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United Nations Hearing on Western Sahara Special Political and Decolonization Committee, October 8-10th, 2013


David Lippiatt, President of WE International


Greetings Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee.  My name is David Lippiatt and I am the President of WE International, a human rights and development organization.

I am here on my own behalf, having followed the situation in Western Sahara for the last 13 years. I have been to the refugee camps in Tinduof, Algeria over a half dozen times with United States congressional delegations, various NGO's, and on my own. I have talked with people at all levels of society; drivers, shop owners, students, camel herders, NGO workers, and government officials, including President Abdelaziz and his family. The Sahrawi are not terrorists, they want a peaceful resolution to return to their homeland. The International community, the International Court of Justice, the African Union, and over 70 sovereign nations recognize the Saharawi's right to self-determination.  They look to you, the UN, for help in solving this nearly 40 year tragedy: to free Africa's last colony.

As you are aware, on April 25, 2013 the United Nations (UN) Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  It was renewed without adding a human rights monitoring component despite recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and several civil society organizations including the RFK Center, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and WE International. Because the renewal was made without a human rights mandate, the Moroccan government has continued its systematic violations and oppression against the Saharawi. 

Why won't the UN do everything in its power to see the people of Western Sahara, Africa's last colony, protected from the unabated violations committed against them by the Moroccan government?

Let me give you a few examples from only the last couple of months of violations happening in the region.

  •           Moroccan authorities violently dispersed several peaceful Sahrawi protests. In addition, Sahrawi human rights defenders continue to be subject to surveillance and intimidation.
  •         The Moroccan authorities have detained scores of political protestors for short and long periods of time where they face unjust, abusive, and inhumane conditions. The Moroccan government has handed out harsh sentences with no due process. There have been at least 4 prisoners that have died since April 2013 in the Ait Melloul prison.
  •           Police injured dozens of people who were peacefully demonstrating in Laayoune on January 13, 2013 in support of 23 Sahrawi prisoners.
  •         The government rejected a recommendation from the UN Universal Periodic Review to allow the legal registration of NGOs advocating Sahrawi self-determination.
  •           On August 31, 2013 a group of educated, unemployed Sahrawiâ's came together in Laayoune to peacefully demonstrate against unemployment and the treatment of the Sahrawi by the Moroccan government. Moroccan police, plain-clothed soldiers and Moroccan auxiliary forces surrounded the demonstrators, verbally attacked them, beat them with sticks and iron bars, and threatened them in order to disburse the protest.
  •           As of August 2013, according to the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), there were 59 Sahrawi political prisoners in jail, 17 of whom were human rights defenders.
  •           As a member of the UN, Morocco has accepted its obligations under the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Morocco has also signed and ratified several international human rights treaties. Acceptance of these articles represent legally binding obligations of the Moroccan government. Morocco clearly thinks it does not have to follow the legally binding obligations.  As we have seen, Morocco is a country that says one thing and does another, they say they believe in human rights, but deny the Saharawi their rights. The creation of Morocco’s National Council on Human Rights (NCHR) is a farce.  As one of my colleagues recently stated, it's like having the fox guard the hen house:  it just does not work.
  •           Sadly, violations of human rights by the Moroccan government will continue without an effective response from the international community. It is necessary to create…it is necessary to implement…and it is necessary to bring about an independent human rights mechanism to protect the rights of the Sahrawi people and to hold Morocco to its international obligations.

To this suggestion, Morocco will once again cry that allowing MINURSO's to expand its mandate is a threat to Moroccan's sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Sovereignty? Morocco has abused and violated the sovereignty of the people of Western Sahara for almost 40 years!

  •       UN's definition of genocide is: acts committed with intent to destroy a national people group, killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to them and deliberately inflicting conditions to bring about the physical destruction in whole or in part.  If something is not done soon, we will be using that word to describe the systematic torture, abuse, and missing people of Western Sahara.  It is clear from their behavior, Morocco will go to any measure to protect its illegal claim over this region. Even Secretary General Ban Ki- has stated, "the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights in the region"  is needed.

Thank you for your time.