On 21 April 2009 the Australian Parliamentary Friendship Group for Western Sahara sent the following letter to H. E. Ambassador Claude Heller, President of the United Nations Security Council.
We are writing on behalf of the Parliamentary Friends of Western Sahara Group in the Australian Federal Parliament, concerning the question of
Western Sahara which is due to be discussed by the UN Security Council at the end of April this year. The Council will be considering the extension of the mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
As you would be aware the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established by Security Council resolution 690 (1991) of 29 April 1991, in accordance with “the settlement proposals”, as accepted on 30 August 1988 by Morocco and the Frente Polisario. MINURSO’s mandate was to organise a referendum of self-determination in Western Sahara. Unfortunately the referendum has not been implemented yet.
In 2004 MINURSO’s mandate was expanded to include a program of Confidence Building Measures (CBM): http://www.minurso.unlb.org/CBM.html. It seems to us however that one important element of the CBM program is missing. It is the protection of human rights.
All United Nations entities have a responsibility to ensure that human rights are promoted and protected by and within their field operations. Decision No. 2005/24 of the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee on Human Rights in Integrated Missions directs that human rights be fully integrated into peace operations. Most United Nations peacekeeping operations are mandated to promote and protect human rights by monitoring and helping to investigate human rights violations. In March 2008 the UN published an important document under the title of “United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Principles and Guidelines”. The document stipulates that:
“The integration of human rights and the sustainability of human rights programmes should always be a key factor in the planning of multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operations. International human rights law is an integral part of the normative framework for United Nations peacekeeping operations… United Nations peacekeeping operations should be conducted in full respect of human rights and should seek to advance human rights through the implementation of their mandates.” We strongly support this principle and hope the UN will be able to implement it in Western Sahara.
We note that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recommended in its report of 2006 that “closer monitoring of the human rights situation both in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps in Tindouf is indispensable.” Furthermore, Human Rights Watch in its report of December 2008 recommended the extension of the mandate of MINURSO to include the monitoring and protection of human rights in Western Sahara. Amnesty International and The European Parliament have recently supported the same recommendations to include the protections of human rights in MINURSO’s mandate.
The UN needs to act urgently on these recommendations as the situation of human rights in the occupied areas of Western Sahara is grave. This is underscored by disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, murder, and unfair trials, all of which have been increasingly reported in recent years..
Human rights violations in Western Sahara were well documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its report of 2006 as well as in reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (2008) and more recently by the European Parliament delegation that visited the area in its report of March 2009.
During the tenth session of the UN Human Rights Council held in March 2009 in Geneva, many organisations including France-Libertés and International Educational Development (IED) underlined the lack of respect for human rights in Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation and called for the mandate of MINURSO to be extended to protect Saharawi civilians and their fundamental rights.
We believe that without the inclusion of the protection of human rights in the mandate of MINURSO the UN mission will continue to be wanting. It will also be seen as unfair and will damage the credibility of the UN.
We also consider that the status quo in Western Sahara is not acceptable and that MINURSO should implement its full mandate and organise the long-awaited referendum in Western Sahara.
We should be grateful if you would kindly arrange for this letter to be distributed to the members of the Security Council.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Maria Vamvakinou, MP
Chair, Parliamentary Friendship Group with Western Sahara
Senator Sarah Hanson- Young
Secretary, Parliamentary Friendship Group with Western Sahara