Geneva Call’s Mission in Disputed Western Sahara: New Progress in the Fight against Landmines
15 June 2005
The President of the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz, informed Geneva Call that the authorities were willing to commit to a total mine ban and to destroy stockpiles of anti-personnel mines.
The authorities had invited Geneva Call to send a delegation to mine affected areas in the Western Sahara and refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria. Between 3 and 10 June 2005, the delegation met with Sahrawi political and military authorities, the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), NGOs and mine survivors. During its tour of the territory, east of the Separation Wall, the delegation was received by local military commanders, investigated mine and UXO pollution, and interviewed the nomadic population which must deal with these dangers on a daily basis. With the President, the Minister of Defence, and other personalities, the implications of a mine ban, mine/UXO clearance, mine-risk education, and victim assistance were all thoroughly discussed. The Polisario Front showed Geneva Call a stock of mines which it said was taken from Moroccan army positions during the conflict, and stated its intention to destroy all mines in its possession. The positive outcome of the mission was the culmination of several months of efforts by Geneva Call and the Sahrawi Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Geneva Call hopes that Morocco, a non-signatory State to the Ottawa Convention, will also support mine action activities in the Western Sahara. The territory is divided by defensive walls (or “berms”) built by the Moroccan army, which are fortified with millions of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Tens of thousands of people live in mine affected areas on both sides of the berms. It is urgent and crucial that Morocco adhere to the Ottawa Convention.
Geneva Call is an international humanitarian organisation dedicated to engaging actors which are not eligible to sign the Ottawa Convention in the fight against anti-personnel mines. Geneva Call’s “Deed of Commitment” is a mechanism, complementary to the Ottawa Convention, by which these actors can adhere to the mine ban norm. Signatories solemnly commit themselves to ban all use of anti-personnel mines, to destroy stockpiles, to facilitate mine clearance and to allow mine risk education, and to accept international verification. The Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva is the official custodian of these documents. To date, 27 such Deeds of Commitment have been deposited with the Geneva authorities.
For further information, please contact:
Pascal Bongard, +41 22 879 10 50 [+41 76 58 81 968]