April 20, 2011 / 5:53 AM / in 7 years

UN diplomats dispute over rights in Western Sahara

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Western Sahara’s independence movement and its supporters on the U.N. Security Council voiced disappointment on Tuesday that a new draft resolution on the territory was not stronger on human rights.

But Western diplomats said the draft, which would renew the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers in the disputed northwest African territory, had beefed up rights language in previous resolutions and marked progress that they were satisfied with.

Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement has long called for the U.N. mission there to report on what it says are rights abuses by Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975. Morocco denies the charge and opposes the move.

The annexation of Western Sahara, which is about the size of Britain and has phosphates, fisheries and, potentially, oil and gas, sparked an armed conflict with the Polisario.

A U.N.-brokered ceasefire was reached in 1991 on the basis that a referendum would be held to decide the fate of the territory, but it never took place and talks between Morocco and Polisario have failed to yield a political solution.

The draft, circulated to the Security Council’s 15 members by the United States late on Monday, calls on both sides to respect human rights and welcomes a pledge by Morocco to grant access to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).

Previous resolutions to renew the mandate of the 230-strong MINURSO mission had made only a vague reference to the “human dimension” of the conflict.

But Polisario officials said after a council meeting on Western Sahara that the new draft was not enough because it did not provide for a rights role for MINURSO. All other U.N. peacekeeping missions set up since 1978 have such a role.

Senior official Mhamed Khadad said the document was “just using the word human rights without really a clear mechanism to defend it and to protect it, which is really wrong.”


In a letter to the Security Council, Polisario said occasional visits by HRC investigators “would be neither appropriate nor effective, nor address the central issue of the right to self-determination.”

Polisario’s U.N. representative Ahmed Boukhari told reporters support for Morocco by its ally and former colonial master France, which has a Security Council veto, had prevented “credible progress” on the issue.

But French mission spokesman Stephane Crouzat said, “We see that Morocco has made significant steps to try to address that situation ... and it’s very important to help Morocco ... pursue these efforts and to encourage them to address the human rights issue in the most constructive way.”

Four-year-old talks between Morocco and Polisario on the future of Sahara are deadlocked. Morocco has offered limited autonomy, but Polisario and its ally Algeria want a referendum, with independence as one of the options.

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