26 January 2014

Do the people of Bougainville want to be re-colonised by Australia and the US?

Getting Into Resource Rich Bougainville

Islands Business

‘Amazingly, no one cares about asking the people of Bougainville about their perception if they need foreign intervention from the likes of Australia and the United States. Quite clearly, Australian fear mongering and painting a picture of a security threat on its doorstep is intended to give it a reason to get into the resource-rich island before anybody else’


The pursuit of riches has existed from the dawn of civilisation. Ancient tribes risked their lives by leaving their homes and hearths in search of riches in distant lands. It is the pursuit of wealth and its concomitant greed that led to expeditions across the world, with the more powerful of explorers subjugating vulnerable locals to increase their wealth through all sorts of means—pillaging, sacking cities, overrunning countries and killing hundreds and thousands of people. This they did with a heady mix of superior weaponry, dubious barter deals, worldly guile—and religion. The new world order post-World War II brought new ideas of equality, human rights and egalitarianism, which effectively put an end to institutionalised colonialism. But colonialism survived the onslaught of the new world order. Only the means changed. Overt became covert, hush money replaced weaponry, dubious aid replaced dubious trade and corruption took the place of good old guile.

Colonialism became a thing of the past, surviving only with a prefix like “post” as in “post-colonial” but its spirit has not only survived but continues to thrive in this so called modern age. Commentators and perceptive people term this new avatar of the old colonialism as “neo-colonialism”. It is still very much the pursuit of wealth but is pursued through new channels that are acceptable to the new world order. Such as aid, trade, investment and ideas like social and economic development, inclusiveness, capacity building and, of course, sustainability.

Though the ideals look wholesomely altruistic, and many of them may be genuinely so, scratch the surface and you are more than likely to find the hidden hand of big money behind these initiatives. Just as big multinational corporate money continues to influence government policies around trade negotiations, it forces the hands of governments around geopolitical decisions as well.

And when it does that, its only guiding principle is the pursuit of wealth—it does not matter what it costs in terms of lives, limbs, property of the people concerned and their environments. The scenario is very much from what hapless people suffered in the days of colonialism. Only the means have changed.

The hand of Big Oil in the decades-long conflicts in the Middle East, and more recently, in the African continent, as well as the ongoing large scale destruction of rainforests and the habitats of countless species of wildlife, flora and not least remote human tribes in Middle and South America, South East Asia and even some Pacific Islands are only a few examples of the devastating impact of big money all over the world.

Corporate big money fuelled neo-colonialism has been a part of the Pacific, as it has been in other parts of the developing world for several decades now. The race for resources and the emergence of new populous countries as growing economic powers has seen it rearing its head in the Pacific Islands region again. This is particularly true of the better resourced part of the region—Melanesia, to be specific.

Australia has always remained a big player in Melanesia because of both geographical proximity and historical reasons and Australian big business has gained much from the country’s long involvement in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and more recently, in Timor Leste. Of these, its involvement in Papua New Guinea and its autonomous region of Bougainville has been of most significance. Its involvement in the Panguna Mine in Bougainville intensified the island’s bitter conflict about two decades ago, where a rebel group was aiming to break away from PNG to form an independent nation. The unrest and conflict caused innumerable deaths and unprecedented destruction. The Australians finally suspended mining operations leaving a huge scar on the pristine island and the people to their own fate.

The island has slowly recovered and restored peace in the years since it was declared an autonomous zone but Port Moresby has not done enough to rehabilitate it and help build its economy, leveraging its many unique natural attributes. More recently, Bougainville is gaining more recognition as an offbeat destination for adventure and nostalgia tourism, given its pristine landscapes and diversity of terrain, not to mention its many onshore and offshore World War II heritage sites. The recent celluloid depiction (Mr. Pip) of an eponymous popular novel authored by a New Zealander has provided a surge of interest in the tourist industry.

Bougainville’s resurgence has apparently rekindled Australia’s old desire to step up its involvement in the substantial island. Last month, it issued warnings that it feared Bougainville may be slipping back into chaos. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has said Bougainville “could” slip back into civil war unless “we” [read Australia and the United States] act now. In the newfound love between the region’s ANZAC nations and the US, there is a tendency to invite the US to be part of every activity in the region, cocking a snook as it were to China. ASPI’s paper reeks of the trappings of classic neo-colonialism.

In its December report, it says there is a need to flood Bougainville with human resources to bulwark the political apparatus and economic infrastructure in preparation for independence. There are suggestions to invite the US to chip in with aid for Bougainville. The calculation is obviously to send a message to China, that the western powers are in first. That’s not all: other experts are making a case for the reopening of the Panguna Mine by its owners, mining giant Rio Tinto.

Amazingly, no one cares about asking the people of Bougainville about their perception if they need foreign intervention from the likes of Australia and the United States. Quite clearly, Australian fear-mongering and painting a picture of a security threat on its doorstep is intended to give it a reason to get into the resource-rich island before anybody else, using the excuse of bringing in aid, investment, creating jobs and, of course, ushering in “sustainable development” while guiding its activists towards achieving their ultimate goal of independence from PNG.

It is up to the pro-independence activists of Bougainville to see Australia’s offers to get involved for what it is worth without falling for the usual trappings of investment and promises of inclusiveness, capacity building, employment and development at the cost of their real natural wealth and economic independence in exchange for any promised help in gaining political independence.

17 January 2014

Bonaire Activist calls for political evolution in the 'public entity'

James Finies
Presidente I kordinado “Fundashon Nos Ke Boneiru Bek”

Our future is in our own hands again. Netherlands pulls back its position that the BES islands have no other choice outside the Dutch state-constellation. The people of Bonaire have the option to choose to change and improve the current state structure.

The year 2014 started for Boneriaans people with the good news that the Netherlands by Minister Plasterk has stated that the BES islands, may choose another state structure that they want and not be bound to as they previously proclaimed. And that this choice is to the BES populations themselves to do, but must of course take into account that it is realistic and reasonable. Netherlands has made ​​it very difficult since 10-10-10 by having positioned itself, that the only possibility to us as a people is evaluation of 2015 and at this is at administrative level and not political and that either then to continue as public entity as special municipality or convert it into a full-fledged municipality or not we should leave the kingdom and become independent.

This brings us to an end, after 10-10-10, at least 2 years of intense fight to convince the Dutch and local leadership, that not the administrators or politicians neither of Netherlands or Bonaire, but the Bonerian people the right have as, as people’s, to determine their own future and because the result that we have now, we all agree that it cannot continue like that, and was not the desire or what we expected. And to improve is good, but that has to be effected by means of a people’s expression, a referendum, to meet a wide fundamental basis, that can unite the majority of our people and find themselves happy with the support and help of the Netherlands and the other partners in the Kingdom.

This is the result of our ongoing struggle of all of us who have always believed that our people deserve a real chance and has the right as a people and this is enshrined in international law by the United Nations, and we did not gave up and now can look back that our fight has borne fruit, that Netherlands renounces its position. And even states that it must take account of the Charter of the United Nations because they are members and want to continue to be member of the United Nations and our people should be given the possibility to choose and that the Netherlands will cooperate to realize the will and desire of the majority of the Bonerian people.

Because of these statements, it is also understandable why Plasterk's assertion that a small group wants a referendum, can be qualified as a distraction maneuver or intention is to make our people that has united for a “change” , to divide us again, and tries to camouflage the fact and reality that Plasterk itself and other Dutch leaders as, Bijleveld, Camp etc included PM Rutte have launched acts of intimidation and blackmail towards Bonaire and St Eustatius and these without any basis and foundation and Netherlands has to refrain  of these now and indeed must take into account and the international  laws of the United Nations must be respected. And that we as a people are free to start preparing to choose ourselves another state structure outside the Dutch state and within the Kingdom if we want to serve our people better.

So where with the help and support of the Netherlands we can continue to further emancipate and develop, to continue catching up on the arrears and development-backlog,  and to achieve prosperity and happiness, but also governed by our own leaders and parliament, elected by our own people.

Now it is clear to us to unite as Bonaire and together as Bonaire to strive for the "change"; we have this opportunity again!


Nos futuro ta den nos mes man atrobe. Hulanda ta hala tras su posishon di ku islanan BES no por skohe algu otro pafor di e konstalashon estatal Hulandes. Boneiru I su pueblo tin oportunidat di por skohe su mes pa kambia I drecha e struktura estatal aktual.

Anja 2014 ta habri pa nos pueblo Boneriano ku e bon notisia ku Hulanda pa medio di Minister Plasterk, di Relashonan Eksterno di Reino,  ta deklara na parlamentu Hulandes ku  e islanan BES, por skohe un otro eskoho estatal ku nan mes ta desea  I no ta mara mas na e posishon ku nan a informa prome. Ku e eskoho aki ta keda na e pueblo nan di BES mes, pero naturalmente mester tene na bista ku e eskoho lo mester ta algu realistiko I rasonabel. Hulanda a bin ta hasi esaki basta difisil  despues di 10-10-10, dor di a posishona su mes ku e uniko posibilidat ku a keda nos komo pueblo ta e evaluashon na 2015 I riba e tereno administrativo gubernamental I no politiko I lo bai evalua ku lo keda komo entidat publiko ku ta un gemeente spesial o bira un gemeente kompletu lo ta e uniko opshon  sino nos lo tin ku sali for di Reino Hulandes I bira independiente .
Esaki ta pone fin, despues di 10-10-10, na por lo menos dos anja di lucha intensivo pa por a konvense e mandatarionan Hulandes I lokal ku nos pueblo, I no gobernantenan o politikonan ni di Hulanda o lokal, pero ta nos pueblo tin e derecho komo pueblo di disidi su mes futuro, pasobra e lokual ku a resulta aki, I nos tur ta di akuerdo ku no por sigui asina aki, no tabata nos deseo o loke nos a spera.  I pa purba dreche ta posibel , pero esey mester tuma lugar pa medio di un konsulta di e pueblo kompleto, esta un referendum ku lo por pone  un base fundamental I amplio pa asina e pueblo den su mayoria por ta satisfecho I por dirigi su mes futuro ku ajudu di Hulanda I otro partnernan den Reino.

Esaki ta resultado di e lucha kontinuo di nos tur ku a kere semper ku e pueblo aki merese un chens real I alaves tin e derecho aki komo un pueblo I esaki nan ankra den leynan internashonbal di Nashonan Uni no a entrega I awor nos ta mira fruta di nos lucha ku Hulanda ta laga los su posishon. I asta ta deklara ku nan tambe lo tin ku tene nan mes na regla  I carta di Nashonan Uni  pasobra nan ta miembro I kier keda miembro di Nashonan Uni I mester duna nos pueblo  e oportunidat di por skohe I Hulanda lo kopera ku eskoho I deseo di mayoria di e pueblo.

Ku e deklarashonan aki ta kompredibel tambe ku Plasterk su ponensia ku un grupito so kier un referendum por wordu kalifika komo “afleidingsmanouvre” o purba dividi nos pueblo ku a uni I kier un kambio , I ta purba desvia e realidat ku Plasterk I demas mandatarionan Hulandes ultimo, Bijleveld,Kamp, etc, inkluyendo PM Rutte ku a lansa deklarashonan di imtimidashon I chantage direkshon di Boneiru I Statia I ku esaki nan no tabatin base I mester a bek I ku Hulanda mester respeta I tene kuenta ku leynan internashonal di  Nashonan Uni.  I nos por libremente kuminsa prepara pa skohe pa un struktura estatal  pafo di e konstelashon Hulandes I den Reino Hulandes si nos kier ku por sirbi nos pueblo mas miho. Pues kaminda nos por sigui hanja judansa, sosten di Hulanda pa juda nos sigui emansipa I desaroya, drecha e retrasonan I logra bienestar I felisidat,  pero alaves ser dirigi I goberna pa nos mes lidernan I parlamento  skohe pa nos mes pueblo.

Awor a keda nos nada mas, pa uni komo Boneiru I ban huntu komo Boneiru pa e kambio ku nos merese, e oportunidat tey atrobe!

16 January 2014

Northern Mariana Islands ownership of its natural resources limited by U.S. monument, military control

Pacific Islands News Association

The CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) could end up controlling the 3-mile submerged lands around only nine of its 14 islands—at least in the foreseeable future—because three are part of a national marine monument that still doesn’t have a co-management agreement and two are leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.

This, as the CNMI awaits President Barack Obama’s proclamation transferring control over submerged lands to the CNMI.

Governor Eloy S. Inos, in an interview Friday, said his understanding is that the three northernmost islands—Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Asuncion—would be exempted from the transfer of control until a co-management agreement has been finalized.

Such co-management agreement has not been drafted five years since a 2009 presidential proclamation creating the marine monument.

“I think we’re fine with that except we’d like some finality on the co-management agreement,” Inos said, referring to a specific timeline for the co-management deal so that the CNMI could also have control of the submerged lands on the three islands.

Tinian and Farallon de Mendinilla, under lease to the U.S. military, are also exempted from the transfer.

The governor said a presidential proclamation is expected on or before Jan. 16, which he said is the statutory deadline by which the president must proclaim the transfer.

There’s no telling yet whether Inos would go to Washington, D.C. for any such proclamation. As of Friday, there’s no invitation for him from the White House.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and the governor separately confirmed the White House’s plan for a presidential proclamation transferring submerged lands to the CNMI, months after Obama signed Public Law 113-34 that conveys 3 miles of submerged lands to the Commonwealth.

At Sablan’s request, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski introduced S. 256 or the submerged lands legislation that became law. It gives the CNMI control of the underwater coasts of its islands. The CNMI became the last U.S. coastal state or territory to own its offshore lands.


15 January 2014

Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Ministers 'visit' West Papua

Pacific Islands News Association

A delegation of Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) visiting the troubled province of Papua this date were met and escorted under heavy guard by the Joint Indonesian Military (TNI) and Indonesian Police (POLRI).

Even peaceful demonstrations were banned by the Police. Around 46 indigenous Papuan activists were arrested in Jayapura for attempting to demonstrate, including well known figures Markus Haluk and Yusak Pakage. All are believed to have been released. 

The MSG delegation’s visit is in response to an invitation from Indonesia in mid 2013 prompted by the MSG 19th Summit’s consideration of an application for membership by Papua in June 2013.

An application which caused significant debate within the Summit at the time and since and which has seen ceaseless efforts during the last 6 months by Indonesia to undermine the application.

Members of the Indigenous Papuan community were not given even the slightest space to be able to access let alone meet with members of the MSG Delegation, who were heavily guarded every moment of their time in Papua. 

The delegation met only with Government Officials from the Provincial level of Government. The Indonesian Government’s attitude was that they invited the MSG delegation so it was the Government that would meet with them.

Students responded by blockading the main road leading from Jayapura city to the airport by burning tyres on the road. As there was no other road route to escort the MSG delegation back to the airport so they were taken instead by Helicopter from the Military Headquarters.

“By these means Indonesia has isolated Papua yet again. The Government has silenced the indigenous population of Papua and closed down any possible space for democracy. The MSG delegation wanted to visit Papua to see the situation for themselves first-hand yet they have not been able to access the people.

“The MSG Delegation was escorted by the Indonesian Armed Forces as if indigenous Papuans wanted to kill their fellow Melanesian brothers and sisters. Indigenous Papuans know and live by what is required by their culture and their religion and it’s absolutely absurd to even consider that they would harm or make things difficult for their Melanesian brothers and sisters visiting Papua. The culture of terrorists in this region is the culture of others and not of Papuans,” a statement said.

“The events of this date in Papua tell the world that the State of Indonesia is still hiding something in Papua from the rest of the world. That something is the humanitarian evil that is being committed by the State of Indonesia against Indigenous Papuans. The events of this date in Papua also tell the world that the State of Indonesia is not yet mature in its practice of democracy.”

Yan Ciristian Warinusy, a human rights activist in Papua, said the visit was in line with the preliminary agenda of the MSG summit held in June 2013 in Noumea, Kanaky-New Caledonia.

“This is an important matter, a prerequisite for them to determine how they will consider the membership of Papua into the MSG membership,” he said, “as based on the application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL).”.



Reports from Indonesia's Papua region say more than 40 West Papuans were arrested during the visit by the Melanesian Spearhead Group in Jayapura.

The MSG Foreign Ministers made a fleeting visit to the Papua provincial capital and has brief meetings with the Governor and the Papua regional legislature.

However, Tabloid Jubi reports that dozens of activists were arrested by Indonesian police outside the legislature for demonstrating against the lack of access that the West Papuans have been granted to the MSG.

This comes after Vanuatu's government withdrew from the mission, saying it felt Indonesia was not allowing the foreign ministers access to the people who the MSG sought to meet.

The visit is part of an effort to vet a formal bid for MSG membership by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.

The head of the MSG delegation, Fiji's foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, has rebuffed the separatists' aspirations, saying the ministers fully respect Indonesia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and further recognise that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia.



Vanuatu withdraws from MSG mission to Indonesia,
West Papua

The Vanuatu government has withdrawn from a Melanesian Spearhead Group Foreign Ministers delegation to Indonesia to discuss and visit West Papua this week.

The delegation, which is led by Fiji, is visiting after a resolution by the MSG to engage more closely with Jakarta over issues raised about extensive alleged human rights abuses in Indonesia's Papua region.

A decision on the formal bid for MSG membership by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation was deferred pending the outcome of this visit.

However, Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Edward Natapei has pulled out of the visit because his government believes its scheduled programme shows that the mission is highly unlikely to achieve what MSG leaders wanted it to achieve.

MSG leaders had wanted to meet various West Papuan groups, including some leaders of pro-independence movements, in order to enhance its understanding of the Papuans's membership bid.

Vanuatu is still part of the delegation by sending an envoy.

14 January 2014

Reparations Reloaded - Danish West Indies / U.S. Virgin Islands

By Shelley Moorhead

In the words of Vaughn Benjamin of the St. Croix based Midnite Band, “Well, I and I now get I time fi come in. Reparation is a realistic ting. Weap not, rejoice for Conqueror and conquering.” I want to very publicly thank US Virgin Islands Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis for providing the impetus and platform for what has become, to date, the most significant Virgin Islands political statement ever made in Denmark. That “LT” at the very last minute tip-toed and backpedaled his way out of a delegation to Copenhagen he in fact initiated and offered to fund is of no consequence to Virgin Islanders.

Was it a campaign ploy gone wrong? Did LT bite off more than he thought he could chew? Or, did Mr. Francis simply lack the political strength requisite to accomplish such an internationally and historically important feat? Be that which it may, in the face of a two month long Danish national debate on an official government apology by Denmark to the people of the US Virgin Islands we have succeeded in moving the reparations football further downfield to where the end zone is now in sight; 1st down, 10 yards to goal, clock running, and our ball.

In the short span of a month, generated by the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement in Denmark have been: a number of important apologies for slavery – 2 from elected members of the Danish parliament, 1 from a significant political party, and 1 from a family member of the Danish Royal House who has direct ties to the Virgin Islands; invitations to meetings at the Danish parliament to strategize on apology and future cooperation; invitations to Roskilde University and the University of Copenhagen for scholarly debates and forums on apology; over one hundred (100) mainstream news articles, editorials, and debate entries regarding US Virgin Islands reparations, apology, and slavery; 2 pre-recorded and 1 live national television news interview broadcast to DR studios in Copenhagen from the Legislature building in Frederiksted; and 3 national radio interviews.

When all was said and done, despite the fact that Lt. Governor Francis removed himself from his own delegation causing it to be cancelled, many millions of Danes, more than ever before, had from November 6th to December 5th 2013, been directly engaged by the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA) on the matter of reparations and an apology to US Virgin Islanders for slavery. So, brushing off ACRRA’s shoulders, I again thank Mr. Francis for both his initiative and his lack thereof.

Sparked no doubted by the publicized ACRRA hunger action planned to take place at the St. Thomas Legislature building on October 23rd, and fueled by the averting of the same when subsequently planned was a legislative hearing on reparations scheduled for October 30th 2013, news that an official Virgin Islands delegation was being planned to arrive in Denmark right smack in the middle of their national apology debate was a happening watched closely by world governments and welcomed both by Danes in public and private sectors.

Let’s face it. Reparations represent conflict. It is a contest of political wills. Although reparations present confrontation, the associated initiatives do not represent armed conflict with the consequences being the decimation of populations and national economies and infrastructures. The battle rather is one of ideas, concepts, policies, and principles and whether the theatre be the International Court of Justice at the Hague or the international court of public opinion, reparations is an idea whose time has come and it is a contest that the US Virgin Islands can win should we muster the wherewithal to espouse our political maturity. Reparations do, however, require that attendant to its pursuit are men and women who possess no less measure of diplomacy, political fortitude, intelligence, and organization than would be requisite if the conflict was actual.

For example, when Mr. Søren Espersen who is an elected member of the Danish parliament and who represents a far right political party in the country, on November 17th 2013, in a session of the parliament asked the Acting Danish Foreign Minister Mr. Nick Hækkerup to place on the record the Government of Denmark’s position regarding slavery and apology and in doing so recorded was that Denmark will not apologize to the US Virgin Islands; only the weak among Virgin Islands politicians, those who are deficient of courage and steel in their spinal columns are accepting of this affront to our human dignity and have retreated, packed up the reparations shop and run home. However, His Excellency, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who now heads CARICOM, is cut from no such cloth and understands the political, economic and humanitarian stakes at hand for the entire Caribbean. In the US Virgin Islands ACRRA alone maintains the Territory’s international voice and presence with respect to reparations.

When Mr. Hækkerup on November 17th placed Denmark’s outdated 2008 policy regarding slavery and US Virgin Islands relations on the parliamentary record, Prime Minister Gonsalves responded on December 12th 2013, by directing CARICOM to publicly announce that it was expanding its Caribbean reparations initiative to now include Denmark and Norway and in one bold political move directly implicated both the Kingdom of Denmark and the US Virgin Islands. To date, no statement has been issued by any Virgin Islands official, whether in gratitude for, or in condemnation of CARICOM’s December 12th action. Was it coincidence that this CARICOM announcement came on the exact same day that the intended US Virgin Islands delegation was to be hosted at the Danish parliament for apology talks and future cooperation? I think not. These are the type of bold political actions which are required to achieve and realize our reparations. Denmark must know that the US Virgin Islands means business.

It is as a result of such daring initiatives that the Virgin Islands today have a reparations movement it can boast of. When in the year 2005 it was against the policy of the Danish Government to even mention the word slavery in the context of the US Virgin Islands, ACRRA organized and led a delegation of Virgin Islands leaders and officials to Copenhagen to open talks on slavery reparations. In April of the same year ACRRA negotiated, signed, and entered into an historic agreement with the Danish Institute for Human Rights which became the first accord of its kind whereby Danes established a reparations task force and acknowledged their cruelty and brutality and their role and responsibility for the dehumanization of Virgin Islanders. In July of 2008, ACRRA’s efforts resulted in a “statement of regret” being issued by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of Emancipation from chattel slavery in the Danish West Indies. Late last year ACRRA dared to demand that Denmark apologize to Virgin Islanders for slavery and as a result we are today where we are with respect to Danish relations. While there will remain some closed doors in Denmark (and Norway), the record will show that we have met many more doors that were open and even succeeded in opening some that were before closed. Those who champion this cause expect that we will see further political concessions in the years that follow.

You see, while the current Virgin Islands Government has left much to be desired with respect to reparations, there are those of us at the helm of this international initiative who understand that at the core of the law governing reparative justice is the principle that the perpetrators of Crimes Against Humanity are not afforded the right to dictate the outcome of the judgment. In other words, Mr. Espersen, the Danish People’s Party, and Denmark’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs can cry “we won’t apologize” all they want, but, truth is they don’t get to determine or control the terms of repair. This power rests even beyond the Kingdom of Denmark. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask “Bodil” who on December 5th 2013 had the final word in the Danish national debate on apology for slavery. This particular fat lady, the blonde, Danish, warrior princess Ms. Bodil has yet to sing, so, far are things from being over.

Mr. Shelley Moorhead is the founder of the ACRRA initiative, president of the Caribbean Institute for a New Humanity, Inc. based in the US Virgin Islands and Chairman of Carida – the Danish Movement for Virgin Islands Reconciliation which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

10 January 2014

US should stand up for Western Sahara's self-determination

National Catholic Reporter

Stephen Zunes

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Morocco's King Mohammed VI in Washington Nov. 22 for their first face-to-face meeting. The result was a bitter disappointment for supporters of human rights and international law.

Two days before the summit, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the U.S. president to tell the king that "U.S. support for the reform process in Morocco depends on moving beyond rhetoric and making tangible change." Specifically, the human rights group called for "stronger legal protections for rights and an end to impunity for police who use violence and commit other abuses."

Instead, according to a White House statement, Obama applauded the Moroccan monarch for "deepening democracy, promoting economic progress and human development."

The most critical issue facing the northwestern Africa region involves Western Sahara, a sparsely populated country on the Atlantic coast that has been under Moroccan occupation since the kingdom invaded the former Spanish colony in 1975, just prior to its scheduled independence. Defying a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions, a landmark World Court decision, and international mediation efforts, the Moroccans have continued to deny the people of the territory their right of self-determination through a U.N.-sponsored referendum. 

No country recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the territory and more than 80 nations, as well as the African Union, have formally recognized Western Sahara as an independent state.

When the nationalist Polisario Front, which had been fighting for the occupied nation's independence, agreed to end the armed struggle in 1991 in return for a referendum, the United Nations brought in a peacekeeping force known as MINURSO (the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) to enforce the cease-fire and oversee the scheduled plebiscite that never came. The United States and France, both of which hold veto power in the U.N. Security Council, blocked the United Nations from enforcing a series of resolutions demanding that Morocco provide the Western Saharan people an opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination.

MINURSO is the only U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world without a human rights mandate. In sponsoring the Security Council resolution renewing MINURSO operations earlier this year, the United States removed a provision in the original draft that would have added such a provision.

While the human rights situation within Morocco itself has improved somewhat since Mohammed VI came to power in 1999, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other reputable human right groups have highlighted ongoing severe repression in the occupied Western Sahara. Even the State Department's annual report on human rights acknowledges that "limitations on the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, the use of arbitrary and prolonged detention to quell dissent" and that open support for the right of self-determination is ruthlessly suppressed. The report goes on to note how security forces have "engaged in torture, beatings, and other mistreatment of detainees" with impunity.

Despite this, the White House statement following the conclusion of the summit pledged that the United States and Morocco would "work together to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory."

As an alternative to allowing the Western Saharan people to go forward with a referendum on the fate of their country, the Moroccans have proposed what they refer to as an "autonomy" plan. Unfortunately, not only are important matters such as control of Western Sahara's natural resources and security ambiguous under the Moroccan proposal, all powers not specifically vested in the proposed autonomous region would remain with the king. Furthermore, based upon Morocco's long record of breaking its promises to the international community regarding the U.N.-mandated referendum and related obligations based on the cease-fire agreement 22 years ago, there is little to inspire confidence that Morocco would live up to its promises to provide genuine autonomy for Western Sahara.

More problematically, the proposal is based on the presumption that Western Sahara is part of Morocco, a contention that has long been rejected by the United Nations, the World Court, the African Union and a broad consensus of international legal opinion. To accept Morocco's autonomy plan would mean that, for the first time since the founding of the United Nations and the ratification of the U.N. Charter more than 68 years ago, the international community would be endorsing the expansion of a country's territory by military force, thereby establishing a dangerous and destabilizing precedent.

If Western Saharans accepted an autonomy agreement over independence as a result of a free and fair referendum, it would constitute a legitimate act of self-determination. However, Morocco has explicitly stated that its autonomy proposal "rules out, by definition, the possibility for the independence option to be submitted" to the people of Western Sahara, the vast majority of whom -- according to knowledgeable international observers -- favor outright independence.

Despite this, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced that Obama believes "Morocco's autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible. It represents a potential approach that can satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity."

It appears, then, that the administration's policy on Western Sahara constitutes a rejection of fundamental principles of international law that prohibit territorial expansion by force, thereby constituting a de facto acceptance of the right of conquest.

In the comparable case of East Timor, it was only after human rights organizations, church groups and other international activists successfully pressured their governments to end their support for Indonesia's occupation that the Indonesian regime was finally willing to offer a referendum that gave the East Timorese their right to self-determination. It may take a similar grassroots campaign to ensure that the United States pressures Morocco to allow the people of Western Sahara their right to determine their own destiny.

[Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco. He is co-author with Jacob Mundy of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.]