Western Sahara talks are baptism of fire for former German President
A "mammoth task" for the Special Representative – Don't forget the aspect of human rights! (Press release)
On occasion of the Western Sahara talks in Geneva today – chaired by Germany's former Federal President Horst Köhler – the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) demands that the talks should focus on the aspect of human rights. On Wednesday, Ulrich Delius, director of the Göttingen-based STP, stated that the UN Special Representative for Western Sahara is now facing the "mammoth task" of solving the escalating dispute over the future of the region, which is occupied by Morocco. Further, he criticized that Morocco seems to be acting increasingly uncompromising, restricting the freedom of expression and demonstration in the former Spanish colony. However, the Sahrawis, the traditional inhabitants of Western Sahara, have a right to vote in a referendum on the future of Western Sahara.
In the course of the two-day talks in Geneva, which are chaired by Horst Köhler, representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front – which is fighting the independence of Western Sahara – will meet up for the first time since 2012. Algeria and Mauritania will take part in the negotiations as well. So far, Morocco is merely willing to grant Western Sahara more autonomy, but refuses to agree to a referendum as demanded by the Polisario Front.
"The Sahrawis in Western Sahara are putting great hope in the former Federal President. After 17 years of futile efforts by MINURSO, they finally want to be able to decide about their future in a referendum, as planned by the United Nations," Delius emphasized. So far, Horst Köhler was unable to enforce such a referendum. "The conflict has been going on for years, and Köhler will have to be very tactful to give it new impetus. We hope that he will not be guided by France's interests, which has been demonstratively supporting Morocco for years."
The United Nations has been planning a referendum in Western Sahara since 1991, to be carried out by MINURSO. But Morocco rejects a referendum, insisting that the resource-rich country is an integral part of the kingdom.
Header image: Carlos Capote via Flickr.