Police State, bullying and terror in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara In memory of Frank Ruddy, a witness to History

Luis Portillo Pasqual del Riquelme 27/10/2019
A police and thug State: With these terms Frank Ruddy (FR) described the behaviour of the Moroccan occupier towards the population of the illegally invaded and military occupied Saharawi territory.

Tradotto da Fausto Giudice
Editato da Supriyo Chatterjee
The Sahrawis resisted the Moroccan occupation and colonisation through their armed wing, the Polisario Front. After 16 years of war, in 1991, the United Nations Peace Plan established a cease-fire and the holding of a referendum of self-determination, to be supervised by the UN, to decide on integration into Morocco or the creation of an independent State. The MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), created as an integral part of the armistice signed by Morocco and the Polisario Front, would have as its main tasks to ensure the maintenance of peace and to carry out the referendum of self-determination of the autochthonous population of the Saharawi territory, a non-autonomous territory pending decolonisation. In this regard, Frank Ruddy said: “If ever there was a tailor-made suit for the UN, it was this one”.
It is worth recalling this now that on 30 April 2019 the Security Council adopted Resolution S/RES/2468 (2019), extending the mandate of MINURSO for a further six months, with Russia and South Africa abstaining, which consider the text of the resolution to be unbalanced in favour of Morocco.
Frank Ruddy was ‘an indispensable diplomat in the history of Western Sahara’, as Carlos Ruiz Miguel put it, and an admirable person to whom, in my opinion, the tribute he deserves has still not been paid publicly today. The important thing, however, is to pick up the torch and follow the example he gave us. A lawyer and US ambassador, he was appointed in 1994 vice-president of MINURSO, with the final objective of carrying out the referendum of self-determination.
What Frank Ruddy saw and experienced during his stay in El Ayoun (capital of Western Sahara) deeply outraged him, to the point of denouncing it personally to the UN Secretary General and, publicly and officially, to the US Congress and to the whole world (his testimony in Congress was widely reported by the media). And he devoted his time and his best efforts, since then, to spreading and supporting the Saharawi cause all over the world, from Alaska to South Africa.
Frank Ruddy explained to the audience that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its judgement of 16 October 1975, had made two very important observations: 1) that Morocco had no right to claim sovereignty over Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara), and 2) that nothing prevented Spain’s planned referendum on self-determination from being held and that the UN was to supervise it, consistent with UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, and with UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, and with UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples.
Within days of the ICJ’s opinion, Morocco invaded Western Sahara using the ‘Green March’. Since then, after a 16-year war, thousands of deaths and the construction of a 2,700 km-long mined wall dividing the territory and its inhabitants, Morocco occupies eighty per cent of Western Sahara, having become the longest conflict in the history of the UN. Moroccan leaders and their powerful lobbies were busy spreading the big lie that the ICJ had ruled in Morocco’s favour.
The referendum, originally scheduled for 1992, was then postponed until 1994, when F. Ruddy was appointed to prepare the referendum, the main task of MINURSO, as can be seen from the very name of the Mission. The UN’s task seemed quite simple,” continues FR, “to hold a referendum in which a simple question would be elucidated: independence or integration in Morocco. The reality, however, would not be so simple.
After more than two years of delay, the voter registration process finally began on 28 August 1994: “One can say that surely, as of this date, MINURSO ceased to be a U.N.-run operation and became the instrument for Morocco’s domination of the voter identification process.”
The UN ceded to Morocco control of the preparatory process for the referendum. “There is no other way to say it,” Ruddy pointed out, “because Morocco decided when and where to register voters, controlled entry to UN registration facilities, and even decided which Sahrawis could register.”
Moroccan Voter Registration officials were terrified to note that the indigenous inhabitants of Western Sahara wanted independence, not integration into Morocco (something already noted by members of the UN Mission who visited the territory in May 1975 and made it clear in his Report to the Security Council, made public shortly before the ICJ ruling and the blackmail of the ‘Green March’). And the Moroccan leaders faced this harsh reality by indefinitely postponing the referendum until it seemed unfeasible and thus remained in the illegally occupied territory.
F. Ruddy points out that, at the end of his first year in Western Sahara, he was ordered to present his reports jointly (!) to the UN Secretary General and the Moroccan representative, which was a clear recognition that the UN did not have an independent mission in the territory.
On 25 January 1995, Frank Ruddy appeared before the House of Representatives of the United States Congress and made public his denunciation of MINURSO’s inaction and complicity with the Moroccan occupier to torpedo and block the referendum. The text of that testimony is available on the Internet (text in English and French).
What FR presented to the US Congress on the scandalous action of the UN in Western Sahara was by no means a personal, subjective assessment. On the contrary, the abuses committed by Morocco against the Saharawi population and the inability of MINURSO to stop them (as is still the case today) were public and notorious. “The U.N. mission was a laughingstock at diplomatic parties in Rabat,” affirmed FR. “The mission’s abandonment of a free and fair referendum was common knowledge to all the peacekeeping soldiers assigned to the mission as well as to the U.N. staff. That is the reason Chris Hedges of The New York Times had no trouble getting the facts he needed to expose in print the referendum for the sham it was.” (New York Times, March 5, 1995)
What FR had observed in its MINURSO post and testified before the US Congress was subsequently verified by reputable NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and published in prestigious newspapers and magazines (The New York Times, The Economist, Jeune Afrique, …).
But it seems that this behaviour of the UN (and of the States that make up the Organisation) has unfortunately been a fairly ‘habitual’ practice to date, as the journalist María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo (“Mirar para otro lado”, El País, 04/05/2019) has recently described in Spain; although, ‘obviously’, without mentioning the shameful and much closer case of Western Sahara -according to the diktat of the media blockade imposed on the matter of the pending decolonisation of the last colony in Africa-, but corroborating the UN practices denounced urbi et orbi by Frank Ruddy, who explained some examples of the ‘mafia-like behaviour’ of the Moroccan officials in the occupied territory, as shown below.
Bullying, fraudulent voting, impunity
Sahrawis who registered as voters complained (to Arabic-speaking employees who informed FR) that friends and relatives of theirs had registered to vote, but did not appear on the voter lists: Moroccans had simply deprived them of the right to vote.
Others complained that their friends or relatives were on the list to register as voters, but that the Moroccans did not allow them: the Moroccan police kept at bay anyone who had not been approved by the occupation authorities. People who came to register on a certain set day could not even enter the registration centre; only those with the Moroccan seal of approval could do so. In this way, Moroccans controlled who registered to vote. “Welcome to the Moroccan-run police state of Western Sahara,” exclaimed Ambassador Frank Ruddy. “That’s just not the way it’s supposed to be, of course, and that’s not the kind of the process the U.N. is supposed to be funding.”
“For this same reason – FR explained – we could not invite Sahrawis to fill out voter application at our centers. No Sahrawi was allowed anywhere the Moroccan Government doesn’t want him or her to be. It cannot be stressed too strongly, Western Sahara, under Moroccan control, is a police state, something we as Americans are not used to, a fully functioning and efficient police state”, denounced FR.
Some Sahrawis, who reported what the Moroccans were doing to them, asked the UN to look for them if they ‘disappeared’. Many said they feared for their lives if the Moroccans saw them talking to UN people. Others asked the UN to act as if they didn’t know them if they saw them outside the UN.
“Terrorized is not too strong a word. Their comments reminded me of nothing so much as South Africa in the early 70’s when blacks would talk to you freely in the safety of the U.S. embassy in Cape Town or Pretoria, and then pretend they didn’t know you as soon as they left, lest they be observed by the South African Special Branch talking to ‘foreign trouble-makers’ ”.
On one occasion, the Moroccan liaison officer with MINURSO, a certain Mohammed Azmi, boasted publicly in a bar to a group of MINURSO employees that he was the only one who decided whether to continue identification the next day. And to prove it, he picked up the phone (it was almost midnight) and, in front of everyone, cancelled the identification sessions the following week. FR complained of these “actions of Machiavellians who do what they please with impunity from U.N. sanctions and without a care for the integrity of the referendum or the waste they are incurring” ($100,000 a day as far back as 1995).”
Everyone who registered to vote was given a voucher so that, supposedly, when the list of those who could finally vote was made public, those vouchers would be given to them to give them a ballot paper. However – explains FR – what was happening in El Ayoun (the capital) was that Sahrawis returning from voter registration centres were forced to hand over their receipts to Moroccans, which would allow people without voting rights (Moroccan settlers) to present those receipts and obtain the corresponding ballots (fraudulent vote, electoral fraud).
Obviously, freedom of the press was another victim of the ‘police state’: in order to inform the population that it had to register to vote, the UN needed space in the Moroccan media (press, radio). But in order to buy media space, it was necessary to obtain a permit from the government, a permit that “Morocco had always denied the UN” (!). Watch out, these are statements by an ambassador of the world’s leading power, as he denounced to the US Congress.
And Ambassador Frank Ruddy continued to provide concrete examples of the Moroccans’ unpunished actions: On the eve of the start of the voter registration process, at a dinner with Moroccans and MINURSO employees, the Moroccan official to the Mission reprimanded the then head of the Mission (Erik Jensen, who was acting on behalf of Yaqub Khan) and ordered him to remove all UN flags from the building (UN headquarters) where the voter registration was to take place, under threat that otherwise he would cancel the voter register. So they removed the UN flag even from the room where the opening ceremony was to take place! The collapse of the UN allowed Moroccans to regard the UN facility in El Ayoun, not as an extraterritorial UN compound (with diplomatic status), but as their property. In fact, the Moroccan liaison with MINURSO called the MINURSO voter identification centre “my home”!
During the days of the opening session in El Ayoun, so-called Moroccan journalists photographed and videotaped every minute of every day, and took photos of every Sahrawi who came to identify himself. These alleged journalists turned out to be Moroccan Security agents, as was later proven. Not a second of those hours of allegedly recorded television footage was ever broadcast on Moroccan television.
Weeks later, it was discovered that the telephones at MINURSO headquarters were tapped, local lines and all international ones, and that the wiretaps were flowing into a local Moroccan line. This fact was silenced (it was later revealed by Chris Hedges in The New York Times) and, to avoid any evidence that might implicate the UN, the UN employee who had installed the hidden microphones was secretly removed. Mail had been handled regularly and MINURSO staff rooms searched frequently. “Big Brother was listening to us and also watching,” admitted F. Ruddy.
Over the next few weeks, it was Morocco, not the UN, that instructed MINURSO staff about their work and flight schedules. So the UN did its own work when the Moroccan observers consented. Likewise, the Moroccans placed restrictions on the use of UN planes on flights between El Ayoun and Tindouf, reserving them exclusively to take the Moroccan observers back home and, by the way, demonstrate that the process was under their control.
In short, during the time FR spent in Western Sahara, “Morocco conducted, without a raised eyebrow from Boutros-Ghali’s handpicked representative, a campaign of terror against the Saharan people”. Ruddy says he has lived through nothing like this since he saw the South African apartheid government in action against black South Africans when he visited that country in the early 1970s. “Morocco did not simply influence the referendum — they controlled it – down to what days the mission worked. Morocco tapped U.N. phones, intercepted U.N. mail, and searched the living quarters of U.N. staff with impunity. More importantly, the Moroccan authorities disenfranchised Saharan voters right and left and substituted Moroccan ringers in their place.”
Inaction and complicity of the UN
“Outsiders like me, as well as U.N. contract employees and veteran U.N. professionals, reported these outrages directly to Boutros-Ghali’s representative in MINURSO, but we might just as well not have bothered. Boutros Ghali’s man blew them off. He simply lacked the gravitas, or the moxie, to take on the King’s gangster-in-chief in Western Sahara, Mohammed Azmi. If you read Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, you would recognize him: a charming and ruthless flic, like Greene’s Captain Segura, Batista’s police chief”, Ruddy commented.
Before leaving MINURSO, embarrassed by the situation described, FR sent a note to the UN Secretary General explaining the fraud, waste and abuses he had observed in the Mission, and offered to discuss it with him when he returned to New York. The reply of the UN Secretary General was -literally- that what FR told him was “not serious”. But later, when FR testified before the US Congress and his testimony reached the whole world, broadcast by the media (it was covered in Jeune Afrique, for example), then the UN Secretary General was “horrified, horrified” to hear that such things were happening in MINURSO, and ran to put on the case a new and brand-new Inspector General, who rushed to throw dirt on the matter (Frank Ruddy tells that even John Bolton laughed at the report of that Inspector), bleaching the behavior of the Mission … And all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
In 1995, Human Rights Watch published a devastating 38-page report on MINURSO, documenting flagrant human rights violations and vote fraud committed by Morocco right under MINURSO’s very nose. But “neither the Mission nor the UN did anything,” adds Ruddy.
Finally, FR was invited, and then “uninvited,” to testify before the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly, the Decolonization Committee which deals with Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa. FR considers it an honour that the UN General Secretary himself, Boutros Ghali, intervened personally to prevent the Fourth Committee from hearing what FR had to say to him about MINURSO. In the 40 years of life of that Committee, FR was the only person who had been prevented from speaking in that forum!
At least two Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General (Johannes Manz and Francesco Bastagli) resigned from their post in protest against Moroccan political manoeuvres. James Baker, the architect of the Peace Plan to which John Bolton contributed, also resigned.
S.G. Ban Ki-moon himself had a very difficult time with Morocco at the end of his mandate… And Ambassador Frank Ruddy lasted only one year in his post, having had to circumvent – as he himself revealed – four bribery attempts by the Moroccans.
In his memoirs as US Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senator (D), said it very clearly. He acknowledged that he had been given the task of preventing Western Sahara from becoming an independent state, and he said he had done that task very well. Of course that happened during the Cold War. But the Cold War is long over. Today, however, other excuses and blackmail are used for the same purpose.
“My problem with them is that in Western Sahara they invaded as illegally as Indonesia did in East Timor, and once there Morocco has behaved notoriously, without any fear of sanctions from our State Department.”
“It is sad for me as an American to see in those countries where I have served, in Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara, that our government supports the thugs who run those places and ignores the good people who live there and want and deserve better.”
Frank Ruddy had the lucidity and courage to say things clearly, calling them by name. And at such an early date. Today, on the other hand, imposed silence, moral mediocrity and courtly cynicism reign. But nothing can stop the advance of the cause of the Saharawi people or the solidarity of all the peoples who accompany it in its march towards freedom and independence.