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Has the UN betrayed the Saharawis?

By Kamal Fadel - posted Tuesday, 2 May 2006


It seems to be a tradition that at the end of his mandate, every United Nations secretary-general reneges on the commitment to resolve the issue of Western Sahara in a just manner. Is it a coincidence, that after his retirement Perez de Cuellar was offered a position in a Moroccan holding company called Omnium Nord Africain and that Boutros Boutros-Ghali was given the job of Secretary-General of the French organisation, l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie? (France, of course, is Morocco's closest ally.)

The fact that Mr Kofi Annan's mandate is nearing its end should be a source of concern and alarm to the Saharawi people. Hopefully, he will break with tradition and save what remains of UN credibility. Nevertheless, the latest Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara raises many questions.

The report says that the UN is giving up efforts to resolve the issue of Western Sahara through implementation of its resolutions and the several plans it has outlined during 15 years of presence in the non self-governing Territory. The reason, according to Mr Annan, is that "nobody was going to force Morocco to give up its claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara": a claim that he acknowledged "no member of the United Nations had recognised".

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Kofi Annan’s message is that the UN is "taking a step back" and that it is up to the parties to find a solution.

Mr Annan and his personal envoy, Mr Peter van Walsum, are encouraging direct negotiations between the two parties to achieve a "compromise between international legality and political reality". According to them the UN is not able to present any peace plan because "any new plan would be doomed from the outset because Morocco would reject it again, unless it did not provide for a referendum with independence as an option".

It is important to remind the UN Secretary-General and his personal envoy of the purpose and role of the United Nations.

Chapter I of the UN Charter states that the purpose of the United Nations is:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; and
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.

Articles 73 and 74 outline the principles that continue to guide the United Nation’s decolonisation efforts and these include respect for the self-determination of all peoples.

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Furthermore, the UN Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, Resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960 states:

  1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation; and
  2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Western Sahara was included in the list of the then non-self-governing territories in 1965. Since then, the UN has passed resolutions calling for the decolonisation of this territory. For example, the UN resolution A/RES/45/21, of November 20, 1990:

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Article edited by Ro Mueller.
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About the Author

Kamal Fadel is the Polisario Representative to Australia. He has been in the Polisario Front foreign relations corps since 1986 and has served in India, Iran and the UK, as a Saharawi diplomat.

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