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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Western Sahara: UN Plan and Critique

Western Sahara: UN Plan and Critique
Date distributed (ymd): 010629
Document reposted by APIC

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

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Region: North Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+


This posting contains several documents concerning the last unresolved colonial conflict in Africa, namely the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco. In the latest report on UN action to implement the settlement plan including a referendum the implementation of which has been blocked for four years, James Baker III, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, recommends abandoning the agreed plan for a referendum in favor of new talks aimed at limited autonomy, a proposal reportedly based on Moroccan recommendations. The shift has been vehemently opposed by the Polisario Front and Algeria.

Documents included here include (1) brief excerpts the Secretary-General's report to the Security Council, including the main points of the new framework presented in an annex, (2) a summary article from the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN -, (3) a critical analysis from Foreign Policy in Focus

For additional background and updates see (in English, Spanish and French) and, as well as current news on

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Excerpts from report of the Secretary-General S/ 2001/ 613, 20 June 2001, particularly Annex I Framework agreement on the Status of Western Sahara. Full report available at:

52. Given the history of the United Nations operation in Western Sahara over the past 10 years, including the last four years during which my Personal Envoy has been involved in the search for acceptable ways to implement the settlement plan, and the failure of the parties to come up with any concrete proposals during the three rounds of consultations held from June to September 2000, my Personal Envoy has concluded that there are serious doubts as to whether the settlement plan can be implemented in its present form in a way that will result in an early, durable and agreed resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara. I fully concur with this view.

60. Twenty- six long years have elapsed since the outbreak of this conflict. It took five years to negotiate the United Nations settlement proposals and plan and 10 more years to try to implement that plan. In the meantime, an entire new generation of Saharan refugees was born and grew up in the Tindouf camps, while many among the first generation have already died without being able to return home. The proposed framework agreement offers what may be the last window of opportunity for years to come. This opportunity ought to be seized by all parties concerned as it is in the interests of the people of Western Sahara as well as those of the countries in the region. It is high time to settle the dispute over Western Sahara, so that the Maghreb region may finally focus on cooperation and development and enable all its people to look to a better future.

Annex I

The authority in Western Sahara shall be as follows:

  1. The population of Western Sahara, through their executive, legislative and judicial bodies shall have exclusive competence over local governmental administration, territorial budget and taxation, law enforcement, internal security, social welfare, culture, education, commerce, transportation, agriculture, mining, fisheries and industry, environmental policy, housing and urban development, water and electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure.

  2. The Kingdom of Morocco will have exclusive competence over foreign relations (including international agreements and conventions) national security and external defence (including determination of borders, maritime, aerial or terrestrial and their protection by all appropriate means) all matters relating to the production, sale, ownership or use of weapons or explosives and the preservation of the territorial integrity against secessionist attempts whether from within or without the territory. In addition, the flag, currency, customs, postal and telecommunication systems of the Kingdom shall be the same for Western Sahara. With respect to all functions described in this paragraph (2) the Kingdom may appoint representatives to serve it in Western Sahara.

  3. In Western Sahara the executive authority shall be vested in an Executive, who shall be elected by a vote of those individuals who have been identified as qualified to vote by the Identification Commission of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and whose names are on the United Nations provisional voter lists (completed as of 30 December 1999) without giving effect to any appeals or other objections. To qualify as a candidate for Executive, one must be an individual who has been identified as qualified to vote as aforesaid and whose name is on said provisional voter lists. The Executive shall be elected for a term of four years. Thereafter, the Executive shall be elected by majority vote of the Assembly. The Executive shall appoint administrators in charge of executive departments for terms of four years. The legislative authority shall be vested in an Assembly, the members of which shall be directly elected by voters for terms of four years. The judicial authority shall be vested in such courts as may be necessary, the judges of which shall be selected from the National Institute for Judicial Studies but shall be from Western Sahara. Such courts shall be the authority on territorial law. To be qualified to vote for members of the Assembly, a person must be 18 years or older and either (i) a continuous resident of the territory since 31 October 1998, or (ii) a person listed on the repatriation list as of 31 October 2000.

  4. All laws passed by the Assembly and all decisions of the courts referred to in paragraph 3 above must respect and comply with the constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco, particularly with respect to the protection of public liberties. All elections or referenda referred to in this agreement shall be conducted with all appropriate guarantees and in keeping with the Code of Conduct agreed to by the parties in 1997, except where to do so would be inconsistent with the terms hereof.

  5. Neither the Kingdom nor the executive, legislative, or judicial bodies of the Authority of Western Sahara referred to above may unilaterally change or abolish the status of Western Sahara. Any changes or modifications of this agreement has to be approved by the Executive and the Assembly of Western Sahara. The status of Western Sahara will be submitted to a referendum of qualified voters on such date as the parties hereto shall agree, within the five year period following the initial actions to implement this agreement. To be qualified to vote in such a referendum a voter must have been a full time resident of Western Sahara for the preceding one year.

UN Defends New Proposal

UN Integrated Regional Information Network June 28, 2001

A new UN proposal on Western Sahara has been described by its proponents as an attempt to facilitate negotiations and end the conflict.

"We are not asking in this proposal that anyone give up anything," James Baker III, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Tuesday. "We are asking that the parties are willing to come to the table and talk."

Morocco annexed Western Sahara after the former colonial power, Spain, pulled out of the territory in 1975. The POLISARIO front subsequently took up arms to seek independence for the territory, which it calls the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and which is recognised by the Organisation of African Unity.

Under UN mediation, both sides had agreed to a referendum that would allow the Sahrawi to choose between independence and Moroccan rule, but differences over who is eligible to vote have stalled the process for years.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday that the plan would allow the people of Western Sahara the right to elect their own executive and legislative bodies and to have exclusive competence over local government and a range of economic, legal and social affairs. It provides for a referendum on the final status of the territory within five years.

News organisations have reported that under the new autonomy plan rejected by POLISARIO and accepted by Morocco, defence, foreign affairs and the currency would remain under Moroccan control.

Abidjan, 27 June 2001; 18:30 GMT

UN Betrayal of Western Sahara Appears Imminent

By Stephen Zunes

Foreign Policy in Focus

June, 2001

When a country violates fundamental principles of international law and when the UN Security Council demands that it cease its illegal behavior, one might expect that the world body would impose sanctions or other measures to foster compliance. This has been the case with Iraq, Libya, and other international outlaws in recent years.

One would not expect for the United Nations to respond to such violations by passing a series of new and weaker resolutions that essentially allow for the transgressions to stand.

However, this is exactly what appears to be taking place in the case of Morocco and its 25-year occupation of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), better known as Western Sahara. Soon after the International Court of Justice ruled against Morocco's claims to the territory and the right of the Sahrawis for self-determination, Morocco invaded Western Sahara in November 1975. At that time the UN passed UN Security Council Resolution 380 calling for Morocco to withdraw immediately from the territory. The U.S. and France not only blocked the UN from imposing sanctions and otherwise enforcing its resolution, but they also sent military advisers and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of arms in subsequent years to support Morocco's conquest. As a result, the majority of the country's population was forced into exile in neighboring Algeria.

By 1991 the UN had dropped its insistence insisting that Moroccan forces withdraw unilaterally. Instead it called for a UN-sponsored plebiscite involving the Saharis themselves on the fate of the territory. UN Security Council Resolution 690 outlined the process for registering voters and proceeding with the plebiscite. Recognizing that the Sahrawis would likely vote for independence, Morocco stacked the voter rolls with Moroccan citizens who had immigrated into the occupied territory or otherwise claimed had ancestral ties to the area. Using their power on the Security Council, the United States and France repeatedly blocked the UN from enforcing its mandate for a Sahrawi plebiscite.

In September 1997, the diplomatic stalemate appeared to be broken through the efforts of UN Special Envoy and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that appeared to have worked out the registration process obstacles, which included some further concessions to the Moroccans. This was endorsed in UN Security Council Resolution 1133. Still fearing it would lose, however, Morocco has refused to implement this agreement as well.

With the diplomatic umbrella of France and the United States protecting the monarchy from its international obligations, it now appears that Baker will soon be recommending that the UN drop the idea for a plebiscite and replace it with a settlement providing Western Sahara with limited autonomy for an interim period while recognizing its annexation to Morocco.

The Western Saharan government-in-exile has rightly dismissed this proposal as a fundamental violation of right of Sahrawi self-determination, the UN charter, and basic principles of international law. Indeed, it has threatened to go to war, possibly with the support of Algeria, rather than have Morocco's conquest stand uncontested. The SADR has been recognized by more than 75 countries and is a full member state of the Organization of African Unity. There is likely to be strong resistance against a Western-led effort to legitimize what most African states see as an act of colonialism.

Should Baker's proposal be accepted, it could not only provoke a regional war but would also set a dangerous precedent of rewarding the conquest of territory by force and likely embolden potential aggressors around the world. As with the analogous case of East Timor, it may take a mass mobilization by human rights activists around the world to force the major powers to allow the UN to enforce its obligations and allow an oppressed people their right to self-determination.

Stephen Zunes <> is Middle East/North Africa editor and senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project. He is an associate professor and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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