I raise the issue of the Western Sahara, known as Africa’s last colony. I acknowledge the Australian Western Sahara Association, based in my electorate, and the fantastic work it does to support the Saharawi people. On 26 February the people of Western Sahara will commemorate 45 years of the declaration of the Saharawi republic following the abrupt withdrawal of the Spanish in 1976. We salute them on this important anniversary. Since 1963 Western Sahara has been on the UN’s agenda as a decolonisation issue. The United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the African Union have confirmed that the people of Western Sahara have an inalienable right to self‑determination.
In 1975 Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara and occupied large parts of the territory. Under the leadership of the Polisario, the people of Western Sahara continued their liberation war against the Moroccan and Mauritanian occupying forces. In 1979 Mauritania withdrew from the territory it occupied, but Morocco resisted until 1991 when it agreed to a ceasefire and a settlement plan proposed by the UN and the Organization of African Unity. Unfortunately, the people of Western Sahara have been denied their right to decide their own future through the free and fair referendum that is an integral part of the plan for the future of the country. The settlement plan was based on the organisation of a free and fair referendum, which should have been taken place in 1992. However, Morocco kept delaying the referendum for fear of the results.
On 13 November last year a dangerous development occurred when the Moroccan armed forces attacked Saharawi civilians who were peacefully protesting in the buffer strip located in the Guerguerat area. The Moroccan army’s act of aggression, occupation of the buffer strip and the building of a new sand berm in the area was a flagrant violation of the ceasefire. It led to a new war in Western Sahara. Violations of human rights in the occupied areas of Western Sahara have increased. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported unrelenting, gross violations of basic human rights.
We should condemn the atrocities committed against the people of Western Sahara during the 45 years of occupation and exile. We denounce the denial of basic human rights to a peaceful and freedom‑loving people in Western Sahara. We deplore the continuous detention of Saharawi political prisoners; in particular, the Gdeim Izik group who have been detained since 2010. We deplore strongly the inaction of the United Nations and the silence of some governments towards the atrocities in Western Sahara. Morocco’s aggression and occupation of the Western Sahara was not simply committed against the Saharawis; Morocco attacked the very idea that the United Nations [UN] and international community stand for—respect of international law, human rights and international peace, freedom of speech, expression and due process, and equal rights for all. Those are enduring principles that we cherish in Australia and the same principles that the Saharawis strive for. We are very concerned about the following information that was published on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in its 2021 Market Insights report on Morocco:
• The Moroccan Royal Navy has finalised the terms of reference for its high-speed offshore patrol vessels tender for an 80 metre OPV and encourages Austal to again make a formal presentation.
• Continuing to engage with meeting the Moroccan military’s red meat tenders office following the award of a dromedary meat tender on 1 December 2020 to Australian company SAMEX.
• Ongoing promotion of Australia’s capacities with Morocco’s Defence and Interior Ministries.
• A South Australian firm won a Moroccan Defence department contract in 2020 to supply communications equipment. The company is looking at further opportunities to expand.
Given that the Morocco army illegal occupies parts of Western Sahara and is engaged in a war against the Saharawi people, it is important that Australia should not sell military equipment to the Moroccan regime to assist the army in its illegal occupation and war. I urge the Federal Government to put pressure on Morocco to allow the immediate holding of a referendum on self‑determination; to immediately and unconditionally release of all Sahrawi political detainees, and the accounting for those who have disappeared; to lift the blockade imposed on the territory and allow access to it by independent media observers; and to end the plunder of the natural resources of Western Sahara.
I note the decision of former US President Trump to recognise Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara in return for Morocco establishing diplomatic relationships with Israel. That was a unilateral, unprecedented decision that was contrary to international law, UN resolutions and the views of the international community on the Western Sahara. I am glad that the Biden administration is addressing that matter. Finally, I commend the Saharawi people’s resilience and steadfastness. They did not succumb to fear, nor did they engage in any untoward actions to achieve their objectives, because their cause is just and they believe in it. They want to live in freedom and dignity. We have a duty to help them achieve their goals.