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Senate Estimates: Conflict in the Western Sahara

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 7 Jun 2012

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings 30 May 2012

  • Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Mr Dennis Richardson, Departmental Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Mr Paul Robilliard, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia and Middle East Division
  • Ms Deborah Stokes, First Assistant Secretary, International Organisations Branch
  • Mr Paul Myler, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Europe Division

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: Morocco has announced officially that it will no longer cooperate with the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Western Sahara, Mr Christopher Ross. Does the government still support the efforts of Mr Ross and will it encourage Morocco to continue to cooperate with him to resolve the longstanding conflict in Western Sahara?

Senator Bob Carr: Let me seek advice.

Mr Robilliard : Yes, we are aware of the comments reported by a Moroccan official that they will not continue to cooperate with Mr Christopher Ross, the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy on the Western Sahara. We would ask Morocco to seriously consider that decision. The next round of informal talks are due to be held in June. We certainly hope that Morocco will continue that round of informal discussions with Mr Christopher Ross.

Senator RHIANNON: You said that Australia will be asking Morocco to work in this way. When will that advice be conveyed?

Mr Robilliard : We do not have a fixed appointment with Morocco to convey that advice, but I am sure that we will find an appropriate opportunity to do so.

Senator RHIANNON: What does 'an appropriate opportunity' mean?

Mr Robilliard : It means an occasion that may arise within the context of our discussions in New York, for example.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the position of the government regarding the idea of including human rights monitoring in the mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara?

Mr Robilliard : We fully support that.

Senator RHIANNON: What action is being taken to demonstrate that support?

Mr Robilliard : We welcomed the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2044 in April this year, which has a specific reference to human rights.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the government raised the issue of human rights abuses in Western Sahara during the recent universal period review of Morocco by the UN Human Rights Council?

Mr Robilliard : Our consistent position has been to support UN efforts to resolve the situation in Western Sahara, including the addressing of human rights. As I noted, we have certainly welcomed the UN Security Council resolution most recently passed. I am not aware that we spoke specifically on the question though in the meeting you refer to.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that was the opportunity to do that, is there any reason that that was not done?

Mr Robilliard : I am not aware of one, no.

Senator RHIANNON: Would there be anybody else here who could inform us why, considering that it was the opportunity for Australia to express its position?

Mr Richardson : We will take notice that on notice and get back to you.

Senator RHIANNON: If you could expand on that, it would be appreciated.

Mr Robilliard : Certainly.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the position of the government concerning the importation of Australian companies of phosphates from the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara without benefit to the indigenous population and as it is against their wishes, which has been expressed on a number of occasions?

Mr Robilliard : I would note that the United Nations has not imposed any sanctions on such trade and the government has not imposed any restrictions on the importation of phosphates.

Senator RHIANNON: However, there has been considerable international opposition expressed to that trade. Is Australia aware of that opposition?

Mr Robilliard : I am aware that there has been opposition raised, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the assessment of that opposition?

Mr Robilliard : As I said, the government does not impose any restrictions on the importation of phosphates.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that a contradiction considering, although no country nor the UN recognises Western Sahara as being part of the national territory of Morocco, the government of the Kingdom of Morocco has imposed sovereignty over Western Sahara for 35 years? Doesn't the issue of the sovereignty of Western Sahara need to be addressed here considering resources from the land are being removed by Morocco?

Mr Robilliard : I think we are talking about two very distinct issues here. On the one hand, the government does recognise the UN classification of the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, and the government's policy is that we do believe the people of Western Sahara have a right to self-determination. That is the political situation. The other side of that and a separate issue is the fact that we do not impose any restrictions on the importation of phosphates.

Senator RHIANNON: The International Court of Justice said in 1975 that Morocco had no claim to the territory of Western Sahara and reaffirmed the people of Western Sahara's right to self-determination. Does Australia recognise that position?

Mr Robilliard : We do believe that the people of Western Sahara have the right to self-determination, as I said.

Senator RHIANNON: If they have the right to self-determination, shouldn't that also include the right to manage their resources as they wish?

Mr Robilliard : As I said, I think we are talking about two different elements of the situation on the ground.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand the OECD has guidelines for multinational enterprises which show that the responsibilities of companies extend right down the supply chain. Maybe this question goes to the minister. Are these principles that the government recognises and advocates that Australian companies follow?

Senator Bob Carr: I would like to take that question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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