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VIENNA, The International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East concluded today, with two panel discussions exploring themes of bias, objectivity, truth and the role of both social and traditional media in covering the issues that mattered most to Palestinians and Israelis.
In closing remarks, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, praised the seminar for engaging participants in unique thematic subjects. He described a dynamic context in which Palestinians were working for change, marked by unwavering hope for a peaceful future and renewed determination to create national unity. While many doubted those efforts, we want to do it right this time, he said, asking the audience to pay attention to what could possibly unfold. A crisis had arrived, which could lead to something good.
Alison Smale, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said she had noted that positive vibe, thanking participants who had come from near and far to attend the seminar.
Gertraud Borea d’Olmo, Secretary-General, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, thanking participants for their insights, underlined the important goal of ending the occupation and achieving an independent State of Palestine. She drew attention in that context to a programme involving Palestinian women � from Palestine, from inside Israel, East Jerusalem, the refugee camps and the diaspora � who sought a strategy for unifying their people.
In a morning panel titled Media narratives and public perceptions from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, participants described their personal experiences covering the conflict, detailing the risks involved and responsibilities they bore in carrying out their mission. To many, the narratives were rooted in history and politics.
Daoud Kuttab, columnist and journalist, cautioned against equating Palestinian media with media in Israel and the West, as journalists had smaller budgets, less training and little time to spend in the field. Most Palestinians viewed the media as an instrument to bring about statehood. Journalists were trying to change that perception, recognizing it as a platform for truth.
I see media as a tool for Palestinians, said Amira Hanania, Presenter, Palestine TV, in their struggle for freedom. Conversely, she experienced Israeli media as a tool for avoiding the larger issue of occupation. While Israeli media could report from Ramallah, she could not travel to Israel without a permit. She had been shot at while doing her job � and not by mistake. We would love more if you would put yourself in our shoes, she explained. In the field, through Israeli eyes, she was a security threat.
Along similar lines, Yonatan Mendel, Director, Center for Jewish-Arab Relations, The Vaan Leer Jerusalem Institute, said language � particularly metaphor � played a role in shaping the Israeli narrative. Israel understood itself as a villa in the jungle from a belief that the politician must control the metaphor to win the debate. Other themes built on the idea of the Middle East ruled by tribalism, with Israel evolving and others not. The idea that we live in a tough neighbourhood was often repeated by policymakers to allow Israel to behave as it did, he explained.
In an afternoon panel on The Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of international media, Tony Klug, Special Adviser on the Middle East, Oxford Research Group, questioned whether bias was in the eye of the beholder, and whether the maligned media were innocent of the charge. He asked whether people understood what they meant by balance and objectivity, and if they would choose it if they did. Such questions were pivotal in covering the conflict.
Barbara Plett Usher, United States Department of State Correspondent, BBC, said when she was reporting on the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were considered a pan Arab cause. Today, their situation was not as frequently reported. There was a battle over narratives and over land, she said, and the goal of a journalist was to incorporate both without losing sight of the actual balance of power.
Edmund Ghareeb, Professor, American University, said that the United States media, while among the most free and powerful in the world, nonetheless had succumbed to Israel’s influence on terminology. He drew attention to such terms as required concessions, which Israel offered, when in fact Palestinians requested compliance with international law. The United States discussed disputed territories, yet most people did not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. The same was true when Israel spoke of ceding territories, despite that they were not Israeli lands.
On a related point, Taghreed ElKhodary, journalist and scholar, said she did not understand why international media described settlements as Jewish, rather than Israeli, as such references gave legitimacy to a Jewish State. Further, the conflict was being covered by journalists who did not live the Palestinian reality. That makes a big difference, she said. They come, they leave. She recommended a more thorough approach.
The day began with a panel discussion titled, Media narratives and public perceptions from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. Moderated by David Dadge, Spokesperson for the Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna and former Director, International Press Institute, it featured presentations by: Allyn Fisher-Ilan, News Editor, The Jerusalem Post; Amira Hanania, TV Presenter, Palestine TV; Daoud Kuttab, Columnist and Journalist; and Yonatan Mendel, Director, Center for Jewish-Arab Relations, The Vaan Leer Jerusalem Institute.
Mr. DADGE, United Nations Office at Vienna, said the Israel-Palestine conflict was complex, characterized by historical and geopolitical dimensions that affected regional and global dynamics. The reporting on it was among the most heavily scrutinized of that produced anywhere in the world. Irrespective of experience or political persuasion, journalists faced routine criticism, including censure. Since 1992, 16 journalists had been killed reporting on the issue, against the backdrop of a total 1,292 killed around the world � a painful brutal reminder, that whatever the colour of your reporting  journalism can be a very dangerous deadly business.
Ms. FISHER-ILAN said news media wielded a great deal of power, but it was a less unique news provider today, as anyone with a Facebook account held the same informative power. Though the Israeli occupation had just marked its fiftieth anniversary, the conflict was not high on the world agenda. This is really a matter of concern, she said, and not good for anyone. Competing conflicts � in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and involving the Rohingya � had eclipsed it. The current United States Administration routinely promised deals, but had yet to commit to the goal of the two-State solution. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, himself appeared doubtful.
While media bias was a problem, she said the bigger issue was that each side spent too much energy bashing the other’s reporting and school curricula. The media must play a more constructive role in creating change. There had been calls for Israel to take the initiative, a noble aspiration but she questioned how realistic that prospect was. She had been discouraged by recent comments about empathy, a quality which she viewed as a basic ingredient for progress. Yet, some in the audience seemed to think that only one side should feel it � if at all. There were two sides to any conflict. Despite that Israel had the upper hand, when an adversary did not see the need to build relationships across the divide, it did not inspire confidence. We all need to quit overdoing the cult of victimhood, she said.
Ms. HANANIA said she was interested in the empathy approach; however, in a different manner. Journalists should raise awareness about ethics, international law and human rights. The Palestinians should ask her to understand the situation from different angles. To her Israeli counterparts, she said you are welcome to Ramallah. My leadership is opening doors for you to cover and see. On the other hand, she could not go to Israel without a permit or being under cover. She asked how, then, could she exercise empathy while the other side had more privileges. The conflict was deeply rooted in the fabric of daily life. Perhaps it was more obvious because of social media. I see media as a tool for Palestinians, she said, as part of the struggle for freedom. She experienced the Israeli media as a tool for misleading and avoiding the larger issue of occupation. It hurt Palestinian journalists to be accused of incitement. She wondered how she could be asked not to speak up when she was regularly under siege. She had been shot at while doing her job and it wasn’t by mistake. We would love more if you would put yourself in our shoes, she explained. In the field, through Israeli eyes, she was a security threat.
Mr. KUTTAB said let’s be honest. There is a big gap between Israeli and Palestinian media. The journalists had different backgrounds, abilities, qualifications and history, and they served different communities who had different demands. Yet, we are being judged by the same standards, he said. In general, the Palestinian-Arab perspective accentuated the family � the nation � and minimized the individual. That was the opposite of Western and Israeli media, which elevated the individual. That difference affected how the media worked.
For example, he said, Israeli media would cover an attack by focusing on the 9-year-old girl who broke her arm, whereas Palestinians would approach it from a perspective of the collective � the nation � and focus on the illegal occupiers. That perspective influenced the ability to express and receive empathy, including from the international community. Our historical cultures are reflected in the media, he said. We are trying to get the Arab countries to stand for us. He often heard Israeli media say that Palestinians did not care about their children. Of course, that was not true. When the cameras were off, the mother cried about her dead son. When they were on, she carried the success of the community on her shoulders.
Noting that in Tel Aviv, seasoned journalists wrote human interest stories, while in Jenin, Reuters sent a 17-year-old to film an event � as an event. That was a structural problem in the narrative. The weak always know about the strong, he said, but not vice versa. It was a mistake to equate Palestinian with Israeli and Western media, notably because it had lower budgets, less training, and less time to spend in the field. Most Palestinians viewed the media as an instrument to bring about statehood. Journalists were trying to change that perception, stressing that it was a platform for truth. It was wrong to compare the two narratives.
Mr. MENDEL said that in his career he explored how the Arabic language had moved from being a language of the self to become one of the stranger and the enemy. He recounted several anecdotes which revealed something bigger about what could � and what could not � be thought in Israel. Metaphors have power in the world, he said, noting that Israel understood itself as a villa in the jungle from a belief that the politician must control the metaphor to win the debate. Another metaphor viewed the Middle East as ruled by tribalism: Israel had evolved while others had not. The belief that we live in a tough neighbourhood was often repeated by policymakers to allow Israel to behave as it did. Another narrative centred on a perceived difference about how Israelis and Palestinians lived their lives, distinguishing between those who wanted to live and those who did not care about dying.
Indeed, language served as a strategy to recount stories to ourselves � not to reflect reality but to shape it, he said, questioning how to end the occupation if, from the Israeli perspective, it did not exist as something that must be stopped. The BBC’s reference to events in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was considered an anti-Israeli stance. I believe there is occupation. But I cannot publicly claim the occupation to be a fact, he said. The same was true for newspaper treatment of the 50 years since occupation � the building of a wall, home demolitions � all replaced by discussion of the Six Day War of 1967.
Another tactic was to use inverted commas around the word occupation, he said, without which one would be considered anti-Israeli. Occupation is a political opinion. It is not a political reality, he said. The right wing had ridiculed the word occupied, writing it to resemble the word small or little, while the word settlements had ceased to exist, replaced by references to villages, sometimes beyond the green line. Similarly, when an Israeli was leftist enough to speak of the West Bank, one did not consider Jerusalem part of that area.
Even road signs were political, he said. Traveling from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea or Tel Aviv, there was no sign saying, Welcome to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. From now on, you’re violating international law. Signs sought to help people understand that they were not committing a crime � an attempt to civilize the situation. All such efforts helped Israel build a virtual reality around a story that began when, for example, a Palestinian stabbed a soldier or threw a stone, and disrupted the order of building settlements. On Hizbullah, the political message could be summed up by a well-known image of rockets being fired on the Statue of Liberty under the question, What would you do?
The idea of looking into oneself and examining the occupation was not an option. I think this is a very dangerous situation for a country that is the strongest military power in the Middle East, he said.
Ms. FISHER-ILAN said all journalists were targets. To the idea that Palestinians viewed themselves as part of a collective for the sake of the wider goal, she said there was much in common with Israelis on that point.
Ms. HANANIA said she and her colleagues had heard soldiers discuss targeting them. She agreed there was a community culture among Palestinians, but that was not the issue to discuss. The question centred on the actions and reactions around the loss of loved ones.
Mr. KUTTAB said Israel did not recognize Palestinian journalists. There is no reference in the Israeli legal lexicon of a Palestinian journalist, he said, noting that if one approached a check point to cover an event, he or she could not be considered neutral. No immunities or protections were given. It was a structural and cultural problem.
Mr. MENDEL cited a court case against a Palestinian poet from Galilee under house arrest for the last two years for a poem she had written and posted on Facebook. He had been summoned to a court near Nazareth to translate the poem, because the entire case was being based on one sentence. From the Israeli perspective, one word referred to people who associated with suicide bombers. The interpretation and the meaning were opposites.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, Tala Halawa, Palestinian journalist, pointed out that Palestinian journalists did not enjoy the same rights to access information, movement and resources as their Israeli counterparts. When foreign media invested in Palestinian media, they invested in offices in Israel, not in the West Bank or Gaza. Noam Sheizaf, journalist, +972 Magazine, said political behaviour could be predicted by analysing region, socioeconomic class and religious observance. News consumption was not among the factors. The perspective on journalism as a profession must be broadened to the region as a whole, where being a journalist was growing more risky. Salah Abdel Shafi, Palestinian ambassador to Austria, said the media should refrain from comparing suffering and pain, as they could not be quantified. It must show respect. He expressed doubt that most Israelis understood what occupation was, stressing: Even listening is not enough. Only by living with people and sensing their fear could one understand. Gaby Goldman, Hand in Hand, added the example of what Israel called an operation against Gaza, and Palestinians called war.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, said a few years ago, the seminar had invited young Palestinian journalists to discuss social media. Today, the panel was comprised of traditional media and it was interesting to see the contrast between the two. He believed that if Palestinian journalists � traditional or new media � did not cater to the concerns and tragedies of their own people, they were not exercising their missions in the most appropriate manner. He welcomed that Palestinian journalists were recounting experiences of being faithful to their people. When we come to conferences like this, we are not talking to the Palestinian people, he said. We are talking to the international community. In that sense, we can tell stories about Palestinian individuals in the most remarkable way and I believe we should tell them.
Daria Shualy, former Israeli journalist, asked panellists more about comparing media narratives.
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, journalist at AJ+, said it was important to be mindful that the dehumanization happening on the ground was intentional. The argument being made was that Palestinian journalists were inciting violence, when Palestinians themselves were armed with prayer rugs and water bottles and the Israeli military with bullets and tear gas.
Mr. MENDEL said that as a Jewish Israeli, his role was to criticize Israeli media. Too many Israeli institutions were dedicated to monitoring Arabic media, finding parts of an interview that were most likely to blacken the face of the speaker and sell stories. They will never quote an intelligent remark made, he said.
Mr. KUTTAB said an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report covering 12 to 25 September 2017 had found that 48 Palestinians had been injured. Israeli authorities had carried out 123 searches; they shot fisherman in Gaza. Every one of these numbers is a human being, he said. We cannot just close our eyes to them. Journalists must write one story of one child as an example of the trend.
Ms. FISHER-ILAN said many other stories were eclipsing the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Ms. HANANIA said statements by Israeli politicians made it difficult for Palestinian journalists to give their people hope for peace and a State of their own. The challenge was to embrace hope to shape the news.
The day concluded with a panel discussion titled, The Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of international media. Moderated by Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, it featured presentations by: Taghreed ElKhodary, Journalist and scholar; Edmund Ghareeb, Professor, American University; Tony Klug, Special Adviser on the Middle East, Oxford Research Group; Barbara Plett Usher, United States Department of State Correspondent, BBC; and Alexandra Rojkov, Freelance journalist.
Mr. NASSER, quoting a 2014 article by journalist John Pilger titled, War by media and the triumph of propaganda, said the information age was actually the media age. There was war by media, censorship by media, demonology by media, retribution by media and diversion by media � a surreal assembly line of obedient cliches and false assumptions. With that in mind, he asked panellists for their thoughts on international media bias.
Mr. KLUG asked whether bias was in the eye of the beholder, and whether the maligned media were innocent of the charge. Or perhaps the charge reflected the user’s own bias, he wondered, asking whether people understood what they meant by balance and objectivity, and if they would choose it if they did. Such questions were pivotal in covering the conflict. In his struggle to write a neutral or objective account, he realized that there was not one history; rather, two discrete histories stemming from two distinct peoples whose destinies had collided in the same corner of the earth.
He said that without acquiring an empathetic understanding, journalists had phony objectivity. Misrepresenting foes was sometimes par for the course. He could not afford to take media reporting at face value and use his own judgement in appraising facts and assessing credibility. Everyone who engaged in an event became involved it. Directly or indirectly, we become players trapped in our own narratives, he said. What some regarded as analysis was indeed advocacy. Blinkered visions accounted for the serial failure to see every seismic event in the Middle East since 1967. We are not providing the service that is expected of us and we must reflect on why, he asserted.
Ms. PLETT USHER said she reported on the Oslo accords within the parameters of peace, and later on, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had set the barrier for the West Bank, in the context of conflict. The main narrative then was not about Israel-Palestine as the key to solving tensions. It was wider � about how to keep Iraq and Syria together, and the coalitions alive. In the past, Palestinians were considered the pan-Arab cause. Today, their situation was not as frequently reported. Coverage was about Israel as a potential ally. In reporting the story, there was a battle over narratives and over land. The goal was to incorporate both without losing sight of the actual balance of power.
One of the biggest challenges was in conveying how one group viewed certain events without being criticized for being part of that group. The narratives were rooted in history and politics. Israeli support for Mr. Sharon made more sense after she had visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and understood that Israelis wanted a leader to serve as a warning to Arabs. Later, they wanted the world to see it was fighting terrorism � a narrative bolstered by Hamas attacks inside the green line. The Palestinian narrative was that Israel was carrying out a classic colonial settler project to take land. Describing complaints the BBC had received about its headlines, she said the past notion of BBC broadcasting had changed in today’s instant, headline-y culture.
She said that while editors were still interested in spot news stories on Israeli politics and security, it had become more difficult to flesh out feature stories, given all that was happening in the Middle East. For Western liberal Jews, Israel had transformed into something they did not recognize. And in the United States, that had generated interest in internal Israeli issues that had nothing to do with Palestinians. Nonetheless, media coverage in the United States of the conflict was from a liberal Jewish view. Palestinian perspectives were fewer in between.
Ms. ELKHODARY said recent events in Jerusalem had brought the media focus back to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Describing the quality of international reporting, she said the media was interested in the human angle. Yet, when it came to policy, Palestinians did not control those stories. Israel did, particularly with its influence in the United States. Stressing that Israel took seriously the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, she said another element was that the conflict was being covered by journalists who did not live the Palestinian reality.
That makes a big difference, she said. They come, they leave. In that context, she described Israel’s power in supressing the freedom of speech, in particular by strictly regulating provision of the Israeli press card to international journalists. For example, Israel had refused to extend the visa of a Dutch journalist over what it perceived as critical coverage of the occupation, which had cited 175,000 Palestinians in Hebron who were captives of 680 settlers. You are monitored about what you say, how you say it � and attacked as anti-Semitic even if you use a quote, she stressed. On a related point, she did not understand why international media described Jewish settlements, rather than Israeli settlements, which gave legitimacy to a Jewish State.
Mr. GHAREEB said there was no doubt that the conflict was over narratives and territory. The United States media had successfully presented the narrative as one of terrorism, threatening Israel’s security, which would not end until Palestinians recognized the country’s right to exist. Since the Iraq crisis, the United States media had been criticized � from within and from outside. The result was that United States journalists practiced self-censorship, staying away from covering the number of civilian casualties. Recalling conversations about that fact, he said the most powerful statement had come from a Tunisian journalist, who described a time when Western journalists were respected. Seeing them in action, however � committing perjury, feeling animosity, shaping public opinion in their hands like clay by romanticizing smart bombs and weeping for oil � had opened his eyes.
On the positive side, he said the United States media was among the most free and powerful in the world, having held politicians to account and put the public in the same position as those making decisions. Before the Palestinian Liberation Organization was recognized as the legitimate representative of the people, there had been reference to Palestinians as terrorists, hijackers, guerrillas and violent gangs. Israelis had succeeded in influencing the United States media to use their terminology and impose it on the national consciousness. He drew attention to such terms as required concessions, which Israel offered. What Palestinians were requesting, however, was compliance � with international decisions, law and agreements. The United States discussed disputed territories, but most people did not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. The same was true when Israel spoke of ceding territories, despite that they were not Israeli land.
Ms. ROJKOV, stressing that she spoke only for herself today, described her experience of jumping into the conflict as a young reporter. In reporting the death of a Palestinian man shot by Israel’s army, she first called the army, who explained that a young Palestinian had climbed the wall. He posed a security threat, was asked to stop, refused, and was shot. The Palestinian side explained that the man had been standing far from the wall and had not posed any danger. He was shot in cold blood. The only thing in common between the narratives was that the young man was dead. In a conflict zone, she did not expect fairness, but rather understood that both sides sought to maximize their advantage.
As a journalist, she must be as fair and accurate as possible, she said, especially with terminology. Thus, she asked her colleague in Ramallah to call the doctor for an explanation of the angle from which the man had been shot. He replied that the results were unclear � both versions of the events could have been true. In the end, she presented both stories, making it clear to the reader she had done everything possible to discover the truth. It’s less satisfying but it was true. It was a journalist’s job to think twice about how he or she was doing the best job possible.
Ms. ELKHODARY said social media had been a benefit to Palestinians. The New York Times today was pushed to cover stories that were covered on Facebook.
Ms. ROJKOV said while social media opened opportunities, her friends used it mainly as a source for understanding events. They still sought out analysis in the news. While they did not trust national newspapers as in the past, they still read them.
Ms. GHAREEB said a problem in the United States was the disappearance of print journalism. The skills of reporting, researching and investigating were disappearing, and being replaced by emotionally driven images.
Mr. KLUG, providing examples of loose terminology, said articles about the Six Day War did not contain neutral language. If a story referenced Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, one expected a bias, which was important in determining whether one could rely on the facts. To clarify, the Palestinian opposition was not to a Jewish State, but rather of one that would result in their dispossession. It was important to understand core historical perspectives. He cautioned against the word narrative, as many did not believe their facts were such.
Joseph Dana, emerge 85, reflected on the last 10 years of social media, stressing that it was approaching the end of its course, which spoke to the cyclical nature of conflict. It had a role to play when it burst onto the scene in 2007, pushing the rights-centred narrative that focused on Palestinians’ experience of being dominated by Israelis. It had broken the stranglehold the traditional media had on the news, particularly at The New York Times Jerusalem bureau, whose chief, it had been revealed, had a son in the Israeli military � which was not how reporting should work. That story would not have been exposed in the same way had it not been for social media. Similarly, new developments in the region would affect the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, yet he had not seen smart coverage of them in the international media. He wondered if the media was equipped to describe the contours of the new Middle East.
One participant, a former United Nations policy analyst, asked whether people would consider Gaza becoming a separate State, to which Ms. HANANIA, Presenter, Palestine TV, responded that there was not even a remote chance of that happening. Mr. MANSOUR agreed that there would be no possibility of a Palestinian State without Gaza, or of Gaza as a State of its own. Perhaps journalists were not keeping up with events. There were serious efforts to end divisions. The Palestinian Mission in New York had resisted using social media at first. But today, the Mission had close to 25,000 followers, so when he spoke in the Security Council, people could tweet his comments. The Mission was among the top five followed at the United Nations. He was interested to hear that liberal Jews had difficulty recognizing today’s Israel.
NOAM SHEIZAF, journalist +972 Magazine, said he had not seen much soul searching and asked panellists about what they got wrong in two decades of coverage. SALAH ABDEL SHAFI, Palestinian ambassador to Austria, said there were different ways of collecting facts. A fact was that Mahmoud Abbas was President � the question was over how he was described. In Germany, he was called Palestinians’ President. Noting that Western media chose to say Jewish extremists and Palestinian terrorists, he emphasized that how facts were presented mattered greatly.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, said the seminar was unique in the thematic subjects it covered and experts who shared their ideas. I’m delighted we keep diversifying, he said, and that the first panel had heard proposals for new ways forward. He would appreciate more, however, if efforts were intensified around ending the occupation. Journalists did not lead political endeavours. They reported on them. For Palestinians, several events should be closely followed, notably the pride that young Palestinians felt in pursuing hope and peace. Our kids are not being brought up to be extremists, he said. They were full of hope.
To those who think we are not what we say, come and see us, he said. The idea that Palestinians had no hope was not in their vocabulary, a fact that gave him the strength to fight for his people’s noble cause. Moreover, what had happened recently in Jerusalem should not be seen as a small incident, but thoroughly studied, especially by Israeli authorities, which were messing around with that city. While many doubted efforts to unify the two sides of Palestine, he assured that national unity was a top priority, stressing: We want to do it right this time. He asked the audience to consider why such efforts were under way now and urged them to pay attention to what was possibly unfolding. He believed a crisis had arrived, which would either lead to something good, or hell would break loose.
The United States had not vetoed Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) because, he explained, it was interested in saving Israel from itself. For those excited about the one-State solution, he encouraged them to see the experience of Palestinians living inside Israel. Palestinians sought national rights. We are the indigenous population, he said, and would not accept the negation of their narrative. Palestinians wanted to live in their national homeland with national rights and the two-State solution would accommodate that reality. Palestinians were engaging the United States Administration, the Russians, Chinese, Europeans and Arabs � anyone interested in ending the occupation. We are seriously interested in peace, he said, tired of seeing Gazans live in misery in its absence, and people in East Jerusalem who were neither Palestinian nor Israeli because they lacked status. If extremist settlers wanted to destroy or divide Al-Aqsa mosque, they would drag everyone into a religious war.
GERTRAUD BOREA D’OLMO, Secretary-General, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, underlined the important goal of ending the occupation and realizing an independent State of Palestine. With that in mind, she drew attention to a programme involving Palestinian women � from Palestine, from inside Israel, East Jerusalem, the refugee camps and the diaspora � who sought to unify a strategy for their people.
Source: United Nations
Delegates from several African countries called for greater regional cooperation in the peaceful resolution of the Western Sahara question today, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization.
Senegal’s representative said that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution to the dispute and the reinvigoration of cooperation among countries of the Arab Maghreb region. As such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized trans-boundary crimes and irregular migration, among others, he noted.
Burkina Faso’s representative agreed that the final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle counter-terrorism, adding that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region.
Kenya’s representative stressed that Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and Western Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.
Also drawing attention to regional efforts, South Africa’s representative highlighted the African Union’s strong commitment to the decolonization of Western Sahara with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as the bloc’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara. He recalled that the African Union had made a decision in 2015 calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding the referendum in the Territory.
Ahmed Boukhari, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the organization had always had a clear position governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union. The continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations, but today, the Secretary-General wished the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said, adding that Polisario was resolved to work cooperatively with him.
Also speaking today were representatives of Togo, Peru, Gabon, France, Central African Republic, New Zealand, Benin, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Mexico, Mauritius, China, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Saint Lucia, Lesotho, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Venezuela and Namibia.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, Argentina and Spain.
Petitioners on Western Sahara also addressed the Committee.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, to continue the decolonization general debate.
KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo) expressed regret that the different parties to the thorny conflict over Western Sahara had not reached agreement. Emphasizing that negotiation was the only realistic way forward, he said Morocco’s initiative to grant Western Sahara broad autonomy was a constructive step towards a resolution of the dispute and represented a middle ground between the two sides. He welcomed Morocco’s spirit of compromise, its efforts to develop the region and its progress on human rights. Municipal elections in 2015 had been held without incident, he noted. He called for a census in the Tindouf camps, in accordance with the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report. Underlining the vital need to end the conflict, he pointed out that it posed the risk of tragic consequences for the Sahrawi people and was also preventing regional development at the risk of instability. Settlement of the Western Sahara question would also require improved relations between Morocco and Algeria, he stressed, calling for dialogue between those countries.
FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American nations (UNASUR), pointed out that more than half a century since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 on granting independence to colonial countries, more than 80 territories had won independence. However, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, he said, calling upon the United Nations to reverse that unjust reality. Decisive political will was essential, he added, emphasizing that the administering Powers must cooperate with the Committee and ensure the sustained growth of colonized Territories. He went on to voice support for Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands*, declaring: There is no possible solution to resolve the Malvinas problem except through the involved parties.
LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) reaffirmed her delegation’s support for the political process in Western Sahara, welcoming the ongoing efforts of the Secretary-General and his Sahara Envoy. She also commended the Moroccan autonomy initiative, saying it had the potential to end the impasse and allow for a final settlement. We need to take up all the political initiatives, she said, emphasizing the role of regional countries in maintaining stability and security in the Sahel region.
ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), calling for a new approach to the Western Sahara question, pointed out that the Security Council considered Morocco’s autonomy proposal a serious and credible option. That initiative had been put together in
good faith and constituted an appropriate framework for a solution to the regional dispute. He asked neighbouring countries to make their contribution as part of the United Nations process. Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution and the reinvigoration of cooperation between the countries of the Arab Maghreb region, he said that, as such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized transboundary crimes and irregular migration, among others.
JACQUES LAPOUGE (France) said his country had cooperated fully with the United Nations on New Caledonia. Earlier in the year, a United Nations mission had set out to observe the review of the special electoral list for the Territory’s provinces and congress as well as its efforts to establish a special electoral list for consultations. The French authorities had read the mission’s report closely, and had encouraged and freely administered many of its recommendations concerning Caledonian local government. Looking ahead to the coming weeks, he said that if a political accord was reached on the matter of electoral list inscriptions, the complementary review period could be longer than it had been in previous years, increasing the availability of United Nations teams. France wished to play the role of arbitrator in the situation, rebalancing the local government situation while taking local culture into account, he said. Recalling that the Noumea Accord had set out a new division of competencies, he said that, accordingly, the gradually ascending competencies granted to the government of New Caledonia gave it the means to act within a legislative framework. In short, New Caledonia is sovereign, he added.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) expressed regret that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still did not possess the right to self-determination, noting that the people of Western Sahara had been waiting for decades to exercise that right. In August, the Secretary-General had launched a negotiation process between the parties and appointed a new Personal Envoy, he recalled, expressing hope that he would receive the support required to achieve a peaceful and lasting solution. The African Union remained strongly committed to the Territory’s decolonization with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as Special Envoy for Western Sahara, he said, recalling also that in 2015, the regional bloc had made a decision calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding a referendum in Western Sahara.
AMBROISINE KPONGO (Central African Republic) said it was unacceptable that some were still fighting for their independence more than 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We seek emancipation for the countries and Territories still under colonization, she said, while emphasizing that it would be wise to avoid radical positions with unknown impacts. Spotlighting Morocco’s economic investment in Western Sahara, and the holding of democratic and free processes, she welcomed its serious and credible efforts and expressed support for the processes under way at the United Nations for the autonomy of Western Sahara. All parties must be realistic and show compromise, she said, adding that resolving the long-standing dispute called for greater cooperation among neighbouring countries. Reiterating the African position, she said all must be done to ensure that the continent was not fragmented by external forces. She also reiterated the need to address the plight of refugees and ensure their human rights were protected.
CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand), underscoring his country’s commitment to its relationship with Tokelau, said it was guided by the pace that Tokelau alone sets as it develops towards the future of its choosing. In the Territory’s last referendum on its relationship with New Zealand, in 2006-2007, the majority required for Tokelau to become a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand had not been met, he recalled. While self-determination efforts were now paused, Tokelau continued to strive to improve its capacity and confidence in governing and managing its own affairs. That was the best preparation for any future discussion of self-determination, he said, noting that Tokelau had built its own international profile in multilateral meetings on climate change. New Zealand would support such efforts as long as Tokelau wishes us to.
JEAN-CLAUDE DO REGO (Benin) said that a consensual settlement must remain focused on ensuring greater stability in the Maghreb region. Expressing support for any Security Council initiative laying out a timetable for the political process, he emphasized, however, that no initiative would succeed without a spirit of compromise on the part of all involved. They must come to the table in order to secure a sustainable peace, he added.
MAHE ‘U.S. TUPOUNIUA (Tonga) said any compromise must be realistic, fair and in accordance with Security Council resolutions. The Committee was currently at an important juncture in relation to the long-standing issue, he said, urging all involved to make important contributions to the United Nations led process in order to ensure the realization of a political solution. Human rights and economic and social development must be guaranteed, he added.
AHMED ABDELRAHMAN AHMED ALMAHMOUD (United Arab Emirates) emphasized his country’s support for Morocco’s territorial integrity and for the kingdom’s efforts to reach a solution. Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) described Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious and credible, he welcomed the kingdom’s efforts to develop Western Sahara, including through the new development model recently launched for the southern provinces. It was important to enhance cooperation among members of the Arab Maghreb to ensure regional stability, he added.
YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), associating herself with CELAC, stressed the need for ongoing dialogue among administering Powers, the Special Committee and the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Concerning the Malvinas Islands question, she emphasized Argentina’s legitimate rights to that Territory, urging renewed efforts for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. She said her delegation had demonstrated its support for Argentina on various occasions, recognizing that country’s sovereign right to the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. She reiterated that all Latin America supported Argentina’s claim.
RODOLFO FLORENTINO DA�AZ ORTEGA (Mexico) said that throughout the years, the United Nations had ensured that more than 80 colonies achieved independence. However, it was important to remember that colonialism is not over, and that championing the principles of the United Nations Charter was a collective responsibility of the Organization. Mexico reaffirmed its support for efforts to find a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the dispute over Western Sahara, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, he said, expressing support for the holding of a referendum that would determine the future of the Sahrawi people. He called for efforts to ensure that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) continued to carry out its mandate fully and effectively. On the Malvinas issue, he urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a peaceful, fair and definitive solution to their dispute, and to avoid taking unilateral actions that could undermine prior agreements.
JAGDISH D KOONJUL (Mauritius) said no progress would be made unless the administering Powers dedicated themselves to the decolonization process. An end to the suffering of the Sahrawi people was long overdue. We must ensure that the situation does not escalate into violence, he stressed, pointing out that economic integration of North Africa had been delayed due to the situation in Western Sahara. MINURSO must be free to carry out its mandate to organize the self-determination referendum, he said. Since it was the General Assembly’s responsibility to complete the decolonization process, it would benefit from an advisory board of the International Court of Justice in relation to the legal consequences of the purported excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, he said, encouraging all Member States to participate in that process in support of completing the decolonization of Mauritius.
CHENG LIE (China) said the Non-Self-Governing Territories represented the legacy of Western colonialism. While the Third International Decade for the Eradication for Colonialism was making progress, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, he observed. China supported the efforts of those Territories towards exercising the right to self-determination. On the question of the Malvinas Islands, he said China supported Argentina’s rights, and called upon the parties concerned to engage in peaceful dialogue and negotiations towards finding a just, lasting and acceptable solution for all.
YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso) welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) extending the mandate of MINURSO until April 2018 for the purpose of holding a referendum, saying that confirmed the Council’s firm will to help the parties reach a solution. He said Burkina Faso supported the process under the auspices of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, noting that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute, and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region. In the context of counter-terrorism, he said a final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle that problem as well.
HUSSEIN ABDULLAH (Nigeria) expressed regret at the continued existence of Non-Self-governing Territories that faced the challenge of exercising the right to self-determination. As new conflicts emerge, we must not lose focus on ongoing, unresolved old conflicts, he said, noting that Western Sahara remained a Non-Self-Governing Territory even 40 years after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justices on that issue. The question of a homeland for the Palestinian people and the quest for a free and impartial self-determination referendum for the Sahrawi people were among the most urgent tasks on the United Nations agenda, he emphasized, calling on the Organization to set a date for the referendum. This Committee would be shirking its responsibilities if it fails to prick the conscience of the nations of the world to stand up, he said.
CARLOS COSTA (Mozambique) said it was imperative to intensify efforts to end colonialism in all its forms. Expressing great concern over the expansion of Israeli settlements, he called upon the international community to advance concrete actions for the attainment of a durable two-State solution to the question of Palestine. Concrete action must also be taken to ensure that the people of Western Sahara could exercise their right to self-determination through implementation of the referendum and other elements of the relevant United Nations resolutions. Lesotho welcomed Morocco’s re-entry into the African Union family, which could provide an additional avenue to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, he said.
KINTU NYAGO (Uganda) reaffirmed his country’s support for the principle of self-determination. As we debate this today, many people still live under the bondage of colonization, he said. The issue of Western Sahara remained very much one of occupation and colonization in Africa, and Uganda was committed to the holding of a free and fair referendum as well as the total decolonization of the continent. Morocco’s recent rejoining of the African Union offered an opportunity to resolve the Western Sahara issue. Noting the Security Council’s call for a relaunch of the political process in a new dynamic spirit, he welcomed the appointment of the Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and urged him to establish time-bound negotiations between Polisario and Morocco.
COSMOS RICHARDSON (Saint Lucia) drew attention to the torrential rains, massive destruction and tragic loss of life suffered recently by Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Voicing his country’s solidarity with their peoples, he said the task of recovery and reconstruction would be daunting and external assistance would be required. The annual resolutions on assistance in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council would be of special importance. Recalling the role of the United Nations in his own country’s self-determination process, he expressed concern that the same promise remained unfulfilled for many others, especially small island Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The process had remained virtually static for more than a quarter of a century, he said, calling upon the Secretary-General to identify specifically that lack of implementation and take appropriate measures to move the process forward.
KELEBONE MAOPE (Lesotho) said colonialism violated the human rights of the colonized, and it would be in the best interest of humanity to implement the decolonization Declaration as part of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. He reiterated the call to end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, including through negotiations on Western Sahara. To that end, he expressed support for Western Sahara’s struggle for self-determination, emphasizing: Denial of this fundamental right will remain a source of conflict until independence is attained.
MOHAMED CHERIF DIALLO (Guinea) said the question of Western Sahara must be resolved through a political and constructive dialogue. Morocco’s autonomy initiative had the merit of transcending traditional positions, and it could also be instrumental in the holding of fair and free local and regional elections. He noted with concern the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the protection of their human rights.
FREDERICK M SHAVA (Zimbabwe), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern that all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question had failed so far. Noting that most of the Sahrawi people were subjected to severe poverty and forced to seek asylum in neighbouring countries, he said the refugees looked to the international community for assistance. Zimbabwe supported self-determination for the people of Western Sahara as well as fair and transparent dialogue. Pointing out that MINURSO was mandated to ensure a free and fair referendum, he said: The people of Western Sahara are still waiting. He expressed support for the African Union’s call for immediate and direct talks between the two sides.
KOKI MULI GRIGNON (Kenya) said her country’s long struggle for national liberation from colonialism had set a strong foundation for its foreign policy orientation. Kenya’s architects had underscored the link between national independence and humanity’s right to a shared heritage. Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, she said, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and those of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Western Sahara is still colonized because it is rich in natural resources, she said, adding that the prevailing deadlock in the peace process only heightened tensions in the Territory. Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and West Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said administering Powers had responsibilities under the Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. As such, they should develop time-bound work programmes on a case-by-case basis, in regular compliance with their reporting obligations. He highlighted the need for educational and training assistance for students in those Territories, expressing appreciation for Member States that made scholarships available to them and requesting that others follow suit.
AMADU KOROMA (Sierra Leone) observed that the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism would end soon, but progress towards the goals set out in its programme of action was not encouraging. Recalling that efforts had been made in previous years to forge a closer working relationship between the administering Powers and the Special Committee on Decolonization, he encouraged the administering Powers to provide information on the socioeconomic situation in the Territories, and to cooperate with visiting missions so that Special Committee members could receive information on the actual situation on the ground. Concerning Western Sahara, he said that his delegation fully supported the ongoing process. As for New Caledonia, the 2018 referendum would be crucial, he said, emphasizing that the problems of the electoral list must be settled amicably before the voting process.
INTISAR NASSER MOHAMMED ABDULLAH (Yemen) said her country supported the aspirations of Territories to independence, commending the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization towards that end. Regarding Western Sahara, she said all relevant Security Council resolutions must be implemented and Morocco’s efforts to reach a solution must be supported. She also highlighted Israeli settlement activities, stressing that they were the source of conflict in the Middle East.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in regards to a 3 October statement on Gibraltar, said the Territory’s people enjoyed the right to self-determination, a constitution supported by the referendum, and a vigorous political life. The United Kingdom refuted allegations that it was illegally occupying the waters surrounding Gibraltar, she said, underlining that the State, which was sovereign over the land, was also sovereign over the waters. Concerning taxation in the Territory’s, she said Gibraltar maintained a fair tax system and was in compliance with all legal European Union directives. As for claims of cigarette smuggling through Gibraltar, she recalled the European Commission’s efforts to address that issue and Gibraltar’s commitment to work with partners, including its counterparts in Spain.
In response to the delegations of Peru, Mexico, Honduras and China regarding the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, she reiterated that the United Kingdom harboured no doubt about its sovereignty over the Territory.
The representative of Argentina, in right of reply, recalled that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas were a part of Argentina, illegally occupied by the United Kingdom. That was recognized by various international organizations, and the illegal occupation had led the United Nations to adopt various resolutions on the matter, he said. All those resolutions recognized Argentina’s jurisdiction over the Malvinas, she pointed out, emphasizing also that the interests of the Territory’s people as well as their lifestyle were monitored and guaranteed under the Argentine Constitution.
The representative of Spain, speaking in right of reply in response to the United Kingdom, said the Treaty of Utrecht governed the question of Gibraltar. Under that agreement, the waters fell under Spanish sovereignty and had never been ceded. Therefore, the United Kingdom was illegally occupying the isthmus of Gibraltar. She noted that there were no agreements between the European Union and Gibraltar on tax matters since Spain was a member of that bloc. Spain was a democratic State governed by the rule of law, she said, describing the referendum said to have taken place in Catalonia as illegal. Spain protected the rights of all citizens, and its police and Civil Guard responded to orders from the courts and judicial system to ensure legality and respect for all Spaniards. If there had been excesses, that would be up to the courts to determine.
The representative of Algeria said the daily press releases were not reflecting the Committee’s discussions, recalling that his delegation and others had raised that issue in the past. The matter had been raised during an informal meeting on the revitalization of the General Assembly. At that time, lack of resources had been blamed, but considering the situation today, that seemed not to be the case. The names of people who had not yet addressed the Committee were included in the press release, he said. If that was a mistake, it was unjustifiable, he stressed. He asked the Department of Public Information not to deviate from its objective, and the Secretariat to shed light on the reasons for what was happening. He also asked for formal apologies and corrections. What happened in the meeting must be faithfully reflected in the releases, he said, emphasizing that a representative of the Department of Public Information must appear before the Committee to explain the issue.
The Chair said he shared the delegate’s disappointment and anger, adding that the Secretariat and the Department of Public Information must clarify what had happened and provide an apology in an information note, as well as with an appearance before the Committee.
A Secretariat official apologized on behalf of the Fourth Committee Secretariat, saying it was following up with the Department of Public Information, and that a correction was being posted.
The representative of Algeria said the apology must not be directed to his delegation but to the entire Committee.
Petitioners on Western Sahara
NAVJOT KAUR, Chief of Staff, Young Progressives of America, said that building walls to keep people out instead of welcoming them in was cruel. While Morocco had divided the Sahrawi, they refused to accept violations of their human rights. Recalling former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2014 visit to the Territory, she said that during the visit he had noted the anger of the people who had lived there for more than 40 years and felt the world had forgotten their cause. Indeed, they had every right to be angry because no progress had been made, she said, expressing hope that more would be achieved under the new Secretary-General. However, the absence of cooperation from Morocco and its refusal to give the Sahrawi the freedom they deserved was concerning. Both the European Union and the African Union were in support of the Sahrawi, and neighbouring countries around Morocco continued to accept refugees, she said, strongly urging the United Nations to resolve the decades-long dispute.
SILVIA BOAVENTURA, Justice for Western Sahara, said the people of Western Sahara were still waiting for freedom since Spain had occupied the Territory and then illegally transferred it to Morocco. Those who lived under the violent and abusive Moroccan occupation could not live free, and the occupation authorities did not offer proper health care, education and other basic services, in contravention of human rights, she said. The occupation had also built a large wall guarded by heavily armed guards. It is a war zone, she said, adding that Morocco continued to unlawfully exploit both the people and their natural resources. Many companies around the world did business with Moroccan firms benefitting from those resources, and the silence from the United Nations, other countries and the media and showed a lack of interest in the issue. The United Nations must help the Sahrawi people’s pursuit of self-government, she stressed, calling for an end to the occupation.
FERAT AHMED BABA DIH, PhD student and adjunct instructor, New York University, said she was a refugee born in the camps, and outlined the history of the Sahrawi people, saying they still had a strong sense of belonging with a Territory that is still their own. Noting that 2017 marked the forty-second anniversary of the Madrid Accord, which had been followed by the war between Spanish forces and the Polisario Front, she said many Sahrawi had been tortured or killed and those who had escaped had fled to Algeria’s Tindouf region where they remained to the present day. In Western Sahara, the occupation continued, based on the idea that the Territory was a fundamental part of Morocco, and police brutality against the people was common. She called upon the Government of Morocco to end its occupation and on the international community to stop listening passively to our demands.
AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations. Dozens of political prisoners languished in Moroccan jails as that country plundered the Territory’s natural resources, bringing drugs and instability to the region. He recalled that after the agreement to hold a referendum, MINURSO had been established to organize it, but Morocco had unilaterally broken off its commitment and had been sabotaging the peace process ever since. In August 2016, the kingdom had violated the terms of the ceasefire by trying to build a road in Guerguerat, which had almost led to violent conflict, he recalled. Noting that today the Secretary-General wanted the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said Polisario was resolved to cooperate with him, because it had always had a clear position, governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union. The question was one of decolonization, he stressed.
The representative of Venezuela asked for greater detail on the occupying Power’s exploitation of natural resources in the Territory and how it affected Western Sahara’s capacity to develop in the future once the issue had been resolved.
The representative of Namibia said her country contributed aid for the refugee camps, and asked for information about accusations that it had been sold. She asked what measures were in place to ensure that aid reached the refugees.
Mr. BOUKHARI said natural resources constituted one of the main reasons for the occupation, estimating that Morocco made between $7 and $12 million a year from the Territory’s resources.
Responding to Namibia’s representative, he said there had been no report of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in Tindouf or any other camp. Instead a visiting woman accompanied by a French deputy had given information to the press. Basically, the information was false, he said.
The representative of South Africa asked how the referendum would unfold.
The representative of Morocco, on a point of order, asked about the system for asking questions and responding within a time limit. He also requested that petitioners be mentioned by name rather than by title.
The representative of Algeria said the floor could not be denied to a Member State because each had a sovereign right to speak.
The representative of Morocco said he was not trying to deprive Member States of the right to speak, but instead to group questions together.
The representative of Zimbabwe asked about the new Personal Envoy and expectations for his appointment.
Mr. BOUKHARI said in regard to the question of self-determination that three months would be enough to organize the referendum. As for the Personal Envoy, he was a person of great authority, but he faced major problems because of Morocco’s insistence on maintaining the status quo so that it could continue to occupy the Territory. He called upon all members of the Security Council to work together to ensure his success.
FATIMETU JATRI EMHAMED, Sahrawi student in Iowa, said that despite having pursued a college education and a career in the United States, she remained dispirited about her people’s plight. It was regrettable to see France, a permanent member of the Security Council, constantly and blindly support Morocco in the United Nations on the issue of Western Sahara. Calling upon all States to support the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, she said they remained oppressed and made to feel like foreigners in their own land. Protesters and fighters had been imprisoned, she said, asking Who else is going to speak for us? It was painful to call oneself a refugee when one still had a homeland, she said, rejecting allegations made yesterday linking refugees in the camps with terrorism.
KIM GUEST, President, Artists for Kids Rights, noted that freedom of expression in Moroccan-occupied areas of Western Sahara was strictly curtailed. Moroccan authorities detained or expelled Sahrawi, Moroccan, Spanish and other foreign reporters covering sensitive issues related to Western Sahara. The Government of Morocco asserted judicial and penal administration within the Territory and its security forces there had a history of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention and disappearances, she said. Noting that Western Sahara possessed extensive natural resources, including phosphates, iron ore, hydrocarbon reserves and fisheries, she said a history of resource exploitation by foreign companies had left the local population largely impoverished. The international community could not allow decolonization in that latest of colonial enclaves to be diverted as a result of the biased analysis or temporal interests of certain Powers, she said, emphasizing that the General Assembly must confirm its commitment to the relevant resolutions and decisions.
CHRIS SASSI, President, S.k.c., said the legal status of Western Sahara was unequivocal and it remained under occupation by Morocco. Recalling that the International Court of Justice had rejected the historical links invoked by the occupying Power to justify its occupation, she said the European Court had reaffirmed that position in 2016. The Territory’s status must be decided by the Sahrawi people, he emphasized. Morocco continued its cruel oppression, pillaging natural resources and violating human rights, she said. The kingdom also continued to refuse all visits to the Territory by parliamentary delegations, NGOs and others, she added, noting that Morocco enjoyed impunity with the complicit support of some Member States, even permanent members of the Security Council. The Secretary-General and his new Personal Envoy must work to renew negotiations on the question of Western Sahara, she said.
JUAN CARLOS DUQUE, Executive Director, ONG Rehabiilitacion y Esperenza, also voiced concern about breaches of human rights, noting that the Polisario Front had marginalized the population, including people who questioned their authority. He also voiced concern about the lack of liberty for those living in the Tindouf camps, drawing attention to a related Human Rights Watch report. While the Polisario Front was on record as firmly opposing slavery, more must be done to eliminate residual slavery among the minority black population, he said.
CLARA RIVEROS, political scientist, CPLATAM Observatory, noted that the rate of political participation in Western Sahara was among the most notable in Morocco. People had been elected democratically at the provincial, municipal and regional levels, and there was competition between the various political parties, she noted. One of the very traditional parties had been displaced by an emerging political force, which was what democracy was all about. Preferences had been changing in the region, leading to a new civil society because of the new sedentary living conditions of a formerly nomad population, she said.
RACHID TAMEK, President, Assemblee Provinciale d’Assa-Zag, said he wished to clarify Morocco’s history. The kingdom had enjoyed internationally recognized borders for several centuries, he recalled, noting that, alongside Ethiopia, Morocco had been the last country on the continent to become a protectorate, divided between France and Spain. The kingdom had been divided into six parts between those two Powers, and had regained its independence incrementally. The repercussions of those events were still being witnessed today, he said, asking why there had never been a demand for a referendum in any other region, and why only Western Sahara was demanding one. Speaking as a Moroccan Sahrawi citizen, he said it was because the region had borders with a neighbouring country that was interfering in its internal affairs.
NAGLA MOHAMEDLAMIN SALAM, representative in the United States of Nova (Western Sahara), said the Territory’s people were fighting for dignity and to choose where they would belong. Ending the dispute over Western Sahara meant allowing the Saharawi people to vote and to choose by themselves, she said, underlining that they would not compromise the right to self-determination under any circumstances.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).
Source: United Nations
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