The Sahrawi of Western Sahara: The last colony in Africa

Published on Pambazuka News, by Konstantina Isidoros, Oct. 6, 2011.

The Western Sahara is the last country in Africa that has not been correctly decolonised – instead, the right of the Sahrawi people to post-colonial independence has been frozen in time,’ writes Konstantina Isidoros in introducing this special edition of Pambazuka News. ‘If we are to take the rule of international law as our guiding foundation, then Morocco has blatantly defied international law twice, by its illegal invasion of someone else’s sovereign territory and by its illegal occupation that still continues today.  

… The Sahrawi desert nomads of the Western Sahara have been waiting since 1975 for their fundamental human right to a simple vote – that of self-determination. As Spain chaotically began withdrawing its colonial presence from Western Sahara, Morocco abruptly claimed the country as its own and threatened to invade.

The United Nations (UN) asked the International Court of Justice ICJ to investigate. This highest court of law in the world delivered its legal opinion – Morocco had no valid claim to territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara, and the Sahrawi indigenous population were the rightful sovereign heirs of the territory. Morocco defied international law and invaded. As the Sahrawi nomads’ liberation movement, the Polisario Front, became locked in fierce war with Morocco, the UN issued a number of alarmed messages reiterating to Morocco that its actions were intolerable.

The Western Sahara is the last country in Africa that has not been correctly decolonised – instead, the right of the Sahrawi people to post-colonial independence has been frozen in time. If we are to take the rule of international law as our guiding foundation, then Morocco has blatantly defied international law twice, by its illegal invasion of someone else’s sovereign territory and by its illegal occupation that still continues today. The Sahrawi people have spent the last 36 years fighting off Morocco’s illegitimate presence on Sahrawi soil and contesting against Morocco’s refusal to cooperate in a UN-led self-determination process. Morocco knows that if it allows the self-determination vote to occur, the Sahrawi will most likely choose independence rather than remain under an illegal colonial military occupation.

The Sahrawi struggle for independence strikes at the heart of our core principles of law and human rights. Are they to be applied uniformly across the globe to safeguard human rights, or is it tolerable that some societies cannot have human rights?

Given the media silence on the geo-political importance of the Western Sahara conflict and the lack of consciousness of the plight of the Sahrawi people, this special issue of Pambazuka News has been developed to raise greater international awareness about the deception by certain Western governments and the European Union (as powerful members of the UN Security Council), and the failure of the United Nations itself it enforce its mandate. I hope that readers will be inspired to further explore the Sahrawi story and to join the international campaign groups and NGOs, and that students in disciplines such as international law, political science and anthropology may study the Western Sahara case and join a respected world-wide group of academics and scientists who are vociferously objecting to Morocco’s theft of sovereign territory, denial of human rights and exploitation of natural resources in a land it brutally occupies … (full long text).

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