Written Answers - Human Rights Issues

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 721 No. 2

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  300.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins  Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins   asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   his views on the situation of Saharawi citizens who, in protest at state activity, have established refugee camps and are under threat of intervention from the Moroccan army and police forces [41255/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  I am deeply concerned about reports concerning the protest camp set up by Saharawi demonstrators on the outskirts of Laayoune in early October. According to these reports, the Moroccan security forces entered the camp yesterday morning to disperse the protestors and the camp is now effectively closed. At least two officials are reported to have been killed and an unconfirmed number of people injured in the incident. It was notable that the demands of those who established the protest camp centred on equal rights and treatment for the Saharawi people, rather than the issues of sovereignty or the status of the territory. I regret the death and violence which has occurred and the excessive reaction of the Moroccan security forces to what had been a peaceful protest on the part of Saharawi activists. I call on all sides to act responsibly and ensure that this situation does not deteriorate further or impact negatively on the informal peace talks which were due to begin in New York. I would also call on both sides to cooperate fully in promoting practical confidence-building measures such as family reunion flights between Laayoune and the refugee camps in Tindouf which were regrettably suspended some weeks ago.

Ireland continues to support the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, as well as the continuing engagement of the United Nations in the search for a political solution in the territory based on the principle of self-determination. UN Secretary General Ban’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, is continuing his efforts to bring about substantive negotiations on the future of the Western Sahara.

Mr Ross has recently completed a tour of the region in an effort to resolve some of the issues preventing constructive engagement between Morocco and the Polisario. He is this week hosting a further round of informal discussions in New York. Previous rounds of informal talks were held in New York and Austria, most recently in February this year. It is my hope that the two sides use this opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue: it is unfortunately clear that in the previous rounds of talks there has been no real engagement between the two sides on the substantive issues. I regret that the start of the latest round of informal talks now appears to have been delayed due to yesterday’s events in Laayoune. The critical blockage remains Morocco’s refusal to allow a referendum in the territory which would include an option of independence for the people of the Western Sahara. This has been provided for in a number of UN peace plans, and it is difficult to see that there can be any genuine self-determination without such a referendum. Ireland will continue its dialogue with both Morocco and the Polisario, through their representatives based here in Ireland, to encourage support for the UN Secretary General’s good offices mission and the efforts of Personal Envoy Ross to achieve some measure of political progress and increased confidence between both sides.

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