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Political status of Western Sahara

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Western Sahara, formerly the Spanish colony of Spanish Sahara, is a disputed territory claimed by both the Kingdom of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), which is an independence movement based in Algeria. The Annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco took place in two stages, in 1976 and 1979, and is considered illegal under international law.

Western Sahara is listed by the United Nations (UN) as a non-decolonized territory and is thus included in the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories. Under international law, Western Sahara is not a legal part of Morocco and it remains under the international laws of military occupation.[1]

Background

Since the Madrid Accords of 1975, a part of Western Sahara has been administered by Morocco as the Southern Provinces. Another section, the Liberated Territories, is administered by the Polisario Front as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Mauritania administers the western half of the Ras Nouadhibou Peninsula. A UN-monitored cease-fire has been in effect since September 1991.

While no other country than the United States has ever recognized Morocco's unilateral annexation of Western Sahara,[2][3] a number of countries have expressed their support for a future recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory as an autonomous part of the Kingdom. There is, for instance, a de facto recognition of the Moroccan claim on the part of some countries such as the case of the United Kingdom. Although the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) treats the status of Western Sahara as 'undetermined', its lack of reference to its current effective partition, considering the existence of the Polisario-held areas, indicates an acceptance of Morocco as the administering power in the entire territory.[4] Overall, the annexation has not garnered as much attention in the international community as many other disputed annexations (e.g. the Russian annexation of Crimea).

In order to resolve the sovereignty issue, the UN has attempted to hold a referendum through the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and is holding direct talks between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. The UN recognizes neither Moroccan[5] nor SADR sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Moroccan settlers currently make up more than two thirds of the 500,000 inhabitants of Western Sahara.[6] Under international law, Morocco's transfer of its own civilians into occupied territory is in direct violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (cf. Israeli and Turkish settlers).[7]

Positions of the main parties

Kingdom of Morocco

The official position of the Kingdom of Morocco since 1963 is that all of Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom. The Moroccan government refers to Western Sahara only as "Moroccan Sahara", the "Saharan provinces"[citation needed], or the "Southern Provinces".

According to the Moroccan government, in 1958 the Moroccan Army of Liberation fought Spanish colonizers and almost liberated what was then Spanish Sahara.[citation needed] The fathers of many of the Polisario leaders were among the veterans of the Moroccan Southern Army, for example the father of Polisario leader Mohammed Abdelaziz. Morocco is supported in this view[clarification needed] by a number of former Polisario founders and leaders. The Polisario Front is considered by Morocco to be a Moroccan separatist movement, referring to the Moroccan origins of most of its founding members.

On 22 January 2020, Morocco's House of Representatives voted unanimously to add Western Sahara waters to the Moroccan maritime borders.[8]

Polisario Front and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

The Polisario Front, mainly backed by Algeria, is described by itself and its supporters as a national liberation movement that opposes Moroccan control of Western Sahara, whilst it is considered by Morocco and supporters of Morocco's claims over the Western Sahara to be a separatist organization. It began as a movement of students who felt torn between the divergent Spanish and Moroccan influences on the country. The original goal of the Polisario, which was to end Spanish colonialism in the region, was achieved, but their neighbours, Morocco and Mauritania, seized sovereignty of the region, which the Polisario felt was entitled to self-determination and eventually independence. The Polisario engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Moroccan and Mauritanian forces. It evacuated the Sahrawi population to the Tindouf refugee camps due to Royal Moroccan Air Force bombing of the refugee camps on Sahrawi land with napalm and white phosphorus.[9][10] The Polisario Front has called for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara to be decided through a referendum. Although the SADR is not recognized as a state by the UN, the Polisario is considered a direct participant in the conflict and as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, recognized by the United Nations since 1979.[11]

Polisario-held territory east of the Moroccan Wall (red)[12]

The Polisario Front argues that Morocco's position is due to economical interests (fishing, phosphate mining, and the potential for oil reserves) and political reasons (stability of the king's position and the governing elite in Morocco, deployment of most of the Moroccan Army in Western Sahara instead of in Morocco). The Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Bir Lehlou (Western Sahara), on 27 February 1976.

Mauritania

Claims on Western Sahara had proliferated since the 1960s, fuelled by Mauritanian President Moktar Ould Daddah. Before Mauritania signed the Madrid Accords and after the withdrawal of the last Spanish forces, in late 1975, the Mauritanian Army invaded the southern part of Western Sahara, while the Moroccan Army did the same in the north. In April 1976, Mauritania and Morocco partitioned the country into three parts, Mauritania getting the southern one, which was named Tiris al-Gharbiyya. Mauritania waged four years of war against Polisario guerrillas, conducting raids on Nouakchott, attacks on the Zouerate mine train and a coup d'état that deposed Ould Daddah. Mauritania finally withdrew in the summer of 1979, after signing the Algiers Agreement with the Polisario Front, recognizing the right of self-determination for the Sahrawi people, and renouncing any claims on Western Sahara. The Moroccan Army immediately took control of the former Mauritanian territory. Mauritania recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27 February 1984.

Algeria

Algeria has supported the independence of the whole of Western Sahara since 1975, when Spanish forces and settlers withdrew from the area. It is one of the few countries to do so in the Arab League. It has provided aid to the 'Polisario Front'. Algeria's role became indirect, through political and military support for the Polisario Front. Algeria recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 6 March 1976. Its involvement in Western Sahara independence movement has interrupted the development of Algerian-Morocco diplomatic relations, which were restored in 1988.[13]

United Nations

A demonstration in Bilbao for the independence of the Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories. The UN has been involved since 1988 in trying to find a solution to the conflict through self-determination. In 1988, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to settle the dispute through a referendum under the auspices of the UN that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. In 1991, the parties agreed upon the Settlement Plan, contingent on the referendum being held the following year, but due to disputes over voter qualification, the vote was not held. In the following years, the UN argued for negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front to resolve the deadlock, culminating in the Manhasset negotiations in 2007–2008. As of 2020, the mandate for MINURSO has been extended 47 times[14] and it maintains its presence in the country, but has yet to fulfill its mission by organizing a referendum.

Positions of other states

  Supports or appreciates Morocco's autonomy proposal
  Maintains diplomatic relations with or recognizes the Sahrawi Republic
  Recognizes the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, but does not recognize the SADR nor maintain diplomatic relations with it
  Withdrew or froze recognition of the SADR without expressing support for Morocco's claim
  Has not expressed any position or has expressed conflicting opinions

Some states are supportive of the "right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people", including the option of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.[15] Some states have changed their opinion frequently or have given separate announcements of support for both Morocco and the Polisario Front/SADR (Egypt, Italy, Lesotho, Russia, Rwanda, Yemen, etc.).[16][17][18][19][20][21][22]

Some of the states announcing support of the "right of self-determination" currently recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Not all of the states that have terminated diplomatic relations with or withdrawn recognition of the SADR have announced their support for the Moroccan claims.

The overwhelming majority of United Nation member states have not announced any position.

States supporting Polisario and the SADR on Western Sahara

# State Notes International membership References
1  Algeria African Union African Union member

Arab League Arab League member

[23][24][25]
2  Angola African Union African Union member [24][26][27]
3  Belize [28][29]
4  Bolivia [30][24]
5  Botswana African Union African Union member [31][32]
6  Cambodia ASEAN ASEAN member [33][34]
7  Colombia [35][36]
8  Cuba [29][37][38]
9  East Timor [23][24][39]
10  Ecuador [40][41][42][43]
11  Ethiopia African Union African Union member [44][45][46]
12  Ghana African Union African Union member [47][48][49]
13  Honduras [50][51]
14  Iran [52][24]
15  Kenya African Union African Union member [53][54][55][56]
16  Laos ASEAN ASEAN member [57][34]
17  Lesotho African Union African Union member [24][58][59]
18  Libya African Union African Union member

Arab League Arab League member

[60][34]
19  Mali African Union African Union member [61]
20  Mauritania African Union African Union member

Arab League Arab League member

[62][34]
21  Mauritius African Union African Union member [63][64]
22  Mexico [32][65][43][66]
23  Mozambique African Union African Union member [24][67][68]
24  Namibia African Union African Union member [69][70][71][72]
25  Nicaragua [29][43][73]
26  Nigeria African Union African Union member [65][74]
27  North Korea [75]
28  Panama [43][76][77]
29  Peru [78][43][79]
30  Rwanda African Union African Union member [61][80][81]
31  Seychelles African Union African Union member [82][83][84]
32  South Africa African Union African Union member [23][85][86]
 South Ossetia State with limited recognition by UN as part of Georgia.[87] [88][89]
33  South Sudan African Union African Union member [90][91]
34  Syria Arab League Arab League member [92][93]
35  Tanzania African Union African Union member [94][65][95]
36  Trinidad and Tobago [94]
37  Uganda African Union African Union member [94][65][96]
38  Uruguay [32][65][97][98]
39  Vanuatu [99][100][101]
40  Venezuela [23][102][103]
41  Vietnam ASEAN ASEAN member [104][105]
42  Zimbabwe African Union African Union member [24][106]

States supporting Morocco's autonomy proposal

  States that have recognised the Western Sahara as part of the Kingdom of Morocco through official announcement.
  States that have withdrawn, frozen or suspended their recognition of the SADR.
# State Notes[a] Diplomatic mission[b] References
1  Antigua and Barbuda [107][108]
2  Azerbaijan [109][better source needed][110]
3  Bahrain Arab League Arab League member 14 December 2020[111] [112][113][better source needed][114][115][116]
4  Burkina Faso African Union African Union member 23 October 2020[117][better source needed][118][119] [120][118]
5  Burundi African Union African Union member 28 February 2020[121][better source needed][115] [122][115][120]
6  Cape Verde African Union African Union member [123]
7  Central African Republic African Union African Union member 23 January 2020[124][better source needed][119][122] [120]
8  Comoros African Union African Union member
Arab League Arab League member
18 December 2019[125] [126][120]
9  Democratic Republic of the Congo African Union African Union member 19 December 2020[127][better source needed][122] [120]
10  Djibouti African Union African Union member
Arab League Arab League member
28 February 2020[128] [120]
11  Dominica [129][130][131]
12  Equatorial Guinea African Union African Union member 23 October 2020[132][better source needed][122] [122][119][115][120]
13  Eswatini African Union African Union member 27 October 2020[133] [122][119][115][120]
14  France European Union EU member [134]
15  Gabon African Union African Union member 17 January 2020[135] [122][119][120]
16  Gambia African Union African Union member 7 January 2020[136] [120]
17  Grenada [137][131]
18  Guatemala [138][failed verification][139][140][141]
19  Guinea African Union African Union member 17 January 2020[142] [120]
20  Guinea-Bissau African Union African Union member 23 October 2020[143][better source needed][122] [120]
21  Haiti 12 December 2020[144] [114][115]
22  Hungary European Union EU member [145]
23  Israel [146][147][148]
24  Ivory Coast African Union African Union member 18 February 2020[149][better source needed][122][119] [120][131]
25  Jordan Arab League Arab League member 4 March 2021[150] [151]
26  Kiribati [152]
27  Kuwait Arab League Arab League member [153]
28  Liberia African Union African Union member 12 March 2020[154][better source needed][122][119] [120]
29  Malawi African Union African Union member 29 July 2021[155] [156][better source needed][115]
30  Maldives [157]
31  Netherlands European Union EU member [158][159]
32  Oman Arab League Arab League member [160][better source needed][115]
33  Papua New Guinea [161][better source needed][162][163][131]
34  Poland European Union EU member [164][failed verification]
35  Qatar Arab League Arab League member [165][166]
36  Romania European Union EU member [167][168]
37  Saint Lucia [169][131][170]
38  Sao Tome and Principe African Union African Union member 23 January 2020[171][better source needed][119][122] [119][122][120]
39  Saudi Arabia Arab League Arab League member [172][165]
40  Senegal African Union African Union member 5 April 2021[173] [120]
41  Serbia [174][better source needed][175]
42  Sierra Leone African Union African Union member 1 September 2021[176] [177][178]
43  Somalia African Union African Union member
Arab League Arab League member
[179][180][120]
44  Spain European Union EU member [181]
45  Suriname 30 May 2022[182] [183]
46  Togo African Union African Union member 9 June 2022[citation needed] [120][184]
47  United Arab Emirates Arab League Arab League member 4 November 2020[165][115] [115][119][185]
48  United States [186][187]
49  Zambia African Union African Union member 27 October 2020[133][119] [119][115][122][120]

Position of United Nations Security Council permanent members

France

France claims neutrality on the Western Sahara issue, despite its military involvement in the Western Sahara War on the side of Morocco and Mauritania (see Operation Lamantin). In 2009[188][189] and 2010,[190][191] France used the threat of its veto power to block the establishment of Human Rights monitoring by the MINURSO in Western Sahara. France has been a major backer of the Moroccan autonomy proposal and in the EU negotiated the concession of the advanced status to Morocco.[192][193]

United States
Photo of Former Assistant Secretary of State, David Welch (2005–2008) who in 2007 expressed strong support for Morocco and its autonomy plan in the conflict over Western Sahara, calling the plan a "serious and credible" solution.[194]

The Obama administration disassociated itself from the Moroccan autonomy plan in 2009, however, reversing the Bush-backed support of the Moroccan plan, and returning to a pre-Bush position, wherein the option of an independent Western Sahara is on the table again.[195] In April 2009, 229 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a clear majority and more than 50 more than the number who signed the letter[clarification needed] in 2007, called on President Obama to support Morocco's autonomy plan and to assist in drawing the conflict to a close. The signers[clarification needed] included Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Minority Leader John Boehner. In addition to acknowledging that Western Sahara has become a recruiting post for radical Islamists, the letter affirmed that the conflict is "the single greatest obstacle impending the security and cooperation necessary to combat" terrorism in the Maghreb.[196] The letter referenced UN Security Council Resolution 1813 (2008), and encouraged President Obama to follow the policy set by President Clinton and followed by President Bush.[196] The congressmen expressed concerns about Western Sahara's viability. They referenced a UN fact-finding mission to Western Sahara which confirmed the State Department's view that the Polisario proposal, which ultimately stands for independence, would lead to a non-viable state.[196] In closing, the letter stated, "We remain convinced that the U.S. position, favoring autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution. We urge you to both sustain this longstanding policy, and to make clear, in both words and actions, that the United States will work to ensure that the UN process continues to support this framework as the only realistic compromise that can bring this unfortunate and longstanding conflict to an end."[196] Commenting on a 2004 free trade agreement with Morocco, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stated in a letter to Congressman Joe Pitts in response to his questioning, "the United States and many other countries do not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and have consistently urged the parties to work with the United Nations to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. The Free Trade Agreement will not include Western Sahara."[197][198]

In April 2013, the United States proposed that MINURSO monitored human rights (as all the other UN mission since 1991) in Western Sahara, a move that Morocco strongly opposed, cancelling the annual African Lion military exercises with U.S. Army troops.[199] Also in mid-April, United States Ambassador to Morocco Samuel L. Kaplan declared during a conference in Casablanca that the Moroccan autonomy plan "can't be the only basis in these negotiations", referring to the UN sponsored talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco.[200]

On 10 December 2020, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would officially recognize Morocco's claims over Western Sahara, as a result of Morocco agreeing to normalize relations with Israel.[201]

States which have not announced any position

The following states and entities have not announced any position:

Positions of international organizations

Organization Membership Position
African Union (Formerly OAU) 22 February 1982 The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a fully recognized AU founding member.[202] The African Union supports the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people.[203]
Flag of the Andean Community of Nations.svg Andean Community of Nations 26 October 2011 (Observer) The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is an Observer member in the framework of the Andean Parliament.[204][205]
Arab League Arab League Not a member. The Arab League supports "the integrity of the Moroccan territorial sovereignty" without specifying a position on a solution to the conflict.
Emblem of Maghreb.svg Arab Maghreb Union Not a member. The Arab Maghreb Union has not made a unanimous statement about its position on the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
Flag of CARICOM.svg Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Not a member. The CARICOM supports the right of the Western Sahara people's to self-determination, consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations.[206]
Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Not a member. The CELAC supports efforts by all parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the right of self-determination for the inhabitants.[29]
Flag of Europe.svg European Union Not a member. The EU supports the efforts by the Secretary General of the United Nations and his Personal Envoy to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution which will allow the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara as provided for in the resolutions of the United Nations.[207][208]
Non-Aligned Movement Not a member. The NAM supports the right of the Western Sahara people's to self-determination, consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960.[209]
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Not a member. The OIC supports the achievement of a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara consistent with relevant resolutions
Rio Group Not a member. The Rio Group supports the resolutions adopted by the UN to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution that leads to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, in the context of compatible accords with the principles of the UN charter and the Resolution 1514 (XV) of the General Assembly and other pertinent resolutions.[210][211]
Flag of UNASUR.svg Union of South American Nations Not a member. The UNASUR supports for the achievement of a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara consistent with relevant resolutions.[29]
 United Nations Not a member. The UN does not recognize Moroccan claims, as the Western Sahara remains in its list of non-self-governing territories since 1963. The Security Council had argued for direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front.[212] It had approved more than 100 resolutions supporting the right of Self-determination of the Sahrawi people.[citation needed]

The SADR is also a member of the Asian-African Strategic Partnership, formed at the 2005 Asian-African Conference, over Moroccan objections to SADR participation.[213]

In 2006, the SADR participated in a conference of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of the Latin American and the Caribbean.[214]

African Union

On 22 February 1982, the SADR secured membership in the Organisation of African Unity.[215]

In 1984, Morocco withdrew from the AU's predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in protest of the group's recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).[citation needed]

The African Union (formerly the OAU) has given the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic full recognition,[202] and accepted it as a member state (which has led Morocco to leave the union.[216]). Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the SADR, has been vicepresident of the OUA in 1985, and of the AU in 2002.[citation needed]

In 2016, King Mohammed VI of Morocco declared his country's intention to become a member of the African union. On the same day, twenty eight African countries or about 52% of the 54 UN recognized member states of the African Union signed a petition to expel the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the African Union.[120][217] At the same time, AU Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reaffirmed the AU's support for Western Sahara's independence.[217]

European Union

The European Union supports the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people (the MINURSO UN-sponsored referendum),[218] but does not recognize the Polisario Front.[219] Over practical issues such as fishing in the EEZ the EU deals with Morocco as the country currently exercising "jurisdiction, but not sovereignty" over the Western Sahara territory.[220] In addition, members of the EFTA trade bloc have made statements excluding the Western Sahara from the Moroccan-EFTA free trade agreement.[221] In December 2016, the European Court of Justice reaffirmed in Council v Front populaire pour la libération de la saguia-el-hamra et du rio de oro (Front Polisario) that Morocco has no basis for sovereignty over Western Sahara[222] and that trade deals with Morocco cannot apply to the occupied territory.[223]

United Nations

Since 1966, the United Nations request for the celebration of a referendum for enabling the "indigenous population" to exercise freely their right to self-determination.[224] Since 1979, the United Nations has recognized the Polisario Front as the representative of the people of Western Sahara, and considered Morocco as an occupying force.[11]

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed, in his last report on Western Sahara, to the Security Council:

"The Security Council would not be able to invite parties to negotiate about Western Saharan autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, for such wording would imply recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, which was out of the question as long as no States Member of the United Nations had recognized that sovereignty".[225]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Major Regional Organization Members.
  2. ^ The dates when countries had consulates in either Dakhla or Laayoune, Western Sahara.

References

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  10. ^ Tomás Bárbulo, La historia prohibida del Sáhara Español, Destino, Imago mundi, Volume 21, 2002, Pages 284–285
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Bibliography

  • Hodges, Tony. Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War, Lawrence Hill & Company, 1983, ISBN 0-88208-152-7, p. 308
  • Hodges, Tony, and Pazzanita, Anthony. Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara, 2 ed., Scarecrow Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8108-2661-5, pp. 378–379.

External links

Tables of states recognizing the SADR