From Referendum to self-determination
The Referendum mechanism is not mentioned in any UN reference document in relation with self- determination
1. The United Nations Charter:
• Makes no reference to the referendum mechanism.
• Assimilates, in no way, the principle of self-determination to that of independence.
2. The issue of self-determination is dealt with in two chapters of the United Nations Charter (Chapters XI and XII). Article 73 of Chapter XI refers to the need to assist people in “the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement”.
3. Similarly, reference resolutions of the General Assembly (1514 and 1541 of 1960 and 2625 of 1970) do not mention referendum.
4. Furthermore, the General Assembly identifies four equal and distinct solutions of self-determination: independence, association, integration (resolution 1541) and “any other political status freely determined” (Resolution 2625), without any mentioning of the mechanism that has to lead to one or the other of the advocated solutions.
Referendum is not the compulsory step to exercise the right of self-determination
1. Since 1945, UN has supervised only 5 referenda:
• 2 led to independence (Namibia in 1990 and East Timor in 2002);
• 1 led to integration (West Irian in Indonesia in 1963);
• 2 led to the rejection of a proposed status of free association between Tokelau and New-Zealand (2006 and 2007).
2. Therefore, out of the 64 cases related to non-autonomous or trust territories settled by the United Nations since 1945, only three cases have been settled by a referendum.
Referendum has proved to be inapplicable to the Sahara.
1. The UN has never organized a referendum based on an identification process (different from mere census) and multiple options.
2. It is a mechanism that has already been tested in the Sahara and has proved its inapplicability. The identification process that was carried out over several years was not decisive.
3. The tribal and nomadic aspects of the Sahraoui population and the mismatch between population and territory resulting from them make the identification process impossible.
4. The inapplicability of the referendum in the Sahara has been recognized by many UN officials. The Security Council has not made any reference to this mechanism, since 2004, but calls instead for a negotiated and mutually acceptable political solution.