of the Eastern European Alliance for the Solidarity with the Saharawi People
On February 27, the Polisario Front marked the 45th anniversary of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which it declared in 1976 to be the rightful government of the territory of Western Sahara. During the celebration the Polisario decried the continuing political impasse over the territory, which Morocco also claims.
The conﬂict dates back to 1975, when the departing colonial power, Spain, made a secret deal for the sparsely populated country to be partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania. France was also part of the deal: as a former colonial power in both Morocco and Mauritania, it had a strongly neocolonial relationship with both.
The partition was resisted by the Saharawi liberation movement the Polisario Front. It had begun an armed independence struggle against Spain a few years earlier, declaring the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario Front achieved a number of victories, their troops even reaching the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott. Mauritania and Western Sahara have been at peace since 1978, and Mauritania, like most African nations and the African Union, now recognizes the SADR.
However, Morocco, whose powerful armed forces were augmented by an increased ﬂow of arms from the United States, Israel, and other Western countries, in particular France, was able to seize about 80 percent of the country, including all of the coast, population centers, and resources. More than half of the Saharawi population ﬂed to refugee camps on the forty-one-kilometer-long border with Algeria, where they and their descendants still live. Algeria has allowed the SADR effective control of the refugee camps on the border, where at least 165,000 Saharawis live. While this population experiences extreme material deprivation — there is no electricity grid or running water in the camps, little agricultural potential, and virtually no economy — the camps are democratically run, highly egalitarian, and very socially cohesive. Cuban assistance has created a functioning health and education system, but UN food aid has not been adequate to meet nutritional needs.
During the 1980s Morocco constructed, with Israeli assistance, a 2700 km–long wall and mineﬁeld separating the occupied territories from the liberated zone under Polisario control.
After Morocco took control of Western Sahara, the Sahrawis faced mass displacement, and many now languish in desert camps, with few options but to depend on humanitarian aid. Now, they may be about to become even more vulnerable. Although Western Sahara has been in limbo for decades, a series of recent developments raises the specter of a new wave of violence, which could hurt the Sahrawis above all.
Last year, on November 13, the Polisario declared null and void the 1991 United Nations-backed ceasefire that ended a 16-year-long insurgency, leaving the SADR in control of about 20% of the territory and Morocco holding the rest. The Polisario cited Morocco’s deployment of troops in a UN-patrolled buffer zone to reopen an important road linking Moroccan-controlled areas of Western Sahara and neighboring Mauritania. The Polisario Front had blocked the road a month earlier, arguing that, because it did not exist at the time of the truce, it was illegal.
The cease-ﬁre was violated by the Moroccans, when they launched a military operation against Saharawi civilians. The cease-ﬁre is also redundant since the Moroccan army has opened breaches in the military wall, and in fact started building a new wall in the Guerguerat region.
The Western Sahara dispute has long been muddied by conflicting public perceptions. While the Polisario have worked hard to shape international public opinion in their favor, Morocco has remained largely silent. But Morocco’s quietly resolute approach has left room for the Polisario to pursue a wily policy of judicialization, using courts and legal mechanisms to shape answers to thorny moral and public-policy questions.
The law of occupation – a body of international humanitarian law – is not applicable. Of the 47 UN General Assembly resolutions on Western Sahara adopted since 1975, occupation was mentioned in only in 1979 and 1980, both of which were highly controversial. None of the 69 Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara makes any reference to occupation. These resolutions urged the parties to negotiate a political settlement, whether in the form of a straightforward independence referendum, as the Polisario demands, or an agreement to establish Western Sahara as an autonomous region, as Morocco has proposed. To that end, the Security Council has repeatedly extended the mandate of the UN Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara.
The Polisario Front is on the opinion that the UN hasn’t done enough to deliver the referendum. UN-led negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania as observers, have been suspended since early 2019. The status quo in Western Sahara – and the Maghreb more broadly – is not sustainable any more.
CEE Alliance is strongly condemns the various Moroccan violations, namely: the violations of the cease-ﬁre, the human rights violations, and the massive plundering of natural resources.
CEE Alliance declares that
1.) Morocco has no sovereignty over Western Sahara, it is a simple illegal occupying force;
2.) Western Sahara is the property of the Saharawis;
3.) it stands for the international legality and the Saharawi people’s rights!
Budapest, 14 March 2021
Matyas Benyik, Co-President of
CEE Alliance for Solidarity with
the Saharawi People