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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12916

Mr Laurie Ferguson asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 29 September 1999:

(1) Does the Government recognise the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara

(2) Will the Government review its policy with regard to establishing official contacts with the independence movement in Western Sahara, the Polisario.

(3) Has the Government's attention been drawn to allegations of Moroccan violations of human rights in Western Sahara.

(4) Will the Government send independent observers to monitor the UN referendum in the Territory scheduled for July 2000.

Mr Downer (Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Australia supports the principle of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. In 1988 Polisario and the Moroccan Government agreed in principle to UN settlement proposals to facilitate a ceasefire and conduct a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. Australia supports the holding of a United Nations referendum, scheduled for July 2000, on the future of the disputed territory. Building a framework for an acceptable solution remains the responsibility of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

(2) Australia considers the Polisario Front to be representative of an important body of West Saharan opinion, but the United Nations-sponsored referendum, due to be held in July 2000, is designed to clarify the wishes of the population of Western Sahara on the issue of self-determination. Dealings occur with Polisario on an informal basis in New York, and Australian parliamentarians and officials meet with Polisario Front representatives informally. Since many Polisario representatives also hold SADR positions, Australian Ministers do not formally receive them, because to do so might be presented as Australian acceptance of the SADR as the government of Western Sahara.

(3) The Government continues to monitor the human rights situation in the Western Sahara as part of its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights internationally. Over the last few years, individual cases of alleged human rights abuses in the Western Sahara have been brought to the Government's attention through a longstanding arrangement whereby Amnesty International "Urgent Action" cases are considered and, where appropriate, pursued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on behalf of the Amnesty International Parliamentary Group. The Australian Embassy in Paris, which has responsibility for Morocco, has made representations to the Moroccan authorities and will continue to do so where appropriate.

(4) In this type of case the UN may formally request member states to provide independent observers. To date the Government has not received any such request from the UN in respect of the planned referendum in Western Sahara. In keeping with its long interest in seeing a just and lasting resolution of the status of Western Sahara, as evidenced by Australia's participation in MINURSO, the Government would be prepared to consider a request from the UN to provide observers to help monitor the referendum. In considering any such request the Government would need to balance its interest in assisting the referendum process in Western Sahara with the demands of other foreign policy priorities.