Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT: Human Rights - Morocco

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:26): The Australia Western Sahara Association works for self-determination for the Saharawi people, raising awareness about the injustice of Morocco's occupation of their country for over 40 years, the oppression and human rights abuses endured by the Saharawi, the plight of those in exile in the desert of Algeria and the failure of the United Nations to require Morocco to honour its ceasefire agreement to allow a UN referendum in Western Sahara.

I want to acknowledge the presence in the gallery of a delegation from the Australia Western Sahara Association who have been working tirelessly to ensure that this message is not lost in our community.

On 6 September this year, it will have been 24 years since the ceasefire agreement between the Saharawi independence movement, Polisario, and Morocco came into effect and since the UN sent a mission, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, to organise a referendum on self-determination. Twenty-four years is too long in terms of human suffering and life in exile in harsh conditions. More than half of the Saharawi population live in tented refugee camps in the harsh conditions of the Sahara desert in south-west Algeria. This group comprises people who fled Western Sahara during the original war from 1975 to 1991, and also many new generations who have never seen their coastal homeland. They are still waiting for peace and they are still waiting for their referendum.

The UN Security Council endorsed the peace plan that was agreed by both Polisario and Morocco under the UN's auspices in 1990. The peace plan entailed a full ceasefire, followed by the promised referendum on self-determination. That referendum was supposed to take place within six months. Unfortunately, as we know, the referendum that the Saharawis were promised never materialised. What the people of Western Sahara are asking is simply what has been agreed and mandated by the United Nations for many years: the inalienable right to self-determination and their legitimate right to determine their own future. This is an important message and one that we cannot forget.

It is also important that we understand that Australia has a long history of and a right to be involved in pushing forward for this agreement. Australians participated in the United Nations missions for years by sending a signals contingent, and there are links now between Australians who have been there and many more who know about what is happening.

Concerned foreign governments and international NGOs have documented human rights abuses over many years. Most recently, Human Rights Watch issued its report on Morocco and Western Sahara, saying that reforms in human rights under Morocco's new 2011 constitution had mostly not taken effect. The Human Rights Watch reported that in Western Sahara all public gatherings thought to be organised by opponents of continued Moroccan rule over the disputed territories were blocked by police in 2014. Furthermore, civilians sentenced by military courts in past years, including 22 Saharawis sentenced in the protest camps case in 2013, are serving long prison terms of between 20 years and life. Complaints of confessions extracted under torture have not been investigated as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, in 2012. The US state department human rights report of 2013, released in March 2014, referred to Moroccan government restrictions on the civil liberties and political rights of pro-independence advocates as the most important human rights problem specific to the territory. It cited as serious problems limitations on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association.

There is international recognition that the deplorable human rights situation in Western Sahara must be addressed, and there is growing pressure in the UN Security Council in favour of instituting a human rights monitoring capacity when this process continues this year. Australia must continue to pressure. Even though we no longer have a position in the Security Council, we have a right to continue to favour pressure on the UN to take action after 24 years.

The organisation the Australia Western Sahara Association particularly wanted to draw attention to the case of Takbar Haddi, who has been on a hunger strike since May. This mother lost her son, who was murdered by five Moroccan settlers. There are deep concerns that there was no justice or attempt to bring any solution to the loss of her son. Ms Takbar Haddi began the hunger strike on 15 May in Las Palmas, the Canary Islands. She is calling for the body of her son to be returned, for the case to be properly investigated and for the attackers to be arrested. This is the face of human rights abuse in this region. The plight of tis mother, I think, is a message for all of us that we need to ensure that the human rights abuses are stopped.

Another point, apart from the human rights abuses, is the concern that there is a plunder of natural resources of the Western Sahara, particularly the fisheries and phosphates, in violation of international law. The Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the UN, Hans Corell, reiterated in a legal opinion delivered to the Security Council on 29 January 2002 that:

if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The message for this evening is that the people of the Western Sahara must have access to their human rights, and the natural resources of Western Sahara must be protected until the decolonisation process is completed.

I am very proud to know that a motion was passed at the recent ALP national conference which determined the support for the human rights of people from the Western Sahara and called on the Australian government to extend all due assistance to the UN in its efforts to organise a free and fair referendum in Western Sahara and to maintain an appropriate dialogue with the Polisario Front, the UN acknowledged representatives of the people of Western Sahara.

Twenty-four years is way too long to be living without having the rights to your homeland, to be living in refugee camps and to be facing violence and repression. We value the work that is done by the Australia Western Sahara Association. We must all believe in human rights and we need to share this message in our community and across the globe.