UK: Leaked letters expose differences between political parties over Western Sahara policy

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UK: Leaked letters expose differences between political parties over Western Sahara policy

Letters disclosed today show that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have a different policy to the Labour government in relation to resolving the 35 year conflict in Western Sahara.

On the day after the three main political party leaders debated foreign policy issues, the letters from Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman Ed Davey, show that both parties support the demand for United Nations human rights monitoring in Western Sahara. This contrasts sharply with the Government’s position set out in a letter last month from Ivan Lewis, minister of state at the Foreign Commonwealth Office, which states that “the UK has no objections” to human rights monitoring but will not commit to supporting its inclusion in the mandate of the UN peace keeping force, MINURSO.

These revelations, contained in letters sent to constituents, come at a time when the UN Security Council are drafting a new resolution on Western Sahara to be passed on 30th April.

In a letter dated March 2010, William Hague states that “[in] April 2010 the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) will expire and we wish to see it renewed with a clear human rights monitoring role, given that it is the only UN peacekeeping mission without such a role at present.”

This is echoed by Edward Davey who writes in a letter dated April 2010 that “Liberal Democrats agree […] that human rights monitoring is critical for victims of conflict and moving forwards. Liberal Democrats believe that the Government should be pressing for monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara, with reporting responsibilities to the Security Council.”

It is also supported by a letter sent by Amnesty International to all members of the UN Security Council on 24th April urging them to “vote for the inclusion of an independent monitoring mechanism into the MINURSO mandate.”

The British government have repeatedly refused to call explicitly for human rights monitoring within MINURSO. Indeed, Gordon Brown’s commitment to the issue was called into question last January when, during Prime Ministers Questions, he was unable to answer a question on the subject and appeared to be unaware that Western Sahara was even a country as opposed to an area of desert. Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman later dubbed Mr Brown’s confusion as ‘having a Western Sahara moment.’

Stefan Simanowitz, Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network said today:

“Over the next seven days members of UN Security Council will decide whether to extend the mandate of the peace-keeping force in Western Sahara to include human rights monitoring. The UN has a responsibility to do so under article 73 of its Charter but up until now it is a responsibility they have failed to fulfil. We are calling on our government as a permanent member of the Security Council to speak up for human rights. For the sake of the Saharawi people, forced to live either as refugees in the desert or under a brutal regime in their homeland, our leaders should try to reach a political consensus. They must take the opportunity offered next week’s UN vote to move towards a resolution of the political crisis and human tragedy that is Western Sahara.”

Issued by Free Western Sahara Network

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