Rt. Hon. Malcolm Rifkind QC MP
Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs
London SW1A 2AL
5th December, 1995
Dear Mr. Rifkind,
I am writing to bring to your attention our concerns about the United Nations Settlement Plan for Western Sahara.
We have become aware that the United Nations Security Council is currently considering new arrangements for the identification of voters for the proposed referendum on the future of Western Sahara. The new arrangements under consideration have been set out in the report of the Secretary General to the Security Council of the 24th November, 1995 (S/1995/986).
We would like to express our grave concerns about the proposals currently being advanced by the Secretary General. In short, we see these proposals as allowing the occupying power, Morocco to add in excess of 100,000 of its own citizens purely on the basis of the oral testimony of Moroccan nominated tribal chiefs.
Unfortunately, the history of the Settlement Plan has been one of continued accommodation of the wishes of the occupying power. Not only did the United Nations choose to ignore the clear breach of the Plan by Morocco when it decided to transfer en masse around 40,000 people into the territory (a violation of paragraphs 71 and 72 of the Settlement Plan), but it is also clear that the UN has made a number of serious errors in relation to voter identification.
These errors are well documented in evidence given before US Congress by the former Deputy Chairman of the Identification Commission, Mr. Frank Ruddy, but also more recently by an independent report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
According to these informed sources, the catalogue of errors have included: allowing the parties to the conflict to distribute voting application forms to voters; allowing Morocco to completely control access to voter registration centres in the occupied territory and ignoring intimidation of voters and tribal leaders; failing to make proper provision for independent observation of the voter identification process; refusing to announce in a transparent way the rules which will be used to actually construct the final voting list; failing to deal with UN staff who are acting in a partial manner in favour of the occupying power and influencing subordinates to favour Morocco; and the creation of conditions which have enabled Morocco to introduce some 100,000 voting applications en bloc on behalf of its own citizens, which the Secretary General in his own report of 8th September 1995 notes could not have been resident in or could not have been connected to the territory, as their tribal groups were not represented individually by a large group of people at the time of the Spanish Census of Western Sahara in 1974.
The current proposals will compound the flaws in the identification process to date, as they will create new conditions where voter identification can take place purely on the oral evidence of a Moroccan-nominated tribal leader. This is particularly relevant to the 100,000 applications registered by Morocco which primarily relate to three tribal groupings based in Morocco. The introduction of such a procedure given the history of the voter identification process will represent a complete capitulation of the UN to Moroccan demands and will end any prospect of a free and fair referendum.
We would like to express our view that the implementation of such a process of voter identification will inevitably lead to the weaker party to the conflict (Polisario) withdrawing from the Settlement Plan, with all its attendant implications for an already unstable region. This will not be a course of action which Polisario will follow lightly as evidence to date suggests that Polisario has cooperated willingly with the UN, despite the very real problems with the Settlement Plan. However, conditions which allow the enfranchisement of such a large number of Moroccan citizens with no or questionable ties to the territory will effectively lead to the domination of the referendum by Morocco. Such an outcome would not only be perverse, but would represent a complete failure of the UN to carry out its long standing promise to the Saharawi people to decide their own future.
Given the settlement of recent conflicts it is clear in our view that the international community is failing to recognise the essential elements required in successful conflict resolution, namely ensuring that parties enter dialogue and resolve matters together. The UN has not been able to achieve this in Western Sahara, and instead has chosen to back the stronger power in a misguided attempt to hold a referendum to meet its obligations. We therefore urge HM Government through its representation at the United Nations not to support the proposed new voter identification procedures.
M P Hughes