Thank you for the opportunity to address this Committee on the issue of self-determination and sovereignty for the people of Western Sahara. The first time I addressed this body, my son was running around in diapers. He is now studying Algebra in 7th grade. And the wisdom of children is such that he has asked why should it cost 500 million dollars, and 10 years, to register 85,000 people to vote.
You might cluck and say, well, we don’t expect a child to understand the bureaucratic machinations of such a comprehensive and complex body as the United Nations, nor the intricacies of the issue we are discussing. But it does seem that a child, removed from the machinations of this august body has a greater grasp on the pure elements of the problem than perhaps the participants of this distinguished body have. Granted, many of you are new to the issue and perhaps have not heard the arguments through the years so I will reiterate some of the points I have made in the past.
Originally, the controversy surrounding the potential, and never materializing referendum, was, who should be allowed to vote as an officially recognized citizen of Western Sahara. In 1974, the Spanish Census showed that there were 74,000 Saharawi. Based on the birth rate, and existing mortality rate, I determined that even if ever single woman of child bearing years, gave birth to one child every 9 months, it still would not have increased the original number in the census by more than 30,000 people. And of course, that does not mean 30,000 new voters, it just means new inhabitants. The voters would be determined within a much smaller group. So, instead of the 170,000 that the Moroccan government insisted upon, the UN, after screening over 200,000 individuals, determined that about 85,000 were certified as genuine Saharawis, in keeping with the natural statistics and demographics of the people.
The referendum was delayed, year after year, in order for the Moroccan government to manipulate the outcome of this finding, trying to certify people who had not lived in Western Sahara for years, or people who had only passed through.
The other questions, that I have posed to this body in hopes of drawing clarity to the issue, concern the origins of Western Sahara as a colony of Spain. If Western Sahara had always been a part of Morocco, why then, over a hundred years ago, when the Spanish invaded Western Sahara to annex it as a colony, did Morocco do nothing to prevent it from happening? Why did they not take up arms with their brothers and fight back the invading forces? And Why, if they were the same country, was Morocco never considered a colony of Spain? The boundaries were clearly drawn and can be seen on a variety of maps around the world, some even referencing the current Western Sahara, as Spanish Sahara.
Why was it only during the decolonization of Western Sahara in 1974 did the Moroccans suddenly realize that this was part of their territory? They had not previously questioned the control by the Spanish, but now that they were withdrawing, they saw a perfect opportunity to interject their rule on this country that was being decolonized under the watchful eye of this very Committee.
What it looks like from this observer’s position, is that this body has been manipulated and controlled by a country that never had intentions of abiding by the findings of a referendum or acknowledging the certified voters as being eligible to determine their own destiny.
How difficult is the question, “Would you, after being separated from your family, denied the right to travel freely, forced to live in a refugee camp with the bare necessities, suffering inhuman treatment at the hands of those who would be your conqueror, vote on a referendum that would allow that body to control your destiny?” And at every step of the process the Moroccans have known this simple and most obvious fact. So for them, the most effective way to insure that this referendum does not take place is to stall the process until they can convince the powers that be of another means by which they can subject themselves into the will of this sovereign nation.
It seems as though the process has accommodated Morocco’s patience by creating what is known as a Draft Framework Agreement, that essentially gives them five years to move people into the area, set them up in residency for one year, while the territory is under the sovereignty of Morocco, and THEN issue the referendum. First, if it has already taken ten years for a referendum, why do they think it will happen in another five, unless this time, they are assured of the outcome, and the body that has been prolonging the inevitable is also satisfied that that will be the outcome? The problem is, the Draft Framework Agreement contradicts the UN resolutions on Western Sahara, and the verdict of the International Court of Justice, Oct. 16, 1975 which states: “The materials and information presented do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco. Thus the Court has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of General Assembly resolution 1514 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 this Territory.”
Despite that ruling, Morocco invaded and has been there ever since.
Now, it becomes clear to the casual observer that there are a number of international bodies that have been established through the years to prevent just this sort of hegemony, but unfortunately, they don’t seem to be effective in preventing it. So what is the solution?
Well, it appears that the UN Secretary General has given the participants in this conflict four options available to the Security Council without seeking the concurrence of both parties, which, in basketball terms, means it is a slam dunk for the aggressor.
Morocco rejected the options of Implementation of the Settlement Plan and the referendum process, and the option of partitioning the territory. They prefer the Draft Framework Agreement which virtually guarantees their acknowledged dominance over the sovereign nation of Western Sahara.
The fourth option, which is to proclaim the failure of the United Nations and withdraw the UN mission from Western Sahara, serves as a redundancy to an obvious fact. But the question is, would that be a viable option? It is quite evident that the citizens of Western Sahara would vote for sovereignty if given the chance, so why not apply that de facto conclusion to the original International Court of Justice ruling in 1975, and determine that yes, indeed, Western Sahara is a sovereign nation, separate and apart from the sovereign nation of Morocco, and they have a right to self-determination, apart from the dictates of a world body that has been ineffective in reaching this logical conclusion about their de facto status.
It is tempting when addressing a distinguished body such as this to rely on eloquence, and the international language of diplomacy. But often times, a more simplistic, understated approach is best to make a point. So, I would ask you to indulge this mother an analogy that many of you might relate to.
A mother has two young sons who are arguing over the boundaries in their room, because their older brother has moved out and now just the two of them share the room. The younger one had been forced to share a bunk bed with his older brother who usurped it a few years ago, but now it was all his. The middle brother sees that one of the beds has been bandoned, and decides to establish residency. The younger brother protests and a fight ensues. The mother comes into the room and tries to resolve the conflict. But instead of doing what is right, by telling the middle son to go back to his side of the room, she allows him to take over part of the younger son’s portion of the room, set up a berm in the middle so it is impossible to move around, and take all the toys of the younger son. She then tells the younger son he has to wait until his father gets home to resolve the problem. But ten years pass, and no one in authority comes home. And now, the younger son is older and wiser and says, I don’t need someone telling me how to resolve this problem. I will solve it myself and in my own way.
What can she do? What can you now do when you have determined that one of the four options is for the United Nations to proclaim failure and withdraw from the area? You too must realize that you have squandered the authority given to you by this small, besieged nation who has only asked for one thing from this distinguished body, and that is an opportunity to fairly, and openly, choose their own destinies through a referendum that would determine that they are indeed a sovereign nation.
Even Secretary James Baker told the Security Council in February of 2002, “that an independent Saharawi state would be viable and would contribute to the creation of stability in the Maghreb.” So that demonstrates an understanding that the child has grown and can function fully, and productively as an autonomous state, if given the chance.
So it seems that the most logical solution to this situation is to go back to the original ruling by the International Court of Justice and abide by that decision which states that Western Sahara is indeed a sovereign nation, and allow these people to get on with their lives. They have been in limbo for almost 25 years hoping and praying for closure, while the rules of the game keep changing.
When my son asks me what the outcome of this hearing is, he will expect an answer that suggests that adults see problems and create solutions in a relatively short period of time. It will be hard to continue explaining to him that after 10 years and 500 million dollars, that it was impossible for such a grand and distinguished body of world scholars and leaders to register 85,000 people in a very small geographic area, and allow them to vote for what they have all been fighting for, and praying for, for 25 years. He will expect me to have an answer. But more importantly, the people whose lives have been hanging in the balance for a quarter of a century, will expect you to have an answer . . . or will determine that there never was a question.