Statement on Western Sahara Prepared for Delivery to the United
Nations Fourth Committee
United Nations, New York, October 2009
Petitioner: John M. Miller, National Coordinator, ETAN
Mr. Chairperson, distinguished members of the committee, I thank you
for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the East Timor and Indonesia
Action Network (ETAN) on Western
Sahara. I also serve as the U.N. representative for the International
Federation for East Timor. Both organizations were long active in
support of the struggle of the East Timorese people for
weeks ago, I was in the independent Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the "popular consultation" that
brought 24 years of illegal Indonesian occupation to an end. Timor-Leste
is now a member of the United Nations and addressed this committee in
support of Western Sahara earlier this week.
Ten years ago, on August 30, the East Timorese people belatedly
exercised their right to self-determination. – They voted in massive
numbers, defying the bloody campaign of the Indonesian military and its
militia proxies. In the face of threats of destructive retaliation that
were soon realized, they expressed their preferred choice of
In doing so, the people of Timor-Leste exercised their inalienable
right and expressed their "passionate yearning for freedom" described by
the UN General Assembly nearly 50 years ago in its
1960 declaration (1514 (XV)) on decolonization, which unambiguously
declared that "all peoples have the right to self-determination; by
virtue of that right they freely determine political status…"
It should embarrass this institution – and all of you as
representatives of United Nations member states – that this committee
must continue to discuss the situation of Western Sahara. The discussion
should have ended long ago, and its people should have exercised their
right to self-determination.
The parallels between the situations of Timor-Leste and Western
Sahara are clear. In 1975, within weeks, larger neighbors, defying
international law and the UN Charter, invaded both countries as they
were on the verge of decolonization. For decades, Morocco and Indonesia
continued to brutally occupy and illegally exploit the resources of
Timor-Leste and Western Sahara in defiance of UN resolutions. The
invaders received weapons and diplomatic support from the United States
and other powerful countries. Both colonies remained on the General
Assembly agenda as non-self-governing territories. Both invasions were
clearly condemned by the Security Council. Both peoples suffered
horrendous human rights crimes, including torture, disappearances,
displacement, and rape. Those who organized and ordered these crimes
have yet to be brought to justice. This only encourages others to defy
While in Timor-Leste, I participated in a conference, "Hametin
Solidaridade: Luta Nafatin Ba Justisa," in English: "Strengthening
Solidarity: The Struggle for Justice Continues." More than 200 people
from 18 countries discussed the continuing need for justice and
accountability for human rights crimes committed during the Indonesian
occupation. Many of those attending had long been active in
Timor-Leste's struggle for self-determination both inside and outside
the country; others were young students enthusiastic to learn more about
their own country's and others' struggles. The
conference expressed strong support for an ad hoc international
tribunal for Timor-Leste.
However, the focus of the conference was not only on the recently
independent country. We also looked outward to ask where we and the East
Timorese people should extend our solidarity to others struggling for
self-determination, justice and peace. We felt strongly that others
should benefit from the international solidarity extended to Timor-Leste
over the decades. The Conference "enthusiastically endorsed"
self-determination for Western Sahara.
I was recently forwarded a statement by the Timorese organization,
MEC-TL (Movimento Estudante Cristaun Timor-Leste). They reject the
Moroccan presence in Western Sahara. They call on France and Spain to
consider the Saharawi voice for independence and call on the United
Nations to give Western Sahara its referendum on independence.
The people of Timor-Leste have much in common with the people of
Western Sahara. They – and those of us who supported Timor's campaign
for self-determination -- hope those common experiences will soon
include a genuine act of self-determination.
We urge Morocco and its allies to end their delaying tactics. The
United Nations and its member states should fulfill its promise to
support decolonization worldwide and more forward with Western Sahara's
There is a truism: "Justice delayed is justice denied." The
paraphrase, "Self-determination delayed is self-determination denied,"
is certainly as true. The people of Timor-Leste had their right
self-determination denied for nearly two and one-half decades. The
people of Western Sahara have been denied their rights for 34 years and
counting. They should not have to wait any longer.