WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN, U.K., 8.2.1996
UNITED NATIONS: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
A briefing document compiled by Martin Hughes
There has been considerable activity at the UN over the past three months on
Western Sahara. Two separate reports in November and January have been
presented to the United Nations Security Council by secretary general Boutros
Boutros-Ghali, and two new Security Council Resolutions have been passed: 1033
(1995) and 1042 (1996).
It is now four years since the original date set by the UN for a free and fair
referendum on the future of the occupied territory of Western Sahara. The
latest reports, new additions in a long series, do not provide any positive
strategy for realising the long-promised referendum.
This edition of Western Sahara Briefing summarises the main developments in
diplomatic activity and the contents of the reports and resolutions. It also
gives the WSC's views on how the current deadlock may be broken.
The background to the latest developments was the attempt by the secretary
general last month (December 1995) to bring matters to a head.
In a move which would have effectively given the green light to Morocco to
register the claims of thousands of Moroccans to participate in the referendum,
secretary general Boutros-Ghali had proposed that voter identification need not
involve representatives of both parties. This fundamental revision of the rules for voter identification was contained in a report dated 24th November 1995 (S/1995/986).
The identification rules had been established in the original Settlement Plan,
which had been agreed by Morocco and the Polisario Front. The reaction of
Polisario to the secretary general's proposal was one of complete opposition:
the new procedure would create conditions where a Moroccan-nominated
representative alone could vouch for the claims of individuals to join the
SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION
After receiving the draft of a new Security Council Resolution on Western Sahara from New York in early December, the Western Sahara Campaign presented its views to the UN, the UK Government and London-based Embassies of Permanent
Representatives to the Security Council.
In its submission to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom,
which was faxed to the President of the Security Council in New York, the
Western Sahara Campaign made the following points:
1. The history of the Settlement Plan has been one of continued accommodation of the wishes of the occupying power. One clear example was the decision of the United Nations in 1991 to ignore Morocco's transfer en masse of around 40,000 people into the territory (a violation of paragraphs 71 and 72 of the Settlement Plan). The objective of the implantation of these settlers was to "pack" the electoral register with Moroccan citizens. Since that time, Morocco has been consistently pursuing a strategy which seeks to add large numbers of its own citizens to the electoral roll for the Western Saharan referendum.
2. There have been a whole series of errors by the United Nations Mission in
Western Sahara (MINURSO). These have been presented in evidence given before US Congress by the former Deputy Chairman of the Voter Identification Commission, Mr. Frank Ruddy, and 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:
3. The secretary general's proposals will compound the flaws in the
identification process to date, and they will create new conditions where voter
identification can take place purely on the oral evidence of a
Moroccan-nominated tribal leader. 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.
- allowing the parties to the conflict (and not the UN itself) 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
- 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Given the settlement of recent conflicts it is clear 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.
The draft resolution which was being considered by the Security Council in
December contained three possible courses of action.
The first course of action, proposed by the USA, France, UK and Argentina
endorsed the report of the secretary general. A second, proposed by Morocco
also endorsed the report but stressed the need to continue consultations with
Morocco and Polisario. The third, proposed by Polisario, called for continued
consultations on previously agreed methods of voter identification.
The Western Sahara Campaign was particularly concerned by the role which the UK
played during this period, as it appeared that action was being taken to favour
the Moroccan position. The announcement this month of the second visit to
Morocco in twelve months by Prince Charles indicates the growing economic
interest of Britain in Morocco and goes a long way in explaining the British
position at the UN.
It was also significant, even ironic, that the Argentinian and British positions at the UN Security Council were the same. There are very close parallels between the Argentinian invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands and the Moroccan invasion and occupation of Western Sahara.
In the event, the outcome of lengthy discussions within the Security Council was that the secretary general had to effect somewhat of a climb-down. Instead of endorsing the November report, the Security Council decided in its Resolution 1033 (December, 1995) to "welcome" the report as a useful "framework". This climb-down was the result of concerted lobbying by Polisario and the very strong protests of the government of Algeria.
Before the resolution was passed, in a move which looked like an attempt to save face, Boutros-Ghali announced that he would be sending a new envoy (Chinmaya Gharekhan of India) to Morocco and Algeria for more consultations. No such course of action had been proposed in the draft Security Council Resolution, but the fact that Gharekhan would be sent on the mission appeared in the final resolution which was passed on 19.12.95.
For its part, the Polisario later expressed its anger that Boutros-Ghali's
original report had been tabled in the form that it had been. The leader of
Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz described the report as "biaised towards Morocco"
and "as if Morocco had drafted the proposal and Boutros-Ghali signed it".
NEW ENVOY AND NEW REPORT
Chinmaya Gharekhan duly visited Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria during the early part of January. Given the background to the decision to send him on his
mission, it was hardly surprising that he was able to achieve very little.
Gharekhan's mission was undertaken against the backdrop of deteriorating
relations between Morocco and Algeria, the former accusing the latter of
interfering in the Western Sahara conflict. Morocco also took steps to try and
suspend the Arab Mahgreb Union, a fledgling economic union which comprises
Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania.
The latest report of the secretary general, presented to the Security Council on 19.1.96, revealed the following:
1. Both Morocco and Polisario have indicated that they want to see a free and
fair referendum, but both have also made it clear that they will not make any
new concessions on voter identification.
2. Polisario reiterated its position that the processing of applications of tens of thousands of Moroccans belonging to tribes not represented in the 1974
Spanish Census is not acceptable, and any moves to do so will lead to
Polisario's withdrawal from the whole process.
3. Polisario stressed the need to have more transparency in voter identification activity and for measures to restore confidence in the process.
4. Morocco was not willing to participate in either direct or indirect
negotiations with Polisario.
5. Algeria sees the whole issue as one of decolonisation and believes that
dialogue between Morocco and Polisario is essential.
6. The UN finally agreed that it would show lists of voters identified to date
to Morocco and Polisario to respond to the criticism which has been levelled at
MINURSO for some time that it is not operating in a transparent way.
To move matters forward, it was reported that Polisario has agreed to continue
with the identification of all applicants whose tribes are represented in the
Spanish Census. The UN, however, is insisting that it will process all
applications it receives.
The outlook for completing identification is therefore not positive. The UN
believes that it will take a further 6 to 12 months, but given unresolved
problems and past experience, this looks wildly optimistic.
The main areas for hope include the UN's decision, reflected in the very latest
UN Resolution 1042 (1996), to open up the identification process. The UN
intends to reveal who has been identified to date as eligible to vote in the
referendum, something that should have happened from the outset. Another
hopeful sign is that there is continuing recognition that dialogue between
Morocco and Polisario would be helpful. The problem here, though, is that
Morocco does not want to enter dialogue, and leading powers at the UN do not
seem to want to bring pressure to bear on Morocco to do so. Resolution 1042
talks of "encouraging" Morocco and Polisario "to consider additional ways to
create confidence between themselves." Even this weak formulation was only
reluctantly agreed to by the US, the UK and France.
The report ends with a recognition of a key dilemma for the UN. All the
indications are that a withdrawal of MINURSO would be very negative for peace
and stability in North West Africa, yet Boutros-Ghali has still posed the need
to consider the withdrawal option if no progress is made. In the meantime
MINURSO's mandate has been extended to 31st May, 1996 with 15th May set as the
target date for a new report on the situation.
THE WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN'S VIEWS
The Western Sahara Campaign was created to campaign for a just settlement to the Western Sahara conflict based on the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to exercise a free and fair vote on their future.
We share the view of the government of Algeria that fundamentally the conflict
revolves around the question of decolonisation of the territory. Western Sahara was indisputably a Spanish colony until 1975, and has been a Moroccan colony since the Moroccan invasion.
We also share the view of the Economist magazine, which in a leading article
this month correctly identified Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara as an
"ugly little theft" and a kind of "imperialism (which) goes against the grain."
The Western Sahara Campaign has questioned for some time the ability and
determination of the UN to deliver a free and fair referendum. Along with
former MINURSO staff and other non-governmental organisations, we have
criticised the lack of will of the powerful UN member states to tackle concerted Moroccan obstruction of the Settlement Plan.
In short, MINURSO got it wrong from the beginning, has compounded its errors
along the way and is now powerless to break a long-standing stalemate. What can be done? The following areas should be examined to try and break the deadlock and get the process back on track:
1. Bring real pressure to bear on Morocco to begin negotiations with Polisario. The Western Sahara Campaign argued back in 1994 that leading UN member states needed to re-build confidence in the Western Sahara settlement plan. No progress will be made while there are no direct negotiations between the two parties.
Positive developments in South Africa and the Middle East indicate that it is
only when parties in conflict enter into direct negotiations that real progress
can be made. The problem is that Morocco refuses to enter into dialogue. This
is not surprising given the history of the settlement plan to date: Morocco can
get what it wants without sitting down with Polisario.
2. At the same time, to revitalise the UN plan, leverage is required on both
parties to make the plan a success. The plan will fail if it is imposed on
either or both of the parties (an imposed solution has been put forward as an
option by Boutros Boutros-Ghali in March 1994 and again in November/December
Leverage will only come if a group of UN member states are able and prepared to actively engage in the Western Sahara Settlement Plan. In this respect, the
Western Sahara Campaign supports the idea of using the model used in Namibia of
a Joint Monitoring Commission. This was comprised of a group of states which
was able to arbitrate and problem-solve in the lead-up to Namibian independence. In the case of Western Sahara such a body could include the USA, France, Spain, Algeria and Mauritania as well as the two parties, the UN and the Organisation of African Unity. It could be the only chance left to rescue the UN plan and inject the key missing ingredients of confidence and leverage.
3. Withdrawal of MINURSO or its reduction to a token force are not options. It
is invidious to continue posing these options, when the UN knows that the
failure of MINURSO will destabilise the whole Mahgreb.
The conclusion of the latest report of the secretary general concedes this
important point. While reduction of the MINURSO force might save the UN's face
and satisfy the wishes of key Security Council members looking to save money by
disengaging from Western Sahara, such an outcome would have the effect of
collapsing the Settlement Plan and be a betrayal of promises made to the
Saharawi people. It would amount to an international sanction of illegal
occupation and colonisation.
At the end of the Cold War, many had high hopes for the UN. The Western Sahara operation should have been straightforward, given the history of the situation.
It certainly was less complex than Somalia, Angola or former Yugoslavia. The UN had an opportunity to achieve an early success in its post Cold War role and
build confidence; all that Western Sahara seems to have proved is that the UN is unable to practically enforce its political decisions in the field.
An inevitable conclusion is that the worlds remaining superpower must engage
itself more fully to ensure the whole process does not break down.
4. Very serious questions remain about the operation of MINURSO. Despite
evidence to the contrary, the UN denies that it has made any fundamental errors
and has failed to address criticism.
At the time of the presentation of evidence to the US Congress by former Deputy
Chairman of the MINURSO Voter Identification Commission, Frank Ruddy, and again
following the publication of the report of Human Rights Watch, the Western
Sahara Campaign argued for:
- A thorough and independent investigation into the role of MINURSO staff who may have undermined the impartiality of the voter identification process;
- A complete review of the identification process to date to determine whether Morocco's denial of entry to voter registration centres, intimidation of tribal leaders and confiscation of voter registration papers has compromised the prospects of a free and fair referendum;
- An increased deployment of MINURSO military personnel and civilian police to ensure that intimidation by the Moroccan authorities ends and that there is free movement within the occupied territory.
Unfortunately, the UN has been either unwilling or unable to address the flaws
in MINURSO's operation. It has also taken steps to prevent its staff and former staff from speaking out. This is not surprising, given the potential
embarrassment of the MINURSO operation for the UN in its role as the world's
peace-maker and peace-keeper. This does not mean that the experience of the
past 4 years should be forgotten or ignored. It may be that an independent
review by eminent international jurists will be the only way that there will be
a thorough, honest and transparent investigation into MINURSO.
For further information please contact Martin Hughes on + 44 1280 821184 (telephone), +44
1280 821784 (fax).
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