What you need to know:
- Disputed territory has suffered continuous turmoil
- Earlier this month, for instance, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI reportedly said the UN role there should remain unchanged, while also warning UN chief Ban Ki-moon of “perilous options” in the Western Sahara.
- Making the AU stand abundantly clear in April last year Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the AU Commission chairperson, stated that the AU has a clear position on Western Sahara, which has been on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963.
With the United Nations Security Council due to vote next Wednesday to renew the mandate of Minurso, its peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, global focus has shifted to territories annexed by Morocco in the 1970s.
Tucked away on the western fringes of the Sahara Desert on the Atlantic coast, the annexed territories include the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is associated with the Polisario Front and has for years struggled for autonomy from Morocco, which together with Mauritania invaded it in October 1975.
Formerly known as Spanish Sahara, the disputed region has since suffered continuous turmoil. Morocco has, however, remained highly sensitive to criticism of its policies in Western Sahara, most of whose territory it controls, and has been steadfast in its opposition to calls for widened democratic space for the region’s inhabitants.
Earlier this month, for instance, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI reportedly said the UN role there should remain unchanged, while also warning UN chief Ban Ki-moon of “perilous options” in the Western Sahara.
As if to further underscore its determination to maintain a stranglehold on Western Sahara, Morocco has been undertaking various muscle-flexing manoeuvres of late, prior to the April 23 Security Council vote regarding the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the territories.
In typical posturing, King Mohamed VI made a rare visit last Thursday to the Western Sahara, reportedly the first in many years. But despite Morocco’s efforts to maintain its stranglehold on its occupied territories, UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier this month called for “sustained, independent and impartial” monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara.
The call, made in a document presented to the Security Council, came amid reports that Morocco has in recent times come under mounting fire over its human rights record in 90 per cent of the territory it controls in Western Sahara.
The UN chief’s appeal was expected to stoke renewed debate about widening the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force.
Ironically, unlike UN peacekeeping forces elsewhere, Minurso, which has monitored a ceasefire between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front since 1991, is not charged with reporting on human rights, as advocated by rights activists and the Polisario for years.
In the meantime, the African Union has persistently shown keen interest in the Sahrawi issue. Many Western countries, on the other hand, have been reluctant to commit on the matter of the unconditional sovereignty of the Sahrawi republic, and in fact Morocco’s supporters have been a stumbling block with regard to the Security Council efforts to uphold its sovereignty and attend to human rights issues in Western Sahara as a whole.
Predictably, the AU has long accepted the SADR as a full member and has expressed shock at claims of repression in Western Sahara. The claims were contained in a report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights during the 21st Assembly of the Union.
Making the AU stand abundantly clear in April last year Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the AU Commission chairperson, stated that the AU has a clear position on Western Sahara, which has been on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963. She bluntly called on Morocco to end the occupation of Western Sahara and stop persecuting the Sahrawi people.
“The lasting solution to the disputed sovereignty of the SADR is to (accord) the people of Western Sahara the right to self-determination, as envisaged by the UN Declaration on Human Rights,” she said.
Following up on the matter earlier last week, Dlamini-Zuma underscored the clearly mounting interest in the region’s natural resources and called on all actors in the Western Sahara issue to “recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants. . . are paramount”.
Clearly, Morocco’s Western backers, including France, have had their own interests at heart, particularly with regard to economic resources said to be lurking in Western Sahara.
Still, the AU Commission Chairperson called on the UN Security Council to pursue the adoption of a recent report of the UN Secretary-General that seeks to extend the mandate of MINURSO until 30 April 2015, to give the much-needed impetus to the search for a solution to the conflict.
In the meantime, the interests of the estimated half million Sahrawi republic citizens seeking unconditional sovereignty