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Hearing of Petitioners on Western Sahara by the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, United Nations Fourth Committee, October 9, 2013, New York, New York

Remarks by Suzanne Scholte, Seoul Peace Prize Laureate

President, Defense Forum Foundation & Chairman, US-Western Sahara Foundation

Thank you Your Excellency Carlos Garcia Gonzalez and members of the Fourth Committee for this opportunity.  At last year’s UN IV Committee Hearing, I said the failure to hold the long promised referendum is making the UN culpable for a number of ongoing tragedies.  First, it has led to the continuing human rights abuses against the Sahrawis in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, where hundreds of Sahrawis have been killed and been disappeared for peacefully advocating for the right to self-determination.  Moreover, the failure to hold the referendum has meant that hundreds of thousands of Sahrawis have had to live in refugee camps in the desert for 22 years.   As a result, a whole generation of children has never seen their homeland.  Moreover, failure to follow through on the referendum has allowed for the occupying state to exploit and steal the natural resources of Western Sahara.

Each year the UN IV Committee meets, we have more atrocities to report.  Last year, it was about the twenty-three Sahrawis in the Moroccan prison of Sale who were on a hunger strike in response to the inhumane conditions and ill treatment they had received.  These prisoners had been subjected to physical and psychological torture since their arrest in November 2010, and the torture escalated when U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, went to investigate.

Today, it is about Salma Daf Sidi Salec, Sidahmed Segri Yumani, Salama Mohamed-Ali Sidhamed Elkarcha, Salma Mohamed Sidahmed, Mohamed Abdalahe Ramdan and Mohamed Mulud Mohamed Lamin, and two children Bachir Salma Daf and Sidi Salec Salma.

These are the Sahrawis whose bodies were recently discovered in a mass grave.  Thanks to the work of Carlos Martin Beristain and Francisco Etxeberria Gabilondo and the forensic teams from University of the Basque Country and the Aranzdai Society of Sciences, we now know these people were extra-judicially executed and buried in shallow graves by Moroccan armed forces.

Family members and AFAPREDESA have for decades raised the cases of these loved ones.  Morocco failed to account for their disappearances, and in fact at one point lied, stating that four of those found in the grave, had died in custody.

Remember that these individuals were Bedouin families – not soldiers.  They were simply going about their daily lives when they were brutally killed and put in shallow graves simply because they were Sahrawis.

Tragically, this same cruelty against innocent men, women, and children continues today.As the Committee responsible for overseeing the decolonization of Western Sahara, I urge you to call for Morocco to end its illegal occupation of Western Sahara, so that these ongoing tragedies can end.  I also urge you to support the recommendation made by the United States to the Security Council in April that human rights monitoring be added to the MINURSO mandate, the only UN peacekeeping mission without a human rights component.  Given the allegations of human rights abuses in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara, such independent reporting is critical to protect innocent people.

The UN must not allow this injustice to continue.  By not following through on the promised referendum, the UN’s inaction allows Morocco to continue their brutality against the Sahrawis, to steal the natural resources of Western Sahara, to force Sahrawis to live in refugee camps, and has hurt everyone living in that region.  Even the Moroccan people suffer from this injustice.  Unemployment for those under 34 years of age in Morocco is 30 percent.  Resources that should support economic development are diverted to the Moroccan military to occupy and exploit the Western Sahara.  This ongoing conflict also stifles trade and economic growth throughout the Maghreb.

At this time in human history, it is more important than ever to show the world that non-violence, reliance on the rule of law, and trust in the UN -- the approach the Sahrawis have employed -- are the way forward.  If the UN fails to uphold justice and its promises to the Sahrawis, it instead sends a message to the world that invasion, occupation, extrajudicial execution, and violence -- the methods Morocco has employed -- are the way forward.  What a terrible message to send when the world is gripped in conflict with those who employ terrorism to achieve their ends.

The UN IV Committee needs to support human rights monitoring and to call for Morocco to end its illegal occupation of Western Sahara to bring peace and stability to the region.