Stephen Zunes : Western Sahara/Morocco


The Last Colony: Beyond Dominant Narratives on the Western Sahara Roundtable
3 June 2013

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.


The Reality of Western Sahara
2 August 2012

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.


Divesting from All Occupations
25 July 2012

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 […]


WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department
7 December 2010

Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.


Upsurge in repression challenges nonviolent resistance in Western Sahara
17 November 2010

On November 8, Moroccan occupation forces attacked a tent city of as many as 12,000 Western Saharans just outside of Al Aioun, in the culminating act of a months-long protest of discrimination against the indigenous Sahrawi population and worsening economic conditions. Not only was the scale of the crackdown unprecedented, so was the popular reaction: In a dramatic departure from the almost exclusively nonviolent protests of recent years, the local population turned on their occupiers, engaging in widespread rioting and arson. As of this writing, the details of these events are unclear, but they underscore the urgent need for global civil society to support those who have been struggling nonviolently for their right of self-determination and to challenge western governments which back the regime responsible for the repression.


Interview: Zunes on Western Sahara
15 November 2010

Well, we’re looking at a situation that bears striking parallels to East Timor: on the verge of decolonization from a minor colonial power, the large neighbor came and gobbled up the country, with the United Nations Security Council, along with the International Court of Justice, ruled that this takeover was illegal, called for Morocco’s withdrawal, but Morocco, like Indonesia, had some powerful friends on the UN Security Council, including the United States, which has blocked the world bodies from enforcing their mandates. And so, in fact, the invasion took place just six weeks prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, in November of 1975. So, for more than 35 years, the people of Western Sahara have been suffering under a foreign military occupation….


U.S. Lawmakers Support Illegal Annexation
5 April 2010

In yet another assault on fundamental principles of international law, a bipartisan majority of the Senate has gone on record calling on the United States to endorse Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony invaded by Moroccan forces in 1975 on the verge of its independence. In doing so, the Senate is pressuring the Obama administration to go against a series of UN Security Council resolutions, a landmark decision of the International Court of Justice, and the position of the African Union and most of the United States’ closest European allies.


The Other Occupation: Western Sahara and the Case of Aminatou Haidar
5 December 2009

Aminatou Haidar, a nonviolent activist from Western Sahara and a key leader in her nation’s struggle against the 34-year-old U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation of her country, has been forced into exile by Moroccan authorities. She was returning from the United States, where she had won the Civil Courage Award from the Train Foundation. Forcing residents of territories under belligerent occupation into exile is a direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both the United States and Morocco are signatories….


A Tale of Two Human Rights Awardees
2 December 2009

I have worked with both Jenni Williams and Aminatou Haidar. They are both deserving of the RFK Prize, and they both deserve the support of the U.S. government as well. A test of a government’s sense of justice is whether it sees human rights as a universal principle or simply as a political tool to advance its foreign policy agenda. The Obama administration appears to have opted for the latter. It is easy to support human rights activists like the women of WOZA, since they are battling against a regime opposed by the United States. When it comes to human rights activists who challenge a U.S. ally, however, the Obama administration appears no different than previous administrations in tolerating their oppression.


Haidar’s Struggle
9 October 2008

Aminatou Haidar, a nonviolent activist from Western Sahara and a key leader in her nation’s struggle against the 33-year-old U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation of her country, won this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award….