Vice-President of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region, Ghalla Bahiya, highlighted Thursday before the members of the United Nations C24 the growing international recognition of the legitimacy of Morocco’s rights over its southern provinces and of the autonomy plan as the only possible solution to settle the regional dispute over the Sahara. Invited to speak at the C24 regional seminar for the Caribbean, held in Castries in Saint Lucia, as a representative democratically elected by the populations of the Moroccan Sahara, Ms. Bahiya said that this recognition led to the very large support on the part of the majority of African, Arab and European countries and other regions, as well as by the opening of 25 general consulates in the cities of Dakhla and Laayoune. She noted, in this regard, that the momentum in favor of the autonomy plan “in fact gives hope to the population of the region that a political solution to the regional dispute over the Sahara is closer than ever, to end to a situation that has lasted far too long”. The elected representative of the Moroccan Sahara pointed out that Spain’s recent decision to give unambiguous support to the autonomy plan as the most serious and credible basis for resolving this regional dispute constitutes a “historic step” that the UN and the C24 must consider to close this file. “The sovereign and strong decisions of the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain, most Arab countries and a large number of African states in support of the autonomy plan respond to this reality on the ground, far from the ideological dogmatism still practiced by a handful of countries,” she explained. All these developments confirm the irreversibility of the Moroccanness of the Sahara and of the autonomy plan as the sole outcome of the United Nations political process on the Moroccan Sahara issue. Referring to the emancipation of women in the southern provinces, Ms. Ghalla, who is participating in this seminar at the invitation of the President of the C24, said that she is part of a generation of Moroccan women who play a key role in the development and implementation of national development policies, within the framework of HM King Mohammed VI’s Vision on gender equality as the foundation of a modern and democratic society. “Like the other regions of the Kingdom, the women of the Moroccan Sahara play an active role, on an equal footing with men, in the representation of the Saharawi population and the democratic management of its affairs through the regional councils and local elected officials, within the framework of advanced regionalization,” she underlined, noting that the elections held last September, which recorded the highest participation rate at the national level (66%), represent a “historic step” in the context of the ambitious democratic reforms undertaken by Morocco. “The election of young women like me in this election shows the great progress made in strengthening gender equality and promoting women’s political participation at local, regional and national levels,” she told the members of the C24, adding that these elections demonstrated the attachment of the Sahrawis to their Moroccanness and to the virtuous democratic dynamic launched by HM King Mohammed VI. Ms. Bahiya regretted that while women in the Moroccan Sahara enjoy their full human rights, those in the Tindouf camps in southwestern Algeria continue to suffer the worst forms of abuse in silence, including sexual violence, while their children are forcibly moved to third countries, with the active complicity of the host country, Algeria. With regard to the reform dynamics underway in the Moroccan Sahara, she noted that the Kingdom, aware of its responsibility towards all its citizens, has undertaken significant efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and to ensure the resilience of its southern provinces. “Morocco’s development strategy in the Sahara provinces is a model of solidarity and a real lever of local, regional and continental development. Its development process is open to meeting future challenges and opportunities,” she said, noting that nearly 80% of the socio-economic and structural projects planned under the new development model launched by the Sovereign in 2015 have been completed. She mentioned in this regard the Dakhla Atlantic Port which will be the largest deep water port structure in Africa. “The Moroccan Sahara is on the way to become an African regional economic hub”, she noted, recalling that the region hosted the Morocco-United States Investment Forum on March 8 and 9, 2022, and saw the opening during the same month of the representation of the Moroccan-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce in Dakhla, which confirms, according to Bahiya, the privileged economic position of the region. Concerning the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the southern provinces, the Sahrawi elected representative underlined that the local populations, like in the other regions of the Kingdom, enjoy the guarantees stipulated by the Constitution and the international human rights instruments, as well as the right to life, movement and security. “More than 4,400 NGOs are working on the ground in various sectors,” she said. Citing the last report of the UN Chief presented to the Security Council in October 2021, the speaker noted that several foreign delegations (diplomats, journalists and NGOs) have carried out field visits to the southern provinces of Morocco. In addition, the Vice-President of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region warned against the continuous human rights violations to which women, girls and children in particular, are subjected in the Tindouf camps, in the south-west of Algeria. “Many human rights NGOs have expressed concern over the brutal human rights violations against women, girls and children in the Tindouf camps, including the widespread use of sexual violence, rape, torture, slavery, enlistment of child soldiers and deprivation of freedom of movement,” she pointed out, recalling that the Human Rights Committee of the UN has expressed concern at the effects of the de facto devolution of power by the host country of the Tindouf camps to the +polisario+, a non-state armed group. Stressing that the protection of the populations in these camps requires urgent action on the part of the international community, the elected representative of the Moroccan Sahara urged the C24 Committee “not to ignore the sufferings” of Sahrawi women, girls and children and to take concrete measures to break the silence imposed in the Tindouf camps, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.
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