Aminatou Haidar of the Western Sahara has been on hunger strike for three weeks to protest her treatment by the governments of Spain and Morocco. The people of the former Spanish colony have been fighting for independence over thirty years., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Viewpoint | by Ebrahim Ebrahim
Courtesy of ANC Today
We will not abandon the people of Western Sahara
Six different rounds of talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco, under the aegis of the United Nations (UN), have failed to deliver a decisive breakthrough. They have all ended without any clear signs of a clear way forward to a successful end to the protracted situation of Western Sahara.
Towards the end of 2009 we issued a strong statement denouncing the violation of human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. Hitherto the movement confined itself to, and focused on, expressing its long-held position that the future of Western Sahara should be determined through a referendum.
However, the incidents that resulted in what we saw as gross human rights violation compelled us to sharpen our focus on the situation in Western Sahara and to reaffirm our resolve never to abandon the people of Western Sahara.
We must recall that our support for the liberation of Western Sahara, under the banner of the Polisario Front, is historical. It draws its strength from the words of our former President OR Tambo who said (in part) that the ANC identifies itself with three struggles, namely: East Timor, Palestine, and Western Sahara. We have already witnessed success in East Timor.
Our support for the liberation of Western Sahara, under the banner of the Polisario Front, is also embedded on a two-pronged principled approach. The first principle underpins all freedom struggles and it states that: The People Shall Govern! The practical expression of this principle lies in affording people an opportunity to determine, for themselves, who should lead them and govern on their behalf. The people of Western Sahara continue to be denied this inalienable right.
The second part of our principled-approach is that political dialogue should remain the preferred option in tackling disputes, no matter how complex. The ANC continues to hold in high regard the Polisario Front, for having taken a revolutionary stance as far back as 1991 to suspend the armed struggle in order to give a chance the peaceful dialogue with the adversarial Morocco.
The fact that the international community, represented by the UN, has not been able to see to a successful end to this protracted conflict threatens to render as futile all efforts made in the last three decades to resolve the conflict and also runs the risk of the Polisario Front reneging on its pledge to unilaterally disarm. In essence, the failure to resolve this conflict undermines our principled stance and of other like-minded nations that a political dialogue is possible and it remains the best alternative to the use of arms in resolving differences.
In 1991 the international community assigned itself a very simple task and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO) was created to organise a referendum in Western Sahara. MINURSO is arguably the only UN Mission with such a "specific" mandate of "organising, and ensuring a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results." The successful conclusion of this task has evaded this UN Mission for the past 19 years.
The ANC has always expressed its support to the UN as the embodiment of our commitment to collective security, for its work in that region, and we wish to see it succeed in its original mandate of assisting the concerned parties in the mission of self-determination of Western Sahara.
However, in our view, the recent events inside the occupied territories do not bode well for creating the favourable conditions for holding a free and fair referendum. The international community has only gleaned what transpired in November last year. None of us know for certain the full extent of the human suffering and the full extent of the destruction due to the absence of, inter alia, full access by the media and human rights bodies to the Sahrawi people and areas in the Moroccan-occupied territories. All that we know, based on reliable sources, is that a civilians protest was violently crushed by the Moroccan security forces and resulted in injury and highly regrettable loss of human lives.
In the first instance, since we still do not have all the facts about what transpired in that fateful day in 2009, an international enquiry into what transpired on that day is necessary. In the second instance, we call for MINURSO to be bolstered with a Human Rights mandate. When the issue of including the human rights element within the MINURSO mandate first came up, the debates within the corridors of international power were about whether this falls within the United Nation's Security Council (UNSC) mandate, and whether this would not confuse the organisational mandate of the UNSC with other bodies of the UN.
We had hoped that the governments of the world would approach this issue with one simple question: what are the things that need to be focussed on that if left unchecked would compromise the ability of the UNSC to make progress in Western Sahara? In other words, can the international community continue to expect to achieve a "free and fair" referendum in Western Sahara under the present conditions of human rights violations? If the answer is no, then the UN should rightly be expected to act.
Furthermore, should we ask ourselves whether or not any instability inside the occupied Western Sahara territory poses a threat to the stability of North Africa as a region? If the answer is yes, then shouldn't the UN be expected to act appropriately?
Furthermore, the question of self-determination is a fundamental human right, and shouldn't the UN within the context of an already existing mandate protect this?
At the Polokwane Conference in 2007, on the question of Western Sahara, we, amongst others:
•Reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence.
•Urged the international community, and the UN in particular, to assume without further delay, their legal and moral responsibility of granting respect to the inalienable right for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara
Called upon the African Union (AU) and other progressive forces to support Polisario Front in realising the objective of independence, freedom and self-determination of the Sahrawi people.
•Also firmly expressed solidarity with Sahrawi political prisoners and human rights defenders. We also urged the international community to protect Sahrawi civilians, including providing support both materially and otherwise. We encouraged delegations to visit the occupied territories and refugee camps.
•Further, we called on the international community to be mobilised toward the immediate lifting of the military, security and media blackout imposed in the occupied territories of Western Sahara to initiate and lobby the international community for the wealth of Western Sahara to be under the mandate of the UN.
With this resolution, we were sending an unequivocal message, as the ANC, that the liberation movement will never abandon its historical partner in the fight against injustice and oppression.
The ANC will never lower its voice when it comes to the issue of Western Sahara. To do so would be tantamount to a criminal dereliction of our internationalist duty. Accordingly, the ANC must, among other things:
•Reinforce the Friends of Western Sahara Solidarity Group within the broader democratic movement and other progressive forces in South Africa.
•Ensure that this issue features prominently among other international solidarity campaigns that are spearheaded by the movement.
•Call upon government to use every available and relevant multilateral platform, and bilateral agendas with other progressive governments, to place this matter on the table.
Our message to our disciplined comrades of the Polisario Front draws in our own experience from 1912 to 1994. We refused to be disheartened by those who doubted our resolve. We believed in the righteousness of our cause and we knew that no matter how steep the challenges still to come, because our demands were legitimate, our struggle continues, and that victory was certain.
Ebrahim I Ebrahim is an ANC NEC member and the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation