By Kamal Fadel ?
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".
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.
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:
Reaffirms that the question of Western Sahara is a question of decolonisation which remains to be completed on the basis of the exercise by the people of Western Sahara of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
The latest UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/114 of January 18, 2006 even "reaffirms the responsibility of the United Nations towards the people of Western Sahara".
In his most recent report of April 19, 2006, Kofi Annan recalled "the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of October 16, 1975, which concluded there were no valid reasons why the rules for decolonisation and self-determination as contained in General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) should not apply to Western Sahara". This is another testament of the responsibility of the UN towards the Saharawi people and their inalienable rights.
The legal, moral and political responsibility of the UN is clear. The mandate of the UN and its mission is to help achieve the decolonisation of the last colony in Africa on the UN?s list of 16 non self-governing Territories. Such a mandate is included in the UN Security Council Resolutions 658 (1990), 690 (1991) and 1495 (2003) which call for a referendum of self-determination in Western Sahara.
The UN mandate is not to reward the aggressor that violates international law and refuses to abide by UN resolutions. To do so is to betray not only the Saharawi people but the international community as well.
It is rather surprising to read in Secretary-General Annan’s latest report his call for "negotiations" to find a "compromise between international legality and political reality". Is this the purpose of the UN? Is this included in its mandate? It is evidently clear to the UN and the international community that Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara is illegal. Such a presence is the result of aggression and occupation. Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara is not a "political reality" that should be accepted by the UN.
It is indeed an affront to ask the Saharawi people, who have been denied basic human rights and suffered immensely under Morocco’s occupation of their homeland, to accept an imposed "political reality" and negotiate a compromise on international law. It is as if the French people were asked to negotiate a compromise with Nazi Germany and the Kuwaitis to do the same with the regime of Saddam Hussein.
However, the UN knows that the Saharawis are not intransigent. It is the Saharawi side that accepted the principle of a referendum with an option of voting for integration with Morocco in 1988. We accepted the Houston Agreements of 1997 that expanded the criteria for voting rights. We even accepted the Baker Plan of 2003, in which we accepted a transitional period under Moroccan sovereignty for a period of five years and we gave Moroccan settlers the right to vote in a referendum supposed to be only for the Saharawi people.
It is difficult to fathom why the Saharawis who are the victims are constantly asked to compromise while Morocco seems to be able to get away with its wrongdoings.
The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy are asking the Saharawis to negotiate with Morocco but the objective of such negotiations is not clear and the purpose of such negotiations is questionable. The latest UN report states that "Morocco would reject (any plan), unless it did not provide for a referendum with independence as an option". Why did Mr Annan ask the Saharawis to negotiate with Morocco when it is understood that the only solution acceptable to Morocco is that of integration?
It is necessary to remind Mr Annan that Morocco and Polisario have undertaken negotiations both bilaterally and under the auspices of the UN on many occasions since the beginning of this conflict. Both Morocco and Polisario negotiated and agreed to the UN Settlement Plan of 1990 and the Houston Agreements of 1997. The lack of goodwill and the weakness of the UN have allowed Morocco to violate and obstruct such agreements.
The negotiations process has been exhausted. Any new negotiations will destroy 15 years of UN efforts and take the peace process back to square one. This must be avoided because it may lead to rising tension and the resumption of hostilities.
There is a limit to compromise just as there is a limit to patience. There is a line in the sand that the Saharawis cannot cross unless they decide to surrender to the Moroccan regime and become Moroccans. The Saharawis’ goodwill has been over-exploited. To make any more compromises would mean political suicide.
The only just, lasting and democratic solution to the conflict in Western Sahara is through the strict implementation of international law which calls for the exercise by the Saharawi people of its inalienable right to self-determination and independence. This could be achieved through the organisation of a free, fair and transparent referendum under the auspices of both the United Nations and the African Union.
Should the UN wish to see a resolution to the issue of Western Sahara, it needs to exercise adequate pressure on Morocco to force it to abide by UN resolutions and the Peace Plan.
The UN can not just wash its hand of the Western Saharan conflict and abandon its responsibilities. Why? Because the core purpose and mandate of the UN is to maintain peace, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights and to ensure the respect of the right to self-determination.
If there is a genuine and sincere commitment to a just resolution in this conflict, the Saharawi side is always willing to cooperate with the United Nations in order to facilitate the decolonisation process.
It is important that the UN Security Council avoid attempts to derail the peace process and put an end to the apparent departure from international law in Western Sahara. Otherwise, the UN’s credibility will suffer and its integrity will be buried in the Saharan sands.
The latest Secretary-General’s report does not augur well for a speedy and peaceful resolution. The writing on the wall is clear to the Saharawi people and their leadership that the UN is not able to resolve the conflict and that it is up to the Saharawi to do whatever is in their power to put pressure on Morocco to abide by international law.
The Saharawis feel betrayed by the UN and suspect that the UN took advantage of their sincere will to co-operate and compromise. They regret the waste of 15 years of efforts and hope and pray it will not be repeated again.