Danes demand human rights mandate in Western Sahara

Dina KawarIn a letter, Danish solidarity organisation Afrika Kontakt, along with Danish MEP Rina Ronja Kari and other Danish organisations, has urged President of the United Nations Security Council Dina Kawar to give the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, a mandate to monitor the human rights situation in Africa’s last colony. The letter also urges the President to protect the natural resources of the indigenous population in Western Sahara, the Saharawis.

“The implementation of these two matters is essential for a just, peaceful and viable solution to the Western Sahara conflict in accordance with relevant human rights treaties, the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention, as well as for the protection of the interests of the Saharawis until such a solution is found”, the letter states, pointing to the fact that “the UN and many human rights organisations have documented numerous instances of ongoing human rights violations such as torture, unfair trials and arbitrary court rulings, as well as discrimination and illegal plundering of the natural resources that legally belong to The Saharawis”.

The letter also points to the fact that these pleas are in line with the explicit wishes of a vast majority in the Danish parliament.

“In this request, we are in line with the Danish government and a vast majority of parliament. The Danish Foreign Affairs Committee in May 2014 adopted a report on Western Sahara that, amongst other things, stated that Denmark will continue to support the endeavours of the United Nations to ensure a referendum on the status of Western Sahara, that MINURSO must be allowed to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara, and that Danish governmental institutions and companies are recommended not to buy products from Western Sahara”.

MINURSO is the only UN peacekeeping mission established since 1978 not to have a human rights mandate, although UN Security Council Resolution 1979 recommends the establishment of such a mission.

The UN Security Council will decide whether to allow MINURSO to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara, when they extend MINURSO’s mandate at the end of this month.

Read the whole letter below.

To: Dina Kawar, President of the United Nations Security Council,
Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, Missionun@jordanmissionun.com

UN operation in Western Sahara needs Human Rights mandate, Saharawis need protection of their natural resources
Your Excellency,

The situation of the Saharawis of Western Sahara is becoming increasingly urgent and desperate. The MINURSO peacekeeping operation in Western Sahara, whose primary objective was to oversee the ceasefire and implement a referendum on self-determination that was to be held over twenty years ago, and whose mandate is governed by the principles of the UN, urgently needs a mandate to monitor the human rights situation, and the UN needs to start monitoring and protecting the natural resources of the Saharawis.

The implementation of these two matters is essential for a just, peaceful and viable solution to the Western Sahara conflict in accordance with relevant human rights treaties, the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention, as well as for the protection of the interests of the Saharawis until such a solution is found.

In the occupied parts of Western Sahara itself, the UN and many human rights organisations have documented numerous instances of ongoing human rights violations such as torture, unfair trials and arbitrary court rulings, as well as discrimination and illegal plundering of the natural resources that legally belong to The Saharawis. The Saharawis living in the refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria have had to deal with dwindling aid reserves and a subsequent lack of food and other basic necessities.

The UN has itself reported numerous human rights violations, including the 2013 rapport of UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Mendez, who in noting the “systematic pattern of acts of torture and ill-treatment during the detention and arrest process” in Western Sahara, recommended need for human rights monitoring by MINURSO. The UN Secretary General underlined this in his 2013 report on the situation in Western Sahara, stating that it was “pressing” to establish “independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the camps”, something that had also been the recommendation of the 2012 UN Periodic Review on Morocco.

Other documentation of human rights violations in Western Sahara includes the March 2015 report of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, which revealed an intensification by the Moroccan authorities in hindering the work of human rights defenders in Western Sahara, including “serious violations of human rights committed in a permanent and systematic manner”. Amnesty International, who regard Morocco / Western Sahara as one of the worst torturing nations in the world, concluded in their latest Annual Report that Saharawi human rights defenders “were liable to arrest, torture and other ill-treatment”

The UN Secretary General, in his 2014 report on the situation in Western Sahara, stated that “it was time to recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of [Western Sahara] are paramount” in view on the “increased interest in the natural resources of Western Sahara”. The ongoing extraction of natural resources such as fisheries and phosphates from Western Sahara, in violation of international law, has been potentially even further complemented by the drilling for oil outside the shores of Western Sahara by Kosmos Oil in late 2014 – drilling that former UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Issues, Hans Corell, has stated is illegal. The resource extraction is one of the main reasons for the continued Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, and therefore also one of the main obstacles to a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.

Both in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps, there is an increasing feeling of abandonment by the international community in the Saharawis’ UN sanctioned struggle for the prospect of an independent state through the referendum on the status of Western Sahara that the international community has promised to hold for well over twenty years now. This sense of abandonment could easily lead to the rejection on the part of the Saharawis of the present course of peaceful dialogue, as has been conveyed to us by many especially young Saharawis during visits to the camps and occupied territories.

We therefore urge you to institute in situ monitoring even-handily, both in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf refugee camps. And we urge to demand the upholding of all relevant human rights treaties, the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention, in insuring that no UN member state takes part in the illegal plundering of the natural resources of non-self-governing territories such as Western Sahara.

In this request, we are in line with the Danish government and a vast majority of parliament. The Danish Foreign Affairs Committee in May 2014 adopted a report on Western Sahara that, amongst other things, stated that Denmark will continue to support the endeavours of the United Nations to ensure a referendum on the status of Western Sahara, that MINURSO must be allowed to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara, and that Danish governmental institutions and companies are recommended not to buy products from Western Sahara.

We would be grateful to Your Excellency if you would bring this letter to the attention of all the members of the Security Council. We thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

Morten Nielsen, Head of Secretariat, Afrika Kontakt.

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