The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the continuing conflict over the Western Sahara and recent statements by Administration officials that threaten to undermine the longstanding commitment by both the United States and the United Nations to promote self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara through a free, fair, and transparent referendum.
We strongly urge you to take steps to ensure that your Administration demonstrates respect for the right of the Sahrawi people to democratically choose their own political and economic future.
The right to self-determination is bedrock international law. It was the philosophical basis upon which our own nation was created, is enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and is regarded as a basic human right. The United Nations has been unequivocal in its support of this right and has indicated that when territories such as the Western Sahara are transitioning out of colonialism, the people of those territories should have the option of freely choosing between independence, association with an independent state, or integration with an independent state.
In 1975, the International Court of Justice upheld the right to self-determination in the instance of the Western Sahara. The United Nations has since passed dozens of resolutions reaffirming the indigenous Sahrawi's right to self-determination, even establishing the Mission for the Referendzrm in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991 with the objective of providing the Sahrawi with the opportunity to choose between independence or integration with Morocco.
Unfortunately, the referendum has yet to be held.
Recently, the Kingdom of Morocco proposed an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara that would eliminate the Sahrawi's right to participate in a self-determination process. Statements that the plan is consistent with the principles of self-determination are inaccurate, as the plan provides no option for independence.
The Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, C. David Welch, recently testified that the autonomy plan proposal was "serious and credible." Our government has supported this in the United Nations. This is deeply disturbing, as the right to self-determination is a founding principle upon which our country was built; any effort to deny it to other peoples - be they rich or poor, small or large, East Timorese or Sahrawi - is inconsistent with our nation's democratic values and beliefs. Moreover, denying the Sahrawi the right to self-determination would subvert our broad-based efforts to bring greater tolerance and stability to the Maghreb Region.
We respectfully request your assurance that the United States will continue to respect the principle of self-determination, and will exhibit that commitment by keeping its promise to the Sahrawi people that they be permitted to determine their own future through a democratic vote that includes the options of integration, autonomy, and independence. Anything short of this would signify a retreat from both the rule of law and respect for internationally recognized human rights. Peace and stability cannot be imposed upon the Maghreb; they will only emerge when the rights of the region's inhabitants are respected.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to promote a just, democratic, and peaceful resolution to the conflict over the Western Sahara through a referendum.
Signed by 27 members of the Congress among them:
Senador Edward Kennedy
Senador James Inhofe
Senador Russ Feingold
Congressman Donald Payne
Congressman Joe Pitts
Congressman Tim Ryan.