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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 self-determination.

Five 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 independence.

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 international law.

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 referendum

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.

Thank you.

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