and void as a matter of law. The war between the POLISARIO and Morocco would last until the cease fire of 1991 when the U.N. agreed to create a peace-keeping mission called MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) to hold the referendum Spain was supposed to hold in 1975.

The referendum for the self-determination of the People of Western Sahara, which has been adopted by the UN as a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara decolonization conflict, was scheduled for 1992, but it has been postponed until it was suspended in 1996. The Houston agreements, reached between the parties in September 1997 under the auspices of the Personal Envoy of the UN General-Secretary, Mr. James A. Baker, activated again the process.

The Houston accords made it possible for the Frente Polisario and the Government of Morocco to reach an agreement on the central issue of the procedures to compile the electoral body, on the question of the confinement of the troops, the repatriation of the refugees, the release of political prisoners and exchange of war prisoners and also produced a code of conduct for the referendum.... All of which, if implemented in bona fide, could lead to a just and fair referendum. In the light of the advancements favoured by the Houston agreements the referendum was then scheduled for December 7, 1998.

However, the obstructionist attitude held by the occupant country, Morocco, has led once more to a new delay of the celebration date of the referendum and thus the UN Security Council in its recent Resolution 1204 (1998), dated October 30, 1998, taking into account the proposals contained in General-Secretary's report S/1998/997, dated October 26, 1998, postponed the holding of the referendum until December 1999. The General-Secretary came up with a series of recommendatios that were welcome by the Security Council in the mentioned Resolution, among them:

    a) To resume without delay identification of those applicants from tribal groupings H41, H61 and J51/52 (there is a controversy between the Authorities of Western Sahara and Morocco on these tribes. It is a question of 65,000 persons of dubious credentials, people from tribes only marginally related to Western Sahara. The government of Morocco is pushing for them to be allowed to vote) who wish to present themselves individually, and at the same time to begin the appeals process, as the best means of moving forward in the implementation of the Settlement Plan.

    b) In order to avoid the indefinite extension of the Identification Commission's programme of work, the General-Secretary proposed to publish by 1 December 1998 the provisional list of voters resulting from the work of the Identification Commission on tribes other than tribal groupings H41, H61 and J51/32, so as to begin on that date the appeals process concerning tribes which have already been identified. This appeals process could conclude in March 1999. However, given the obstacles brought about by Morocco, Mr. Kofi Annan has abandoned his intentions of publishing the provisional voter' s list on December 1.

    c) The number of the Commission's members will be gradually increased from 18 to 25.

    d) The holding of the referendum will also depend on the measures taken in anticipation of the return of refugees who have been declared eligible to vote, together with their immediate family members, and the conditions in which that repatriation takes place. To this end "the presence and establishment of UNHCR in the territory must be formalized in the very near future. That is a major requirement if we wish to create a real climate of confidence among the refugees...".

    e) According to the new schedule, the transition period will begin on June-July 1999; the referendum should be held on December 1999. The full deployment by MINURSO should be effective on January 1, 1999.

    f) Accordingly, the SG asks the Security Council to extend the mandate of MINURSO to 30 April 1999. (In relation to this, the Security Council in its last resolution S/RES/1215, dated December 17, 1998 has extended MINURSO's mandate until 31.01.99.).

The most recent UN documents on the question of Western Sahara - Secretary-General report S/1998/1160 of 11Dec98 and the mentioned Security Council resolution S/RES/1215 of 17Dec98- have made it clear that the Polisario has officially accepted all of the proposed measures (S/1998/997) and that Morocco has instead expressed its "concerns regarding key provisions" of the proposed package.

Therefore, the dilatory maneuvers of the Moroccan government have resulted in the identification of 65,000 more persons of Moroccan origin in full contradiction with the Security Council's decision that the electoral body for the referendum would be determined on the basis of an update of the1974 Spanish census. This new attempt on the part of Morocco in order to legitimate its illegal occupation of the territory has provoked a new delay of one year in the holding of the referendum.

The Moroccan strategy aimed at preventing the Saharawi People from expressing its desire for free and self-determination and its legitimate aspirations to dignity and justice, makes use of a series of practices that violate human rights and that are perpetrated to a large extent by the occupant army: napalm and phosphorus bombs, extrajudicial and summary executions, forced disappearances, implementation of torture, widespread repression, unfair trials, state of siege, information blockade and also a politics of population transfer (settlers) in order to denaturalize the demografic composition of the territory.

In the light of this all, the signing organizations would like to express their concern and rejection of the human rights violations -starting by the right to self-determination-, to which the Saharawis are been subjected -as individuals and as a People- and would also like to call your attention upon the following facts:

1) The MINURSO has been able to comply with most of its assignment having already identified up to 147.000 persons (twice the number of persons of the Spanish census) who pursuant to the Houston accords had to be summoned by the Identification Commission; however, thousands of Saharawi immigrants whose situation has not been regularized yet and who live mainly in Spain and France have been left aside this dentification process; these saharawis have not had any access to the identification Commission yet; if the current situation is mantained they will not be able to exercise their right to vote.

2) Regarding the freedom of movement and the possibility to accede to the occupied territory, the Moroccan government restricts the free access to the same preventing it from being visited by personalities and diplomats. On May 26, 1998, Morocco forbade the utilization of the MINURSO aircraft for the transportation of diplomats, officials of nongovernmental organizations and journalists, which became the central point of the letter that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Charles F. Dunbar, sent to the Moroccan government asserting that the visit of the mentioned personnel is registered within the activities framework of the Mission and the UN and contributes to the transparency of the process. However Morocco has not changed its position.

The restrictions imposed by Morocco to the freedom of movement sap considerably the transparency of the process and put in danger the results of the referendum. It is quite disturbing that Morocco manages to impose with success such practices to the UN.

Therefore we would like to express our disapproval for the lack of guarantees given to the Saharawi population in order to be able to freely express, move and exercise its inalienable right to self-determination and independence, according to the principles stated in the UN Charter and in the General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), dated December 14, 1998, which contains the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

3) With respect to the repatriation of Saharawi refugees, Morocco has refused to facilitate to the civilian police of MINURSO the relevant information in order to permit their return in safe conditions.

At the same time, from the beginning of the conflict in 1973 all parties involved have placed mines all over the territory. In this sense, it has also been verified the scarce Moroccan cooperation with the mine-clearance units, having even confiscated during several months in El Ayoun airport the communication equipment of the units of Sweden and Pakistan. As a consequence and according to a recent MINURSO report, the Mission has not been able to accomplish its task by the end of October, 1998, as it had been anticipated.

Therefore we express our preoccupation by the fact that the demining is only partial and mines then would only be removed from some gaps of the Moroccan defense walls and the shelter zones of the Saharawi refugees, which entails a permanent danger and a psychological pressure for the participants in the referendum. One must take into account that the singularity of the terrain, marked out by a series of dunes, does not guarantee that the clean zones will be thoroughly sure.

4) Concerning the human rights situation, the Moroccan security forces continue to violate them in a serious manner in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, thus acting against the international treaties subscribed by the Kingdom of Morocco and in spite of the presence of the United Nations in the territory from 1991.

These violations result in violent repression on the whole of the civil Saharawi population, who is being submitted to a restrictive appliance composed of more than 250.000 Moroccan agents. In spite of the presence of MINURSO, the assassinations, arbitrary detentions, tortures and penalties violating the provisions of due process do persist.

There are no news about the hundreds of disappeared persons and political prisoners. The efforts of the United Nations Independent jurist for the release of the Saharawi prisoners , Mr. Enmanuel Roucounas, have not had any positive result yet given the denial of Morocco to recognize the hundreds of cases of disappeared.

Currently, the Moroccan absolutist monarchy is developing a campaign of image cleanliness mainly based on King Hassan's idea of putting an end to the human rights violations and promoting the opening of his government. The Human Rights Advisory Council, which has been created by the king to serve to that opening image, announced the release of 28 political prisoners and the recognition of the death of 70 Moroccan disappeared in the sixties and seventies. But the reality is that the dossier has just been opened since the issue of the hundreds of Saharawi prisoners and disappeared is still taboo. As an example, Abraham Serfaty -Moroccan citizen who favours the self-determination of the Saharawi People- has not been granted his right to return yet. Also, there are 85 Moroccan war prisoners freed by the Polisario who have not been able to return to their land due to the denial of Morocco to recognize the existence of war prisoners.

In view of these facts we wish to call your attention upon the following:

    a) the necessity that the hundreds of Saharawi disappeared and their families, included the case of Mohamed Basiri under responsibility of the Spanish government, may achieve their right to truth, justice and redress and that the victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment may also be compensated. The repect towards the victims' rights requires the authors of these violations to be identified and brought to trial in order to determine their responsibility and impose upon them the sanctions provided by law.

    b) the fact that the creation of a climate of trust and serenity for the development of a free referendum and the respect of the international human rights instruments and international humanitarian law require the release of all the Saharawi prisoners and disappeared, the creation of an independent commission to conduct a through investigation on the serious human rights violations carried out by the parties in conflict and the prosecution of the authors of these violations.

5) We do consider, given the continuous functioning of the different restrictive bodies, that the guarantee for a free referendum does also imply the withdrawal of the services and bodies of the Moroccan State responsible for serious human rights violations in Western Sahara, particularly, the Moroccan Army, the Territory Security Directorate (D.S.T.), the Judicial Police (P.J.), the Royal Gendarmerie and the Mobile Intervention Companies (C.M.I.). These bodies would have been responsible for more than 90% of the detentions carried out in Western Sahara.

6) We also consider as reprehensible the passive attitude of the international community and especially of Spain given its historical responsibility toward the Saharawi People; we would like to underline that the only possible way for the achivement of peace and safety in Western Sahara consists of the prompt celebration of the Referendum on self-determination. From this point of view, Spain should actively promote such celebration; even if this former colonizing country takes into account the active opposition of Morocco -until the moment neither MINURSO counts with any Spanish component nor the Spanish government has shown any resolute interest in the sending of qualified observers to the area- respecting and supporting at all times the right of the Saharawi People to free determination

7) During his last visit to the region, between November 30, 1998 and December 2, 1998, the UN Secretary-General could confirm that the Polisario clearly accepts the Peace Plan - Secretary-General report S/1998/1160 of 11Dec98- , which signifies that the only obstacle preventing the Saharawi People from fully enjoy its right to self-determination, according to international law, comes from the Kingdom of Morocco, who persists in blocking the efforts of the International Community to arrive to a peaceful and lasting solution.

The signing organizations call upon the Internationl Community, in particular the European Union, to direct the necessary pressures towards the Kingdom of Morocco in order to decisively contribute to the fulfillment of the accords.

Madrid, January 4, 1998.

This Statement has been proposed by the Federation of Associations for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Spain) and the following organizations have adhered to it:

- Asociacion Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (Human Rights Association of Andalusia) - Asociacion Pro Derechos Humanos de Espanha (Human Rights Association of Spain) - Asociación de Familiares de Presos y Desaparecidos Saharauis-AFAPREDESA (Association of Relatives of Saharawi Detainees and Disappeared) - Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding Line) - Nizkor International Human Rights Team - SERPAJ Europe


- Akiba Seglares por un Mundo más Solidario - Asociacion Amigos del Sahara de Asturies - Asociacion Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui de Valdepeñas - Asociacion Guillena con el Pueblo Saharaui - Asociacion Cordobesa Amigos Ninhos Saharauis - Asociacion Bir Lehlu, Pozuelo por el Sahara - Associacio D'amics del Poble Sahraui de Tarragona - Asociación para la Colaboración con el Pueblo Saharaui - AHUSA (Valdepeñas) - Association pour un Referendum Libre et Regulier au Sahara Occidental ARSO - Barakaldo con el Sahara Salam Barakaldo Sahararekin - Coordinadora de Suport al Poble Sahraui a les Comarques Tarragonines - Grupo Jaima de Cordoba - Instituto Sindical de Cooperación al Desarrollo ISCOD - Interpueblos (Cantabria) - Medicos del Mundo - Nación Andaluza (Almería) - Oficina de Derechos Humanos de la Coordinacion Europea para el Sahara - OSPAAAL - Secretaria de Derechos Humanos de Izquierda Unida Federal - Solidaridad Internacional - Somos Iglesia (Cali, Colombia)

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