The UN Security Council’s faltering stance on self-determination in Western Sahara

Deich Mohamed Saleh 04/06/2020
Approximately twenty-nine years have been accumulated since the UN Peacekeeping has arrived the ground of Western Sahara for a specific mission, which is the supervision of a referendum of self-determination for the people of the territory.

Such referendum has not yet seen light due to the UN Security Council’s lack of action, despite numerous resolutions of the UN and the OAU-AU and engagement of distinguished personalities. Unfortunately, the one who has been benefiting from the situation of procrastination is the Kingdom of Morocco, illegally occupying the territory, whereas the victim is the legitimate owner, the people of Western Sahara, who are fed up of long wait. The UN’s failure, over more than fifty years, in the application of the legitimate right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence left no doubt how the International Community’s action is controlled by interests and not by principles.
The Decolonization process
The process of the decolonization of Western Sahara dates back to the Spanish colonial era (1884-1976). Since the inscription of the territory in 1963 on the list of non-self-governing territories the UN treatment of the question has been based on the Resolution 1514 (XV) of the UN General Assembly containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. However, the UN General Assembly in its first resolutions on the question of then Spanish Sahara (2072(XX) of 1965 and 2229(XXII) of 1966), consecutively, asked Spain to decolonize the territory through a referendum of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Increasing the internal and international pressure made Spain to declare in August 1974 its intention to organize the referendum of self-determination of the territory in early 1975. King Hassan II of Morocco announced that his country could not accept a referendum that included the option of independence to be joined by Mauritania in claiming Western Sahara, calling for arbitration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make a judgement on the pre-colonial legal status of the territory. In its resolution 3292 (XXXII) of 1974, the UN General Assembly requested the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the status of Western Sahara prior to Spanish colonization, and called on Spain to postpone the referendum until the General Assembly was able to decide on a decolonizing process that included an ICJ advisory opinion. However, the ICJ advisory opinion, which was released on 16 October 1975, denied any ties of sovereignty of Morocco and Mauritania over Western Sahara. The ICJ endorsed the decolonization of the territory based on the principle of self-determination. In response to the ICJ ruling, King Hassan II, with the complicity of certain Western powers, ordered the military invasion and occupation of Western Sahara on 31 October 1975.
For its part, the Organization of Africa Unit (OAU)/ now African Union (AU) was guided by the principles and objectives of its Charter in dealing with question of Western Sahara since its creation in 1963 , in particular those relating to the total decolonization of the African territories under foreign occupation. The Position of Africa Bloc was reinforced by the status of the territory as UN non-self-governing territory whose people were entitled to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). The African organization consistently seized the question of Western Sahara calling for immediate decolonization of the territory and showing its solidarity with the people of the territory against Spanish domination. Morocco itself voted on the resolution CM/Res. 272 (XIX) of 1972 adopted unanimously in Rabat, Morocco, by the OAU Council of Ministers endorsing the right of the people of the then Spanish Sahara to self-determination and independence.
The decolonization of the Western Sahara has not yet taken place and Spain remains the administrating power until the completion of the decolonization process. Thus, it has to comply with the obligations set out in Articles 73 and 74 (d) of the Charter of the United Nations. This was reaffirmed by the Legal Opinion of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Correll, in 2002.
The Saharawi State
In the report on its visit to Western Sahara in May and June 1975, the UN Visiting Mission gave evidence that it “ noted that the population, or at least almost all those persons encountered by the Mission, was categorically for independence and against the territorial claims of Morocco and Mauritania… and the Frente Polisario (Polisario Front) appeared as a dominant political force in the Territory. The Mission witnessed mass demonstrations in support of the movement in all parts of the Territory “. The Polisario Front (Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro) was founded in 1973 after receiving widespread support among the population of Western Sahara, which made it embrace the people’s aspirations in self-determination and independence. Shortly after signing Madrid accord, supermajority of representatives of the then colonial General Assembly (Jama’a) met on 28 November 1975 in Galtat-Zamur to endorse the Polisario Front and dissolve itself to be replaced by the Provisional National Council. On 27 February 1976 in Bir-Lehlu, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to avoid a juridical fait accompli created by the departure of Spain.
Moroccan occupation
Morocco’s military invasion and occupation of Western Sahara on 31 October 1975, involving 350.000 civilians in a march into the territory, was not only in violation of the UN and the OAU/AU resolutions as well as the principle of intangible colonial borders and the ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara. But also it was against the will of the people of the territory and constituted an attack on the sanctity and sovereignty of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. The UN and OAU/AU are in line of the UN General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), which recognizes illegal the territorial acquisition by force that Morocco is an occupying power as the UN General Assembly stated in its resolutions 34/37 (1979) and 35/19 (1980).
Morocco occupation of Western Sahara generated a tragic situation, which made thousands of the population of the territory flee from the troops and airforces bombard, seeking for a safe place in Algeria. For more than 47 years, those people have lived in exile in hard conditions, waiting for the day they return back home. Morocco has applied since the outset of its occupation a military siege and media blockage in the territories under its control in order to conceal the genocide and crimes against humanity which have been committed by its troops and police forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths, disappeared, disabled due to torture and daily aggression and intimidation. Most of the human right organizations have reported widely on the subject as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Human Rights Council, African Commission on Human rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., besides detailed reports from the media.
It was explicit that some of the five permanent members of UN Security Council, namely France and United Sates had planned to the illegal Accord of Madrid in November 1975 between Morocco, Spain and Mauritania as well as to occupy Western Sahara. Recently, the US Central Intelligence Agency revealed hundreds of declassified documents on the issue of Western Sahara (see Their objectives were not only to circumvent the right of the people of the territory to self-determination and independence but also to destabilize the whole region and enter endless spiral . Both United States and France offered generous support to Morocco in military, political and financial aspects. In 1979 Mauritania abandoned the southern part of Western Sahara, which led to the signing of a peace agreement with the Polisario Front and recognizing the SADR afterwards in 1984.
King Hassan II mistook his estimation of occupying Western Sahara when he said that it would last only one week. He realized that it was impossible to achieve a military victory after incurring heavy costs in lives, materials and thousands of prisoners as revealed in the declassified documents of the CIA.
Goodwill vs deception
The sixteen years of fierce armed struggle almost resolved the conflict in favor of the SADR as its Army had advanced in taking control on the ground and the diplomatic achievements increased, which was crowned by the membership of SADR within the OAU in 1984. The progress of the Saharawi struggle as well as the international calls to prompt solution to the conflict, particularly in Africa, culminated in joining the UN and the OAU efforts. The African leaders played decisive role in reaching an agreement on a settlement plan for the organization of a referendum of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, underling the cooperation of the SADR in this trend. The OAU resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) of 1983 was effectively instrumental in laying the foundations for the subsequent UN-OAU efforts, which was reflected in the UN General Assembly resolution 40/50 (XXXX) of 1985. This resolution urged the two parties to the conflict, the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco, to engage in a direct negotiations under the auspices of the UN and the OAU, which led to a ceasefire on 06 September 991 and the deployment of the UN/OAU-AU Peacekeeping.
The UN Security Council has taken over running the question of Western Sahara pursuant to its approval, in 1990, of the Settlement Plan and establishment of the United Nations for a referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Both parties, under the auspices of the UN Secretary and the OAU Chairman, agreed on the cease fire and the organization of a referendum of self-determination by February 1992 in accordance with the timetable approved by the UN Security Council. The referendum was postponed due to Morocco attempt to extend the criteria to include 120.000 Moroccans in the list of voters. It was clear then that Morocco’s objective from its engagement in the referendum process was: a) to succeed in changing the electoral body in its favor or b) to maneuver and play for time. The fact that Morocco realized that it was impossible to win the outcome of the referendum, especially when the UN published temporal list of eligible to vote in 1999.
The preposterous is that the UN Security Council did not dare to impose sanctions against the Kingdom of Morocco for its obstruction of the referendum. The fact that the UN Security Council’s inaction against Morocco tribute to explicit collusion with it inside the Council and the Secretariat. France was behind paralyzing the OAU/AU role in the peace process because of bothering it in achieving its goals. No one of the five permanent members, advocates for the immediate exercise of the inalienable right of the people of the territory to self-determination and independence, just as France defends Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Moreover, They remained silent about the crimes committed by Moroccan authorities in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. It is true that there is a fundamental change in the views of USA, Russia, UK and China of the conflict in Western Sahara, but has not yet reached to the point of contradicting France. Significant efforts carried out by distinguished personalities as Special envoys of the UN General Secretary like Mr. James Baker III, former USA Secretary of State and of the Ambassador Cristopher Ross as well as the Ex-President of Germany, Mr. Horst Kohler, who failed due to the five’s lack of will. Even the Council was unable to include the report on human rights in the MINURSO mandate because of France, despite of the calls for independent mechanism and the reports on the situation. Beyond that, the Council did nothing against Morocco for the expulsion of the civilian component of MINURSO in March 2016, which drastically affected the ability of the mission to carry out its functions. Five months later, in August 2016, Morocco took advantage of the UN Security Council’s inaction to violate the ceasefire by constructing a road across Mauritania in an attempt aiming to annex the Guerguerat region including La-Aguera city. France now uses all its influence to involve many international parties’ interests in the conflict in order to complicate its solution. It worked hard to implicate the European Union in plundering the natural resources in violation of the decisions of the European Court of Justice of 2016 and 2018.
In contrary, all hell broke loose when the SADR and the Polisario Front show resolute to fail out Moroccan maneuvers. If SADR did not respond to the dangerous and provocative move in Guerguerat and exercise its legitimate sovereignty over this liberated area, Morocco would succeeded in striking all Security Council resolutions against the wall and the credibility of the United Nations in general for ever. The Council has never invested the Saharawi party’s goodwill or recognize its considerable concessions in finding a durable peaceful solution. The influence of France on the UN Security Council decisions, if continued, may lead to the worst in the Council’s history of dealing with question of Western Sahara.
Peace or War
It is clear that the United Nations Secretariat and the Security Council have never interested in establishing the International legitimacy in the Northwest of Africa through the exercise of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Instead, they have been working together over approximately twenty nine years to dispossess the people of the territory and its state of their legitimate right and grant it to the occupier, he Kingdom of Morocco, whose its claims were denied by the Advisory of Opinion of ICJ in 1975. The SADR, represented by the Polisario Front, accepted and still accepts to engage in any process leading to a referendum of self-determination, otherwise it will take the necessary measures, including armed struggle to liberate the rest of its territories still occupied by Morocco.
Obviously, France’s recent attempts, which were reflected, in particular, in the Security Council resolution 2495 (2019), aimed to change the sense of self-determination to match Morocco’s desire. France’s trend of colonizing the peoples’ territories and dominating their natural resources has never stopped. It continued support of Morocco illegal occupation of Western Sahara is a part of larger plans aiming to hit the stability of many countries in North Africa. By the adoption of that resolution by the UN Security Council, the SADR and the Polisario Front decided to review its engagement in the entire process supervised by the UN. However, There is no significance to the UN’s presence in the territory as well as the ceasefire while there is no referendum of self-determination. Decades of tireless efforts and big sacrifices were doomed.
The specter of war hangs over again between the two African countries, and nothing will stop it unless there is a serious will for the international community to put a prompt end to this long-standing conflict on the basis of international legitimacy in accordance with the United Nations and the African Union Charters and resolutions. As long as Morocco rejects the referendum of self-determination, there is no other realistic solution than the establishment of relations with SADR as it is a full member of the AU and one of the founders of it. The Sahrawi Republic has made great strides in building modern state institutions which are able to provide services in education, health, stability, justice, modernity and have a unique democratic experience as well as has got a wide range of international relations. Its political arm, Polisario Front, receives strong support among the population.
The restoration of AU’s pivotal role is crucial in this stage, given that what is happening is on African lands and between two African countries and both of them are members of the same bloc. The AU has to act against the Kingdom of Morocco for immediate withdrawal of the territories which it occupies of SADR, even if it requires military intervention. With its admission to the African Union, the Kingdom of Morocco is obliged to respect the fundamental principles contained in the AU Constitutive Act including, inter alia, (b) respect for borders existing on achievement of independence, and (f)prohibition of the use of force or threat to use force against other AU Member States (article 4).
The UN’s procrastination and delays in implementing the legitimate right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence for more than fifty years unveils ulterior motives of some of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. They planned to the Spanish withdrawal of Western Sahara as well as to Morocco’s military invasion and occupation of the territory. The objective was to deprive the people of Western Sahara of their right to self-determination and independence. They are aware of that it was in violation of the UN and OAU/AU resolutions as well as the principle of intangible colonial borders and the ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara.
Nevertheless, the people of Western Sahara were able to exist and establish their state despite heavy sacrifices and hard conditions. The peace and stability of the region and of the north Africa in general, can not be achieved on the expenses of the legitimate rights of the peoples like what is happening to the people of Western Sahara. The presence of the big five on the ground for more over than twenty nine years are enough to discover the reality of SADR and its commitment to peace and peaceful coexistence. Yes, Western Sahara is rich in natural resources, but they cannot be exploited without the consent of its generous people.