The Australian Council of the Trade Unions (ACTU) called on the Australian Federal government to play “an active and positive role” on the issue of Western Sahara at the UN, in a letter it sent to the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs last June.
ACTU recalled Minister Stephen Smith of the position adopted by the Labour Party in its last three national conferences, and indicated that Australian Trade Unions are paying a growing attention and concerns to the situation in Western Sahara.
Here is the letter sent by the ACTU, signed by the President of the Australian main Umbrella trade union, Sharon Burrow, and the Secretaries of the organisation in West Australia and New South Wells, respectively Dave Robinson and John Robertson, in addition to Peter Jennings, Executive Officer of the Union Aid Abroad APHEDA.
27 June 2008
The Hon Stephen Smith, MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Canberra ACT 2600
I am writing to draw your attention to the question of Western Sahara.
The issue of Western Sahara is a decolonisation issue. There are striking similarities between Western Sahara and East Timor. Both East Timor and Western Sahara were abandoned by the former powers and occupied by neighbouring countries in 1975, but while East Timor gained its independence, Western Sahara is still on the UN’s list of the Non-Self-Governing territories waiting for the right to self-determination.
Morocco constructed a 2.000 km wall to seal the Territory while it embarked on hideous human rights abuses. It also forced thousands Saharawis to flee their homeland and seek refuge in neighbouring Algeria where they have been living in dire conditions for the past 33 years.
The issue of Western Sahara has an impact on issues that are relevant to Australia’s foreign policy such as the role of the UN, international peace and stability.
Western Sahara is also relevant to Australia because it concerns issues of human rights, respect of international legality and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
We are proud of the fact that the trade union movement in Australia, as well as the ALP, have been very supportive for the struggle for freedom and emancipation in Western Sahara.
We are delighted that the ALP has adopted during its past three National Conferences a very positive Policy on Western Sahara. (Please see Chapter 14 of the last ALP Platform-The text is attached herewith.)
Since the ALP position on this issue is clear and positive I hope that the Federal government can play an active and positive role on this issue at the UN as we did in the past. Australia contributed a contingent of signals to the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991 and voted in favour of resolutions supporting the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination.
We would be grateful if you could kindly clarify the position of the Federal Government on this issue and whether our government still supports the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination.
We would appreciate an early response as our organisations are very concerned about the present situation in Western Sahara.
Sharon Burrow, President of the ACTU
Dave Robinson, Secretary Unions WA
John Robertson, Secretary Unions NSW
Peter Jennings, Executive Officer Union Aid Abroad APHEDA
139- Labor supports the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and is concerned about allegations of human rights abuses in the occupied areas of Western Sahara. Labor believes in maintaining an appropriate dialogue with the Polisario Front, the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara. In government Labor will support UN efforts to organise a free and fair referendum on independence in Western Sahara, and calls on the UN to press Morocco to implement all UN resolutions pertaining to Western Sahara.
140- Labor urges the Australian Government to extend all due assistance to the UN in its efforts to organise a free and fair referendum in Western Sahara, and to maintain an appropriate dialogue with the Polisario Front, the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara. Labor calls on the UN to press Morocco to implement UN resolutions with regards to the decolonisation process in Western Sahara, the last non-self-governing African territory on the UN decolonisation list.