Western Sahara dominates UN decolonization meeting

The issue of Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony, was discussed in depth at the UN’s Decolonization Committee meeting in New York this week. The Committee heard testimony on political, human rights and humanitarian aspects of the situation in the territory which has been illegally occupied by Morocco for over three decades. Some 84 petitioners called on the Committee to find a solution to the conflict.

Among the issues raised were:

* The illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources by Morocco and foreign companies in violation of international law governing territories in the process of decolonization.

* Ongoing human rights violations committed by Moroccan authorities including arbitrary detention, torture, and forced disappearance. Calls were made for the extension of the UN’s mandate in Western Sahara to cover issues of human rights.

* The significance of the International Court of Justice ruling which stated that the facts did “not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco.”

Stefan Simanowitz, chair of the Free Western Sahara Network, said: “The fact that the Committee spent so much time on Western Sahara is positive but we are keenly aware that the case of Western Sahara has been on the UN list of the Special Committee of 24 [on Decolonization] since 1963. The General Assembly has consistently recognized the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, but its calls for the exercise of that right in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), have gone unheeded. The 1975 ruling of the International Court of Justice has been ignored. Over 100 UN Resolutions have been disregarded… The time for words has passed… [T]he United Nations must now take action to end the unlawful occupation of Africa’s last colony.” (Free Western Sahara Network via Afrik.com, Sept. 10)

Polisario protects slavery?
Among the more controversial issues raised were charges that the Polisario Front resistance movement protects the practice of slavery in the refugee camps it controls across the border in Algerian territory. Philippe Elghouayel, president of the anti-slavery Together Foundation, spoke of claims made to his organization in June 2007 by two Australian journalists and documentary film-makers who reported having witnessed institutionalized slavery of a minority Saharawi population in the Polisario camps. The documentary resulting from their work, Stolen, was released earlier this year. (ISRIA, Oct. 9)

At the film’s opening in Sydney, one of the supposed slaves interviewed in the work, Fetim Sellami, spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s AM news show to deny that she is enslaved and to accuse the film-makers of mis-representing her words. One of the film-makers, Dan Fallshaw, said he believes Sellami was coerced by the Polisario Front into speaking out. (ABC, June 12)

See our last post on Western Sahara.

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