The Humanitarian Dimension of the Dispute over Sahara
In seeking a final and a lasting solution to this question, one must always bear in mind the humanitarian dimension, particularly the conditions of thousands of persons displaced and forced to live as refugees in the camps of Tindouf, Algeria, as well as those of 412 members of the Royal Armed Forces still imprisoned in Algerian territory.
As far as Morocco is concerned, it fulfilled, many years ago, its humanitarian obligations setting free all civilians and military individuals detained in connection to the Sahara conflict. The International Red Cross Committee has officially recognized that there are no Polisario members detained in Morocco.
Moreover, Morocco allowed the International Red Cross to undertake an assessment mission in Sahara from 2 to 6 November 2001 with a view to closing the cases of 24 Moroccans of Saharan origin declared missing by the Polisario.
The International Red Cross mission was able to meet these persons in the absence of witnesses and was able to conclude that they were leading a normal and peaceful life in Morocco (cf. communiqué 1/45 of 15 November 2001).
However, Morocco deplores the fact that, in spite of the continuous calls by the Security Council, the Secretary General, and the International Red Cross, the Polisario still refuses to free 1362 Moroccan prisoners, using them for political ends and propaganda through repatriation operations in small numbers.
All the representatives of humanitarian international, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, diplomats and missions that were able to visit Moroccan prisoners have condemned holding them in prison and called for their immediate release.
In its communiqué of 21 February 2002, the International Red Cross Committee expressed "its deep concern towards the deteriorating mental and physical health of 1362 prisoners among whom 916 were captured more than twenty years ago and are imprisoned for a longer period than any other person detained in relation with an armed conflict in the world today."
Following the publication of the Secretary General's report of 19 February 2002, and even prior to the adoption of Resolution 1394 by which the Council extended the mandate of MINURSO until 30 April, member of the Council underscored the urgency and priority they attach to the humanitarian aspect of the dispute over Sahara issuing, on 26 February 2002, a Statement in which:
- they were " concerned over the conditions of prisoners of war and urgently demand the Polisario Front to free all the prisoners of war";
- they "were expecting progress in the humanitarian matters related to refugees on the borders";
- they "asked the parties to ensure the freedom of movement of MINURSO" (in fact, as the said report well indicates in paragraph 9, the call is exclusively made for Polisario that continues, alone, to restrict the freedom of movement of MINURSO military observers, thus violating arrangements on cease-fire).
By its resolution 1429 of July 30th, 2002, the Security Council calls anew upon Polisario to "release without further delay all remaining prisoners of war in compliance with international humanitarian law". However, and despite these repeated calls, Polisario continues to detain, without scruples, 412 Moroccan under deplorable and atrocious conditions.
Despite Security Council pertinent resolutions and the repeated appeals made by the Secretary General and the international community to immediately release all the Moroccan prisoners detained for more than 20 years on the Algerian territory, Polisario continues to utilize, in an odious manner, the fate of these prisoners of war treated, for years, as a "stock of merchandise" utilized in politico-media operations of slow release.
The Government of Morocco calls for necessary measures to be taken in order to enforce the international humanitarian law, particularly the Geneva Convention, and to implement the Security Council resolutions, essentially resolution 1495 of july 31st, 2003, which "reaffirms its call upon the Polisario Front to release without further delay all remaining prisoners of war".