Morocco’s Ambassador to the UN, Omar Hilale, has denounced South Africa’s attempt to twist the African Union’s (AU) stance on Western Sahara by suggesting that the dispute over the region is the top priority of the continental body.
In a letter to the UN Secretary-General on Tuesday, January 19, Hilale condemned a recent correspondence between South Africa and the UN.
The South African letter, sent on December 29, 2020, was intended to inform the UN Secretary-General about the decisions of the 14th extraordinary session of the AU Assembly on “Silencing the Guns” — an African initiative seeking to prevent conflicts and promote peace in the continent.
However, the South African Ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matthews Matjila, decided to use a misleading introduction for his correspondence, suggesting that the AU meeting focused exclusively on the Western Sahara issue.
“I have the honor to transmit the present document, containing the decisions of the 14th extraordinary session of the [AU] Assembly […] including a decision on the question of Western Sahara,” Matjila wrote.
While the title gives the impression that the Western Sahara issue was at the forefront of the AU meeting, the territorial dispute was only mentioned once in the AU declaration.
Moreover, the Western Sahara issue appears in the bottom half of the decisions, which are normally ranked according to urgency.
Ambassador Hilale highlighted these arguments in his letter. He wrote that despite South Africa’s attempt to misleadingly suggest that the AU meeting exclusively focused on Western Sahara, “the reality is totally different.”
“The South African approach to singling out the question of the Moroccan Sahara reveals a double attempt, at the procedural and substantive levels, to mislead the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council,” Hilale continued.
At the procedural level, the Moroccan diplomat clarified that the declaration of the AU extraordinary summit consists of 57 paragraphs, but the Western Sahara issue is only mentioned in a single paragraph.
He also explained that the language used in the paragraph about Western Sahara “is declaratory in nature, and in no way operational.”
At the substantive level, Hilale wrote that South Africa has “knowingly ignored the threats and conflicts that hamper the development of the African continent and its bold policies, such as the Continental Free Trade Area, which were discussed during the extraordinary summit and included in the declaration.”
The Moroccan diplomat argued that South Africa’s goal was to focus the attention of the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council on one issue among more than 40 that were raised during the AU meeting, “at the expense of the great concerns, expectations, and hopes of the continent.”
Hilale deplored that South Africa, in its clear attempt to challenge Morocco’s territorial integrity, deviated from the neutrality requirements imposed by its chairmanship position within the AU and the security council.
“By particularizing the question of the Moroccan Sahara, [South Africa] is sacrificing the global challenges of Africa,” he wrote.
The Moroccan diplomat also regretted South Africa’s instrumentalization of the AU in favor of its ideological and political agendas.
At the end of his letter, Hilale recalled that the majority of African states do not take the same stance as South Africa regarding Western Sahara.
He also reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to the UN-led process in the region to reach a political, realistic, pragmatic, lasting, and mutually acceptable solution to the territorial dispute.