Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


3.41 p.m.

Lord Wise: My Lords, I have travelled with the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, on, I believe, three occasions to the Western Sahara. I have been associated with him in the sterling work he has done and is doing for those people. He must be one of--if not the--finest friends which they have in the western world. I want to support him very briefly in what he has been saying.

As he said, in a few months' time 20 years will have elapsed since Morocco invaded the Western Sahara. We all know that it was a far from peaceful invasion, as the noble Earl has told us. I shall not reiterate all that he has said about the horrific and gruesome details and the

5 Dec 1994 : Column 806

sufferings endured by the defenceless Saharawi people. Suffice to say that those who survived eventually managed to trudge the 700 miles across the desert into Algeria where, with Algerian help, they set up the camps, where they remain to this day.

However, the Polisario did fight back and, as we all know, a bitter war raged right up to, I believe, the unofficial ceasefire negotiated in 1989. The ceasefire was going to be made official in 1991 to mark the beginning of the operation of the settlement plan leading up to the free and fair referendum which was to be held in January 1992, to which Morocco had agreed. The original United Nations settlement plan, which was agreed by the United Nations Security Council, Morocco, the Polisario and the Organisation of African Unity, identified a census of the Western Sahara population carried out by Spain before it left its former colony in 1975. That was going to be identified as the starting point for the electoral register.

It was agreed by all, including Morocco, that the electoral roll would consist of all of the Saharawis listed in that census plus their descendants. However, at the last moment and, not unsurprisingly, Morocco decided not to honour the agreement and then sent tens of thousands of new settlers into the Western Sahara, claiming their right to vote on the territory's future. It renewed air strikes against the Polisario. As the noble Earl has pointed out, the United Nations report stated that there had been frequent air strikes and many other violations of the ceasefire by Morocco. But that seems to be just another story of Morocco's complete disregard of international opinion or the authority of the United Nations.

It is now three years since the referendum should have taken place. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, called MINURSO, is still trying to progress in the identification and registration process. It is a pretty thankless task, greatly aggravated by Morocco's procrastination and intransigence and its insistence on the addition of between 120,000 and 150,000 names over and above the original agreement. That is the main sticking point. It is obviously completely unacceptable and it is the root of the current crisis.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had hoped to report in August last that the referendum would take place in February of next year. However, when he finally produced his report on 9th November it indicated that February 1995 was not going to be the date for the referendum after all. Again, that is hardly surprising.

The noble Earl's Question asks what action Her Majesty's Government are taking, as a member of the Security Council, towards the resolution of the conflict. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will assure us that, even though we have withdrawn our personnel, we shall not allow MINURSO to be disengaged. It is seriously undermanned in both civilian and military sections. Owing to the sheer frustration of the whole situation, I believe that there is a real danger of it being abandoned. If that happens another horrific, full-scale war will undoubtedly erupt.

5 Dec 1994 : Column 807

The Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is dispatching a technical team to the field to reassess the logistic and other requirements for the deployment of MINURSO at the full strength that was originally intended. He is asking for this full-strength deployment, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will urge that this should be done. MINURSO is an essential instrument in the quest for peace and stability in the area. If it is brought up to full strength it will speed up the process of identification and registration.

I believe that the Security Council and the United Nations must assert its authority. It has to bring the two sides together for dialogue in conjunction with the United Nations and the OAU. That is the only way in which the conflict can be resolved peacefully, if at all. It is not going to be easy. If the United Nations has any credence at all it must honour its obligations to the Saharawi people for their right to self-determination.

The noble Earl spoke of the devastation in the camps following the terrible and unprecedented floods. I also implore my noble friend the Minister, whom we all know to be a very kind and compassionate lady, to use all her powerful influence to try to get direct aid sent from Britain to alleviate the immediate problems. To say that the situation is appalling is a gross understatement: it is absolutely catastrophic, as the noble Earl has said. These people desperately need help and I am sure that if the will is there we can send help directly to them from this country--and I trust that we shall.

3.48 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the number of speakers today is not indicative of the importance of the subject of conflict resolution. Indeed, the House should be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, for his initiative. I listened with great interest to the contributions which addressed the Western Sahara dispute. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, will concern himself with the United Nations role in Africa. Therefore, I wonder whether I might broaden the debate.

Conflict prevention and resolution are complex but essential. The unfolding events in what was Yugoslavia are ample evidence of that. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute illustrates the gravity by determining that, of 34 major armed conflicts in the world last year, seven were in the African continent.

If those conflicts are to be prevented, it is essential to understand their root causes. In Africa poverty, for example, has a devastating effect on the continent, with half of the entire population living below the poverty line. Fifty per cent. of total African external earnings is required to service their external debt. Declining income with the fall in commodity values--the continent's principal export--and a corresponding increase in the cost of manufactured products have all led to extreme difficulties. Structural adjustment programmes and inward investment are vital.

Population pressures, with falling food production and desertification, are threatening the food-producing areas at the rate of 6 million hectares per year. A combination of drought and unsuitable agricultural practices have increased the misery. Insecurity and

5 Dec 1994 : Column 808

instability along borders, sometimes caused by not negotiating shared resources, precipitate tensions in neighbouring countries, with the risk of armed confrontation and, as we know from recent events, they can give rise to refugees. The list goes on: illiteracy, with a staggering 165 million still illiterate; illegal immigration; gun running and drug trafficking compound the difficulties. It is a grim picture.

African initiatives undertaken by Africans are politically essential. Regional co-operation, as a confidence-building measure, sustains friendly relations and peace. That is illustrated in the work of such regional bodies as the Organisation of African Unity. The countries of Africa constitute one-third of the membership of the United Nations. That partnership has contributed positively to efforts to resolve conflicts, although such bodies tend to work more closely on preventive diplomacy by promoting African unity and tackling the continent's economic problems.

Among the principles of the OAU Charter is a mechanism for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts in Africa. It is prepared to undertake peace-making functions. The OAU has been given a shot in the arm by President Clinton's negotiations to set up an African peace-keeping force, which could also be called upon by the United Nations. Last month the United States Congress passed an African Conflict Resolution Act which will set aside foreign aid for that purpose. I urge Her Majesty's Government to take a proactive interest in that initiative. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House how much information about funding initiatives is passed between the donor nations in order to achieve the maximum, and avoid duplication, from scarce resources.

The Southern African Development Community divides sectors of responsibility among member nations. The new remit for politics, democracy, human rights and security has not yet been allocated. That will shortly be forthcoming, and is welcome. South Africa, as a newly admitted member, could possibly be a suitable candidate. Certainly the Mandela-Mugabe axis makes for a formidable team and much can be expected from their endeavours to keep peace in the region. Angola, Mozambique and Lesotho were three countries where immediate attention needed to be directed. That was done effectively by the two presidents.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is proactive in the peace process. That is to be encouraged when the opportunity presents itself. The Secretary-General, with two highly regarded unsung members of his staff, Mr. Gaylard and Dr. Anafu, twice successfully defused tension in Lesotho and Natal. The Secretary-General actively works for the promotion of democracy, human rights and conflict resolution through preventive diplomacy. The secretariat's election monitoring mission underpins the democratic process. The outcome of elections determines whether democracy will take root. The secretariat currently has a team in Namibia.

Finally, the application of the Parsons principle in crisis diplomacy establishes a contact group or diplomatic presence to monitor a crisis and to take the

5 Dec 1994 : Column 809

opportunity of any opening to negotiate with the parties concerned. Our Prime Minister, in a recent speech in Cape Town, declared:


    "an entirely new effort at preventative diplomacy is long overdue. With our friends in Africa and with their agreement and their participation, Britain wants to develop new mechanisms to head off conflicts".

The Foreign Secretary developed those ideas in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 28th September.

It seems to me that regionalisation is the key to future stability and should be encouraged. The European Union, MERCOSUR in the southern countries of South America, NAFTA and APEC are evidence of such regionalisation. It is becoming generally accepted that the Lome Convention will be replaced by entirely different arrangements. Future arrangements will possibly be region specific as part of the overall European development policy. Political leaders will therefore be made to communicate with each other if they are to benefit from bilateral aid. That is not to suggest that the work of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and myself as officers of the All-Party Lome Group diminishes. On the contrary, our duty is to ensure that existing benefits are not eroded under whatever new arrangements are set up. That will help, in a small way, the preventive process.

However, more is required. Constant confidence-building processes are necessary, and it must never be forgotten that the essential ingredient for the peaceful process is negotiation through continuous debate and consultation.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page