Frente POLISARIO’s Representative at the United Nations, Dr Sidi Omar, sent a letter on April 29 to the Heads of Permanent Missions to the UN in which he refutes the allegations contained in recent letters circulated by Morocco’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and reported by Moroccan official media.
In particular, the letter addressed Morocco’s allegations regarding its violation of the ceasefire on 13 November 2020, its obstruction so far of the appointment of a new personal envoy as well as its misleading propaganda aimed at covering up its systematic human rights violations in the occupied Territories of Western Sahara.
The text of the letter:
“New York, 29 April 2021
Upon instructions from my Authorities, I have the honour to share the position of the Frente POLISARIO concerning claims contained in communications circulated recently by the permanent mission of Morocco to the United Nations and reported by state-owned Moroccan media.
The following established facts aim to set the record straight and unveil the groundless claims made by the Moroccan occupying state concerning the 1991 ceasefire, the appointment of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara (PESG), the human rights situation in the occupied Western Sahara and other issues.
Since 13 November 2020, following its documented breach of the 1991 ceasefire and Military Agreement No. 1 of 1997-8, the Moroccan occupying state continues to claim that no armed conflict has broken out in Western Sahara. While persisting in its state of denial, the Moroccan occupying state also keeps brazenly paying lip service to the commitment to a ceasefire and a peace process that it itself has torpedoed.
It is an undeniable fact that, in flagrant violation of the 1991 ceasefire and Military Agreement no. 1 of 1997-8, on early 13 November 2020, the Moroccan occupying forces moved into the Buffer Strip (BS) and attacked a group of Sahrawi civilians who were protesting peacefully in Guerguerat in the Sahrawi Liberated Territory. The occupying state immediately admitted that its forces had conducted an “operation” in the area on that same day.
Signed between MINURSO and the Frente POLISARIO on 24 December 1997 and between MINURSO and Morocco on 22 January 1998, Military Agreement No. 1 establishes a 5 km wide Buffer Strip (BS) to the South and East of the Moroccan military wall (2) where the entry of the troops or equipment of both parties, by ground or air, and the firing of weapons in or over this area is prohibited at all times and is a violation (3.1).
It is also an indisputable fact corroborated by MINURSO that, following their incursion into the Buffer Strip, the Moroccan occupying forces built a new “sand wall”, and laid new mines in violation of Military Agreement No. 1, which prohibits constructing new berm walls (sand, stone, and concrete) and the laying of mines (3.2.1). The incursion by the Moroccan occupying armed forces into the Buffer Strip in Guerguerat on early 13 November 2020 and its construction of a new mined “sand wall” is therefore a violation of the 1991 ceasefire and Military Agreement No. 1 of 1997-8.
Moreover, Morocco’s breach of the terms of Military Agreement No. 1 constitutes a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions including resolution 2548 (2020) which reaffirmed “the need for full respect of the military agreements reached with MINURSO with regard to the ceasefire” and called on “the parties to adhere fully to those agreements” and “refrain from any actions that could undermine UN-facilitated negotiations or further destabilise the situation in the Western Sahara” (S/RES/2548 (2020); OP 6).
The United Nations (A/75/740 of 11 February 2021; para 13) recognised “the resumption of hostilities” in Western Sahara and the “several new threats related to armed conflict”, but it remains silent on the party responsible for breaching the ceasefire. However, its recognition of the resumption of hostilities strikes a resounding blow to the oft-repeated claim of the Moroccan occupying state that no armed conflict has taken place in Western Sahara since 13 November 2020.
The failure of the Security Council to assume its responsibility in this regard regrettably sends out a dangerous message that the Moroccan occupying state could violate its commitment to the ceasefire and still goes unpunished. The serious consequences of this complacent attitude are easy to predict because it not only undermines the prospects of relaunching the peace process but also leaves the door wide open to the escalation of the ongoing armed conflict.
After frustrating the efforts of President Horst Köhler who resigned in May 2019, with the aim of maintaining the status quo, the Moroccan occupying state set out to thwart all subsequent efforts to appoint a new Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara (PESG). It is no secret that Morocco has not only vetoed several candidates for the PESG post. It has also been trying to influence the process through a set of preconditions that abusively exclude nationals of a group of UN Member States (including Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavian Countries, Switzerland, among others) from being considered for the PESG post. These preconditions, which unduly limit the pool of possible candidates, have evidently made it even more difficult to appoint a new PESG for Western Sahara.
As reported by the Moroccan news agency (MAP) on 19 April 2021, the ambassador of the Moroccan occupying state to the UN addressed a letter to the members of the Security Council in which he pointed out that Morocco “promptly accepted” two proposals by the Secretary-General for the appointment of two candidates who were mentioned by name. The fact that the reported letter omits is that the first candidate was invited by the Moroccan occupying authorities to an event held in the occupied city of Dajla (Dakhla) in Western Sahara in March 2018 with the aim of promoting Morocco’s illegal occupation of the Territory.
Furthermore, as reported by Moroccan media, in April 2007 the second candidate was cited expressing officially his preference for Morocco’s “autonomy proposal”. These types of statements and conduct evidently raise legitimate concerns about the ability of the two persons in question to assume in full neutrality the role of a Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, and to earn the already shattered confidence of the people of Western Sahara in the UN peace process, especially under the current circumstances.
Although the Moroccan occupying state keeps paying much lip service to the UN peace process, it is abundantly clear that it has no political will to engage in any genuine and credible process. Its aim is simply to maintain the status quo while trying to unilaterally have a “tailor-made” Personal Envoy that would serve its agenda, which is totally unacceptable.
The Frente POLISARIO underscores that the appointment of a new PESG for Western Sahara is not an end in itself. It should be a means to facilitate a robust, credible, and time-bound peace process leading to the free and democratic exercise by the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. To this end, the Frente POLISARIO further underlines that impartiality, independence, competence, and integrity are indispensable prerequisites for any future PESG for Western Sahara to restore confidence in the peace process and to succeed in his or her mission.
On 25 February 2021, the Moroccan news agency (MAP) reported that Morocco had alerted the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council about “human rights violations” in the Sahrawi refugee camps and the “continued diversion of humanitarian aid” as well as “recourse to compulsory recruitment of children”.
As part of its mendacious propaganda, the Moroccan occupying state has long been spreading these types of preposterous allegations without presenting a single shred of evidence from any credible and independent source. For lack of evidence, it often resorts to the use of photoshopped photos and pictures taken from different conflict regions to support its claims about recruitment of Sahrawi children.
Several United Nations, European Union (EU) and international agencies have been present in the Sahrawi refugee camps for decades, and no one of them has ever backed up the Moroccan claims. There is ample evidence to refute the above oft-repeated claims of the Moroccan occupying state. However, suffice it to refer to one statement issued by none other than the European Union (EU), which is one of the donors that is present in the Sahrawi refugee camps.
In the answer (ENE-004803/2020) given on 18 November 2020 by Mr Lenarčič on behalf of the European Commission, he pointed out that “The Commission is not aware of a misuse of humanitarian aid provided to the Sahrawi refugees”. Regarding the alleged recruitment of Sahrawi children, he made it clear that “the Commission is not aware of alleged child labour or forced recruitment in the Sahrawi camps”. The EU answer speaks for itself and needs no further comment.
Instead of making groundless claims about Sahrawi children, the mentioned agent of the Moroccan occupying state should have been concerned about the situation of children in his own country who are exploited “for labor, domestic work, begging, and sex trafficking” and where “some foreigners, primarily from Europe and the Middle East, engage in child sex tourism in major Moroccan cities”, according to the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report, p. 360) of June 2020, published by the Department of State of the United States of America.
With regard to human rights allegations, the Moroccan occupying state is the least qualified to speak about human rights and fundamental freedoms given its own well-documented appalling human rights record and its inherently repressive and autocratic political regime. In this context, suffice it to refer to the writ issued on 9 April 2015 by Spanish High Court Judge Pablo Ruz in which he indicted 11 high ranking Moroccan officials for genocide offenses in Western Sahara based on the established fact that from 1975 until 1991 there was “a systematic attack against the Sahrawi civil population on the part of the Moroccan military and police forces.”
Moreover, reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even the “supressed” report of the OHCHR’s Mission to Western Sahara and the Refugee Camps of 2006, among others, all provide accounts of the unspeakable horrors committed by the Moroccan occupying state against Sahrawi civilians, including children, in the occupied Western Sahara.
The facts outlined above have not only unveiled the groundless claims made by the Moroccan occupying state concerning the 1991 ceasefire, the appointment of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara (PESG), the human rights situation in the occupied Western Sahara and related issues. They have also shown the extent to which the occupying state could go in using distortions, deceit and downright lies in its attempts to mislead the United Nations and the international community about certain facts related to the question of Western Sahara.
Please accept, Excellencies, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dr Sidi M. Omar
Representative of the Frente POLISARIO at the United Nations.”