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Emhamed Khadad: Free Western Sahara

Free Western Sahara

By Emhamed Khadad

In the coming days, the United Nations is scheduled to debate the fate of Africa's last colony. Since it was illegally invaded by Moroccan troops in 1975, Western Sahara and its indigenous people known as the Sahrawis have been fighting the torpid responses of the global community and the aggressive policies of the Moroccan monarchy. Western Sahara must be brought out of the margins and into the light.

Up for discussion will be the extension of the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso). This mandate was struck in 1991, as part of a cease-fire agreement between the Moroccan government and the Western Sahara independence movement, Polisario.

The basis of this mandate is to oversee a peaceful transitional period leading up to a referendum on the status of Western Sahara, which will allow voters to consider the alternative options of autonomy under Moroccan jurisdiction or full independence. This referendum is the foundation of the U.N.'s intention to allow full self-determination of the Sahrawi people's future.

During Minurso's 17 years, there have been numerous diversionary debates, such as Morocco's disputes over voter registrations, which have served to suck the air out of the issue.

A critical foundation to this excruciating delay is the deference given to Morocco, which has served to entrench its illegal annexation of Western Sahara. The monarchical state has managed to cozy up to the U.S. as a major Islamic ally on the "War on Terror" and has been given plenty of distance to wage its internecine war on the Sahrawi people.

France has also provided hollow esteem to Morocco, as it seeks to hold onto some tatters of its Maghreb colonial empire by embracing Rabat.

With such powerful bedmates, Morocco has worked to ensure the issue of Western Sahara does not become anything more than a topic of debate. The U.N. in turn has allowed Rabat serially to renege on agreements, to turn its back on commitment after commitment, and to hold the U.N. and its efforts in contempt.

The fact is that, should Morocco succeed in enforcing autonomy on the people of Western Sahara without a referendum, it will be in direct contravention of not only the U.N.'s own model of decolonization – as embodied in East Timor in 1999 for instance – but of basic international law as well.

The core of the issue is that Western Sahara has never been recognized as being part of Morocco by any country or international body. It's a position confirmed in an advisory ruling by the International Court of Justice, which concluded Morocco has no valid legal claims on Western Sahara.

By contrast, Western Sahara's indigenous government, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, is recognized by 80 countries and is a member of the African Union.

"Offering" an autonomy arrangement therefore to an illegally occupied region, complete with its own functioning political, social and economic infrastructure independent of the occupier, is utterly devoid of logic and undermines the very foundation of Minurso and of the U.N. itself.

A democratic proposal has been made, backed by the U.N. in the 1991 peace plan, and agreed upon by both Morocco and Polisario. That plan envisages, as the final stage of the process, a full referendum on self-determination.

All that is needed now is for the U.N. through Minurso to ensure Morocco keeps to its previous commitments. Any other outcome would be a victory for political expediency, and not a sustainable solution in the name of good governance and democracy.

The mission must therefore be extended but given the means to overcome the self-serving agendas of the Moroccan monarchy and its powerful friends. It must be mandated to respect human rights. It must include a firm timeframe in which to prepare for the organization of a just and fair referendum of self-determination to give a chance to the Sahrawi to decide their future in accordance with the U.N. resolutions.

Western Sahara has suffered in the margins of global awareness for three decades. It is surely time to take Minurso further and to recognize the needs of Western Sahara.


Mr. Khadad is a leader of the Polisario, Western Sahara's independence movement, and is its coordinator with the U.N.

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