Friday, January 11, 2008

Practising What We Preach, full text

For three days this week representatives of Polisario and Morocco secluded themselves in Manhasset in the New York suburbs, allegedly in an attempt to reach a solution to the western Sahara issue. At stake was not just the fate of the half of the Saharawis baking in desert exile and the other half suffering consistent Moroccan occupation and repression, but whether international law actually has any force or meaning in the 21st century.

However, the talks were not about solving, but about evading, the real issue, which is Morocco's persistent refusal to abide by international law, UN decisions or its own promises and the refusal of the United Nations and its members to enforce them.

No country recognises Moroccan ownership of the territory, not least since a long series of UN resolutions in the general assembly and the security council have declared that the people of the former Spanish colony of western Sahara should be allowed to determine their own fate. Morocco quibbled, and got the UN to ask the International Court of Justice to rule on the issue in 1974. The court ruled against Morocco and said there should be an act of self-determination.

In 1975, Morocco and Mauritania carved up the territory from which Spain had made an undignified exit. While Madrid did not officially hand the territory over, it almost certainly cut a deal with Rabat in return for silence about the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the coast of Morocco.

While the US voted for the unanimous security council resolutions deploring the Moroccan invasion, US ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan revealed in his memoirs: "The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."

For 15 years, the issue simmered in guerrilla warfare until the end of the cold war seemed to open a window. I remember the press conference at the UN back in 1990 when Johannes Manz, the first head of Minurso, the peacekeeping mission intended to supervise a referendum and ceasefire, announced that it would all be settled in a year.

The Moroccans had accepted a referendum, and he explained that the Spanish census taken just before they had left was the definitive basis for the voter's rolls. I asked him then whether he had consulted the King of Morocco on this point, since his majesty was already making it plain that the only vote he would tolerate was one that he would win.

The current and previous kings of Morocco have repeatedly declared their support for a referendum, but have always reneged in the end since no one disputes that the result would be independence. Indeed, Morocco would not even accept the plan produced by former US Secretary of State James Baker, which would have allowed Moroccan settlers in the territory to vote, presumably because the King suspects that they too could support independence.

France, which so memorably upheld international law in the run up to the Iraq invasion, has been consistently shameless in its shilling for Morocco. The US has now joined France more actively. Morocco is Israel's closest friend in the Arab world and has positioned itself as an ally in the war on terrorism.

The UK has no dog in the fight, but did once at least have scruples about actively aiding and abetting an egregious breach of international law, not to mention the multiple breaches of human rights that Morocco perpetrates both at home and in western Sahara.

Since the Iraq invasion washed out the vestiges of Robin Cook's ethical dimension to British foreign policy, the UK is no longer concerned about quarrels in a "far-away country between people of whom we know nothing". That means that three permanent members of the security council are now actively working to force the Saharawis to accede to Moroccan occupation.

But there is plenty of blame to go round. The UN secretariat over the years has proven shamelessly invertebrate about implementing UN resolutions. It may of course just be oversight that the Minurso website omits mention of the security resolutions condemning the occupation and the ICJ decision, but over the decades many UN officials have knuckled under to Moroccan blandishments and pressure. Certainly no secretary general has had the temerity to confront Morocco for its outright defiance of international law and UN resolutions.

The troika of France, the US and the UK, should be forcibly reminded that they cannot expect to sermonise the rest of the world about international law when they connive with Morocco's lawlessness. Let the Saharawis vote.

1 comment:

David Radi said...

What is very intersting in our time are people who tend to suffer from “Ostriech syndrome”. People who advocate human rights in far away land as cover to divide and conquer . Lets not forget what happened to The Aboriginise, the Catholic Irish and the people of Palistine. Its very easy to advocate dividing others in the name of self determination and human rights than admiting crime commited by our fellow Europeans.