Letter to The Editor
October 11, 2009
The Washington Times
Deja Vu All Over Again
The United Nations just fired Peter Galbraith, the top American in the UN
mission in Afghanistan. Galbraith's offense: He blew the whistle on the
country's August 20 elections. Writing to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon,
Galbraith said that he was not for or against any candidate, but he could not
overlook the election fraud without compromising the mission's neutrality. His
boss, Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, had other ideas, blocking Galbraith from
stopping the fraud and ordering him and other staffers not even to discuss it.
Eide even went so far, Galbraith said, as telling President Karzai after the
election:"I am biased in your favor," meaning, according to Eide, not biased in
a bad way, but in a good way. In an interview with the BBC, Galbraith said his
removal sends "a terrible signal to the world" about the UN. For many of us,
it's deja vu all over again.
Not so long ago, the State Department named me to run a referendum in Western
Sahara, in a UN Peacekeeping mission called MINURSO. Western Sahara is not
Afghanistan, and most people couldn't find it on a map. The referendum was to
allow the Saharawis, the people of Western Sahara, a country the size of
Colorado, to decide whether to be independent or part of Morocco, its northern
neighbor that had invaded it in 1976.
When I arrived in Western Sahara, the Moroccans were still occupying the country
and controlling everything, including who among the Saharawis got to register to
vote. Only Saharawis with Moroccan escorts could approach the registration site,
and once registered, those same Moroccan escorts often confiscated their
registration certificates, their license to vote.
It got worse. The KIng of Morocco was running the referendum through a
high-ranking thug from their Security Services, a Captain Segura type who
closely resembled that character from OUR MAN IN HAVANA. He would show various
visitors around the UN registration center which he described as chez moi. He
was quite right.
Morocco benefited by delaying the referendum, forever, if possible, because
their brutal treatment of the Saharawis would sink them at the polls. Watching
the Moroccans terrify the locals was like watching the Mafia work the
waterfront. Saharawis would buttonhole us quietly and ask us to keep an eye on
them in case the Moroccans "disappeared" them. It was like being back in South
Africa, listening to South African blacks, during apartheid, talking, in the
security of the US Embassy, about the brutality of the Special Branch.
Morocco stopped the registration for a week disputing an adverb used in a
MINURSO schedule. Absurd, of course, but at the cost to the UN of $100,000 a
day. Morocco bugged MINURSO's phones and regularly searched the UN's hotel
rooms. Captain Segura ordered all UN insignias removed from the UN's buildings,
and MINURSO's director obliged reflexively. People calling themselves TV
journalists videotaped every Saharawi who came to be registered, but the
journalists turned out to be Moroccan State Security keeping tabs on the locals.
Not a second appeared on television.
All these things were open and notorious, and towards the end of my assignment I
was reporting simultaneously to the MINURSO mission director and Captain Segura.
Not even the pretense of UN partiality remained. I could not continue in such a
mission and left at the end of a year. I did send a note to Kofi Annan. then
head of UN Peacekeeping, outlining what I had seen and offering to brief him.
His response: My complaints were "not serious."
I testified under oath about all this before a House committee the following
year, and the New York Times, The Economist, Human Rights Watch, et al. backed
up what I said. It didn't make a difference. The Moroccans kept the referendum
from happening, and efforts to revive it go nowhere.
Peter Galbraith is a lot more important than I, and working in a more important
place. But some things don't change. The UN's still stifling the truth and
muzzling those who try to do the right thing.
U.S. Ambassador (retired)