South African ambassador speaks for the Sahrawis
Article image
"Failure to recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic would constitute a grave and unacceptable betrayal of our own struggle, of the solidarity Morocco extended to Mandela and the liberation movement, and our commitment to respect the Charter of the United Nations and the Constitutive Act of the African Union", said the South African ambassador to Norway at a seminar in Oslo. Read his speach, delivered at the University of Oslo, 20 November 2007.
Published 28 November 2007

Speech delivered by the ambassador of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Ismail Coovadia at the Seminar of Western Sahara, University of Oslo, Norway, 20 November 2007

Programme Director
Chairman of the Support Committee for Western Sahara, Mr. Ronny Hansen.
Guest Student and Human Rights Activist, Ms. Elkouria Amidane.
Members of Political Parties and Human Rights Activists
Students of the University of Oslo

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be invited to speak on the South African position regarding the situation in Western Sahara. This topic essentially requires the examination of the legal status of this last remaining colony on the African continent and the political resolve to move forward.

South Africa’s road to freedom was long, treacherous and dull with many twists and turns. It was a very lonely road, initially often without support and friends. But the pain and inflictions of the journey weighed less in relation to the sanctity of the cause of freedom and self determination.

In our long walk to freedom, amidst the hostile world, we occasionally encountered friendly and sympathetic solidarity groups who understood the reasons and the need for our struggle. At the height of our struggle, during the wave of decolonisation, many African liberation movements were waging the same struggle as ours. Some of those we encountered along the journey were our African brothers and sisters in the Polisario Front. Sadly, we did not know then, as we do not know now, that almost a decade into the new millennium we would still be talking about any remaining colony on the African continent.

The ANC and Government of South Africa have persistently followed with keen interest the developments in Western Sahara.

It has been over thirty years since Morocco illegally occupied Western Sahara after the withdrawal of the Spanish government in 1976. It is also almost two decades since the start of the UN-led peace initiative. What the UN seems to have achieved is a seventeen year-old ceasefire, but as we know the resolution of the status of Western Sahara remains elusive.

Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara remains a matter of international legality. It is our considered view that any solution must take into account the charter of the United Nations and the Constitutive Act of the African Union, in particular, the principle of the sanctity of inherited colonial borders in Africa and the right of the peoples of former colonial territories to self-determination.

Western Sahara’s legal status in the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly is clear: it is a non-self governing territory awaiting de-colonisation through a referendum on self-determination.

In anticipation of victory in their struggle for liberation, the Saharawi people entered the cease-fire agreement following a UN sponsored peace settlement.
Morocco’s claim that the Western Sahara, in the pre-colonial period, was part of the historic Moroccan Kingdom was rejected by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of 16 October 1975.

It will be recalled that the Spanish government illegally ceded their colony to Morocco and Mauritania as part of the Madrid Accord. The occupied people of Western Sahara have since opposed the Moroccan occupation, even to the extent of taking up arms to liberate their territory. This struggle for liberation gave birth to the Polisario Front. As we are aware the Polisario Front founded the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976 and was formally admitted into the OAU resulting in the withdrawal of Morocco from that regional organisation in 1984.

In addition to the above, the disturbing developments ever since have been the brutality and heavy-handedness of the Moroccan regime to repress the peaceful demonstrations of the Saharawi people against illegal occupation. This repressive and irresponsible attitude is tantamount to an attack on the right of the people of Western Sahara to express freely and genuinely their will to determine their own future as a nation.

Recent credible media reports project a disturbing image of a country where basic fundamental freedoms and liberties are restricted. There are widespread allegations of suppression of media freedom, denial of the right of association and political expression by the people of the Western Sahara. These acts include the use of excessive force and torture in order to suppress dissent. These onslaughts on human rights generally even affect international media personnel and solidarity groups visiting the country. Nearer home, the Norwegian politicians are known to have also been victims of such treatment by the Moroccan security system. A recent case involves the detention, harassment and manhandling of a Norwegian delegation attending a court hearing involving detained human rights activists following a march in 2005. I assume some of you present here are familiar with this case as it involved senior members of the Norwegian Solidarity Committee. In the past few weeks there were similar reports involving two Norwegian youth politicians from the Socialist Left Party. These young politicians also happen to be members of the Solidarity Committee.

A number of years ago our then President Nelson Mandela announced the decision of our Government to recognise and establish diplomatic relations with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic consistent with earlier decisions of the OAU which our country joined in 1994, after our liberation.

Morocco’s King Hassan II appealed to President Mandela not to carry out this decision. The then Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali, and other world leaders conveyed a similar request to President Mandela, considering that such a move would pre-empt and prejudice the Peace Plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The Peace Plan would have led to the referendum for the people of the Western Sahara to determine freely and willingly their self determination with an option for either independence, association, or integration with Morocco.

We respected and valued the views expressed by the King and Government of Morocco; the leaders of other countries with which we maintain friendly relations; and, the United Nations.

Accordingly, when we delayed recognition of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic this was on the basis that both Morocco and the Polisario Front were working with the UN Secretary General and the Security Council to agree on the modalities of a process that would allow the people of western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination, in a manner consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and the relevant documents of the OAU and AU.
In the ten long years after we had given a chance for the success of the negotiations it became clear that the possible outcomes which South Africa had wished to safeguard, were not in sight. This, particularly after Morocco had declared in 2004 that it was “out of the question for Morocco to engage in negotiations with anyone over its sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Such a response by the Government of Morocco to the UN Peace Plan unequivocally seeks to deny the people of Western Sahara their right to self-determination, contrary both to fundamental and inviolable international law and the earlier solemn commitments made by the Government of Morocco.

This entrenched view of Morocco was, and still is, contrary to the UN Security Council Resolution 1541 (2004), which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council, following its consideration of the April 23, 2004 report of the UN Secretary General.
At this point it would, perhaps, be useful to briefly look at the implication of the resolution.

In this resolution, the Security Council reiterated its commitment to help "achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations".
We are fully in agreement with the Security Council that the question of Western Sahara must be resolved on the basis of this commitment.

It is on this basis that South Africa decided to recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic on 15 September 2004. South Africa’s policy on the Western Sahara is based on the principles of self-determination, decolonisation, promotion of human rights, international legality and the stability of the Maghreb region.
It is worth noting that the decision by the United Nations to establish the Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991 was agreed in 1985 with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), through which Africa and the rest of the international community have sought a solution that would afford the people of Western Sahara the possibility freely to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

In this regard, we have regretted and continue to regret the fact that, owing to the unresolved question of Western Sahara, Morocco is not able to play its due role in the renewal of our continent as a full and active member of the AU.

Instead, it has decided unilaterally, with no reference to the people of Western Sahara or respect for the views of both the UN and the AU, that everybody is obliged to accept a solution "consisting of autonomy within the framework of Morocco sovereignty."

Failure to recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic would constitute a grave and unacceptable betrayal of our own struggle, of the solidarity Morocco extended to Mandela and the liberation movement, and our commitment to respect the Charter of the United Nations and the Constitutive Act of the African Union.

South Africa supports the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic to play its role as a fully-fledged member of the AU. The South African Government’s International Relations Peace and Security cluster priorities reconfirmed South Africa’s principled position on the right to self determination for the Western Sahara. We support the various UN resolutions and especially the operative UN Security Council Resolution 1754 (2007) that calls for direct negotiations , without preconditions, between Morocco and the Polisario Front with a view to achieving a “just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution that will provide for the self determination of the people of Western Sahara”.

South Africa will continue to draw attention to the human rights violations by Morocco in the occupied territories and will respond to the call to support the legitimate rights of the Saharawi people during its tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Whilst doing this, we will intensify efforts to respond to the urgent humanitarian and other assistance within the framework of the African Renaissance Fund (ARF).

South Africa calls on, and will continue to call on, and urges those States that have not yet done so, to finalise their positions on the question of Western Sahara and act sooner than later on the basis of the UN resolutions.

South Africa is convinced of the absolute need to reduce conflicts on the African continent. All of us need to work together to help resolve the current stalemate, which, if unresolved, could ill afford another major African humanitarian crisis.

I thank you

UN human rights expert decries “clampdown” on human rights defenders

Morocco must stop targeting human rights defenders and journalists standing up for human rights in Western Sahara, and allow them to work without reprisals, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said today.

01 July 2021

Sultana's home raided by police, activists arrested

In an early morning raid today, masked agents terrorized and assaulted the home of the Saharawi human rights defender Sultana Khaya, stole belongings and took three activists to an undisclosed location.

10 May 2021

UN experts urge Morocco to release imprisoned Sahrawi journalist

On 7 June 2019, videos began to circulate showing Moroccan police brutally beating up a Saharawi journalist in occupied Western Sahara. Today, a UN opinion calling for his release from prison was made public. 

07 February 2021

Sultana has spent two months in house arrest

The Saharawi activist Sultana Khaya and her family has for almost 10 weeks been harrassed by Moroccan police when leaving or entering their home in occupied Western Sahara. Help us to denounce. 

26 January 2021