Fahamu (Oxford)

14 June 2012

Morocco: Western Sahara - Realpolitik to the Rescue of Colonization?

opinion

Is it possible to cure cancer with aspirin? Can we do justice in a murder by relentlessly "assaulting" the victim's body looking for excuses to the murderer?

It may sound strange, yet it seems to be the remedy recommended by the UN, some powerful governments and "experts" when it comes to the question of Western Sahara.

How many times have we heard about the "need to find new ideas" to resolve the conflict or "a solution of no winner no looser"? And so, instead of applying international law, we are advised to tolerate abuses committed by powerful states or "protected" regimes, such as the Moroccan and the Israeli, so that they can get away with their crimes and get on top of it some benefit in hand.

In an analysis of the latest report of Ban Ki-Moon, published on the website "Affaires stratégiques.Info", dated May 29, the researcher Khadija Mohsen-Finan believes that "Morocco is deprived of the benevolence of the UN". She presented in effect the criticism this report addressed to the Moroccan position, accusing Rabat of being the source of obstacles hindering the resolution of the last conflict of decolonization in Africa.

The report indicated in fact that Rabat spies on the UN mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO; hinders the work of the UN mission and puts administrative constraints in front of its efforts; continues to violate human rights and maintains MINURSO in a position of incapacity to fulfil its initial mandate.

The report said Mrs. Mohsen-Finan "rightly wonders what is legitimate and what is legal in the action of Morocco in the Sahara, as it challenges us on the credibility of the UN mission..."

All this is true, and one can even say that this "sudden awareness" of the UN is very late, if we take into account the statements and criticism made since the 1990s by US Ambassador Frank Ruddy, Mr. Johans Manz (cited in the analysis of Khadija Mohsen-Finan) or Mr. Francisco Bastagli and other ex-officials and soldiers of MINURSO, who denounced those obstacles put by Morocco but fail to get any kind of response or reaction from the international organisation.

But this is not the purpose of this article. What seems really vague, just to avoid saying "fishy", is this new tendency of developing "new ideas" and introducing new "terminology" and "propositions", which certainly do not help to find the solution of the conflict, or may even make it more complicated, because they are turning attention away from real problems and seek to heal a "cancer of occupation" with "aspirin" that aim to calm the claims of an occupied and oppressed people.

BOUNDARIES OF THE MANDATE OF THE POLISARIO

The first of these ideas that began to appear in analysis and even in UN reports is nothing less than the attempt to propagate that the question of Western Sahara is a "sovereignty issue". This is a misconception, if at all innocent, since sovereignty over Western Sahara is "the exclusive competence of its people."

International law has recognized the people's exclusive right to exercise sovereignty over their territories and recognized them as the ultimate authority holding this competence. Since 1963, Western Sahara was recognized as a "Non-Self-Governing territory" where the "people of Western Sahara" alone have this right to sovereignty over their land. Furthermore, all the claims of Morocco in Western Sahara have been denied by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1975, by the General Assembly of the UN and by other international bodies when all of them recognized to the Sahrawis the "inalienable right to self-determination".

On the other hand, we should remember the legal opinion of the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Hans Corell, according to whom Morocco "does not even have the status of administering power in Western Sahara". That is to say that the Moroccan presence in this territory is a simple and bold act of illegal occupation following a military aggression.

Normally, the Saharawi question should be treated under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, if it was not the opposition of France that is keeping it debated under Chapter Six.

The second dangerous idea is nothing other than proposing "to associate the components of the Saharawi people in the negotiations" on the future of Western Sahara! This is a very attractive idea, as attractive as the repeated quote of "Arab Spring" in current UN documents, in the Security Council or the Council of Human Rights; even dictatorships start talking about Arab Spring!! The idea of associating "other components of Saharawi people" with negotiation was first proposed by Van Walsum, and then used by Ban Ki-moon in his latest reports, but also by Morocco, which is the last to be concerned about enabling peoples' participatory democracy.

The aim of this idea is nothing more than trying to question the legitimacy of representativeness of the Polisario Front to the Saharawi people.

Moreover, it seems that the UN is not very "comfortable" in its mediation because Polisario refuses to give up defending the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. The liberation movement is even accused of being rigid in this position! But the real question should normally be whether it can be less rigid when it comes to defending a people's right to freedom.

The Polisario Front was created by the Saharawi people in 1973 as their legitimate representative and was mandated (by this people) to struggle by all possible and legitimate means for the liberation of the Saharawi territory. It is not mandated to ensure that the aggressor gets out of this expansionist "adventure" with a part of the cake, to simplify the so-called "realist" analysis of "experts" who keep advising the Sahrawis to be reasonable, pragmatic and play by the rules of "realpolitik".

The task of the Polisario Front is not just to exercise a political mandate on behalf of its people, but also, and most difficult, to focus on the defense of international law and legality, and to fight for the respect of international humanitarian law. Because in the end, the right to self-determination is initially "a human right" and a constituting principle of the UN Charter, and if Polisario looses this fight, other people will loose it tomorrow when stronger regimes decide to break international law and invade smaller peoples, as Morocco is doing now in total impunity.

Malainin Lakhal is a Sahrawi journalist in exile in Algeria. He is the Secretary General of UPES: Sahrawi Journalists and Writers Union.

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