THE UNITED STATES MISSION FOR THE REFERENDUM IN WESTERN SAHARA: LOFTY IDEALS AND GUTTER REALITIES

 

Address by The Honorable Frank Ruddy

United States ambassador (retired)

Georgetown University

Washington, D.C.

February 16, 2000

 

The people of Western Sahara were supposed to vote last December 7 in a referendum to decide whether to be free or part of Morocco, The referendum was postponed, again. I really have lost count how many times it has been postponed since 1992, when first scheduled. This time the referendum was postponed indefinitely in the words of the U.N. communique. They don't dare to predict any more.

The United Nations has already spent a half billion dollars on this international bauble, the stuff of Secretaries' General reports and Security Council resolutions: high falutin elegies to nothing doing. The U.N.'s excuses for failing to hold the referendum, which come as regularly as changes in the seasons, bring to mind the phrase of George Orwell: "A mass of empty words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up the details." Looking at the United Nations in Western Sahara, Jesse Helms is an optimist!

There will be no referendum for Western Sahara until Morocco permits it. How refreshing if the U.N. would simply say that. Everyone knows it, and it is simply and demonstrably the fact. Both sides agreed in April of 1999 to expedite appeals once the identification was completed. The agreement was that appeals would be entertained only where new evidence could be introduced to establish a right to vote. However, no sooner was the identification of voters completed in December of last year than Morocco reneged and filed blanket appeals for 79,000 rejected voters, in the Secretary General's words, virtually an appeal for every voter rejected.

There was also the matter of the 65,000 members of the so-called contested tribes, those living in Morocco but claiming affiliation as Sahrawis. This was another laughable attempt by Morocco to hold off the referendum. Laughable, but not cheap: Identifying these people took two and a half years and cost $120 million dollars. Net result: 2000 of the 65,000 qualified as voters, or $60,000 a vote. Morocco is appealing the rest who were rejected, bringing the number of appeals to about 130,000 persons, in effect, beginning the identification all over again.

Morocco's strategy is quite simply to delay a referendum they know they cannot win until the United Nations throws up its hands in frustration. And sad to say, they are getting away with it. In How Democracies Perish, Jean Francois Revel said that the best example of the unique Communist "talent for creating non information" was the Chinese occupation of Tibet where no information emerged to perturb the Sinolatry of the West. He called it "almost perfect genocide that unfolded in almost perfect secrecy. Morocco has taken a page from China's book, invading and colonizing Western Sahara without drawing the world's ire or attention and holding itself out as a great friend of the West as it crushes the Sahrawis right to determine their future, something the Charter says the U.N. was created to ensure.

Morocco is very good, by the way, at posturing as an upright member of the international community while getting away with outrageous behavior. For example, according to the watchdog groups that publish this kind of information, Morocco is one of the leading persecutors of Christians, right up there with Saudi Arabia, Sudan and China. Morocco is also, according to the N.Y. Times, the largest hashish supplier in Europe and one of the world's leading hashish producers. Hashish is Morocco's most important export crop, bringing in $2 billion a year.

As you may have guessed, I am no longer neutral on Morocco's role in Western Sahara, but my conversion was unexpected. When I went to Western Sahara I had a very favorable view of Morocco for their long and valuable alliance with the United States and a very dim view of the POLISARIO as a protégé of America's enemies. All that changed once I got there, as I described in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, when I saw firsthand the Moroccans terrorize the local population of Western Sahara and infiltrate the U.N. mission.

Today I am to talk about what I saw in Western Sahara. Those of you who follow this issue may have heard some of what I have to say in my Congressional testimony, at the Middle East Institute or on Capitol Hill. But, as Dr. Johnson said, it's often as important to remind as to inform, and we all must be reminded of what's happening in Western Sahara if we ever expect to have justice there. When I was scheduled to tell what I saw in Western Sahara to the U.N.'s Fourth Committee (on decolonization) Boutros Ghali personally intervened to bar my presentation. I believe I am the only person ever barred from that committee in its 50 some year history. That should, at least, make you wonder what Siren powers I possess if even ambassadors to the U.N. could not be trusted to listen to me.

Morocco had been at war with the POLISARIO FRONT over Western Sahara from1975 until 1991 when a U.N. organized cease-fire took hold. The quid pro quo for the cease-fire was a referendum to be held under U.N. auspices to let people native to the region decide whether to be independent or part of Morocco. For reasons I will go into, was postponed and postponed until it was suspended in 1996. Enter former Secretary of State James Baker whom the new U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had brought in to get the referendum back on track. To the amazement of many people, Baker, the champion of the New World Order and coalition builder in the Gulf War was able, after much shuttle diplomacy, to get Morocco and the POLISARIO, to agree in Houston on a proposal for voter identification, refugee repatriation, troop confinement and a code of conduct, which, if carried out in good faith, would produce a free and fair referendum.

These were the Houston Accords which permitted the referendum preparations to get under way again in late 1997, with the actual vote anticipated in early December, 1998. Times have changed. The identification is finished, but in year 2000, c'est la même chose: we are witnessing the same bad faith and the same obstructionist tactics that caused the referendum to fail in the first place. Let me take you back briefly to that first place where things went so very wrong wrong.

From 1904 until 1975 Western Sahara was occupied by Spain. Spain resisted U.N. demands to de-colonize, but by 1974, Spain was fighting a shooting war with the POLISARIO FRONT, then as now the indigenous independence movement.

In August 1974, Spain announced that it would acquiesce to the U.N. and hold a referendum to allow the people of Western Sahara [called Sahrawis] to determine whether they wanted to be independent. Morocco immediately announced that it would reject any referendum that included independence as an option because the Sahrawis belonged to Morocco as did Western Sahara, which Moroccan claimed it would recover "by whatever means."

Seeking to delay the referendum but ignoring Perry Mason's advice never to ask a question you don't know the answer to, Morocco, with Mauritania tagging along, persuaded the U.N. General Assembly to adopt a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on two questions: Was Western Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius) ? If not, what were the legal ties between this territory and the Kingdom of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity ? On October 16, 1975, the Court announced that Morocco's historic claims to the region, which were very similar to the appeal to history Iraq would later use to justify its invasion of Kuwait, were insufficient to create sovereignty over the territory. In the words of the Court, and this cannot be emphasized too strongly: "...the Court's conclusion is that the materials and information presented to it do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. Thus the Court has not found legal ties of such nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara, and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the territory."

In the clearest of language the Court rejected Morocco's claim and reaffirmed the right of the Sahrawis to the referendum the U.N. had demanded and Spain organized, going so far as creating a census of eligible voters. Yet, in what my old N.Y.U. law professor Thomas Franck called an interpretation worthy of the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, King Hassan announced that what the World Court meant when it rejected Morocco's claim was that it accepted Morocco's claim, and in a jihad atmosphere, the king announced that he was recruiting 350,000 civilian volunteers to march into the Spanish colony and "rejoin our brothers."

The invasion, euphemistically called the Green March, took place November 6. It didn't get very far; it didn't have to. It was like crossing the Rubicon. Morocco was never going back. Franco lay dying. The Spanish people were in no mood for a war with Morocco, and France and the United States through special envoy General Vernon Walters were pressuring Spain to come to terms with Hassan whose political survival depended on his succeeding in Western Sahara. An internally divided Spain agreed, behind the scenes, to withdraw from Western Sahara and to allow the Green March to enter. In the words of King Hassan, it was God's will: " As soon as you have crossed the frontier, you must say your prayers, facing towards Mecca, to give thanks to the Almighty." The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev used to say the same thing in more secular terms: "What we gain, we keep."

The U.N. Security Council, including the United States, of course, made ritual condemnations, but took no action to rein in Morocco's aggression. In the words of U.S.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: "The United States will not allow another Angola on the east flank of the Atlantic Ocean," and then-U.N. Ambassador Moynihan noted in his memoirs that it was the position of the United States that the U.N. do nothing to undo Morocco's success in Western Sahara, a task he noted "I carried forward with no inconsiderable success."

On November 14, 1975, almost a month to the day after the World Court had ruled against Morocco and reaffirmed the right of the Sahrawis to a referendum, and fewer than two weeks since Prince Juan Carlos, had told the Spanish officers in Western Sahara: "I want to give you my personal assurance that everything will be done so that our army will preserve its prestige and its honor," Spain caved in. Under U.S. and French pressure, in something called the Madrid Accords, Spain signed over the administration of Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. The transfer was meaningless as a matter of law. but suddenly, colonialism and the referendum for Western Sahara which the U.N. General Assembly had said was so important when Spain was the colonizing power became an non-issue now that two African ex-colonies were the colonizing powers. In any event, in one of the most embarrassing episodes in Spain's long history, Los Espanoles salieron corriendo, as they themselves say, they fled, taking everything, even exhuming their dead for burial on Spanish soil. Not a beau geste, one old Spanish veteran of the desert remarked, a mauvais geste.

The vacuum created by Spain's withdrawal was filled by the POLISARIO who proclaimed Western Sahara as an independent state called the Saharan Arabic Democratic Republic and continued against their new colonizers, Morocco and Mauritania, the war for independence they had begun against Spain. Mauritania which never had its heart in the war, having been pressured by Morocco, and perhaps realizing that by the logic of Morocco's claims, it was next for annexation after Western Sahara, quit, after being badly beaten by the POLISARIO and in 1979 renounced its claims to the area. Predictably, Morocco then claimed that part of Western Sahara which Mauritania renounced, and the war between the POLISARIO and Morocco would last until the cease fire of 1991. In that same year the U.N. Security Council approved the creation of a U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (known by the French acronym MINURSO), in order to hold the referendum Spain was supposed to hold in 1975. Part of MINURSO is an identification commission to identify and register those eligible to vote in the referendum.

I joined MINURSO in 1994, when the referendum was already two years over due, going nowhere and still reeling from various scandals. In one, Secretary General Secretary General Perez de Cuellar's Acting Special Representative was blamed for leaking sensitive POLISARIO figures to Morocco. In another whose implications are still being felt, Johannes Manz, Secretary General's Special Envoy on Western Sahara had resigned in protest over Perez de Cuellar's permitting 10's of thousands of Moroccans to be counted as voters in the referendum. The U.N. decided that having an American in a senior position would assure everyone MINURSO was on the up and up. This was in the age of innocence: B.M., before Monica. The State Department recommended me. I would run day-to-day business of the referendum.

When I visited the State Department before leaving for Western Sahara, North African desk officer, Steve Buck, stressed the United States impartiality. "Hands off the referendum. That's our policy, just like the Bush administration." I expected him to add with a wink "but, of course, Morocco has to win the referendum." He never did.

Western Sahara today is a Colorado-sized prison camp. There is no freedom to speak or assemble to redress grievances. Redress grievances! Hell, Peaceful demonstrators against Moroccan rule, as Amnesty International, The Economist and even MINURSO officials have reported, get their heads cracked and a couple of years in the greyrock hotel. They are the lucky ones. Some just disappear.

When I was there, King Hassan had made Interior Minister, Driss Basri, responsible for Western Sahara. The Moroccan League for the Protection of Human Rights called him "Butcher Basri" for his brutal treatment of political prisoners. Basri was the go-to guy when the king needed results. Morocco intends never to leave Western Sahara. Basri's job was to make it legal.

In one of the worst mismatches since the quixotic Polish cavalry charged the invading German panzers in 1939, Boutros Ghali chose career U.N. bureaucrat Erik Jensen to deal with Butcher Basri. Boutros Ghali's first choice had been General Vernon Walters, King Hassan's old friend from Vichy days, but the POLISARIO vetoed him. Next came Yaqub Khan, a former Pakistani minister, who did not disguise his loathing of the POLISARIO which is perhaps one reason why he seldom visited Western Sahara and eventually quit. That left Jensen. Born in Denmark, educated in England, Jensen became a Malaysian along the way. A delightful mimic of Boutros Ghali and Butcher Basri and Moroccan luminaries, a painter and anthropologist, Jensen was just the person to have visit for the weekend, but the wrong man for the job he was in. Like his U.N. colleague, Margaret Anstee, whose bungling of the Angolan elections in 1992 has had such tragic consequences, Jensen was just not someone serious politicians took seriously. Bertie Wooster in a safari suit. Once I asked him why he didn't protest when Basri had arbitrarily prohibited MINURSO from announcing the referendum in the press, Jensen replied: "He yelled at me. What could I do?" Indeed.

Basri seldom came to MINURSO himself but sent his chief gofer, a flic from one of the security agencies (There are 5 security services in Morocco, all watching each other). His name was Mohamed Azmi, and he was like the charming and vicious Captain Segura in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. Azmi's goons dogged the U.N. staff as closely as Segura watched the expatriates in Batista's Havana. The ingratiating Jensen acted like his aide, coming to meetings when Azmi called them, snapping to attention like a cadet when Azmi entered the room and staying until he was given leave to go. When Azmi said "There will be no registering desert nomads,", they weren't registered, even though that was part of Jensen's job..

Jensen was no admirer of the United States which he held up as exhibit # 1 of the kind of international maverick the U.N. existed to rein in, nor of U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsburg, who to Jensen represented the lowest form of diplomat: a political ambassador who could only "cock up the works" (Jensen's phrase) by involving himself in the referendum. (In the interests of full disclosure, I too was a political ambassador.) Nonetheless, Jensen did have to meet with Ginsburg from time to time, and Jensen came away from these meetings, as he often said, convinced that the United States was not the disinterested referendum-observer I claimed it to be, but very pro Moroccan. I just couldn't buy that until I met Ginsburg on July 4, 1994, along with political officer, Kirk McBride and mentioned Jensen's impressions. I threw in the State Department spiel about United States policy being to keep hands off the referendum. "That's not the way this White House sees it," Ginsburg replied. I understood how Jensen got his impression about United States policy. The United States embassy, at least, had taken sides.

I arrived at MINURSO no fan of the POLISARIO. Worse, they lived in refugee camps in a part of Western Algeria called the Hammada that looked like a set from MAD MAX, where summer temperatures could reach 165 Fahrenheit, and they dressed funny, with what looked like black crepe wrapped around their heads. When I went to their camps I expected to be greeted by some desert Che Guevara, but their spokesman was more like David Niven. Polished, reserved, he spoke English and Spanish as well as French and Arabic. The only concession to my imagination were his army fatigues. He slept in G.I. housing like everybody else, and as far as I could observe, there was no privileged class, no nomenklatura. Officials were elected, and women held key posts, something rare in the Arab world. In Laayoune, where we stayed in Western Sahara, the U.N. put us up at Club Med (really !), and served us confit de canard, medaillons de veau, but in the desert, with the POLISARIO, we slept in tents and got camel meat, canned fruit and sweet tea.

A note on U.N. social classes: There is a caste system in the U.N. in which some states, like Morocco are more equal than others, like the POLISARIO, which are supposed to know their place, and, when they don't, they are reminded. When Boutros Ghali met with the POLISARIO, in November, 1994, Bashir Sayed, their David Niven suggested a modest change for improving the referendum. Boutros Ghali treated him like an untouchable: he said. Not just " taisez vous" (shut up) which would have been rude enough but, but "fermez la, "the term one uses to a yapping dog. The uppity POLISARIO had to be shown their place.

The POLISARIO camps house about 150,000 Sahrawi refugees and are like a shadow country, each camp named for a different city in Western Sahara, where the POLISARIO all have family: parents, brothers, sisters, children, and, in some cases, spouses. Fighting age men were up on the up-front front, and the camps were peopled largely by women, children and old men. The old men included many sheiks (they say chioukh), tribal leaders whose authority pre-dated the arrival of Islam in North Africa. Not sheiks like Rudolph Valentino, but old ones with weather-beaten faces, like wood carvings, dignified, wise old men, who had lived their lives in the desert as had their fathers and fathers' fathers for as long as they could remember. The chioukh were regarded by all Sahrawis almost as holy men as well as leaders, but that didn't deter the Moroccans, as the 1995 Human Rights Report on Western Sahara documents, from suborning them to lie under oath to the Identification Commission.

Wearing their formal robes, sitting in richly carpeted tents, the chioukh spoke to me in Spanish, telling me about how they risked their lives to get the Spanish and the Moroccans out of their country and how they were willing to risk them again. One old fellow boasted of a son killed in action against the Moroccans. I was very upbeat about the referendum, but they told me, politely, they had heard that song before and had no faith in the U.N.'s ability to keep Morocco from sabotaging it. "Prove us wrong," they said. "Hold the referendum. We've been in the desert for 20 years without seeing our families in Western Sahara. We have no future in the desert. Our children have no future here. Hold the referendum. Unite is with our families. That's all we want."

Maybe the POLISARIO camps were some great Potemkin village, and maybe all the chioukh I met were giving me the kind of pitch that works with naive visitors, but I didn't think so. I've attended Mass with the saintly thug, Julius Nyerere in Dar Es Salaam; breakfasted on grits with Guinea's late and unlamented Seiku Toure, drunk and dined with the late great kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seku and been denounced as a spy and actually been object of a manhunt by Benin's once and current President Kerekou. I have dealt with some of the great conmen of Africa, and I think by now I can tell when someone's handing me a line. I thought the chiuokh were the genuine article, and more importantly, they just wanted what I was there for: a free and fair referendum.

On the night before the identification of voters, the first step of the referendum, was to begin, Azmi, like the MC in some Catskills resort, spotlighted Jensen in the dining room of the Club Med, in front of U.N. staff and Moroccan officials, and ordered him to strike the U.N. flag from the U.N. buildings where the identification was to take place. It was clearly theatre, but Jensen crumpled at once, and the flags were lowered. The Spanish call it verguenza ajena when you feel ashamed for someone else. The flag didn't really matter. It was just a little show to remind everyone who was in charge. When Moroccan security agents arrived the next day disguised as TV cameramen to videotape and intimidate every Sahrawi who came to participate in the referendum, Jensen gave them carte blanche. ( Of course, not one moment of any of those tapes ever appeared on Moroccan TV.)

Under the system Jensen had set up, Sahrawis living in Western Sahara had to register for the referendum, not with the U.N. as would be expected, but with the Moroccan authorities, and, of course, as Sahrawis told us bitterly, the Moroccans "lost" many of those registrations.(We knew from the applications Morocco sent us that they also added 100,000 ringers living in Morocco.) Sahrawis whose registrations were not lost still had to get to MINURSO to be interviewed, and that was easier said than done. There are Moroccan cops every 100 meters in a city like Laayoune. No ordinary citizen in Western Sahara is allowed to talk to U.N. personnel, enter the hotels where the U.N. stays or even come within 200 meters of U.N. buildings, including those where the referendum was, without a Moroccan O.K. The only way Sahrawis could get to MINURSO to be interviewed without being arrested was via special Moroccan Security buses, and as Sahrawis who did reach us told us repeatedly, the Moroccan authorities decided which registered Sahrawis got to board and barred the rest, denying them the chance to vote. One final touch: Sahrawis who had run the Moroccan gauntlet and managed to get interviewed at MINURSO got a receipt which they would later turn in for a ballot. When the Sahrawis re-boarded the same Security buses they arrived in to go home, Moroccan police commonly forced them to hand over the receipts they got from MINURSO. The Moroccans were literally getting the Sahrawis coming and going.

Morocco's thuggery reminded me of the days of apartheid in South Africa. Sahrawis registering would ask if there were some way we could keep an eye on them. They were afraid they might just disappear. At the same time, they were scared to be seen talking to U.N. people on the street. Shopkeepers would ask if we could drop by for some toothpaste or something just to see if they were still there. Their fears reminded me of traveling through South Africa in the early '70s with NAACP Chairman Roy Wilkins. Blacks would tell Mr. Wilkins with me listening, in the safety of our embassy, horror stories of beatings by the Special Branch and disappearances; Then, the next day on the street these same people would act as if they didn't know you. They were terrified, with good reason. So were the Sahrawis.

We regularly passed these horror stories on to Erik Jensen, but we needn't have bothered. Neither he nor the U.N. took any action. But the U.N. couldn't bottle up Morocco's thuggery which was fast becoming a major topic of conversation in the region. As Chris Hedges reported in the NY Times , Foreign diplomats in Rabat were amused at Morocco's brazenness, but no Moroccan-watchers, including Moroccans themselves, I spoke to then or since were actually surprised by Morocco's tactics to control the referendum at all costs. The United States certainly knew what they were up to. We regularly briefed embassy political officer Kirk McBride on what was going on when he visited MINURSO.

Katlyn Thomas, a lawyer, classmate of Mrs. Clinton's at Wellesley and a Clinton campaigner, worked at MINURSO and personally briefed U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's chief-of-staff about Morocco's turning the referendum into a sham. The U.S. Intelligence community knew what was happening there. A C.I.A. official had asked me in the summer of 1994 how I could explain Morocco's domination of MINURSO. "Was it bribery or was Jensen just that [bleeping] weak?" The U.S. military, including the commanding general of U.S. peace-keeping forces, who had visited MINURSO, were briefed by U.S. Army Colonel Dan Magee, about what was going on. One reason the New York Times and Human Rights Watch would be able to confirm Morocco's abuses of the Sahrawis and the referendum was that everyone at MINURSO could see what was happening.

If the Moroccans had any doubts where Sahrawi sympathies lay, they were dissipated once Sahrawis came together as the referendum formalities got under way. Interview sessions became family reunions. There were tears, laughing, ululations and fainting spells as Sahrawis from Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara embraced old friends and relatives from the POLISARIO camps. Twenty years of news was compressed in as many minutes, and family letters were smuggled past Moroccan censors. It was like what happened when the Pope visited Communist Poland. Solidarity: One people deeply linked to each other and not to some alien ideology. It didn't take Margaret Mead to figure out that the referendum would not be about politics or ideologies. As far back as 1975, A U.N. fact-finding mission sent out to Western Sahara to study attitudes concluded that the Saharans were overwhelmingly in favor of independence. Nothing had changed. The referendum would still be about whether the Saharans would be one people again, and that would not happen if they remained separated by Morocco's occupation.

If the U.N. referendum failed, Morocco might not vindicate its right to be there, but, at least, it would still keep Western Sahara. So Morocco changed tack, and like the North Koreans in the Panmunjang Peace talks arguing over the size of the negotiating table, Morocco opted to bring the referendum to a halt by obstructing every step. Referendum work schedules, Morocco complained, were too lax, then too intense. Plane schedules had to be adjusted every week, and it was Azmi, the Moroccan, not Jensen, the U.N. official, who decided when the mission would work. One of the more imaginative ploys took place in the fall of 1994 when, like something out of Moliere, Mr. Azmi stalled the referendum for over a week, at a cost to the U.N. of $100,000 a day, because he objected to an adverb used in a MINURSO schedule and insisted the matter could only be addressed by an exchange of correspondence.

By tactics such as this, with no protest from Jensen or the U.N., Azmi actually gained control of the day-to-day scheduling of the U.N. mission. Towards the end of 1994 I found myself reporting to Jensen and Azmi together. Even the appearance of an independent MINURSO management had disappeared.

Endless quibbling and delays continue to be Morocco's strategy right up until today, but they don't want anyone to notice. As documented by the Legal Times, in an article with the apt title "K Street v. The Tribesmen," Morocco spent $1.2 million total to high-powered Washington lobbyists with friends in high places to see that Morocco doesn't get blamed for sabotaging the referendum. The tribesmen, the Sahrawis, don't have any hired guns.

My contract expired the end of one year, and I had had it with the U.N. and MINURSO. Before leaving though I faxed Kofi Annan, who was then head of U.N. Peace-keeping, a description of the travesty the referendum had become. I offered to come to New York to discuss the referendum with him. His reply was that the matters I mentioned were "not serious."

That would have been the end of my story if Chuck Lichenstein, our former ambassador at the U.N. hadn't asked me to testify in his place in before the House Appropriations Subcommittee looking into U.N. Peace-keeping. I was a small fry on a panel with Ambassador Kirkpatrick, former Attorney General Thornburgh and other luminaries. I was invited because unlike the others I had actually worked in a Peace-keeping mission. I did little more than read part of a prepared statement I had typed just hours earlier outlining Morocco's gangsterism in Western Sahara, and the wire services sent it around the world.

The N.Y. Times sent Chris Hedges out to Laayoune to investigate, and he confirmed that: "Öthat Morocco [was] trying to control the outcome of the [referendum] vote and maintain its hold on the area. Morocco has tapped U.N. phones, confiscated voter documents from voters here in the largest city in the region and denied others the right to enter registration centersÖ" Later the same year, after visiting MINURSO, Human Rights Watch would release a 40 page indictment of MINURSO confirming what I had said before Congress and going into great detail about Moroccan obstructions to the referendum and the U.N.'s failure to protect the Saharans' right of self-determination. To give you flavor, the Report said in part: "...the United Nations must recognize that Morocco's regular obstruction of the process and challenges [to] its fairness ultimately pose a greater threat to the viability of MINURSO....only Morocco has engaged in regular actions that have compromised the free and fair nature of a future referendum."

Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, The U.N. which had first dismissed these these charges as ìnot seriousî was "shocked, shocked" to read all these reports of misfeasance in Western Sahara and first tried to deflect the bad publicity by having the brand new U.N. Inspector General whitewash the U.N. but they couldn't get that right either. The Inspector General had to admit that under U.N. rules he was not allowed to investigate charges that people like Hedges had confirmed because the Inspector General can't pass judgment on member states. That means that at the U.N. you are allowed to inspect as long as you don't inspect anybody important. Just how laughable the inspection was is reflected in the inspection team's interview of a couple of Americans: The U.N. Inspector's man told Mara Hanna from Pittsburgh, as she recounted publicly on Capitol Hill: "Keep your mouth shut if you want to work for the U.N. again." She spoke up and, as predicted, has been black-balled by the U.N. Colonel Dan Magee, commander of U.S. forces in MINURSO said his interview consisted of: "Hi, How're you doing ?" and the inspector took no notes when Magee went into great detail about Moroccan control of MINURSO. Within days of the report's appearance, Argentine U.N. Ambassador Emilio Cardenas, then President of the U.N. Security Council, said of the report: "The mission [MINURSO] is completely bogged down, and all we're getting from the U.N. is tall tales.".

The referendum wound up costing over a quarter billion dollars (about $2,500 for each Saharan who never got to vote) until it was suspended in 1996. Thanks to the Houston Accords, identification of applicants to vote resumed again in December, 1997, and, two years later was completed, except of course, for the 130,000 appeals Morocco has launched.

At stake in Western Sahara is not just another U.N. snafu or even peace in a place few people ever heard of before James Baker got involved, but important issues: for one, the stability of the entire region. With half Morocco's 27 million people under 20, and Moroccans facing unemployment, hard times and government repression, it is not surprising that 3 out of every 4 Moroccans, according to a recent poll published in El Pais, want out. Some Morocco-watchers see within the country a volatile mixture of government repression and popular discontent ready to explode, as Iran did. The new young king, Mohamed VI, talks the talk of softening his father's iron rule, but so far has not walked the walk. Butcher Basri is gone, but his organization remains. In the capital of Western Sahara, young students trained at Moroccan universities call their struggle with Moroccan authorities an intifada. It is reported that they give no chance to a peaceful settlement and ìlong for guerillas in the camps to resume their armed struggle.î

Also at stake is the leverage of the U.N. to achieve what should be a classic U.N. peace-keeping operation, the kind the U.N. was created to achieve. As the Economist pointed out, "the world cannot go to war every time a despot grabs a piece of land," but if principles are involved when seizure is resisted in Kuwait, then they should not be forgotten in modern Anschlusses like Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and Morocco's invasion of Western Sahara.

Whatever Cold War arguments may have justified turning a blind eye to the Sahrawis' independence in the 80's are no longer compelling. Let us hope that James Baker, who could not look favorably on Western Sahara's independence because of Cold War alliances, will now be the one to undo leibensraum in Western Sahara. He is, perhaps, the last hope for peace in Western Sahara.

Former statesments of Frank Ruddy:

Frank Ruddy is a partner in Ruddy & Muir, Suite 400, 1825 I Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006. He is a member of the New York, D.C. and Texas bars and holds an LL.M.' (NYU) and Ph.D. (Cambridge) in international law and taught international law at Cambridge. He is the author of one book on international law, former editor-in-chief of The International Lawyer, and along with the late Richard Baxter of Harvard Law School and the World Court, was editor of American International Law Cases through volume 31. He is a former United States ambassador and General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Energy. In 1994 he was Deputy Chairman of the Identification Commission of the U.N. Referendum for Western Sahara (MINURSO).


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