domingo, 19 de abril de 2009

UN Secretary General refuses to expand MINURSO s mandate to include observation of human rights

In a recently released letter to the United Nations Security Council (S/2009/200), the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, offered an update on the conflict in the Western Sahara and requested an extension of the authorization of the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO), but failed to call for any expansion of the duties included within the mission s mandate.

While the Secretary General did ask the Security Council to expand the Western Saharan mission by a full calendar year, he did not add the monitoring of human rights in the Moroccan-occupied territories and the Saharawi refugee camps, which are controlled by the Polisario Front, the leaders of the Saharawi movement for independence.

“I would like to reiterate that the United Nations remains committed to upholding international human rights standards,” stated the Secretary General, “and to repeat my call to the parties to remain engaged in continuous and constructive dialogue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

“The United Nations has no staff on the ground dedicated to monitoring respect for human rights in the Territory or in the refugee camps near Tindouf, since MINURSO does not have a specific human rights mandate,” he added.

This decision was made despite recent appeals from a variety of institutions – including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the European Parliament s Ad-Hoc Delegation to the Western Sahara and Amnesty International – to require MINURSO officials to monitor human rights violations against the Saharawi people.

In its report published on December 19, 2008, entitled Human Rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf Refugee Camps, Human Rights Watch began its “Recommendations” section by asking the UN Security Council to “(e)xpand the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights monitoring and reporting in both Western Sahara and in the Polisario-administered camps in Algeria.”

This recommendation was made after an HRW fact-finding mission reported the occurrence of human rights violations – including unfair trials, beatings, torture and disrespect for the freedoms of assembly, association and speech – by Moroccan police forces against Saharawis living in the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

The European Parliament s Ad-Hoc Delegation to the Western Sahara echoed these suggestions in its report published after a brief trip to the occupied areas of the North African country in January.
The Secretary General s report also included updates on developments in the conflict; activities of the new UN Special Envoy to the Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, military violations of the 1991 ceasefire committed in the past year by both sides (11 by the Royal Moroccan Army and 7 by the Polisario Front); violations of the freedom of movement of MINURSO (75 by the RMA and 2 by Polisario), a description of de-mining efforts by both sides, and praise for the confidence-building measures being carried out by MINURSO.

Same old song and dance
Besides its inability to fulfill its initial mission of organizing a free and fair referendum in the Western Sahara, one of the Saharawis main concerns regarding MINURSO has long been the lack of human rights monitoring within its mandate.

“Our hope is that, through the Security Council s diligent efforts, the United Nations will address responsibly the long-standing and systematic denial of the human rights of the Saharawi people,” stated Ahmed Bukhari, the Polisario representative to the UN, in a letter to the Security Council sent in February.

Mafoud Ali Bayba, President of the Parliament of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), expressed the frustration shared by the Saharawi people over this recent report.

“The Secretary General of the United Nations has released another pointless report on MINURSO,” he said.

The full text of the Secretary General s report can be found on the UN Web site at

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