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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 773

Mr VAN MANEN (12:50 PM) —I would like to start by thanking the member for Page for her motion on violence in Western Sahara. From my research on this, I know it is a very sad situation that has been going on for a number of years. It is very regrettable to hear of the recent reports of violence apparently conducted by the Moroccan security forces, who were supposed to be providing security and safe haven for people. It shows an astonishing lack of goodwill given the ongoing negotiations which are seeking to resolve this conflict. This conflict has been going on since 1975, when this former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco, and it is now one of the longest running territorial disputes in Africa.

It is apparent from the reports and pictures that have emerged that the residents were shocked at the excessive force used against them by the Moroccan security forces. The result of the chaos that ensued was an eruption of violent clashes in the streets of the capital of the region, between the outmanned residents and the disproportionate force of the Moroccan military forces. Mohamed Beissat, who is a senior official from Frente Polisario, the independence movement, has been quoted as saying the security forces had used brutal force in trying to break up the camp.

This motion rightly calls for all parties involved, in particular the Moroccan security forces—no doubt instructed by the Moroccan government—to show restraint and recognise and honour the inherent human rights of the citizens of this region and continue to work constructively and peacefully to a resolution that allows the citizens of the Western Sahara region to have a say in their future.

Everyone in this region has a right to feel that their life is not at risk. They should have freedom of speech, of association and all the other freedoms that we enjoy. They also should not be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishments. We call on the Moroccan security forces to ensure that they are respecting these rights and the UN and the international community to hold them to account if they are not.

We encourage and continue to support the United Nations efforts to find an enduring and mutually acceptable settlement for this region. In order to achieve this, the views of all parties involved—the Moroccan government, Frente Polisario and others—need to be taken into account. In particular, the views of the citizens of this region need to be taken into account, as they are the ones who will need to live with whatever political outcome is negotiated.

It is heartening to note that the fifth round of the United Nations backed informal talks between Morocco and the independence movement ended on 23 January 2011. The talks were conducted over three days and were also attended by delegations from various neighbouring states. The UN communique issued following the talks advised that the discussion had taken place in an atmosphere of ‘serious engagement, frankness and mutual respect’. However, disappointingly, each party continued to reject any proposals of the others as the sole basis for future negotiations. The parties have agreed to continue their discussions in March.

It is heartening to note that there are recent reports that significant progress is being made by the UNHCR in their efforts to reunite separated families, some who have been separated for more than 35 years. This program has been run by the UNHCR for the past six years and has successfully reunited approximately 13,000 people out of a list of more than 40,000. We fully support the ongoing efforts of the United Nations and its agencies including Christopher Ross and urge all parties to continue the progress that is being made towards a positive resolution of this conflict. I commend the motion.