Saharawi women in the refugee camps in southern Algeria, protesting for the right of their people to self-determination and against the plunder of their natural resources. Credit: Saharawi Campaign Against the Plunder.
The UK must take the lead in resolving the Western Sahara conflict
Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. But the Saharawis, led by the POLISARIO front, fought and resisted till a ceasefire agreement was brokered by the United Nations (UN) in 1991. A UN peacekeeping mission to Western Sahara (MINURSO) was set up to organise a referendum on self-determination within six months but it has failed to do so.
Moreover, despite the human rights abuses faced by Saharawi citizens who remained in the occupied zone (torture, sexual violence, false imprisonment and unfair trials), the mission remains without a human rights mandate. Meanwhile, 170,000 refugees live in desert camps in southern Algeria seeing from afar their resources being plundered by the Moroccan state with the complicity of multinationals and Western governments.
The UK and other members of the UN Security Council will be meeting in late April and they will be discussing amongst other issues the four-decade long occupation of Western Sahara by the Moroccan monarchy.
In order to stop the human rights abuses, end the pillage of natural resources of Western Sahara and support the Saharawi struggle for self-determination; please write to your MP to urge the UK government to take a lead in the Security Council to resolve this conflict.
Western Sahara had been a Spanish colony from 1884-1885 till 1975. On 6th November 1975, the King of Morocco, Hassan II, launched the “Green March” where around 350,000 Moroccans crossed the border into the territory claiming it as part of Morocco. A week later, Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed a deathbed document dividing the Spanish Sahara between the two latter countries. Outraged by this, the Polisario Front declared war with both Morocco and Mauritania and proclaimed the independent state of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27th February 1976. As of 2017, SADR has been recognised by 84 UN member states and no other country in the world recognises Morocco's sovereignty on these territories.
By 1979, the Polisario succeeded in forcing the Mauritanians to declare Saharawi sovereignty over the southern territory but the heroic fighting against Moroccan troops continued till a ceasefire was brokered by the UN in 1991. A UN peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) was set up then to organise a referendum on Saharawi self-determination within six months. However, no referendum has been held and the peacekeeping mission has no mandate for monitoring human rights.
As a result of this unresolved conflict, around 170,000 refugees live in desert camps in southern Algeria while thousands of Saharawi citizens who remained in the occupied zone continue to face ongoing violations of their human rights at the hands of the Moroccan state. These include torture, sexual violence, false imprisonment and unfair trials.
The UK and other members of the European Union alongside multinationals continue to profit from trade deals with Morocco that include the resources of Western Sahara, despite legal opinions stating that this is illegal. It is time the UK fulfilled its responsibility and takes a lead in the UN Security Council to resolve this conflict.