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Seminar on Western Sahara conflict and the EU responsibilities in contributing to a solution
20/11/2011

   

 

   

Punto Europa, Forli, organized on Tuesday and Wednesday in the University of Forli (Italy), a seminar on the situation in Western Sahara and the responsibilities of the European Union in participating to the international efforts to reach a just and lasting solution, with the participation of a group of interested students. The seminar hosted the Saharawi journalist, Malainin Lakhal, and Giulia Olme, representative of the Italian NGO, CISP, who gave presentations on the issue.

Malainin Lakhal presented to the students the legal case of Western Sahara, stressing the need to highlight basic facts about the conflict before starting debating on the possible assistance EU can provide to help resolve the conflict.

The question of Western Sahara, he said, is a crystal clear case of decolonisation, since the territory was recognized by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing entity in the early sixties after the adoption by the UN General assembly of resolution 1514 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples of 1960. Following this process, he recalled, Western Sahara was included in the list of colonized territories since 1963, and Spain promised the people of territory a vote that was going to take place in 1975 but never took place because Madrid secretly signed an illegal tripartite agreement, the Madrid Accords, leaving Western Sahara to a double invasion by Morocco and Mauritania in the same year.

The speaker recalled that according to the international law and to the UN Charter, all peoples have got a legitimate right to self-determination as clearly stressed in the principles of the UN Charter in the first article. He further underlined that the resolution 1541 of 1960, which completed the resolution 1514, stresses that the only way to implement self-determination is to give the people of colonized countries a chance to vote and chose among three choices: independence, Free association with an existing country, or integration to another country. But, the most important, he stressed, is that the people of the colonial territory are the only party that must decide the future of their land and future in a free and democratic way.

The seminar also examined the the human rights situation since 1975. Morocco invaded Western Sahara, militarily in October 1975, in complicity with Mauritania and Spain, which did not intervene to stop the Moroccan army from massively killing nomads and civilians and committing gross human rights abuses and violations. The speaker informed the students about a recent report published by the Moroccan Royal Advisory Council for human Rights, in which it recognized the responsibility of the Moroccan government in committing crimes against humanity and crimes of war against Saharawi civilians. The report, has in fact, recognized the Moroccan army and authorities’ accountability in killing 352 Saharawi victims of disappearance between 1958 and 1992. It also recognized that Morocco has committed crimes of torture and forced disappearance against hundreds Saharawis since the first years of the invasion.

Another report, the speaker added, was issued by 11 Moroccan human rights association, talking about similar crimes committed by the Moroccan authorities last November 2010 against Saharawi civilians in the capital of Western Sahara, El Aaiun. Thus, he concluded, the Moroccan violations and crimes against humanity never stopped in Western Sahara since the first day of the invasion in October 31, 1975. He informed the students of the continuous detention of more than 200 Saharawi human rights activists and young people in Moroccan prisons since November. 20 of which, he indicated, are going to appear before a Moroccan martial court, and all of which affirm having been tortured and ill-treated by police and military.

The third important question, closely related to the European Union, the speaker added, concerns the Moroccan plundering of the natural resources of Western Sahara.

The European Union signs an illegal fishing-agreement with Morocco every year, Malainin indicated, recalling that the ex-UN Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, has clearly defined in a legal opinion he issued following a request from the UN Security Council the legal status of the territory and the illegality of the exploitation of the natural resources of Non-Self-Governing territory unless the people of such territories are profiting from this exploitation. Hans Corell further published two articles in 2008 and 2010 to reiterate his position and regretted that the European Union has misinterpreted his opinion to continue exploiting the resources of Western Sahara, stressing that it is illegal and shameful.

In her intervention, Ms. Giulia Olme, focused on the humanitarian aid to the Saharawi people, and the work of CISP on that field, stressing mainly the academic work the association elaborated with the University of Forli, with the support of the City Council of Forli, and the active collaboration of Doctors and experts in international law. The result of this assistance, she stressed was a special course on Western Sahara in the university of Forli, and three publications that explain the different aspects of the conflict and the UN efforts to resolve it.

She further stressed the importance of the work of NGOs in assisting Saharawis, especially if they go beyond helping the refugees with humanitarian aid, to assist them politically speaking in conformity with the international law. She considered that the real role NGOs can play is to help assisting the Saharawi people to exercise their human and political rights, stressing that by doing this the NGOs would simply be respecting the international law and the international covenants and would be playing their role as active actors in the international civil society.

After the presentation, the debate focused on the role that can be played by the European Union. Malainin Lakhal especially criticized the fact that Europe gives France the lead in shaping the European Union’s position on Western Sahara, recalling that France has always alienated the Moroccan thesis and effectively supported the Moroccan illegal invasion and occupation of Western Sahara.

France, he said, is accountable for the continuation of the occupation, and is especially accountable for the protection of Morocco in the Security Council and the EU. He recalled that France always opposed the monitoring and protection of human rights in Western Sahara, and is always ready to use the Veto against any resolution of the Security Council that would impose the implementation of the international law in the territory, or protect Saharawi civilians. He further considered that the other European countries share this responsibility in a way or another, or at least keep a blind eye to a serious situation in which Europe is involved.

The speaker recalled the students of the last resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Western Sahara, in which the Parliament clearly condemned the human rights violations committed by Morocco, but directed its calls to the UN to investigate on the situation while avoiding a similar call to the European Union. He considered that this EP resolution is very important but insufficient since Europe can and must play a bigger role in encouraging Morocco accepting the implementation of the international law, and respecting human rights in Western Sahara.

The Seminar will further examine the human rights situation in Western Sahara on Wednesday, with a special focus on the latest reports issued by international human rights organisations, especially the two abovementioned reports that give a clear proof on the continuity of human rights violations in the territory in complete impunity and in the absence of any active role by the international community to stop such violations. It should be recalled here, that the UN Mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, is the only mission in the world that doesn’t monitor and protect human rights, and the Security Council didn’t succeed to expand the mandate of this mission to include this competence because of the strong France opposition.

 


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