President of Republic condemns UN silence on Morocco’s violation of ceasefire (Letter)

Bir Lahlou (Liberated Territories), 19 October 2021 (SPS) - The President of the Republic, Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, has condemned the silence of the United Nations in the face of Morocco's violation of the ceasefire agreement on November 13, 2020 in the illegal breach of El Guergarate.

In a letter addressed Tuesday to the UN SG, Antonio Guterres, following his report to the UN Security Council, President Ghali said that “the Frente POLISARIO deeply deplores the complicit silence of the UN Secretariat and its inexcusable reluctance to call a spade a spade and identify the occupying state of Morocco as the direct and only responsible for breaching the ceasefire that lasted for almost thirty years as an integral part of the UN-OAU Settlement Plan, which was accepted by both parties, the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco, in August 1988 and approved by the Security Council in its resolutions 658 (1990) and 690 (1991)”.

“Contrary to the selective and reductive account of the events of 13 November 2020 as outlined in the Report (S/2021/843, para. 13 in particular), it is undeniable that it was the occupying state of Morocco that violated the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements, including Military Agreement No. 1, by moving its armed forces early that day into what was then called the Buffer Strip in Guerguerat in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories.”

“Moreover, the well-documented violent assault carried out by the Moroccan forces on 13 November 2020 against the group of Sahrawi civilians who were protesting peacefully in the area against Morocco’s illegal occupation is equally undeniable. Faced with the Moroccan act of aggression, the armed forces of the Frente POLISARIO were forced to engage the Moroccan forces in self-defence and to protect the civilians who were evacuated to safe locations,” he added. 

This is the full text of the letter:

“Letter from the President of the Sahrawi Republic and Secretary General of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

Bir Lehlou, 18 October 2021

Your Excellency,

The Frente POLISARIO takes note of the report of the UN Secretary-General (S/2021/843) on the Situation concerning Western Sahara, submitted to the Security Council on 1 October 2021, and would like to place on record its views regarding several elements contained in the Report.

The Frente POLISARIO deeply deplores the complicit silence of the UN Secretariat and its inexcusable reluctance to call a spade a spade and identify the occupying state of Morocco as the direct and only responsible for breaching the ceasefire that lasted for almost thirty years as an integral part of the UN-OAU Settlement Plan, which was accepted by both parties, the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco, in August 1988 and approved by the Security Council in its resolutions 658 (1990) and 690 (1991).

Contrary to the selective and reductive account of the events of 13 November 2020 as outlined in the Report (S/2021/843, para. 13 in particular), it is undeniable that it was the occupying state of Morocco that violated the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements, including Military Agreement No. 1, by moving its armed forces early that day into what was then called the Buffer Strip in Guerguerat in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories.

Moreover, the well-documented violent assault carried out by the Moroccan forces on 13 November 2020 against the group of Sahrawi civilians who were protesting peacefully in the area against Morocco’s illegal occupation is equally undeniable. Faced with the Moroccan act of aggression, the armed forces of the Frente POLISARIO were forced to engage the Moroccan forces in self-defence and to protect the civilians who were evacuated to safe locations.

The incursion by the Moroccan armed forces into the then called Buffer Strip and its “construction of an approximately 20 km long new sand wall at Guerguerat” (S/2021/843, para. 35) is therefore a blatant violation of the 1991 ceasefire and Military Agreement No. 1. Signed between MINURSO and the Frente POLISARIO on 24 December 1997 and between MINURSO and Morocco on 22 January 1998, Military Agreement No. 1 prohibited the entry, by ground or air, by the armed forces of both parties into the Buffer Strip (3.1) as well as the construction of new berm walls (sand, stone, and concrete) (3.2.1).

The failure of the Report to state, loud and clear, that the occupying state of Morocco is the direct and only responsible for breaching the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements on 13 November 2020 is highly deplorable and totally indefensible.

Your Excellency,

The Report further recognises that “the situation in Western Sahara has significantly deteriorated” (S/2021/843, para. 2) since the last Report that asserted that “overall calm prevailed in Western Sahara” (S/2020/938, para. 2).  As may be recalled, the Frente POLISARIO disagreed completely with this misleading reading of the situation prevailing in the Territory at the time in view of the unlawful, destabilising, and belligerent actions of the occupying state of Morocco, among others.

The recent events have reinforced the credibility of the position of the Frente POLISARIO and exposed those who sought to mislead the Security Council and the international community regarding the facts on the ground in the Territory.

In addition, the Report grudgingly acknowledges “the resumption of hostilities” between the occupying state of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO (S/2021/843, para. 2), and consequently the collapse of the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements. This fact is also undeniable despite the attempts by certain quarters to cover it up or diminish its impact on the current situation in Western Sahara and the operation of MINURSO in the Territory.

Undoubtedly, the recognition by the UN Secretariat of “the resumption of hostilities” in Western Sahara after almost 30 years of ceasefire refutes emphatically the repeatedly stated position of the occupying state of Morocco and its persistent assertion that there is a “total absence of any armed conflict” (S/2021/843, para. 16). It also deals a heavy blow to its mendacious propaganda aiming at misleading its own public opinion regarding the reality of the war that it has once again ignited in the Territory.

Nevertheless, such recognition is very far from being sufficient or objective. Besides providing an ambiguous account of the events leading up to “the resumption of hostilities” on 13 November 2020, the Report fails to identify and hold the occupying state of Morocco directly responsible for its well-documented breach of the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements. This indefensible omission seriously undermines the credibility of the UN Secretariat in the eyes of the Sahrawi people and deepens their loss of faith in the United Nations and its Mission in the Territory.

The Frente POLISARIO cannot accept the selective and reductive account of the events of 13 November 2020 and subsequent developments, as described in the Report, because this description can in no way be the basis for a full and objective assessment of the situation in the Territory. The Frente POLISARIO calls upon the members of the Security Council to seriously take into account the implications of this gross omission when they convene to deliberate on the renewal of MINURSO mandate in the coming few days.

Your Excellency,

The Report points out that “finding a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in accordance with resolutions 2440 (2018), 2468 (2019), 2494 (2019) and 2548 (2020) requires strong political will from the parties, as well as from the international community” (S/2021/843, para 85).

The guidelines provided by the Security Council as to the nature of the solution to the conflict in Western Sahara for which MINURSO was established in 1991 are not contained only in the above cited Security Council resolutions. Moreover, the Security Council has always recalled and reaffirmed all its previous resolutions on Western Sahara including in its resolution 2548 (2020).

Limiting the nature of the solution to the above cited Security Council resolutions is therefore a subjective and reductive interpretation that is supported neither by Security Council resolutions as an integrated whole nor by the letter and spirit of the peace plan that underlies MINURSO mandate and its raison d’être.

Regarding human rights, the Report points out that, for the sixth consecutive year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been prevented from visiting Western Sahara, resulting “in substantial gaps in human rights monitoring in the Territory” (S/2021/843, para. 73). Once again, the occupying state of Morocco is not held responsible for obstructing the work of UN bodies nor for its continued restrictions “on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Western Sahara, especially following the developments in November 2020” (S/2021/843, para 74).

The Report moreover refers to the use of force by Moroccan security forces “to disperse protests and the conduct of house raids without warrants, arbitrary arrests and detention, unlawful and arbitrary surveillance, harassment, intimidation and destruction of property” as well as “torture and ill-treatment of protestors, journalists, bloggers, lawyers and human rights defenders” (S/2021/843, para. 74) in the Occupied Western Sahara.

Nevertheless, due to the continuing lack of accountability and the absence of any UN mechanism for monitoring the human rights situation in the Occupied Western Sahara, the occupying state of Morocco and its security forces persist, with complete impunity, in their repressive actions against Sahrawi civilians and human rights defenders away from international scrutiny because of the continued military blockade and media blackout imposed on the Territory.

Given the persistent systematic human rights violations perpetrated by Moroccan occupying authorities against the Sahrawi people, it is imperative that MINURSO mandate be expanded to include a human rights component that would enable the “independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situation” (S/2021/843, para. 92) in the Mission area, as called for repeatedly by the Secretary-General in his previous reports.

When mentioning the African Union (AU), the Report refers to the fourteenth extraordinary session on Silencing the Guns in Africa of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, held on 6 December 2020, and to paragraph 15 of its decision 1 (XIV), in which the Assembly “expresse[d] deep concern over the escalating military tensions between Morocco and the Sahrawi Republic” in Guerguerat (S/2021/843, para. 79).

The Report however fails to mention that the decision taken by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) on 9 March 2021 requested the Sahrawi Republic and Morocco to immediately cease hostilities and create conducive environment for direct and candid talks in line with Article 4 of the AU Constitutive Act. Moreover, the Report fails, for the fifth consecutive time, to inform the Security Council that Morocco still refuses to allow the AU Observer Mission to return to Western Sahara and resume its collaboration with MINURSO.

Your Excellency,

In paragraph 88, the Report (S/2021/843) notes that “it is essential that Frente POLISARIO immediately remove all limitations to the free movement of MINURSO ground convoys, air assets, and personnel east of the berm, and allow a free flow of logistics and maintenance services”. This statement completely overlooks the evolution of the situation on the ground and its significant impact on MINURSO operations in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories and does not do justice to the position of the Frente POLISARIO in this regard.

It bears noting in this context that, in the face of the Moroccan act of aggression that put an end to the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements and the UN total inaction, the Frente POLISARIO declared, by virtue of a Presidential Decree dated 13 November 2020, that it was no longer bound by the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements and the obligations derived therefrom. It also declared that it was resuming its legitimate armed struggle in self-defence (S/2021/843, para 15).

This position was officially communicated to the UN Secretariat, the Members of the Security Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, MINURSO Force Commander as well as UN Member States and the African Union.

Nonetheless, the Frente POLISARIO remains committed to ensuring the security and safety of MINURSO military observers deployed in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories. In this regard, as recognised by the Mission itself, the Frente POLISARIO continues to do its utmost, under the most difficult circumstances, to secure safe passage, whenever needed, for MINURSO flights to do troop rotations, deliver essential supplies to the Mission Team Sites, and to conduct urgent medical evacuations. It also continues to provide safe passage for MINURSO ground patrols between the Mission Team Sites in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories for rotation operations, logistics and maintenance services. In addition, the Frente POLISARIO has also provided diesel fuel to MINURSO Team Sites on several occasions, and it remains committed to assisting the Mission as much as possible.

In view of the above, the invocation of the concept of “freedom of movement” in connection with the operation of MINURSO military observers in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories is completely out of the question. It also gives the impression that the UN Secretariat still deals with the situation on the ground as if nothing had happened. The UN Secretariat and all other stakeholders should therefore fully realise the fact that, as far as the Frente POLISARIO is concerned, the 1991 ceasefire and related military agreements and the obligations derived therefrom are no longer effective since 13 November 2020.

The UN Secretariat and all other stakeholders should also realise that the ability of MINURSO military observers to move freely, under the current circumstances, and to conduct regular patrols within a 20-kilometre radius from their respective Team Sites (S/2021/843, para. 29) in the Sahrawi Liberated Territories is not because of any obligation related to a ceasefire that is no longer effective. It is rather due to the good will of the Frente POLISARIO and its willingness to mitigate the operational and other effects on MINURSO personnel resulting from the ongoing war. It is also a demonstration of the Frente POLISARIO’s continued commitment to the mandate for which implementation MINURSO was deployed in the Territory in 1991.

Your Excellency,

In the observations and recommendations, the Report observes that “the status of the buffer strip as a demilitarized zone remains a cornerstone of a peaceful solution to the situation of Western Sahara” and that “daily incursions into this zone and hostilities between the parties have significantly undermined the arrangements that have been the basis for a ceasefire for the past 30 years” (S/2021/843, para 84).

The realisation of the importance of the then called Buffer Strip for the ceasefire should logically lead to holding the occupying state of Morocco accountable for its continued incursions into the “demilitarised zone” in Guerguerat and therefore demanding it to immediately reverse the fait accompli that it had created by force in that zone. However, the Report remains silent on this issue as if the new situation in Guerguerat were “irreversible” (S/2021/843, para. 23), which the Frente POLISARIO rejects categorically.

The Frente POLISARIO has been repeatedly warning the UN Secretariat and the Security Council against the danger of not seeing the wood for the trees in relation to the situation in the then called Buffer Strip. The Frente POLISARIO has consistently underscored that the root cause of the continued tension in Guerguerat was the existence of the illegal breach in the Moroccan illegal military wall, which the UN had regrettably done nothing about. As it turned out, the UN failure to deal robustly and decisively with the illegal breach in Guerguerat has, among other things, led to the ongoing war.

In concluding, the Frente POLISARIO takes note of the Secretary-General’s call for the achievement of a solution to the question of Western Sahara through negotiation (S/2021/843, para. 86). However, the Frente POLISARIO stresses once again that no genuine, credible, and viable peace process, which would serve the cause of peace, security, and stability in the region, will ever be possible as long as the occupying state of Morocco persists, with complete impunity, in its unlawful actions and attempts to forcibly impose a colonial fait accompli in the Occupied Western Sahara.

The Frente POLISARIO further reaffirms that the only way forward to achieve a peaceful, just, and enduring solution to the decolonisation of Western Sahara is to enable the Sahrawi people to exercise freely and democratically their inalienable and non-negotiable right to self-determination and independence in accordance with the precepts of international legality and relevant resolutions of the United Nations and the African Union.

I would be grateful if you would bring this letter to the attention of the Members of the Security Council.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.                                                                  

    (signed)

Brahim Ghali

President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Secretary-General of the Frente POLISARIO

H.E. Mr António Guterres

United Nations Secretary-General

United Nations, New York”

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