18 Feb 2011

Western Sahara update

I recently responded to Neil Carmichael's column at Christmas time where he talked of his break in Morocco - he timed it just as a national campaign started to ask people not to go there due to the suppression of the Saharwi people - see my letter here. Well I was not alone in writing - there were at least 5 other letters critical of his visit.

In November 2010 the worst violence since 1991 erupted in Moroccan occupied Western Sahara following the demolition of protest camps. This was not a time for Neil to be talking about learning from Morocco. My letter posted on this blog led to quite a few comments on this blog site from various viewpoints. Since then I've had a reply from Neil Carmichael with a copy of a letter to him about the issues I raised, from Alistair Burt at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Alistair Burt does at least note his concern that the UN Peacekeeping were refused access to the camps and notes the UK position of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara - and hopes for a Referendum in April. Neil doesn't give his personal views.

I am not totally convinced of the seriousness with which the UK Government takes this but hugely welcome moves to improve the situation. Campaign groups see that the human rights crisis is a result of the failure of the UN to implement the right to self–determination. Indeed this is explicitly explicitly acknowledged in the OHCHR report.

The Security Council must take the opportunity to break the 36 year stalemate and gain a resolution of the conflict. We need the Security Council to set a timetable for the Referendum and:
  • Insist on the establishment of a monitoring mechanism for human rights - through the extension of MINURSO's mandate to ensure that it is effective and accountable. In order to be effective any mechanism must at the very minimum:
  • Report to the Security Council – to avoid obstruction and hold both parties accountable Operate equally – in both the occupied territory and the refugee camps governed by the POLISARIO Front
  • Be permanent until the implementation of UN plans for a referendum of self-determination
I have just written regarding this issue to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Security Council and Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Permanent Representative of the UK to the United Nations. See more about Western Sahara at: www.wsahara.org.uk/

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