domingo, 19 de abril de 2009

UN calls for peaceful talks on the future of W/Sahara

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has called on peaceful negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front ahead of the talks on the future of the disputed Western Sahara. Four rounds of the UN-brokered talks in New York since 2007 have failed to resolve the long-standing dispute between the two rivals.

Mr Ban appealed to the negotiating partners to show political will to enter into substantive discussions and ensure the success of the negotiations.

“As it would appear from the consultations held thus far that little has changed since the last round of negotiations to facilitate a positive outcome for the fifth round, careful preparation is needed,” Mr Ban stated in the new report presented to the Security Council.

Morocco holds that its position in Western Sahara should be recognised, while the Polisario Front contends that the Territory's final status should be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option.

In February the UN special envoy Christopher Ross who visited the region established that the parties remained far apart on ways to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.

Mr Ban also voiced concern about the humanitarian situation of the Western Saharan refugees, many of whom have been living in camps in the Tindouf area of neighbouring Algeria for years.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been in place since September 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which contests the territory.

The UN secretary general also suggested the council extend the mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara for another year until 30 April 2010.

Morocco has annexed the former Spanish colony since 1976, leaving around one third of mostly uninhabited Sahrawi lands, the interior part bordering Algeria and Mauritania on Polisario's hands.

Here is SADR's maritime claim

In January, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic claimed their Excluzive Economic Zone offshore Western Sahara.

No states in the world have recognised the Moroccan claims over the territory of Western Sahara. These claims have even been rejected by the International Court of Justice.

However, Morocco also makes use of the ocean territory offshore Western Sahara, but without ever having presented a maritime claim over the area.

This year, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is recognised by some 80 states worldwide, and a member of the African Union, claimed the territory offshore Western Sahara.

Western Sahara: Aid Partners to Assess State of Western Sahara Refugees On UN-Led Visits

Concern over malnutrition among long-term refugees from Western Sahara have sparked two assessment missions to their camps in western Algeria by humanitarian partners, the first of which embarks tomorrow, the United Nations refugee agency announced today.

Staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) will accompany representatives of donor countries and their partners from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a three-day mission to the camps of Sahrawi people, starting tomorrow.

"The aim is to see first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees," UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said in Geneva, noting that in the last survey conducted in 2008, 61 per cent of the children and 66 per cent of pregnant women in the camps were suffering from anaemia.

Later this month, nutritionists from UNHCR and WFP will visit the camps to assess the current nutritional status of the most vulnerable refugees and to evaluate the current programmes and practices.

The mission will also decide on whether to include additional foodstuffs with high nutritional value in the food assistance, specifically targeted to children, and pregnant and lactating women.

As a result of the last survey conducted in 2008 by Médecins du Monde (MDM) and WFP in coordination with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency already provides supplementary food in addition to the 125,000 general food rations distributed by WFP, it said.

WFP has also added supplementary and school feeding programmes to its operation, distributing fortified, blended foods to malnourished children, pregnant women and lactating mothers and is working to diversify its basic food basket.

In the last five years, however, donor funding has been erratic and in 2008, UNHCR only received 39 per cent of its budget, and both it and WFP still need additional funding for 2009.

Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR has been providing assistance to this group since the influx into the Tindouf area in 1975-76 while WFP has been providing food assistance since 1986.

Tomorrow's mission will include ambassadors and diplomats from more than 19 countries, including Brazil, France, Indonesia, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Nigeria and the United States, as well as representatives of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).

Participants will visit two of four refugee camps and will meet with beneficiaries, refugee leaders and Algerian authorities, according to UNHCR. The refugees have been living in four desolate camps in south-west Algeria since the mid-seventies, when a dispute arose between Morocco and the Frente Polisario over the status of Western Sahara.

Since 1991, the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two parties and organizing a long-stalled referendum on self-determination.

Wesfarmers did it again

New cargo of stolen goods has arrived Australia. Wesfarmers seem to be responsible, again.

A bulk carrier with the name 'Ipanema' on 15th of April 2009 arrived Fremantle Ports in Australia
She carried phosphates from occupied Western Sahara.

The cargo is probably destined for the Australian fertilizer firm Wesfarmers. Their subsidiary CSBP has been importing phosphates from Western Sahara for many years, something which has lead to Wesfarmers being black-listed by ethically concerned banks and insurance companies in Europe.

The phosphate trade is in violation of international law, and consitutes an inappropriate sign of support to the illegal and brutal Moroccan occupation of its neighbouring country to the south, Western Sahara.

Ipanema has IMO number 9445057 and is sailing under Hong Kong flag. She has the capacity of carrying a cargo of approximately 28000 tonnes of phophate rock.

The vessel is probably managed by the Japanese firm Far East Shipping & Trading, and owned by Hawk Marine, Panama.

Morocco seeks bigger phosphate profits

Now they plan building a first phosphate processing plant inside occupied Western Sahara.

Ever since Morocco occupied Western Sahara in violation of an International Court of Justice opinion, following UN condemnations, an increasing flow of phosphate rock has been exported from the territory.

This exports have consisted of unprocessed phosphate rock, and the volume last year reached probably close to 4 million tonnes.

Now, the Moroccan state phosphate company OCP seem to wish stopping the exports of the raw materials, and instead process the phosphate themselves - inside the occupied territories.

This is revealed in L'Économiste, a major business newspaper in Morocco. L'Économiste published in its edition of 06 April 2009 a dossier about phosphates based on a long interview with the CEO of the OCP, Mostafa Terrab.

In this way, OCP will increase the profits from the plundering of Western Sahara. The phosphate exports from Western Sahara is in violation of international law, as the industry does not comply with the wishes and interests of the people of the territory.
Importing the controversial phosphates also constitute a strong political support for the occupation, by countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

OCP adapts to price plunge

Western Sahara Resource Watch last summer wrote about the phosphate prices which in 2008 reached an all time high, increasing almost eight-fold.

The red line shows the development of phosphate rock prices until mid 2008, while the blue line shows the price development of processed phosphates (DAP - diammonium-phosphates). Processed phosphates simply pay out more.

Since then, the global phosphate prices have again plunged.

According to the l'Économiste interview, the 2009 price fall is due to a decreased market, and it would be "a fundamental injustice" to compare the exceptional 2008 prices with the 2009. OCP is said to have already anticipated the price fall.

"The year 2008 is not a year of reference for the phosphates. It was an exceptional year, which occurs every 30 years. The last time was in 1973", precised Mr. Terrab.

According to the l'Economiste interview, OCP has voluntarily decreased its exports. They plan to increase the total production capacity in Morocco and Western Sahara from a today's level of 30 million tonnes, to 45 million tonnes annually in 2015.

The illegal exports from occupied Western Sahara reached an all-time-high in 2008, constituting around 13 percent of the total Moroccan exports.

Swedes charged with illegal fishing in Western Sahara

Two Swedish fishermen have been charged with illegal fishing off Western Sahara. Their allegedly illegal catches have been worth 1,9 million euros.

Swedish newspaper Göteborgsposten wrote yesterday that two Swedish fishermen are charged in Sweden with fishing offshore Western Sahara without permission. See full story below (in Swedish).

The two fishermen, 62 and 53 years old, are the owners of the vessels which have done the supposedly illegal catches. They have themselves not been onboard the vessels during the 13 month period that the fishing took place. The fishing itself has been carried out by other Swedish captains, close to the two persons charged.

tn_greenpeacee_509.jpgAccording to state prosecutor James von Reis, the two vessels have been operated without general fishing permissions, as well as operating outside of EU fisheries partnerships. One of the vessels were boarded by Greenpeace activists last year.

The photo to the right shows one of the vessel's workers or owners, trying to make the Greenpeace activists leave the vessel's berth.

The prosecutor claims that the 2 vessels have earned 14 million kroners in 2007 and 6 million Swedish kroners in 2008, in total around 1,9 million euros. These are pure profits, after local licences and salaries have been paid. These figures are said to be proved after Swedish police raided the home of the 53 year old.

The two fishermen charged admits fishing offshore Western Sahara and Morocco, but refuses having done anything wrong, according to Göteborgsposten.

Phosphate plunder continues

23 of March 2009, the vessel Apisara Naree discharged 12.600 tonnes of phosphates in the port of Baranquilla, Colombia.

It had taken the vessel ten days to cross the Atlantic from the port of origin, El Aaiun in Western Sahara.

A Thai owned, Danish operated vessel has recently arrived Colombia with phosphates from occupied Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, and trading phosphates from the territory, in the disregard of the Sahrawi people's interest and wishes is both considered highly unethical as well as in violation of international law.

The shipment took place without the consent of representatives of the Sahrawi people.

The Danish government encourages Danish companies to not get involved in trade from Western Sahara, but still the vessel Apisara Naree is operated by a Danish shipping company, Clipper Bulk, part of the Clipper Group.

Apisara Naree has IMO number 9127045, and sails under Thai flag. Owner is Precious Shipping from Thailand.

Previously the vessels discharging in Colombia have also discharged in Venezuela. It is not known whether this was the case with Apisara Naree.

L’ambassadeur d’Afrique du sud en visite de travail à la RASD

Chahid El Hafed, L’ambassadeur de la République d’Afrique du Sud auprès de la RASD, M. Mzuvikile T. Maqetuka est arrivé samedi aux camps de réfugiés dans le cadre d’une visite de travail de 24 heures à la République sahraouie.

"Le but de ma visite s’inscrit premièrement dans le cadre des visites diplomatiques à la République arabe sahraouie démocratique, conformément à ce qui a été convenu avec les autorités de la RASD".

Le deuxième but de cette visite est "la remise d’une donation des équipements sanitaires de la République d’Afrique du Sud au ministère de la santé de la RASD pour couvrir les besoins des hôpitaux sahraouis".

La cérémonie de remise a été assistée par le ministre de la santé, Sidahmed Tayeb, en présence des cadres du ministère sahraoui de la santé et du directeur du centre des victimes de guerre et des mines, Brahim Lili entourés des responsables de ce centre.

M. Mzuvikile a visité les départements de ce centre et les victimes résidants dans ce centre.

L’ambassadeur sud africain a été reçu par le président du Parlement (Conseil national) sahraoui, Mahfoudh Ali Beiba en présence du président de la commission des relations extérieures du CNS, au coté du ministre conseiller chargé des pays asiatiques, Maalainine Sedik et de l’ambassadeur, Habib Boukhreiss.

Dans l’après midi l’ambassadeur sud africain sera reçu par le ministre de la défense, Mohamed Lamine Bouhali et le premier ministre Abdelkader Taleb Oumar avant d’être l’hôte d’un diner offert en son honneur par le président de la République, selon le programme de la visite.

Des ONG chiliennes appellent leur Gouvernement à faire pression sur le Maroc pour le respect des droits humains des Sahraouis

Santiago, Les présidents de la Commission chilienne des droits de l'homme, Gonzalo Taborga, de la Coopération Chilienne juvénile Pro Derechos (CODEJU), Gabriel Pozo et de l'Association latino-américaine d’amitié avec la RASD, Esteban Silva ont appelé, vendredi de leur Gouvernement à faire pression sur le Maroc pour qu’il respecte les droits humains violés systématiquement dans les territoires occupés du Sahara occidental.

Cette demande intervient à la suite de la visite d’une forte délégation des patronats marocains au Chili qui ont annoncé une série d’actions en faveur des autorités et entreprises chiliennes qui exercent des échanges commerciaux avec le Maroc .

"Nous exprimons notre vive opposition à la présence au Chili d'une délégation gouvernementale marocaine dirigée par le ministre marocain du Commerce avec un groupe d'hommes d'affaires marocains", ont-ils écrits dans un communiqué parvenu à SPS.

Ils ont également dénoncé toutes les relations d’échanges économiques entre le Chili et le Maroc qui exploite "illicitement" les ressources naturelles du Sahara Occidental, territoire non autonome, ont-ils-estimé.

Ils ont également dénoncé les violations graves des droits humains commisses dans les territoires occupés du Sahara Occidental par l’Etat marocain, rapportés par diverses organisations des droits de l'homme au niveau international et qui s’inscrivent sous "la détention arbitraire exercé contre le peuple sahraoui depuis trois décennies, accumulant la pratique de la torture, la détention et la disparition des personnes", regrette le communiqué.

A cet égard les président des ONG chiliennes ont décidé d’envoyer des rapports sur la situation des victimes sahraouis des violations des droits humains perpétrés par les services de sécurité marocains aux entreprises chiliennes ayant des liens commerciaux avec le Maroc, pour qu’elles en tiennent compte de la réalité coloniale de ce coopérant.

Enfin, ils ont appelé du Gouvernement du Chili à exercer des pressions sur le Maroc pour qu’il se conforme aux résolutions onusiennes appelant à permettre au peuple du Sahara Occidental l’exercice de son droit inaliénable à l’autodétermination.

Des centaines de personnes dénoncent à Madrid le “Mur de la honte” séparant le Sahara occidental

Madrid, Plusieurs centaines de personnes ont manifesté vendredi soir à Madrid devant le siège du ministère espagnol des Affaires étrangères pour dénoncer le "Mur de la honte " érigé par le Maroc dans les années 1980 pour séparer le Sahara occidental, et pour revendiquer le droit du peuple sahraoui à l’autodétermination.

Organisé par la Coordination espagnole des associations de soutien au peuple sahraoui (CEAS) et Conscience Sahraouie, les manifestants, venus certains de plusieurs régions d’Espagne, ont déployé une immense banderole où est écrit: "

Pour un Sahara occidental sans murs et sans mines, libre et indépendant".
Portant des pancartes où l’on pouvait lire notamment : " Abat le mur de la honte ", " l’ONU sera responsable de la guerre ", les manifestants ont scandé des slogans comme " Maroc coupable, Espagne responsable ", " Tous unis pour un Sahara occidental libre " et brandi des dizaines de drapeaux de la RASD.

Ce rassemblement intervient à quelques jours de l’explosion d’une mine antipersonnel qui a blessé plusieurs jeunes sahraouis lors d’une manifestation internationale de dénonciation du " Mur de la honte " séparant le Sahara occidental et le peuple sahraoui.

Cet incident s’est produit lors de la célébration de la " Colonne des 1.000", une longue chaîne humaine formée de plus de 2.000 personnes, dans leur majorité des espagnols et des sahraouis.

Un acte de solidarité avec le peuple sahraoui coïncidant avec une manifestation organisée par l’Union nationale des femmes sahraouies (UNFS) pour demander le démantèlement du " Mur de la honte " où sont semées cinq millions de mines anti personnel et revendiquer une solution juste au conflit du Sahara occidental.

"Nous sommes là pour revendiquer un Sahara occidental sans murs et sans mines, libre et indépendant. C’est une honte que dans ce territoire il existe encore un mur qui divise le peuple sahraoui et qui symbolise l’occupation militaire par la force du Sahara occidental par le Maroc ", a déclaré le président de la CEAS, José Taboada.

"Nous ne permettrons jamais au Maroc de continuer à tourner en dérision la communauté internationale et c’est pour cela que les amis du peuple sahraoui, notamment les nombreux jeunes espagnols qui ont été dernièrement aux côtés des sahraouis dans les campements de réfugiés sont venus à cette manifestation avec un message clair : demander le démantèlement de ce mur de la honte et la destruction des millions de mines qui continuent de faire encore des victimes ", a-t-il ajouté.

Pour M. Taboada, la communauté internationale veut " passer sous silence" l’existence de ce mur, estimant à ce propos que "l’Espagne et l’Europe ont une mauvaise conscience par rapport à la politique qu’elles mènent en direction du Maroc et du peuple sahraoui ". " Cette manifestation montre clairement que les gens sont fortement indignées par la permanente agression du Maroc symbolisée par l’existence de ce mur ", a-t-il poursuivi.

Dans ce sens, il a appelé les autorités espagnoles "à agir en vue de mener des opérations de déminages au Sahara occidental, détruire le Mur de la honte afin de permettre aux familles sahraouies séparées de se retrouver et d’organiser un référendum d’autodétermination " au Sahara occidental.

M. Taboada a également dénoncé les autorités marocaines qui " continuent de violer les droits de l’homme des populations sahraouies vivant sous l’occupation militaire", tout en déplorant le silence de la communauté internationale face au drame sahraoui.

Dans un communiqué lu à cette occasion, les manifestants ont appelé le Gouvernement espagnol à " assumer sa responsabilité dans ce conflit, ne pas renier ses liens avec le peuple sahraoui et à ne pas fuir la justice et la légalité internationale".

Ils ont également dénoncé le Mur de la honte qui a été érigé pour " séparer des vies et des familles et empêcher que le peuple sahraoui puisse récupérer son territoire dont il a été spolié.

C’est un mur qui ne devrait pas exister mais faire partie des musées de l’histoire ". " Trois décennies d’un conflit qui continue sans aboutir à une solution juste et définitive, et avec des familles séparées : une partie demeure expulsée de sa terre dans les campements de réfugiés, l’autre continue de souffrir les affres de l’occupation, les tortures et la répression marocaine", relève le communiqué.

Enfin, ce rassemblement s’est terminé en apothéose avec un lâcher de milliers de ballons aux couleurs du drapeau de la RASD, sous un tonnerre d’applaudissements venus également de la part de nombreux touristes de différentes nationalités qui se sont mêlés aux manifestants.

National Archive continues the fight to preserve Saharawi history

Like a turret guarding a medieval fortress, the National Archive of Information of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) sits atop a hill in the Saharawi administrative camp of Rabouni. Here in the Archive, an electronic battle is waged to preserve the history of the Saharawi people as the Polisario Front (the leaders of the Saharawi movement for independence) stages a diplomatic war to secure their future.

The original Archive was opened in 1984, within the SADR Ministry of Information s compound. The building, however, was too dark, crowded and permeable to protect the documents, tapes and books within from the elements.

"It was a catastrophe," says Saleh, the current director of the National Archive. "We lost a bunch of material to the rain, the heat and the humidity."

In 2005, however, the Austrian Development Cooperation (GEZA) provided the Saharawis with a generous donation to construct a new facility at the Archive s present location. The new building touts weather-proof construction, photo and negative scanners, audio conversion equipment, central air conditioning, and a central server connected to ten PCs with satellite Internet.

"This new space is incredible," says Ayshetu, who has worked in the Documents Department at the Archive for four years. "It is much better for the documents and much better for the workers. We no longer fear that all of our work will be destroyed by bad weather. In the rains of 2006, we lost a ton of documents."

The National Archive consists of five different departments – Photography, Documents, Sound Recordings, Audiovisual and Administration – each of which is run by a handful of individuals dedicated to making digital versions of materials to better preserve them.

For example, in the Sound Recordings Department, every radio broadcast over the past several decades has been filed and saved in condensed format on a central sever. In this way, information concerning the history of the Saharawis is preserved and easily accessible.

Hundreds of pictures worth millions of words
Mulay Mehdy, who has been working in the Photography Department since 2005, is in charge of ensuring that the plethora of photos taken since the early 1970s are digitalized, and thus preserved.

"We have lots of negatives from the 70s and 80s," boasts Mehdy. "We have pictures of everything: women s organizations, the military, political meetings, etc. I don t know how many negatives and photos we actually have, but there must be thousands."

Since its foundation in the early 1970s, the Polisario Front has been especially careful to preserve the photographic history of its movement. Working through its Department of Photography, Polisario paid for and collected photos of political events, military endeavors and the everyday lives of the Saharawis. It then registered and archived these photos.

"Our job is to digitalize all these," said Mehdy, as he pulled out a huge, white binder full of hundreds of negatives. "The climate here in the camps is terrible for the preservation of pictures, so we want to make them all digital."

Mehdy then demonstrated the digitalization process. Using a scanner that reads both negatives and photos – also donated by GEZA – he scans a strip of negatives onto his PC. He then cuts and edits the pictures one at a time, using advanced photo-editing software. The pictures are then separated into folders based on their content, and a description is added to the photo if the specifics of the subject matter are known. All of these electronic files are then saved on the computer s hard disk and a central server in the Archive.

"Some of the pictures were taken in extreme situations," admits Meheli, showing a photo of a group of soldiers preparing for an attack, "so the photographer couldn t write down where or when the picture was taken."

History through the written word
In the Documents Department, written materials are preserved, filed and digitalized, when possible. The department includes Saharawi newspapers, magazines, speeches and political documents.

Ayshetu s work within the Documents Department is currently dedicated to cataloging the digital versions of the various Saharawi magazines and periodicals, including May 20th, March 8th (a magazine published by the National Union of Saharawi Women) and Free Sahara. The now-digitalized magazines date back to 1973 and are preserved in Arabic, Spanish and French.

"The physical documents, particularly the magazines, are a new window to the past, especially for the youth who go to study in Algeria, and return here to do research on our past," says Ayshetu.

Against the odds
In the most developed countries in the world, preserving the documented history of a nation can be a challenge. Here in the Saharawi refugee camps, it is a near impossibility.

"It is an extremely difficult challenge," admits Saleh. "The Saharawis are a nomadic people. They are not using to documenting things, much less saving those documents. We are trying hard to change that mentality."

"Even here in the Archive," adds Ayshetu, "there are workers who don t know how to take care of the documents. So you can imagine about the average Saharawi."

To encourage Saharawis in the camp and in the territories of the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco, the National Archive has published brochures detailing its activities and outlining the importance of preserving the historical records of the Saharawi people.

"We ve even developed a new program. If somebody does not want to donate their materials to the Archive, they can come and have them digitalized, and then we give them their documents or photos right back," points out Mehdy. "But like I said, it s still a new program, and we haven t gotten a big response yet."

"Nobody brings anything to us," admits Ayshetu. "If we want to save something here in the Archive, we have to go get it ourselves."

Worth its weight in gold
Ever since the 1991 ceasefire between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco, the Saharawis have dedicated their time to finding peaceful ways to wage the war for their UN-backed right to self-determination. The National Archive is yet another branch of their dipomatic forces.

"To try to prove that the Western Sahara is theirs, the Moroccans say that the Saharawis are the same as them," says Meheli. "The pictures and documents here at the Archive differentiate the Saharawi people from the Moroccan people."

The National Archive s employees, too, benefit from the work with which they are tasked.

"This work makes me very proud, because I can see how our people have fought against the colonizers for decades," adds Ayshetu.

At the end of the day, however, like every institution in the Saharawi refugee camps, the underlying mission of the National Archive is a political one.

"It s political work," admits Ayshetu. "Everything that Polisario and the Saharawis do, we try to preserve it."

"A nation that has no history is a nation that runs the risk of being marginalized forever," concludes Meheli, as he inspects a photo from 1974 of Il Wali, the founder of the Polisario Front.

Human Rights Watch insists UN expand MINURSO s mandate to include human rights monitoring

In a letter addressed to the President of the United Nations Security Council, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged that "[MINURSO s] mandate be revised to encompass on-the-ground human rights monitoring, or that another UN mechanism assume this function."

In this letter, dated April 16, HRW reiterated the calls it made in its December 2008 report entitled Human Rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf Refugee Camps, in which the NGO insisted that a human rights component be added to the responsibilities of the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO)

The letter was written as a response to the recently released report by the Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, in which no expansion of MINURSO s mandate was detailed. The full text of the letter is included below:

April 16, 2009

Your Excellency,
Human Rights Watch is writing this letter to urge your support at the UN Security Council for establishing a program of human rights monitoring for Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
As the Security Council deliberates renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which expires at the end of this month, we urge that the mandate be revised to encompass on-the-ground human rights monitoring, or that another UN mechanism assume this function.
The Security Council should establish such a mechanism because the United Nations has a special obligation to Western Sahara as a designated "non-self-governing territory" whose political future is contested, and where there is no other regular, independent on-the-ground monitoring of human rights.
As the Report of the Secretary General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara, dated April 13, 2009 states, "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 and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has no presence in the Territory or in the refugee camps near Tindouf."
A UN monitoring presence would serve as a neutral source of human rights reporting, amidst the allegations that the adversaries in the conflict level against one another. In so doing, it can enhance the environment for negotiations by building trust and ensuring that rights are respected.
It is important to note that such monitoring is a standard component of peacekeeping operations elsewhere; MINURSO is nearly the only peacekeeping unit under UN auspices that has no human rights monitoring component. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) for its part conducted a single research mission in 2006, but never formally published its report from that visit.
Human Rights Watch published in December 2008 a detailed report, Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps. We found a pattern of violations by Moroccan authorities of the right of Sahrawis to speak, associate and assemble peacefully in support of self-determination. The report describes how security forces arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Sahrawi activists, sometimes beating them and subjecting them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; the courts then convict and imprison them after unfair trials.
Human Rights Watch devotes a substantial portion of its report to human rights in the Polisario-run refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. While we did not find systematic violations of human rights at the present time, the concerns we noted, including the absence of open debate on fundamental political issues and the survival, in a limited number of cases, of practices related to slavery, heighten our concern that the rights of the Sahrawis living in these camps are vulnerable due to the camps extreme isolation, the lack of regular, on-the-ground human rights monitoring, and the lack of oversight by the host country of Algeria.
For this reason, we have emphasized that any program of UN human rights monitoring must cover both Moroccan-administered territories and the Polisario-run camps in Algeria. The Polisario Front s verbal acceptance of UN monitoring should be put to the test. Morocco should favor such monitoring as well, as a means of providing independent verification of its repeated assertions that the Polisario Front, with Algerian complicity, is holding the Tindouf camp population captive against its will and severely repressing its rights.
Human rights monitoring would essentially involve having UN human rights officers based permanently in the Western Sahara and the camps, either as part of MINURSO or as a stand-alone OHCHR mission mandated by either the Security Council or the Human Rights Council. There, they would be able to monitor and report on the situation, identify the key human rights concerns and their causes, and be able to raise these with the relevant authorities.
MINURSO is the obvious candidate to conduct human rights monitoring in the camps and in Western Sahara. Although its original and eponymous mandate-to organize a referendum-has been stymied since 2000, its sizable locally-based staff, resources and long experience may make it the entity best placed to perform this function. In addition to monitoring the cease-fire, MINURSO operates, together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a program of family visits and other confidence-building measures.
Even if the Security Council does not expand the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights, it should endorse another monitoring mechanism, such as a field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Regular rights monitoring is essential to having an accurate picture of the situation and to ensuring that Morocco on the one hand and, on the other, Algeria and the Polisario Front, respect the rights of persons under their respective control. By accepting such monitoring, the parties would show good faith and nurture the mutual confidence needed to advance the political negotiations over the territory s future.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely yours,

Sarah Leah Whitson Steve Crawshaw
Executive Director United Nations Advocacy Director
Middle East & North Africa division

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