news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: 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

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

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 Information Network.

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:> and>

Additional background on the involvement of U.S. oil company KerrMcGee in Western Sahara is available at:

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Joint Letter to U.S. Department of State on Western Sahara Africa Action and TransAfrica, May 2, 2002

Africa Action (
TransAfrica (

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 mines.

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 Nations

Letter from President of the Saharawi Association of Madrid
Carmen Diaz-Llanos

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 honor.


Carmen Diaz-Llanos

Forwarded by: Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara,

Available on

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 self-determination.

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 pressure.

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.

Mohamed SIDATI,

Minister Counsellor and member of the National Secretariat of the POLISARIO Front

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.

URL for this file: