- Western Sahara is a Non-Self-Governing Territory (NSGT) pending decolonisation. Its people have an inalienable right to self-determination and independence as stipulated in the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
- In keeping with the norms of international law, the United Nations has never recognised either Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara or its subsequent occupation of the territory, which has been ongoing for over 40 years. Morocco’s lack of sovereignty over Western Sahara has repeatedly been acknowledged by judicial bodies, including in the 1975 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the 2002 legal opinion of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs. International law clearly stipulates that Morocco lacks all legal authority over Western Sahara, and is in fact an occupying power, as reiterated in General Assembly resolutions 34/37 of 21 November 1979 and 35/19 of 11 November 1980, among other relevant resolutions.
- The decolonisation of Western Sahara will only be complete when the people of Western Sahara are granted the opportunity to determine their own future. General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) states clearly that the complete decolonisation of the Territory can only be achieved through the free exercise of the Sahrawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It was on this basis that the two parties to the conflict—the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco—accepted the Settlement Plan mediated by the United Nations and the Organisation of the African Union (OAU) in 1988.
- According to the Settlement Plan, both parties jointly agreed to “the holding of a referendum without military or administrative constraints to enable the people of Western Sahara, in the exercise of their right to self-determination, to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.” (para. 1; S/21360 of 18 June 1990). To organise and conduct the referendum and monitor the ceasefire, in 1991 the Security Council established the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which operates to this day.
- Despite agreeing to a referendum, Morocco repeatedly stymied efforts to allow the people of Western Sahara to freely exercise their right to self-determination. In 2002, Morocco openly declared its refusal to abide by the Settlement Plan (para. 48; S/2002/178 of 19 February 2002). Ever since, Morocco has consistently moved to thwart any free, democratic, UN-supervised referendum, clearly fearing that when given the choice, the people of Western Sahara would choose independence.
- Faced with Morocco’s intransigence, the UN Security Council sought to deliver a referendum by supporting a UN-led political process of negotiations. On 30 April 2007, the Security Council adopted resolution 1754 (2007), calling on the two parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. In line with Security Council resolution 1754 (2007) and subsequent Security Council resolutions, four rounds of formal negotiations and nine rounds of informal talks were held between the two parties under UN auspices between 2007 and 2012. Negotiations failed to achieve any substantive progress, however, due to Morocco’s insistence on denying Sahrawis’ right to self-determination.
- Morocco’s efforts to derail the political process were matched by efforts to undermine the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and to eliminate any chance of holding a free and fair referendum on self-determination. In March 2016, Morocco expelled the civilian component of MINURSO, drastically diminishing its ability to carry out its functions. To further solidify its occupation, in August 2016, Morocco also moved part of its military personnel out of the Moroccan illegal military wall to the Buffer Strip in Guerguerat in southern Western Sahara, in direct violation of the terms of the 1991 ceasefire and Military Agreement No 1. To date the situation in Guerguerat remains tense due to Morocco’s illegal activities and frequent incursions into the Buffer Strip.
- As Morocco tightens its illegal occupation, it continues to perpetrate massive violations of human rights against Sahrawi civilians, including women, men, children and the elderly. Arbitrary arrest, torture and beatings are common abuses perpetrated by Moroccan authorities against the civilian Sahrawi population. Some of these violations have been documented by international and African human rights organisations, but the vast majority are perpetrated away from international scrutiny, due to the strict media blackout and military blockade imposed on the Sahrawi occupied territories. Despite repeated calls by international human rights advocates and the Sahrawi people, the UN Security Council has failed to authorise MINURSO to monitor human rights violations in Western Sahara.
- Key to Morocco’s occupation is its persistent exploitation and plundering of Sahrawi natural resources. Such exploitation often occurs in complicity with foreign entities, which fail to consult and seek the consent of the Sahrawi people. Such actions brazenly violate international law, as was recently confirmed in the landmark judgement delivered by the European Court of Justice in December 2016, which determined that Western Sahara and Morocco are two “distinct and separate” territories. According to the ruling, EU and Morocco cannot include, either de jure or de facto, Western Sahara in their trade relations without the prior consent of the Sahrawi people.
- Morocco remains the world’s largest producer and exporter of cannabis according to the U.S. Department of State (INCSR 2018), among others. Tons of Moroccan drugs are being smuggled every day into the region and beyond and are emerging as a major source of funding for transnational terrorist groups operating in the Sahel-Sahara. In particular, the well-documented involvement of the Moroccan military in drug and human trafficking, involving fellow Africans, across the Moroccan illegal military wall represents a major concern as Morocco illegally uses the occupied territories of Western Sahara for these illicit purposes. The Frente POLISARIO continues all efforts to combat drug and human smuggling in the region and is coopering with the neighbouring countries to this effect.
- The Frente POLISARIO continues to work to achieve the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, and welcomes the efforts of the Security Council to make progress towards this objective. It therefore welcomed the 27 April 2018 resolution adopted by the UN Security Council (resolution 2414), which extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for a period of six months. The short renewal period and the emphasis laid by the Security Council on the resumption of negotiations between the two parties without preconditions and in good faith represented a clear and strong message to Morocco, which had always subjected any engagement in the negotiations to preconditions, and had continuously impeded the UN peace process.
- Under the supervision of the then-Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General (PESG) former President of Germany, Mr Horst Köhler, the two parties met twice in Geneva in December 2018 and March 2019. Delegations from the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania, were also in attendance. The UN-led process created a rare source of hope amongst the Sahrawi population, which believed that a genuine process of self-determination could be at hand. The intransigence exhibited by the Moroccan delegation during the talks, however, quickly undermined any chance for making progress on the substantive issues, or in building confidence between the two parties. On 22 May 2019, President Horst Köhler resigned, bringing the UN peace process to a standstill.
- While the UN process has been stalled, the African Union (AU)—of which the Sahrawi Republic (SADR) is a founding member—has shown growing leadership on the issue of Western Sahara, in an effort to free Africa’s last colony. The AU’s principled position regarding Western Sahara was set into motion with its resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) of 1983, which was endorsed by the General Assembly resolutions 39/40 of 1984 and 40/50 of 1985. This position was further consolidated after Morocco was admitted as a new member of the Union in January 2017. At the 31st Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, held in Nouakchott, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, from 1 to 2 July 2018, the AU stressed the need for renewed efforts to overcome the impasse in the negotiation process and to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in line with relevant AU decisions and UN Security Council resolutions. To this end, the AU decided to establish an African Union Mechanism comprising the AU Troika and the Chairperson of the AU Commission to extend effective support to the UN-led efforts. The Sahrawi Republic (SADR) welcomed the decision that represented a proactive contribution to the search for a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara in line with the African Union’s Constitutive Act as well as relevant OAU/AU and UN resolutions.
I. Western Sahara remains a Non-Self-Governing Territory inscribed on the agenda of the Special Political and Decolonisation Committee of the UN General Assembly (IV Committee) as a decolonisation issue, in accordance with Chapter XI of the UN Charter. The General Assembly therefore has full responsibility for completing the decolonisation of the Territory through the free expression of the sovereign will of the Sahrawi people by means of a referendum for self-determination under UN auspices.
II. Consistent with the UN Charter and General Assembly resolutions (Res. 742 (VIII) of 1953 and 1514 and 1541 of 1960), the General Assembly has exclusive competence to validate the application of the right to self-determination and to decide when a Non-Self-Governing Territory has exercised self-determination in an open and democratic process. Consequently, as long as the General Assembly has not validated the exercise by the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence in line with the General Assembly relevant resolutions, Western Sahara remains a Non-Self-Governing Territory with all the legal consequences derived from this status. It is worth noting that the condition of Western Sahara being both a Non-Self-Governing Territory and an occupied Territory is compatible with international law and practice.
III. As long as Western Sahara is listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, Spain remains the de jure Administering Power of the Territory as confirmed by La Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish National High Court) in its ruling of 4 July 2014.
IV. Any attempt to strip the Western Sahara issue from its internationally established status as a decolonisation case in order to legitimise the status quo is very dangerous and strikes at the heart of the UN Charter, namely the right to self-determination and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory. It will also have serious implications for regional peace and security. The Frente POLISARIO and the Sahrawi people will never accept such a move.
V. As the successor to the OAU that was the initiator of the UN-led peace process in Western Sahara, the African Union (AU) remains a full partner of the UN and guarantor of the implementation of the UN-OAU Settlement Plan. Its contributions to the decolonisation process of Western Sahara, the last Non-Self-Governing Territory in Africa, should be recognised and fully implemented.
VI. It is imperative that the General Assembly set a date for the holding of the self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara. Any delay in enabling the Sahrawi people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence will only complicate the situation on the ground and risk further destabilising an already volatile situation in the region.