Stephen Zunes : Western Sahara/Morocco
As Special United Nations Envoy Christopher Ross prepares for his upcoming tour to the Maghreb to help move forward the stalled Western Sahara peace process, he will likely be putting forward a proposal for some kind of federated status between Morocco and Western Sahara.
My interest in the dispute over Western Sahara is based not simply upon my belief in justice for that country’s people, but its implications in regard to international law and the principles upon which the United Nations organization is founded. These include the right of self-determination by non-self-governing territories and the inadmissibility of any country expanding its territory by force. Since I am not from Western Sahara, I have no stake as to whether the people of that country choose integration with Morocco, independence, or some sort of autonomy within the Moroccan kingdom. However, as a non-self-governing territory, they must have the right to make that choice.
As Morocco continues to defy the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and much of the international community in its continued occupation of Western Sahara, the United States continues supporting that autocratic government.
The California State Assembly is considering a bill entitled the “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples Act” (AB 2844) that could lead to penalizing California businesses that boycott any country or any products from a particular country — even if the product is being made in a colony or occupied territory or if it is made under illegal, inhumane or environmentally deleterious conditions. It would also deny state or local government contracts to sole propietorships who participate in such boycotts.
President Abdelaziz was not a defining figure in the revolution. I mean, he was not the equivalent of Ho Chi Minh or Fidel Castro or Mao Zedong. The Polisario has traditionally practiced more of a collective leadership. At the same time, he played a very important role in terms of holding the movement together through a long and arduous struggle. Unlike many liberation struggles, it did not split into factions. They were able to keep a cohesive unit, both during the armed struggle against Morocco and subsequently in the diplomatic efforts to win recognition of so many countries, to keep the issue, if not on the front pages here in the United States, at least in the United Nations and various regional organizations. And we’re seeing the beginnings of an international solidarity movement, as well.
For more than a half-century, a series of United Nations resolutions and rulings by the International Court of Justice have underscored the rights of inhabitants of countries under colonial rule or foreign military occupation. Among these is the right to “freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources,” which “must be based on the principles of equality and of the right of peoples and nations to self-determination.”
Late last month, President Barack Obama met with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in Washington for their first face-to-face meeting. The result was a bitter disappointment for supporters of human rights and international law.
Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated territory about the size of Italy, located on the Atlantic coast in northwestern Africa, just south of Morocco. Traditionally inhabited by nomadic Arab tribes, collectively known as Sahrawis and famous for their long history of resistance to outside domination, the territory was occupied by Spain from the late 1800s through the mid-1970s. With Spain holding onto the territory well over a decade after most African countries had achieved their freedom from European colonialism, the nationalist Polisario Front launched an armed independence struggle against Spain in 1973. This (along with pressure from the United Nations) eventually forced Madrid to promise the people of what was then still known as the Spanish Sahara a referendum on the fate of the territory by the end of 1975. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) heard irredentist claims by Morocco and Mauritania and ruled in October of 1975 that (despite pledges of fealty to the Moroccan sultan back in the nineteenth century by some tribal leaders bordering the territory, and close ethnic ties between some Sahrawi and Mauritanian tribes) the right of self-determination was paramount. A special visiting mission from the United Nations engaged in an investigation of the situation in the territory that same year and reported that the vast majority of Sahrawis supported independence under the leadership of the Polisario, not integration with Morocco or Mauritania.
Earlier this year, Global Post ran an article by Jordan Paul, executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy, a registered foreign agent for the Moroccan government, which funds, supervises, and coordinates the group’s activities. The article contained a series of demonstrably false claims attempting to rationalize for Morocco’s illegal occupation of its southern neighbor, the country of Western Sahara.
In response to ongoing violations of international law and basic human rights by the rightist Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu in the occupied West Bank and elsewhere, there has been a growing call for divestment of stocks in corporations supporting the occupation. Modeled after the largely successful divestment campaign in the 1980s against corporations doing […]