Interview by AMRPENWS with the Former Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs:
The Association for the Monitoring of the Resources and for the Protection of the Environment (AMRPENWS) met with the former minister of foreign affairs of Finland, and conducted this exclusive interview with him:
Q: Mr.Erkki Tuomioja, former minister of foreign affairs, what can you tell us about the things/issues/action you worked on during your service and related to Western Sahara?
A: Well, I have been a minister for eleven years, and all these years, the conflict has been up on the agenda…but the urgency seems to have recessed obviously as there is an open fighting going on, but there is no progress either. So, there is a sense of frustration…with the lack of any progress, I don’t see the Moroccan side being interested in any solution, and is undermining the UN’s resolutions… but at the same time, the UN should be the primary mover (catalyst) for a solution for the issue. We have the resolutions, but they have to be implemented.
Q: Recently, Morocco protested against the statement made by Ban Ki Moon which described Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara as “Occupation”, would you describe it as the same?
A: He used the language of the UN’s resolutions, resolution 1514 for example, and I think Morocco is stepping up its counter activities in many ways; I have been receiving newsletters from them on a regular basis. And they seem also to use everybody’s concern about terrorism as an excuse; and also claiming that Western Sahara has potentials for terrorism.
Q: In this regard, would you describe for us the European Union’s interest in counter terrorism and illegal immigration at the expense of the respect of human rights in Africa and elsewhere?
A: Well, since last summer, this has become issue number One in Europe. A week ago, they finalized an agreement with Turkey. Which we are not happy with at all, because one can ask whether they respect the international agreements on the status of refugees and human rights… One can also doubt whether it will be implemented or not! The EU has acted very badly on this issue. At the same time, we can’t resort to “national solutions” by closing frontiers as we need to have a common EU position to be based on the respect of all international agreements and while respecting human rights .
Q: What implications oleos this have on Western Sahara?
A: I think that there are people who would use it against Western Sahara. Moroccans have been presenting Western Sahara as a hotbed for fundamental.
Q: That is true as they have been relentlessly trying to label saharawis as terrorists implicated with ISIS, AQMI and AlQaida. What do you think about the European court of Justice’s ruling on December 10th,2015?
A: That is very interesting. It might come very handy even if the European Council appealed it… this progress in this situation is yet to be seen.
It is very encouraging to have such a ruling as it prioritizes this issue on the EU’s agenda. The EU is split up on this issue. There seem to have more understanding for the Moroccan position being in the lead.
Q: Do you see any potential role for Finland as a government?
A: I am now, here, representing the opposition in the parliament, so I can’t speak for the government here , and I think there should always be a continuity in the government’s official position in politics. The position on Western Sahara has not changed, and I don’t think it will change. Yet, I see that the degree of activity behind it is less than before.
Q: Is there anything you wish you could have done when you were still foreign affairs minister?
A: We were always in the coalition government, and so we had our hands restrained. I think we could have moved much more on, for example, the recognition of Palestine, or ever on the recognition of Western Sahara, which could have come up on the agenda… but there was not sufficent support for this.
Q: If ever you would be elected a foreign affairs minister for another term, would do you do something for Western Sahara?
A: We can always talk about what can be done, but it would always be just a talk, as we can always hope for a one party government that would allow for such aspirations.
Q: Is it possible here to do a congressional hearing on Western Sahara?
A: Actually, there are questions about Western Sahara presented officially by the parliamentary group to the government. We are waiting for the written answers to be submitted from the government side, but there are many debates on foreign policy where the issue can take a longer time to address, more than the time dedicated for answering normal questions.
Q: Are there any advices to be given to the Saharawis or even to the International community?
A: I wish I could give such an advice, but I would say: “Persevere”! I have seen in some cases that looked like lost cases, but at the end of the day they won. For example, here in our vicinity, the independence of the Baltic republics which thirty years nobody would have thought possible just happened out of the blue.
Q: What do you think about the upcoming UN’s meeting on Western Sahara and the renewal of Minurso’s mandate any thoughts?
A: That’s an opportunity of course, but I don’t see any indications there could be anything new, only a prolongation for the rather frustrating situation which we have been having. Yet, I think Moroccans made a mistake by protesting against Ban Ki Moon, because that would make him and the Security Council more ready to defend a resolution that a huge majority has already called for!
Q: Thank you Mr. Erkki Tuomioja.