To: Jonas Gahr Støre Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Open Letter concerning Western Sahara
Oslo, 6 November 2008
Time for a stronger Norwegian commitment!
The 14 organizations signatories to this letter wish to draw the attention of the Minister of Foreign affairs to the question of Western Sahara, a question that is of great importance to us. We believe that it is time for Norway to assume a more active and leading role in the search for a solution to the conflict in Western Sahara. Such an initiative must be based on total respect for International Law and the rights of the Sahrawi people.
The Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, and the Sahrawi people's struggle against the occupation and for recognition of their rights, preoccupies an increasing number of people in Norway today, especially youth and students. Currently, there is a broad, cross- party political consensus in Norway concerning this foreign policy issue. All youth party organisations, the largest student organizations, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, a number of trade unions, along with a number of leading Norwegian humanitarian organizations have all become committed to this cause, and have called for an increased Norwegian commitment to the protection of the rights of the Sahrawis and to the termination of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.
One of a number of examples of this commitment occurred in May 2007 when, in less than 24 hours, 45 Norwegian organizations signed a joint letter addressed to the Moroccan authorities, demanding protection of Sahrawi students in Morocco.
The so-called Soria Moria declaration [the political platform for the current Norwegian majority government] established that: "Norway must be an unambiguous peace nation. The Government will strengthen Norway's contributions to the prevention, mitigation and settling of conflicts and disputes" and that "strong support of the UN and international law" should continue to be one of the main principles of Norwegian foreign policy. The government platform also underlines that to "[f]urther develop the UN and international law as binding instruments for all nations" should be one of its main priorities.
Governing bodies of each of the three parties in the present Norwegian coalition Government have, during the past two years, made very clear statements regarding the situation in Western Sahara. Despite these statements, however, we have seen little or no concrete results of a practical or political nature. We therefore believe that it is time for a more offensive approach.
We also note that Norwegian media is showing an increasing interest in the question of Western Sahara; and that humanitarian organizations, the Parliamentary opposition and the media themselves call for more pro-active policies and a greater visibility by the Government in this question.
Several Norwegian governments have expressed its support, in principle, for the Sahrawi people's right to decide over their own future. This support, however, must be followed up by deeds. We believe that it's important to engage more actively in pushing the issue of Western Sahara higher on the international political and humanitarian agendas. Morocco must be placed under far greater pressure. The occupying power deliberately plays for time in the hope that the refugee community will disintegrate, and that the Sahrawi people and their supporters will abandon their struggle. Increasing impatience in the refugee camps, in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and in Morocco, indicates an increased awareness and radicalization among the Sahrawis.
Leading human rights activists, such as Rafto Award laureate Sidi Mohammed Daddach and Aminatou Haidar, warn that frustration, especially among the Sahrawi youth can lead to greater confrontation and even a new war. The organizations behind this letter lend their support to this view. During the course of 2008, all of our organizations have sent representatives to Morocco and Western Sahara, in order to meet with Sahrawi students and youth.
We all came back home with the same impression; that the human rights of the Sahrawis were being systematically violated, especially those who are politically active in expressing their right to self-determination in both the occupied Western Sahara and at their places of education in Morocco. All of the Norwegian delegations, and our Sahrawi hosts, were held under constant and visible surveillance by the police during their stay in Western Sahara.
We believe that the frustrations of the Sahrawis that we met need to be given international attention, recognition and support. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case today. The cynicism and apathy within the international community is on the rise.
Towards the end of April, Ban Ki-Moon's former personal envoy to Western Sahara expressed the view that independence for Western Sahara was currently "unrealistic". He substantiated his view by stating that there was not enough pressure being put on the occupying power, Morocco. We are concerned that the younger members of the Sahrawi population may well interpret this statement on "realism", as a call to return to war, regarding it as a last resort in their attempt to have their legitimate rights fulfilled.
Simultaneously, the situation for the Sahrawi people in exile becomes increasingly more difficult. An investigative report published by Norwegian Church Aid in May, revealed that 19 percent of children under the age of 5 in the refugee camps in Algeria are suffering from malnutrition. The situation is thus worse than that found in Darfur, where it is reported that 16 percent of children are suffering the same fate.
International and Norwegian business interests continue to be actively engaged in the occupied Western Sahara. Sjøvikgruppen and Gearbulk are but two examples. Their activities thus contribute to supporting the occupying power, in spite of an official Norwegian policy that strongly advises against this type of activity. The Norwegian authorities must find means to actively encourage all businesses to withdraw their interests and refrain from trading in goods originating within the occupied Western Sahara, until the conflict is resolved. It was also very disappointing to note that the Government did not take the opportunity to prevent Yara International from importing phosphate from Western Sahara in August of this year
We believe that it's time that Norway joins other countries such as Sweden and South Africa I demonstrating a much clearer support for the Sahrawi people's struggle against occupation and oppression, and give special support to their struggle for self-determination and independence.
We call on the Norwegian government to:
Make it abundantly clear to the Norwegian, Moroccan and Sahrawi public that Morocco's occupation and annexation of Western Sahara is illegal and unacceptable.
Exercise its influence in a more pro-active manner to achieve a solution that will fully respect the fundamental right to self-determination, with an option for independence.
Resume attempts to send an official Nordic delegation to the occupied areas, in order to speak freely with leading Sahrawi human rights activists. Norway should also make a strong protest concerning Morocco's refusal, on three previous occasions, to allow representatives from the Nordic Embassies to visit the occupied areas.
Exert pressure on Morocco to cease the oppression and to respect human rights in the occupied Western Sahara, especially those of children, youth and students.
Exert pressure on Morocco to investigate the human rights violations of Sahrawi students at the University in Marrakech in April/May of this year; and to bring those responsible to justice.
Work for the release of Sahrawi political prisoners presently serving sentences in Moroccan prisons, and that the truth regarding the more than 520 Sahrawi "disappeared" be known.
Follow the example of the African Union in formally recognizing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. A first step in that direction could be taken by giving Polisario diplomatic status in Norway.
Call on Morocco to lift the blockade on Western Sahara, and to allow parliamentarians, journalists, human rights activists and other international observers to move freely in the country.
Work for an expansion of the MINURSO mandate to also cover monitoring and reporting of violations of human rights.
Strive for an international ban on financial dealings with Moroccan and international business interests in the occupied areas.
Work to significantly increase the aid provided to the Sahrawi refugees, and to ensure that this aid is more stable and predictable, both through Norwegian bilateral aid and through the UN.
Provide increased financial aid by way of the Norwegian State budget; to increase both humanitarian and state building assistance to the Sahrawi people.
Contribute to securing the financing of confidence-building measures that will pave the way for future repatriation of the refugees.
Martin Henriksen - President, Norwegian Labour Youth Jim Hansen - Leader, Counteract TV Ove Vanebo - Chairman, Norwegian Progress Party Youth Henrik Fjeldsbø - Leader, Youth Committee of the Norwegian Trade Union of Industry and Energy Kjell Ingolf Ropstad - Leader, Norwegian Christian Democrat Youth Jens Kihl - Leader, Norwegian Language Youth Ingvild S. Reymert - Leader, National Union of Students in Norway Mari Eifring - Leader, Red Youth Norway Christina Ramsøy - Leader, Norwegian Center Youth Mali Steiro Tronsmoen - Leader, Norwegian Socialist Youth Sigrun Espe - Acting leader, Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund Ronny Hansen - Chairman, Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara Henrik Aasheim - Leader, Norwegian Young Conservatives Anne Solsvik - President, Young Liberals of Norway
Copies sent to: Foreign Affairs Committee – Norwegian Parliament The Norwegian Embassies to Morocco and Algeria The Norwegian delegation to the UN in New York
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
Give a donation!
Support the Support Committee. Help us work for the Sahrawi people's struggle for self-determination. Give a donation here.