Mr. Yukio Takasu
President of the Security Council
New York, February 17, 2009
On behalf of the Frente POLISARIO and the Saharawi people, I wish to bring to your attention the continued pattern of human rights abuses of the Saharawi civilian population inside the occupied Territory of Western Sahara.
MINURSO was established in 1991 for two inseparable purposes: first, to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and Frente POLISARIO forces; and second, to organize a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara by which they will freely choose between independence and integration into Morocco. Eighteen years later, due to Moroccan intransigence, no such referendum has taken place.
Until the fundamental right of self-determination of the Saharawi people is secured, the United Nations has a responsibility to protect the population of the Western Sahara pursuant to its clearly defined obligations towards Non Self-Governing Territories, as set out in Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations. I recall that Members of the United Nations have accepted as a ‘sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost…the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories’ and to ensure ‘their just treatment and their protection against abuses’. These fundamental Charter obligations include the provision of basic human rights.
Despite these clear legal requirements, the Saharawi people in the occupied Territory have suffered grave violations of their most basic human rights. More than five hundred Saharawi civilians who were kidnapped by Morocco forces remain in unknown locations. Hundreds were kept for more than 16 years in secret prisons and dozens were killed or died during their imprisonment. Since 2005, a peaceful intifada engaged by the Saharawi population in the occupied territories is taking place and, still, the repression has been the response of Morocco forces. Three civilians were killed since the beginning of the intifada.
I recall in this regard that on 8 September 2006, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) delivered a report expressing serious concern at the human rights situation in Western Sahara, and documenting incidents of arbitrary arrest, harassment, and intimidation of human rights activists, including excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators. While the report, unfortunately, has not been yet made public, it linked clearly the egregious and brazen human rights abuses in the occupied territory to the denial of the Saharawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination. The High Commissioner therefore recommended that the United Nations should institute a capacity to monitor human rights in the occupied Territory.
The findings of the OHCHR were confirmed by a similarly critical report published by Human Rights Watch in December 2008, [Human Right Watch, Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps, 19 December 2008] which documents Morocco’s systematic and abusive efforts to suppress political dissent in the occupied Territory.
According to Human Rights Watch, these efforts are manifested by ‘arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, restrictions on associations and assemblies, and through police violence and harassment’. The report also finds that Moroccan security forces ‘arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Saharawi activists, beat them and subject them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; and the courts convict and imprison them after unfair trials’, all in violation of Morocco’s obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In light of these grave findings, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Security Council should ‘expand the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights monitoring and reporting in both Western Sahara and in the POLISARIO-administered camps in Algeria’.
In his report to the Security Council on 14 April 2008 (S/2008/251), the Secretary-General noted that, while MINURSO has no staff dedicated to human rights monitoring, it is the duty of the United Nations to uphold human rights standards in all of its operations.
We urge the Security Council to act upon the recommendations of the High Commissioner and establish a human rights component within the MINURSO mandate to protect, promote and monitor the human rights situation of the Saharawi people as long as the conflict over the decolonization of Western Sahara remains unresolved. The Frente POLISARIO would welcome such an initiative and stands willing to cooperate in full with the Security Council in this regard. Our hope is that, through Security Council diligent efforts, the United Nations will address responsibly the long-standing and systematic denial of the human rights of the Saharawi people, and pave the way towards securing a democratic and legitimate process of self-determination in the Western Sahara.
I would be grateful to your Excellency if you could bring this letter to the attention of the Security Council Members.
I avail myself of this opportunity to express to you my highest consideration.
Representative of the Frente Polisario