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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
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Western Sahara: New Threat to Self-Determination
Western Sahara: New Threat to Self-Determination
Date distributed (ymd): 020512
Document reposted by Africa Action
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 http://www.africaaction.org
Region: North Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
+US policy focus+
This posting contains several short documents on Africa's last
unresolved colonial conflict, namely the occupation of Western
Sahara by Morocco. By the end of July, the UN Security Council is
scheduled to take the decision on how to proceed on this issue, and
there are strong reasons to fear that, at U.S. urging, it may
abandon its residual support for the principle of selfdetermination
in that territory.
Included below are a joint letter from Africa Action and
TransAfrica to the U.S. State Department, a letter from the
Saharawi Association of Madrid to special envoy James Baker, a
press release from the Western Saharan independence movement
Polisario, and a brief update from the UN's Integrated Regional
Extensive additional news and links on Western Sahara, in English,
French, Spanish, and other languages, are available at
The April report by the UN Secretary-General is available at:
For earlier Africa policy postings with background information on
Western Sahara, see:
Additional background on the involvement of U.S. oil company KerrMcGee
in Western Sahara is available at:
Joint Letter to U.S. Department of State on Western Sahara
Africa Action and TransAfrica, May 2, 2002
Africa Action (http://www.africaaction.org)
The Honorable William Joseph Burns
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Department of State
2201 C Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Assistant Secretary Burns,
We strongly support the right of the people of Western Sahara to
self-determination. We are shocked to learn that the United States
circulated a draft resolution to members of the United Nations
Security Council supporting a "framework agreement" that
legitimizes Morocco's occupation and annexation of Western Sahara.
The U.S. should strongly support the legal right of
self-determination for non-self-governing territories and use its
prestige and influence to support the holding of a referendum in
Western Sahara. The U.S. should make clear to the government of
Morocco our support for the referendum and our opposition to its
continued obstruction of the settlement process.
The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, was occupied by Spain
in 1884 as a result of the Berlin Conference that divided Africa
among the European powers. As in the rest of Africa, colonization
was met with resistance, including armed resistance. On May 10,
1973 the Frente pro la Liberacion de Segiut El Hamra y de Rio de
Oro (POLISARIO) was formed. Ten days later, POLISARIO launched
its first armed attack on a Spanish garrison. By early 1975, a
large area of the territory had been liberated from the Spanish,
who kept solid control of only the larger towns and the phosphate
By 1975, Spain was ready to withdraw from Western Sahara, but both
Morocco and Mauritania were laying claim to the territory. In May
1975, the United Nations sent a mission to Western Sahara that
concluded: "Within the territory, the mission noted that the
population, or at least almost all those persons encountered by
the mission, were categorically for independence and against the
territorial claims of Morocco and Mauritania. The populations
expressed the wish that the United Nations, Organization of
African Unity, and the League of Arab States should help it to
attain and preserve its independence..." The Frente POLISARIO,
although considered a clandestine movement before the mission's
arrival, 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 Mission proposed a
referendum to determine the will of the people of Western Sahara.
In October 1975, the World Court upheld the right of the people of
Western Sahara to self- determination "through the free and genuine
expression of the will of the peoples of the territory." But when
Spain pulled out in 1976 it divided the territory between Morocco
and Mauritania. In a recent legal opinion, UN Legal Counsel Hans
Corell noted the agreement signed by the three countries "did not
transfer sovereignty over the territory, nor did it confer upon
any of the signatories the status of an administrative power," and
that it "did not affect the international status of Western Sahara
as a Non-Self-Governing Territory."
Polisario, which had led the struggle for independence against
Spain, rejected the partition and turned its military efforts
against Morocco and Mauritania. POLSIARIO declared the Saharawi
Arab Democratic Republic, which is now a member of the
Organization of African Unity. Much of the population of Western
Sahara fled the territory to Polisario run refugee camps in
Algeria. In July 1978 there was a coup in Mauritania. Two days
later Polisario declared a unilateral cease-fire with Mauritania.
In 1979 Mauritania formally abandoned its claim to Western Sahara.
Morocco immediately asserted a claim for the portion of Western
Sahara previously claimed by Mauritania.
The United Nations General Assembly has consistently considered the
issue of Western Sahara as one of decolonization and selfdetermination.
In 1980, it adopted a resolution that reaffirmed "the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to
self-determination and independence," and expressed "deep concern.
at the aggravation of the situation prevailing in Western Sahara
because of the continued occupation of that Territory by Morocco."
The holding of a referendum is the best possible way for the people
of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination
and is at the center of the 1991 UN settlement plan. We
understand the frustration of the Secretary-General and the
Security Council that over ten years have passed and it has not
been possible to hold the referendum. But the reason a referendum
has not been held is because of obstacles created by Morocco,
which has sought to pack the voter roll. During the past
twenty-six years, the government of Morocco, which exercises de
facto control over much of the territory, moved many of its own
citizens into the territory in the hope that, should a referendum
eventually be held, they would vote for an outcome favorable to
the government in Rabat.
The proposed framework agreement, drafted by the
Secretary-General's personal envoy James Baker as an alternative
to the current settlement plan, essentially gives sovereignty of
Western Sahara to Morocco without a proper test of the will of the
people of the territory. For five years the territory would have
limited local autonomy at which time a referendum would be held to
determine the final status of the territory. However, anyone who
has been resident in territory for one year will be able to vote
in this referendum, thus allowing Morocco to add all the settlers
it has brought into Western Sahara since 1975 to the voter roll.
This rewards Morocco for it years of intransigence. Moreover,
under the U.S. draft resolution this solution would be imposed on
the people of Western Sahara by the Security Council without any
test of their opinion.
Mr. Secretary, Western Sahara remains an issue of decolonization
and the people of Western Sahara have a legal right to
self-determination. After the U.S. regained its seat on the U
Human Rights Commission, Sichan Siv, the U.S. Representative to
the Economic and Social Council, said "Human rights is the
cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy." The U.S. should support the
right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and
the holding of a referendum. The proposed framework agreement
would deny that right.
Salih Booker, Africa Action
Bill Fletcher, TransAfrica
cc: His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United
Letter from President of the Saharawi Association of Madrid
Paseo Pintor Rosales, 40, Tercer Piso, Madrid 28008, Spain
May 1, 2002
The Honorable James Baker, III
Baker & Botts
1299 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 13 West
Washington, D.C. 20004
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I write in my capacity as president of the Saharawi Association of
Madrid. We met in the POLISARIO camps on your visit there after you
accepted Secretary General Kofi Annan's offer to represent him in
the U.N. peacekeeping mission for Western Sahara. There was at that
time quite a bit of skepticism about your willingness or ability to
take any action that would go against Morocco's interests. I for
one expressed confidence in you as fair and principled arbitrator
who would do the right thing, regardless of political pressures.
In Spanish we have the word decepcionada which means disappointed.
It is also close to the English word deceived. I am decepcionada,
disappointed with your recommendation to the General Assembly for
so-called autonomy for Western Sahara, and I have been deceived by
the great expectations you engendered in us when in fact your
"solution," if that¹s what we can call it, has made the situation
worse than it was when you arrived. A countryman of yours noted the
gap between the expectations you generated and the meagre results
you produced in the words of the Roman poet Horace: "The mountains
were in labor and a mouse was brought forth."
I am not going to argue the case for holding the referendum. Too
many others have done that more effectively than I ever could. As
far back as 1975 the World Court denied Morocco's right to Western
Sahara, and the Security Council has ordered the holding of a
referendum. The testimony of every independent observer from the NY
TIMES to Human Rights Watch has confirmed Morocco's efforts to
wreck that Referendum. As recently as this year, the General
Counsel of the U.N., Mr. Hans Correll, once again denied Morocco's
right to administer Western Sahara. And yet Morocco remains in
Western Sahara, fat and happy, and your country, which is selective
about those Security Council Resolutions it takes seriously, looks
the other way.
It was realpolitik in the Cold War, as then Ambassador Moynihan
pointed out in his memoirs, when the United States would side with
Morocco against the POLISARIO. The Cold War is over, but your
government continues to help a North African dictator holding on to
power by his fingernails frustrate the right of the people of
Western Sahara to determine their own future by referendum. It is
as if you learned nothing from Iran. You must know too that the
Referendum is a cause that is supported by fair-minded Americans,
Conservative Republicans as well as Democrats, in your country.
There have been rumors about the Kerr-McGee Oil Company coming to
Western Sahara and your interest in their activities. I give these
rumors short shrift. I am sorry to have to say that I see a much
more basic explanation. Through your failure in Western Sahara you
come across as a man without the courage to take on Morocco and do
the right and obvious thing. To paraphrase George Orwell, you must
have to be a diplomat to justify postponing the Referendum.
Ordinary people would have too much common sense.
You did well to say you would resign if the Security Council
rejected your proposal. It is what honorable people do when they
fail. But I see that like that actor, Alec Baldwin, who threatened
to move to England if President Bush were elected, you too have
reneged. More's the pity. You could at least have salvaged your
Forwarded by: Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara,
Polisario Remains Attached to Self-Determination And Referendum
Polisario Front (Brussels)
PRESS RELEASE April 30, 2002
At a time when the Security Council is discussing the report
presented to it by the UN Secretary General, it is of great
importance to recall that the POLISARIO Front remains attached to
right to self-determination of the Saharawi people and the path
leading to it, namely a free and democratic referendum on
As the UN Secretary General indicated in his report of last
February, the holding of such referendum has always been hindered
by Morocco. It is also to be recalled, especially by those who tend
to forget, that the so-called third way proposed in the "Framework
Agreement" is rejected squarely, both in its from and content,
because it overrides the inalienable right for which the Saharawi
people have been fighting for more than 28 years.
Furthermore, it aims to legitimise the illegal occupation of
Western Sahara by Morocco, thus constituting a gross denial of
justice that we reject categorically.
With regard to the discussion that is going on at the moment on the
question of Western Sahara, significant voices have been raised
within the Security in attempt to make the other members endorse an
arrangement that is nothing but an integration cloaked in the
proposed "Framework Agreement" without which, it is argued, the
mission of Mr James Baker would be compromised. In actual fact, all
this is nothing but an objectionable blackmail and an inadmissible
In spite of all respect that we have for the broker of Houston
Accords and for the efforts that he has been deploying in his
capacity as Personal Envoy for the UN Secretary General for Western
Sahara, we deem this "linkage" unacceptable.
The attempt that aims at giving more weight to the so-called third
way in order to justify the continuation of the mediation carried
out by Mr James Baker would again sacrifice the rights of an entire
people and deal a heavy blow to principles and international
legality with untenable arguments.
We have been extending our full cooperation to all UN bodies in
charge of the holding of the self-determination referendum.
However, in case those manoeuvres persist, the POLISARIO Front will
be obliged to reconsider its relations of cooperation with the
MINURSO, especially if attempts are made to entrust the UN mission
with a new mission rather than the holding of a self-determination
referendum for the Saharawi people.
By adopting this position, the mentors of the third way (The
Framework Agreement) are not contributing at all to the restoration
of peace and justice in the region. Quite the opposite, their
deliberate attempts contribute only to giving rise to tension and
maintaining a situation that could deteriorate at any moment.
Minister Counsellor and member of the National Secretariat of the
Security Council Extends Mandate of Its Mission
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 1, 2002
The United Nations Security Council extended on Tuesday the mandate
of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)
until 31 July to allow more time to examine Secretary-General Kofi
Annan's proposals to break the impasse over the
territory's future, UN News reported.
Council set up MINURSO in 1991 to implement a settlement plan
between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front, which has been fighting
for the independence of the former Spanish colony. The settlement
plan aims at allowing the people of Western Sahara to
decide through a referendum whether the territory should become
independent or remain part of Morocco. "Despite extensive
preparations, the conditions for holding the referendum have never
been met," UN News reported.
A major problem has been lack of agreement on who is eligible to
vote in this referendum. In his latest report on the situation,
Annan expressed hope that the Council would soon decide "how it
wishes to proceed with regard to the future of the peace
process in Western Sahara", UN News reported.
In another report to Council, Annan presented four options to
overcome the stalemate: The first would have the UN resume trying
to implement the 1988 settlement plan, even without the concurrence
of POLISARIO and Morocco; the second would have Annan's personal
envoy, James Baker III, try to revise the draft Framework Agreement
- with or without the agreement of the parties; the third would
give Baker mandate to discuss a possible division of the territory
with interested parties; and fourth would see the Council terminate
MINURSO due to the lack of progress.
"We cannot accept any kind of partition of our Sahara provinces,"
the Moroccan foreign minister, Mohammed Benaissa was reported by
the Morocco news agency as saying on Tuesday. In a related
development Tuesday, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard refuted media
reports that Baker had said he would resign if the Council failed
to give him a mandate to work on revising the draft Framework
Agreement, UN News reported.
Baker, Eckhard said, "favours any option that will give him a clear
mandate and which will have the support of the Security Council. He
is of the view that any option that the Security Council chooses,
should give the Secretary-General and his Personal
Envoy sufficient authority to try and resolve the long-standing
conflict over Western Sahara."
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.