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A thematic report from the Norwegian Refugee Council, issue 2/2008

Western Sahara

Occupied country,
­displaced people ›› 2
Western Sahara>Background

OCCUPIED COUNTRY, DISPLACED PEOPLE Western Sahara – Africa’s last colony

More than 80 former colonies have ent on international aid. However, What use is it to have right on your
gained independence since the UN this aid has constantly diminished side if you do not get justice? While the Sahrawis wait for their rights to be respected, the international com-
was founded, a process which has over the past few years and is very
affected more than one billion people, unpredictable. Malnutrition and Western Sahara is clearly neglected munity has chosen to look the other way. The Sahrawis have learned through
and in which the UN itself has played anaemia are widespread and the edu-
a crucial and driving role. cation sector is disintegrating. For
by the international community.
Humanitarian assistance is decreas-
bitter experience that without the help of powerful friends, it is of little use to
the government in exile the struggle ing year by year, there is little media have justice on your side.
Richard Skretteberg For most of us the decolonisation of is twofold: they have to meet the ref- attention, and minimal will on the
Editor Africa belongs to the history books, ugees’ immediate needs at the same part of the international community
and is viewed as one of the UN’s time as carrying out nation-building to find a solution along the lines that Ever since Morocco invaded this thinly popu- had enough of repression and discrimination. tive strip of desert, is under Polisario control.
greatest successes. And yet the original in exile. The refugees fear that the UN has outlined. These things are lated desert country in 1975, in defiance of UN There is now an increased danger of renewed The partition of the country is the result of
population of Western Sahara has not dependence on aid from a politically all connected. Media, donor coun- resolutions, the international community has conflict. a 16 year war which broke out after Moroccan
yet been allowed to exercise its dem- divided EU and an under-financed tries and development aid organi- been unable to push through a solution to the invasion. Morocco built up its military defences
ocratic right to decide its own future. UN may be used to force the Sah- zations lose interest when a refugee conflict. A new round of UN-led talks began Morocco rejects UN solution Western in order to cut off Polisario’s guerrilla forces.
Western Sahara is therefore still seen rawis to abandon their struggle for situation has been long-lasting – and in 2007 between Morocco and Polisario, the Sahara is a divided country. Those living in the The liberation movement, based in refugee camps
by the UN as a colony, and the an independent Western Sahara. the reason for its duration is most liberation movement of Western Sahara, and refugee camps are cut off from contact with their in Algeria, continued its armed resistance until
subjugation of its people under the often a conscious policy on the part further talks are planned in 2008. But there is relatives in the occupied territory. Morocco has the UN succeeded in brokering a ceasefire
present occupying power of Morocco The UN has defined Western Sahara of the actors who wield power. little room for optimism in terms of finding a built a 2,200 kilometre-long wall that divides between the two sides in 1991. Agreement was
is much harsher than it was under the as a decolonisation question and in solution that both parties can accept. the country in two. It is almost impossible to reached on a detailed plan, which also gave draft
old Spanish colonists up until 1975. 1975 the International Court of Jus- The UN Security Council, The UN It is urgent for the Sahrawis that the conflict get over the wall, which is flanked by one of timelines for Morocco’s withdrawal from
tice in The Hague rejected Morocco’s General Assembly and thereby all the is resolved. For over three decades the majority the world’s largest minefields. The area west of Western Sahara and for the return of refugees.
For over 30 years more than half of alleged “historical claim” on Western world’s states have expressed their of the Sahrawi population has lived in refugee the wall, with its great natural resources and In September 1991 the UN Security Council
the Sahrawis, the original population
of Western Sahara, have lived in four
Sahara. The African Union has rec-
ognised Western Sahara and accept-
support in principle for the Sahrawis’
right to determine their own future,
camps on an open, wind-swept Algerian desert
plain, while the Sahrawis under occupation have
well-stocked fishing waters, is controlled by
Morocco. The eastern side, a mostly unproduc-
deployed the MINURSO force (”UN Mission
for the Referendum in Western Sahara) to the ››
isolated refugee camps in Algeria. ed it as a member country, having but they need to follow up this sup-
Their homeland is divided along a defined the question of Western port in practice. It must increase its
Moroccan-built wall, and electronic Sahara as the right to self-determina- humanitarian assistance and actively Dakhla refugee camp, Algeria.
surveillance, land mines and soldiers tion. In the times in which we live it engage to have Western Sahara
will put a stop whatever the wall itself is more important than ever to placed higher up on the internation-
fails to. Families have been separated defend the principles of internation- al, political and humanitarian agen-
for decades, and new generations al law. The tracks of the UN are clear, da. Morocco should be put under
grow up in the camps without ever but at the same time it is power that far greater pressure. The occupying
having seen their homeland. In the prevails. What use is it to have the country is without doubt dragging
occupied territories there are now support of the UN and the AU when its feet in the hope that the refugee
more Moroccans than Sahrawis. powerful countries such as France, communities will simply break up
the US and Spain are either indiffer- and disperse. Not unlike the Govern-
But despite great efforts by the ref- ent or actively oppose the Sahrawis ment of Bhutan (see NRC Report
ugees to establish structures and to legitimate rights? For decades the Issue 1/2008), they rely on the notion
engage in a certain degree of marine refugees of Western Sahara have that injustice pays dividends, just so
salvage, they are completely depend- been asking themselves this question: long as you have powerful friends.

Editorial: Occupied country, The changing face of the UN’s tracks fade into The Sahrawis’ right to
displaced people 2 refugee camps 6 the sand 12 self-determination 16

Background: Western Sahara – The refugees: Fish, phosphates and Recommendations of

Africa’s last colony 3 Isolated in the desert 9 international business 14 the Norwegian Refugee
Council 18
The Sahrawis: historical Politics: The game Human rights: Imprisoned
Photo: Berserk Productions

origins of a people 6 of the great powers 10 for their views 14

Editor: Richard Skretteberg Editorial team: Ronny Hansen, Vikram Odedra Kollmanskog, Contributors: Per Kristian Cappelen Nielsen, Eli Wærum
Rognerud, Eirik Hjort Kirkerud Translation: Jane Thompson Address: Norwegian Refugee Council, 6758, St. Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo, Norway
Design & Layout: Cox Oslo Front page: The Sahrawis are very proud of the cultural uniqueness and their history. From a parade in the refugee camp
Smara in Algeria. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council/Ronny Hansen Back page: The 2200 kilometres long Moroccan military wall through Western Sahara
keeps the population in the occupied areas in and shuts the refugees out. Moroccan army camp in the centre of the picture. Photo: Jean Lamore Printing:
Gamlebyen Grafiske Edition: 3,000 ISBN: 978-82-7411-181-8
Western sahara>Background Western sahara>Background
country. Its mandate was to implement the

Photo: Eirik Hjort Kirkerud

Illustration: Eirik Hjort Kirkerud

o o o o o
settlement plan in cooperation with the parties.
The first steps were to identify qualified voters WESTERN
so as to later organise a referendum in early o o

1992, when the Sahrawis were to choose between 3IDI)FNI

integration into Morocco and full independence. ,ANZAROTE


This is where the problems started. Instead ,A0ALMA 3PAIN

Oued Drâ


of taking just a few weeks, the UN operation o

would take all of eight years to identify the (IERRO
Subkhat Tah



qualified voters. The process was continuously El

hampered by Morocco, which made use of the Oued A‘ s S
aq u i a A

delay to move increasing numbers of Moroccan Bir Lehlou

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settlers into Western Sahara, contrary to inter- "OUJDOUR -EHARIS


Oued A
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national law. When MINURSO finally complet-

ed the registration process in 2000, Morocco "IR-OGHREIN
refused to accept the eventual list of qualified #HALWA
Sebkhet Oumm ed
voters. /UM$REGA
Drous Telli

Not even the appointment of the former US o


Secretary of State James Baker as the UN Sec- !ARGUB Subkhat


retary- General’s Personal Envoy to Western Subkhat
Subkhat Doumas Sebkhet
Sahara helped expedite the process. During the Tidsit
seven years that Baker worked towards reaching $OUGAJ


an agreement between the two sides, he pre- "IR'ANDOUZ 4ECHLA

sented several proposals for a solution. The last, "OU,ANUAR -OROCCANMILITARYWALL
Sebkha de
which he put forward in 2003, proposed that .OUADHIBOU Chinchane
all Moroccan settlers who had been resident in MAURITANIA !TAR     KM

Western Sahara since 1999 would be able to vote o   MI o

in the referendum. To the surprise of many,

o o o o o
Polisario, which had already made numerous Eirik Hjort Kirkerud © 2008

compromises, accepted the proposal, knowing The tea ritual is important in the Sahrawis’ culture and their daily lives.
well that they could lose a referendum under
these new conditions. However, it was rejected the International Court of Justice in The Hague Morocco refuses to accept a referendum which France, in 2007 pronounced the Moroccan had moved to the occupied territories. Both Increasing nationalism ”Many believe that
by Morocco. (1975) affirm that the Sahrawis have interna- would allow independence as one of the alter- plan to be a “serious and credible” proposal. international organizations and the press cov- the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara
In 2004, Baker gave up and resigned as the UN tional law on their side. Notwithstanding this, natives. As a “new” proposed solution, it put While the search for a political solution ered the Sahrawi activists being subjected to is developing into an established fact,” says Ph.D.
Secretary- General’s Personal Envoy, believing they have never been allowed to exercise their forward a plan in 2007 which would entail the drags on, the refugees live under extreme cli- summary arrests, torture, house searches and candidate Jacob Mundy at the Institute of Arab
it to be impossible to find a solution acceptable right to self-determination. Instead, Morocco annexation of Western Sahara as an integrated mate conditions in the Algerian desert. Almost widespread surveillance by the Moroccan police.2 and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK.
to both parties. The result of years of the UN’s can continue its occupation without any great part of Morocco, but with a degree of autonomy. all the food they eat bears the logo of an inter- The second wave of demonstrations and har- Mundy is about to publish a book on the
work – a list of qualified Sahrawi voters – is detriment to itself, despite this not being rec- The UN has not reacted to the fact that national aid organisation. Over the past years, assment began in the spring of 2005. Western Sahara conflict.
filed away in heavy steel boxes somewhere in ognised by a single country in the world. The Morocco is thereby flying in the face of the the aid has constantly dwindled and its supply In periods of 2005 and 2006, almost every “But what many overlook is that at the
Geneva. Sahrawis’ own state, on the other hand, the agreements it signed with Polisario in the 1990s has become more unpredictable. This total single leading human rights activist in Western same time, Sahrawi nationalism is increasing,”
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) has and of international law, which clearly affirms dependence makes the refugees extremely vul- Sahara was arrested. he states in an interview with the NRC.
Insistence on integration The Sahrawis have been recognised by over 80 countries since the Sahrawis’ right to self-determination. On nerable to failing and inadequate assistance. Today the ceasefire in Western Sahara con- Mundy points out that the 32 year-long margin-
been promised a referendum which will decide 19761. Unlike Morocco, SADR is also a member the other hand, two of the permanent members According to Polisario, which manages the tinues, but it is tenuous. The patience of the pop- alisation of the Sahrawis in the occupied terri-
their own future. Over 100 UN resolutions and of the African Union (AU). of the UN Security Council, the USA and camps, 165,000 Sahrawi refugees are living in ulation in the occupied territories has reached tory, and the isolation of the refugee popula-
Algeria. New generations have grown up with- breaking point, and Polisario threatens to take tion, have only strengthened their desire for
out ever having seen their homeland, and an up arms again if their right to choose independ- independence. He is of the view that the 1991
entire people are divided from one another by ence is not respected. agreement with Morocco now appears mean-
the Moroccan occupation, the wall and the The Moroccan occupation is a barrier to devel- ingless to many Sahrawis, and that there is a
Western sahara: Facts landmines. opment, stability and security in this region on limit to how long Polisario can continue to take
the threshold of Europe. Algeria, Morocco’s arch a moderate line without losing credibility with
■■ Official name: Sahrawi Arab Democratic ■■ Population:13 Area controlled by Morocco: ■■ Refugees: Approximately 160,000 are A barrier to development The first large enemy, is Polisario’s main supporter. The absence the Sahrawis. The credibility of the UN as a
Republic (SADR). Recognised by approx. approximately 400,000, of which refugees in camps in Algeria14, 26,000 in Sahrawi demonstrations within the occupied of cooperation and peace between Morocco and conflict negotiator stands and falls upon its
80 countries 250-300,000 Moroccan settlers and Mauritania. territories of Western Sahara took place in 1999, Algeria makes political and economic integration ability to find a solution before the outbreak
■■ Capital: El Aaiún (Laayoune) 100-150.000 Sahrawis. In addition there ■■ Religion: The population is Sunni Muslim, and represented a new turn in the Sahrawi in North Africa impossible, and prevents effective of renewed open conflict, Mundy believes. ■
■■ Geography: Area 260,000 km2. Bordered are some 160.000 Moroccan soldiers but the majority have a liberal religious resistance movement. anti-terrorist cooperation between the two coun-
by Morocco to the north, Mauritania to and police. outlook. Now it was no longer only Polisario and the tries. It is because of the occupation of Western
the south and Algeria to the northeast. ■■ Area controlled by Polisario: approxi- ■■ Natural resources: Large deposits of high refugees in Algeria who were the Sahrawis’ heroic Sahara that attempts to establish a Maghreb
■■ Climate: Very hot in June/July mately 30,000 nomads. quality phosphate, large fish stocks off the freedom fighters. The front line of the conflict Union have repeatedly foundered.
(+50-60°C), as low as 0°C in January. coast, possible deposits of oil and gas.

4 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 5

Western sahara>Population algeria>Refugee Camps

The changi ng face of the refugee camps

Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council/Ronny Hansen

shortfall with what little they earn. The economy
A dwindling amount of

Photo: Berserk Productions

The children in the that was formerly based on voluntary commu-
humanitarian aid is being refugee camps have nity work is therefore crumbling. Many of those
who used to work as volunteers for the com-
few toys and must
given by the international entertain themselves. munity have been forced to look around for
other sources of income. Some have set up small
community to the refugees shops in the camps, or engage in commercial
activities in Mauritania or the town of Tind-
in Algeria. This has resulted ouf a few kilometres away. Others receive
El Aaiun, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. in chronically malnour- money through Spanish child-sponsoring
schemes. Teachers have begun to leave their
ished children and a gen- classrooms, no longer able to afford to teach.
The Sahrawis: eration of youth who want
There are two reasons for the decline in humani-
tarian assistance, according to the World Food
historical origins of a people to get out of the camps. Programme (WFP)5. The first is so-called donor
fatigue: few organisations are motivated to give
The history of the Sahrawis stretches back to the 12th century, aid to the same refugee population for three
Up until the 1990s, a cash economy had yet to decades in succession.
when Arab tribes from Yemen migrated into the region. They
reach this outpost in the Sahara desert. But a The second reason is the dispute as to how
mixed with the local Berber population and African groups from few years after the enforcement of the ceasefire many refugees actually live in the camps.
south of the Sahara. in 1991, the four Sahrawi refugee camps began ­Population figures have always been a sensitive
slowly to change. very well organised, compared with camps in international community, there is an ever subject for both sides in the Western Sahara
The nomadic population of Western Sahara guistically closer to classical Arabic, but also ”Before, everyone lived the same way and other parts of the world. The refugees them- decreasing amount of food on Senia’s family ­conflict. Polisario claims that 165 000 refugees
has historically been organised into tribes, of has many loanwords from Berber. The Spanish did voluntary community work as part of the selves take care of aid distribution, and are in dinner table, and it’s of poorer quality. live in the camps. However, in 2005 WFP and
which the largest were Reguibat, Ait Lahsen, colonial heritage has also led to the use of struggle for liberation. But now that the aid charge of all administration, education and ”We only get half the amount of food we UNHCR reduced the aid to cover the “90 000
Izarguien and Ouled Delim. Politically these many loanwords from Spanish. has decreased and the cash economy has taken health services. Crime is virtually non-existent. used to”, says Senia. most vulnerable refugees” without defining what
tribes were organised through a council called Women’s participation in society is, in an over within the camps, the community spirit is During the early part of Senia’s childhood, the UNHCR and the World Food Programme “most vulnerable” means, or how they had come
Ait Arbain. This organisational setup roughly Arab context, relatively robust. As a histori- diminishing and the differences are increasing,” Sahrawis were still at war with Morocco. The (WFP) estimate that two thirds of the women up with that figure. After an extensive flood in
covers the geographic area that today is cally nomadic population, women have held says Senia. refugees were happy to work without pay, in the refugee camps suffer from anaemia, while the refugees camps in January 2006, the figure
Western Sahara, and is being used to legitimise property rights, and control over household Senia Abderahman is 19 years old and a refu- running the camps, working in hospitals and an assessment made by Norwegian Church Aid was raised to 125,000, and in June 2007 this
Western Sahara’s history as a national entity. and livestock. This is also reflected in today’s gee. She grew up in the Smara refugee camp, in the military. With volunteer teachers and a in 2007 estimated anaemia at 46%. UNHCR and change was confirmed by UNHCR6. Be that as
Sahrawi culture differs from Moroccan exile community, where to a large extent it is the one of four camps in an open, dry desert literacy rate of over 90%, the refugee camps WFP estimate that one third of children under it may, the UN continues to have problems in
and Algerian, but less so from Mauritanian. women who run the camps on the local level. landscape in the south-western corner of became a unique, educated community on the five are chronically undernourished3, while securing enough aid for the refugee camps.
Language, music, dress and family structures The Sahrawis are, like their neighbours, Algeria. African continent. Norwegian Church Aid in 2004 estimated it to ­Various UN agencies and Sahrawi organisations
show great similarities with those of Mauritania Muslim. Nevertheless they distinguish them- Like all Sahrawi refugee children, Senia had ”At that time my family got all we needed be as high as 40%. In some periods the refugees issue frequent warnings that food stocks are on
and western Africa, and serve to underline selves by their liberal and relaxed interpreta- to leave the camp to continue her education through aid,” says Senia, listing all the differ- consume as little as one third of the daily rec- the verge of depletion, and will only last for a
their differences to Morocco and North Africa. tion of Islam. The Sahrawis do not have a beyond primary school. She has scarcely seen ent food and consumer goods they received. ommended calorie intake4, and almost never few weeks longer7.
Hassaniya, the local dialect of Arabic spo- tradition of mosques, religion is considered a her family since 1999. She attended lower sec- receive fresh food.
ken in Western Sahara and Mauritania, is private matter to be practised at home, and has ondary school in northern Algeria, and upper Chronically malnourished The situation for The lack of aid has a marked effect on the day Wanting to get out of the camps The dwin-
distinctly different from Maghreb Arabic as little influence on daily life and politics. ■ secondary school in Norway. She is now stud- refugees is far worse now. Despite frequent pleas to day life of the camps. Refugees who previ- dling aid situation and political stagnation have
spoken in North Africa. The dialect is lin- ying medicine at a college in Boston, USA. for more humanitarian aid by the UN High ously received all they needed from foreign resulted in a whole generation of youth who
The Sahrawi refugee camps are still considered Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the donor organisations must now make up for the dream of getting away from the camps8. Many ››
Chronology of the last 35 years of conflict
1973: The Libera- 1974: Spain gives Summer 1975: The UN sends 1975: Morocco opposes UN plans 16 October 1975: The Kingdom of Morocco, but «the Court has 6 November 1975: King Hassan II of Morocco disregards 27 February 1976: Polisario
tion Movement, in to many years of a delegation to the region in for a referendum, maintaining that International Court of found no legal ties of such a nature as might the Hague declaration and initiates the so-called «green establishes the Sahrawi Arab
Front Polisario, is pressure by the UN preparation for the referendum. the region was part of Morocco Justice issues a clear dec- affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) march». Moroccan military forces and 350,000 Moroc- Democratic Republic, which is later
formed in Spanish for the country’s The delegation visits every one long before colonial times. laration on Western Saha- on decolonisation of Western Sahara, and, in can civilians invade Western Sahara, while Mauritanian recognised by over 80 countries,
Sahara to evict the decolonisation, of the communities in Spanish Morocco succeeds in postponing the ra: Morocco’s claim on particular, of the application of the principle forces invade simultaneously from the south. When the and is now a full member of the
Spanish colonial and agrees to hold Sahara and reports back that referendum by asking the UN to Western Sahara is rejected. of self-determination through the free and Moroccan Air Force drops bombs with white phosphorus African Union.
power. a referendum. the Sahrawis unanimously call seek advice from the Internation- There were indeed certain genuine expression of the will of the peoples and napalm over communities in Western Sahara, the
for the colony’s independence. al Court of Justice in the Hague. ties between the people of of the territory».10 majority of the Sahrawi population takes refuge over ››
Western Sahara and the the border in Algeria.
6 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 7
algeria>Refugee Camps PERSPEcTIVe>displacement

Nightfall over Western Sahara

Photo: Heidi Haugen

of those who leave end up as tomato pickers or
construction workers in Spain.
The President of the Sahrawi Republic,
Mohammed Abdelaziz, has described this youth
emigration as «the most serious and catastrophic
threat that our society faces».
“Youth emigration is a matter of great con- Night has just fallen. My grandmother, Asisa, and I are sitting on the soft, cold
cern, because it serves the policy pursued by
Morocco, the aim of which is to empty these
sand dunes of the Algerian desert, looking up at the starry sky.
territories of their inhabitants and to strip
by Senia Abderahman (19), student and refugee
the people’s insurrection of its active power”,
says President Abdelaziz9. This statement
probably refers equally to the exodus of Sahra- She points her hand towards the sky and starts cars could be used as transport, as this would My grandmother is an example to me of great
wi youth from the occupied territories as from to tell me the names of the various stars. Even make them much too visible a target for courage and of the justice of the Sahrawis’
the refugee camps. though she is completely blind, she can still Moroccan bomber aircraft. They could only struggle. With half her family killed, and after
Given the scarcity of resources, Polisario can sense what once she could see. She normally travel at night, hiding during the day among thirty years of living in refugee camps, she still
do little to offer young people meaningful jobs talks of her dreams for our homeland; trees and rocks to rest. “Lala and I had to take hopes to be able to return to her homeland.
or higher education within the camps. tonight, however, she tells me a different story turns looking out for aircraft while the others “The Moroccans may have weapons, guns and
– the thing that changed her life forever. slept,” grandmother recalls. planes, but we Sahrawis have patience and deter-
Social divisions According to Senia, some- mination,” is what grandmother always says.
thing which occupies many people in the camps Like many other women at the time when she Lala, my mother, was twelve, but the eldest of
is the social changes which are now springing up was young, she married at the age of twelve, the children. Brahim, the youngest, was only We, the young people of Western Sahara, have
along with the cash economy. She maintains but had no children until she was twenty. Her eight months old. They ran out of food and not experienced war for ourselves, or the inva-
that the greatest difference between families is failure to have a child within one year of mar- water after three days, as they had only been able sion of our country by Morocco. But we well
whether they have managed to send a family riage was a great worry to her family. However, to bring a small number of possessions with know how it has affected all of us. I myself was
member to Spain or not. her husband was an understanding man, and them. Now they had to live on what they could born in one of these camps. While I am stud-
“In addition to most people actually being did not use this as a reason for divorce. She used find in the barren desert. Soon after, Brahim ying abroad, my family of seven are all still
poorer, many have begun to feel poorer,” she to start the day very early, milking the cows. died of dehydration and only two days later the living in the same tent. The family has lived
says. “Not only are children malnourished and “Everything was green, and the air was so fresh,” other two little boys were killed by a landmine. here in this temporary way for year after year.
living in extreme poverty, but they have really she says, comparing the place she is from to the “Half the family was gone. It was an utter catas- Sometimes the temperature rises above 50
become aware of the affluence in Europe. It arid refugee camp where she has lived for the trophe, and now it was just myself and my three degrees C, and there isn’t much you can do with
wasn’t like that before.” Like many other past thirty years. surviving children fleeing through the desert.” yourself, except wait – wait for the interna-
­Sahrawi refugee students, Senia plans to says grandmother. tional community to act.
return to a free and independent Western One day in January 1976, something extraor-
Sahara when she has completed her studies. dinary happened. Asisa had already heard that The next day, as they continued eastwards, a Unlike many other young Sahrawis, a number
If things go as planned, she will be a qualified the Moroccan army had attacked that area and plane dropped a bomb right in front of them. of my dreams have been fulfilled. I was the first
doctor in eight years. driven people from their homes, but no one in The bomb blinded my grandmother, but they Sahrawi to be chosen to study in Norway, and
”I pray to God that Western Sahara is the family had fully understood the gravity of continued walking. With a smile and with tears now I have a scholarship to a college in the US.
independent by the time I complete my the situation before it hit them. Moroccan troops in her eyes she says: “The day after, two men Of the foreigners I speak to, very few have heard
­studies. If it isn’t, I will go back to the camps stormed into their little village. Her husband from Polisario came in a truck and took us to of the Sahrawi refugees. The camps have been
anyway. It’s important for me to use my ran off immediately to fight for his people, and the camps.” there for so long, but in such a distant, deserted
knowledge and skills for the good of my Asisa, with her three daughters and three sons, place that I think only a tiny number of people
­people.” ■ had to cross the desert to seek refuge in Algeria. A month after they arrived at the refugee camps in the world have ever heard our story,” Senia
in Algeria, Asisa received a message that her concludes. ■
They had to travel on foot; neither camels nor husband had been killed in combat.

Senia Abderahman (19) has grown up in the refugee camps.

Chronology of the last 35 years of conflict

1979: Mauritania withdraws from Western Sahara and 1981-1987: To stop the attacks by 1991: The UN Security Council and 2000: The referendum 2004: James Baker 2007: The UN 2008: The only thing the two parties
abandons its territorial claim. Morocco quickly takes Polisario, Morocco (with the help of the parties agree on a referendum for has still not been held. resigns as Personal Security Council have so far agreed upon is to continue
over that part of Western Sahara which had been Israel and the USA12) builds a 2,200 the people of Western Sahara. The Morocco refuses to Envoy, believing it to requests the parties negotiations. Polisario wants a refer-
under Mauritanian control. The UN General Assembly km long wall across Western Sahara, UN MINURSO mission is stationed accept the lists of eligi- be impossible to find a to meet once again to endum with independence as one of the
reacts by stating that it «deeply deplores the aggra- flanked by one of the world’s largest mine- in Western Sahara with a view to ble voters produced by solution acceptable to find a solution, and options. Morocco opposes this and offers
vation of the situation resulting from the continued fields. Today, the fortification stretches holding the referendum in the first the UN. both parties. their first direct talks limited autonomy under Moroccan
occupation …», and urges Morocco «to terminate the right across the whole of Western Sahara half of 1992 in seven years com- control.
occupation of the Territory of Western Sahara».11 and divides the country in two. mence.

8 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 9

Politics>The game of the great powers Politics>The game of the great powers

Morocco has a very good relationship with France and traditionally has had

Photo: Erik Hagen

close links with Spain. Money and weapons have come from the US and Saudi
Arabia, so it is of little help that the African Union sides with Western Sahara.

Morocco – popular with the West

despite occupation and injustice
“Had we prevented the Green March, we would He emphasises that nearly everyone thought Spain’s legacy During the last few years of
have destroyed our relationship with Morocco,” the Sahrawis would choose independence if a East Timor’s struggle for liberation from
said then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, referendum were held. Bolton says he engaged Indonesian occupation, Portugal, its old colo-
referring to Morocco’s entry into Western in a number of efforts in the US to find support nial power, played a leading role in supporting
Sahara in1975. for the Sahrawis to have their referendum, but the liberation of the East Timorese. Spain plays
without success. He also maintains that the Bush no such role towards the Sahrawis, indeed quite
The Moroccan invasion took place in the midst administration has preferred stability for the the reverse.
of the Cold War. Declassified documents of Moroccan monarchy over self-determination
meetings in the White House bear witness to for the Sahrawis. Since Spain withdrew from the territory in
the US’s clear awareness of Morocco’s entry 1975, most Spanish governments have done
into Western Sahara15. When in April 2007 Morocco put forward a their utmost to maintain good neighbourly
proposal to include Western Sahara as part of relations with Morocco. The logic seems to be
Given its strategic location on the Straits of Morocco, the American State Department chose that only through good cooperation with its
Gibraltar, on the doorstep of Europe, Morocco to describe it as “a constructive contribution to southern neighbour can Spain hope to prevent
holds a strong hand of cards in relation to its finding a solution to the conflict”. At the same a wave of drugs and immigrants flooding in
Strong bonds between Morocco and France have protected the occupier against necessary pressure.
allies. It knows that the EU wants close coop- time the US has made agreements with the over its vulnerable border. Moreover Spain has
eration to help solve problems related to immi- Kingdom for the supply of armaments to the territorial disputes with Morocco, both in relation
gration and drugs, and it has therefore succeeded tune of several billion dollars. to the two small Spanish enclaves on Morocco’s pressure on the occupier. Countries friendly last countries to recognise the Sahrawi Republic
in making itself an important partner of the northern coast, Ceuta and Melilla, and to any to the Sahrawi cause, such as Sweden, Finland was actually South Africa, which recognised the Boats to
West. Morocco also uses the Arab League to However, it is not the US which is Morocco’s possible oil discoveries in the waters off the and Ireland, have until now failed to outweigh Republic as a result of Morocco reneging, since
garner support for its occupation of Western closest ally, but France. Each time the case of Canary Islands. the pro-Moroccan lobby. 2004, on its promise to accept a referendum for the Canary Islands
Sahara, and it appears to be a close ally in the Western Sahara has come up for discussion in the Sahrawis. Eighty-four countries in Africa, Most of those who fled from Western
US’s so-called “War on Terror”. the UN Security Council or the EU, France has One of the most powerful interest groups in African support Morocco has significant Latin America and Asia have at some point since Sahara in 1975 and 1976 travelled to
lobbied for Morocco’s interests. France has, for Spanish foreign policy and in the Western support from among the Arab states too. Among 1976 recognised the Republic of Western Sahara Algeria, when Morocco began its occu-
Bush against self-determination In his example, succeeded in preventing the condem- Sahara case is the Spanish fishing industry, and them is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which as an independent state. pation of the country. But the flood of
autobiography John Bolton, the former US nation by the Security Council of the human in 2006 Spain succeeded in pushing through a strongly supports Morocco both politically and refugees from Western Sahara has con-
Ambassador to the UN, testifies that the US’s rights infringements committed by Morocco. controversial fishing agreement between the EU economically. For a long time Morocco also Today Morocco is the only country in Africa tinued until the present. In the past few
relationship with Morocco has remained fun- When the UN Secretary General asked for the and Morocco. Under this agreement, the EU played a key role as a driving force for dialogue which is not a member of the AU. It withdrew years it has taken a new direction, west-
damentally unchanged since 197516. From 1997 mandate of the MINURSO force to be extended pays EUR 144 million to the Moroccan gov- in the conflict between Israel and the Palestin- in protest from the AU’s forerunner, the OAU, wards to the Canary Islands in small,
to 2000, together with UN Special Envoy James to include human rights monitoring in the ernment in return for EU fishing fleets being ians. This meant that countries with interests in when Western Sahara was accepted as a full overcrowded boats. When the Sahrawis
Baker, Bolton worked to find a solution to the country, France opposed this. France is Morocco’s allowed to fish in waters under Moroccan the Middle East wished to keep relations with member in 1984. arrive in the Canaries, many seek political
question of Western Sahara. Despite his back- foremost trading partner and provider of control, including the occupied territories of the Moroccan monarch on a good footing. asylum. During certain periods, Spain
ground as a Conservative and close friend of development aid, and for many years France’s Western Sahara. Almost all the fishing quotas The African Union (AU) for its part maintains Mauritania, Western Sahara’s neighbouring has granted asylum to several hundred
George W. Bush’s administration, he was harshly political elite has had close ties to Morocco. are granted to Spain. The Spanish public’s its demand for liberation of the Western Sahara country to the south, assumes a relatively neutral Sahrawi boat refugees at a time.
critical of US policy in the case of Western widespread support for the Sahrawis and the and recognises the Sahrawi Republic as an inde- stance in the conflict, and therefore maintains There are occasional reports of Sahrawis
Sahara. In 2001 the American energy company Kerr Western Sahara liberation movement, the pendent state and a full member of the Union. good relations with both the Polisario liberation losing their lives on the sea-crossing to
McGee and the French oil company TotalFinaElf Polisario Front, therefore has difficulty in Many of the member countries have recognised movement and with Morocco. Around 20-30,000 the Canary Islands.
“They accepted Morocco’s line that independ- entered into contracts with Morocco on oil influencing central government policy on the Sahrawi Republic, also known as the Sahrawi Sahrawi refugees live in Mauritania18, and many
ence for the Western Sahara – which nearly exploration off the coast of Western Sahara. Morocco. Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). of the refugees from Algeria travel to Mauritania
everyone thought the Sahrawis would choose However, in January 2002 the UN Secretariat for a few months a year to find work. Here authorities. Moreover the Sahrawis and Mau-
in a genuinely free and fair referendum- would clearly stated that it was illegal to extract oil Given the French and Spanish support for The Republic entertains close links with the refugees living both in the camps and in Europe ritanians speak the same dialect of Arabic
destabilize Morocco and risk a takeover by from the occupied territory. Morocco, the EU has become completely inca- three major powers on the African continent, also get to meet their relatives from the occupied (Hassaniya) and many are members of the
extreme Islamicists.” writes Bolton17. pable of action in terms of putting political South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria. One of the territories, beyond the reach of the Moroccan same tribes. ■

10 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 11

UN>failed expectations

UN’s tracks fade into the sand

The former military chief of the UN mission in Western Time to get tough After 17 years of dialogue also called for MINURSO’s mandate to be MINURSO
between the parties, with a frustrated and iso- broadened, but the subject has never been ■■ United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara. (Mission des Nations
Sahara believes the UN must stand firmer on the claim lated population in the Algerian desert, and 45 opened for debate by the Security Council. So Unies pour l’organisation d’un referéndum au Sahara Occidental)
million dollars in annual costs to the MINUR- the mission stands back as a “silent witness to ■■ Established by the UN Security Council in 1991.
for a referendum on independence. But some permanent SO mission, the Major General thinks that the grave abuses of human rights”, according to ■■ Consists of over 480 men (civilian and military).
■■ Operates on both sides of the wall.
members of the Security Council have not wanted to UN has spent far too long trying to find a
solution. The chief problem, he maintains, lies
■■ Has as its mandate, inter alia, to monitor the ceasefire, organise the referendum,
push too hard for this, he says. in the choice having been made to adhere to Despite the ceasefire, the Sahrawis maintain that oversee the exchange of prisoners and the later reduction of Moroccan troops.
Chapter VI of the UN Charter on a peaceful the UN presence has been a fiasco. For many ■■ Read more at:
solution acceptable to both parties. of them, it was unacceptable to lay down their
As long as Morocco opposes the referendum, says Mosgaard in an interview with weapons at all back in 1991 in favour of a ref-
the UN process finds itself up a blind alley. the NRC. “It is high time the UN got tough and spoke erendum. Now they see that Polisario’s strategy
Even seven years of James Baker serving as the out more clearly. If the UN does not deviate may have been a failure and that the UN is not
UN’s Special Envoy were not enough to obtain a Realpolitik The Danish Major-General was from Chapter VI, another 30 years will go by in a position to push ahead for a solution. The
solution which respected the rights of Sahrawis. Force Commander of MINURSO from 2005- of maintaining the status quo”, says Mosgaard. Sahrawis are merciless in their criticism: “UN
Despite previous agreements to hold a refer- 2007. He now holds a senior position in the stands for United Nothing,” they say in the
endum which would include the possibility of Danish military, and has some clear opinions If the Security Council goes a step further and refugee camps in Algeria.
independence, Morocco now declines to accept on the failed UN process. He believes that makes use of Chapter VII, it mandates the use
these. So it is back to square one. A 17-year-long “commercial thinking and classic realpolitik” are of force by UN member states to create peace. Mosgaard is nevertheless certain that another
UN-led process has failed to lead to any polit- the major reasons why a solution on Western This is the course taken when it is seen that a war will not provide a solution, and that neither
ical breakthrough at all. Sahara has never been arrived at. peaceful solution to a conflict is not forth- Polisario nor Morocco could emerge as victors.
coming, and the situation is a threat to inter-
Kurt Mosgaard, the former UN Force Com- “Some of the permanent members of the national peace and security. When Iraq occupied “On the contrary, another war could lead to
mander of its mission in Western Sahara, Security Council have had links with one of Kuwait in 1990, and the UN went to the mili- unrest throughout North West Africa. It would
MINURSO, believes the UN must react. He says the parties concerned, which has meant they tary defence of the country, the Security Council cost many lives on both sides, and cause new
the UN needs to be clearer in its demands, and didn’t want to apply too much pressure. I am invoked Chapter VII, and since 1990 well over waves of refugees. Morocco would be severely
that it is high time for the referendum on inde- a very strong supporter of the UN, but I also 100 resolutions have been adopted in accord- affected economically, and there would always
pendence for Western Sahara to be held. He is think it has some weaknesses. The UN must ance with Chapter VII. However, the Security be the risk that a war would involve the neigh-
thereby critical of Morocco’s rejection of a ref- have a position, and one shouldn’t always opt Council has been unwilling to do the same when bouring countries. Every day without war is a
erendum. for the easiest solution,” says Mosgaard. it comes to Morocco’s occupation of Western good day,” says Mosgaard. ■
Sahara since 1975.
“The UN should state that the referendum on The Dane himself has shown an ability to act.
Western Sahara must encompass the possibility When he was Force Commander for MINURSO, “United Nothing” The main task of the
Photo: Eirik Hjort Kirkerud
of independence. Of course the referendum he gave the order that the Moroccan flag over MINURSO force was to oversee the ceasefire.
must include this alternative. You only need the UN building should be lowered for good. This part of the agreements between Polisario
a normal level of insight to understand this,” The flag had caused great irritation to many and Morocco has been a great success. Mosgaard
Sahrawis and UN staff, but none of his prede- says that despite everything the two parties
cessors up to that point had dared to take it cooperate well with the UN on this part of the High Commissioner as travel operator Norway supports the UN
Photo: Ingrid Pedersen

down. This small but very symbolic act was to agreement. Since 2004 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Norwegian policy in the matter of Western Sahara has always
make him most unpopular in Moroccan circles. has been carrying out a programme for increased contact between been to «support the UN General Secretary’s efforts to achieve
“At the same time, some will perhaps say that Sahrawis in the refugee camps and those in the occupied territories. a political solution», and has lately added that “Norway sees it
“The matter is simple. The UN is clear that the ceasefire only postpones the problem, as The main part of the programme consists of charter flights which as important to refrain from actions that can be seen as a legit-
Western Sahara is a territory whose status is still it was, after all, only meant to be an interim shuttle between the two places. In this way Sahrawis from the imization of the situation in Western Sahara”20. When Norway
unclear. So it is unacceptable that a Moroccan solution while awaiting a permanent political refugee camps are given the opportunity to visit their relatives sat on the Security Council from 2001-2002 it played an active
flag should fly above the UN building. It goes solution.” in the occupied territories for a few days, and vice versa. part in defending the rights of Sahrawis. And since the end of
directly against our mandate. I don’t know how The programme has been very popular with the Sahrawis. Several the 1990s the Norwegian MFA has supported humanitarian aid
this can have continued for 16 years without On the other hand, MINURSO has no mandate thousand people have taken part in the visit programme – most projects in the refugee camps, as well as landmine clearance in
anyone having taken action”, he says. to intervene or to report on human rights vio- of them women – while still many more are on the waiting list the Polisario-controlled parts of Western Sahara.
lations in Western Sahara. For several years to take part. The programme is very costly and at times has But apart from this, Norway has taken few political initiatives
He says that the flag issue is one of many instanc- Polisario has been calling for MINURSO to have come close to being terminated due to lack of funds. to work for a solution to the conflict. Norwegian support to the
es of the UN saying one thing in New York, the right and the duty to protect the civilian UN is unreserved and unchanged, despite the UN’s inability to
but often playing a different role in practice. population against such violations. Norwegian put pressure on Morocco to respect international law.
Ex- MINURSO force commander Foreign Affairs Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has
Kurt Mosgaard.

12 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 13

Foreign capital>strengthens the occupation Human rights>grave violations

Fish, phosphates and Demonstration in

occupied El Aaiun.

international business
The risk of arrest and
torture is imminent.

Foreign companies are playing an increasingly important role in the

Western Sahara conflict. They provide employment to Moroccan
­settlers and income to the authorities of the occupying power.
Morocco’s tremendous focus on the fishing mas of this business activity. One of the ship-
industry in Western Sahara has upset the ping companies which transport phosphate
­population composition in the occupied from Western Sahara is partially Norwegian-
­territories. Some estimate that as many as owned Gearbulk.
120,000 fishermen now live along the coast of “Although doing business with the Moroccan
Western Sahara21. If this is correct, there may occupying power is not to be recommended,
be many more Moroccan fishermen than local it isn’t prohibited either,” says Kristian Jebsen,
Sahrawis left in the occupied territories. chairman of the board of Gearbulk24. The
Since the Sahrawis are not traditionally fish- company says it has not considered the ethical
ermen, but nomads, they are scarcely active or moral aspects of carrying this freight, since
at all in the fishing industry. there are others who buy and sell phosphate.
Norwegian companies play an active part “We only transport it,” says Jebsen25.
in this development. For example, the Norwe- In a 16 month period from 2006-07, the
gian fishing enterprise Sjøvikgruppen, from company transported around 130,000 tons
Midsund in the county of Møre and Roms- of phosphate to New Zealand26. This corre- From the inside of the infamous “black prison” in the Western Saharan capital, where the majo-
dal, plans to employ up to 300 Moroccan sponds to earnings of about 43 million rity of Sahrawi political prisoners are kept.
settlers in Western Sahara. The company has Norwegian kroner (225 million USD) for

Imprisone d for their views

both fishing licences and on-shore processing the Moroccan state-owned phosphate com-
facilities, and informs the Norwegian press pany. By comparison, the Norwegian
that the projects present no problems since humanitarian aid to the refugee camps in the
Western Sahara “has always been Moroccan”22. same period totalled just 6 million kroner.
In addition, Norwegian shipping companies The Norwegian authorities advise Norwegian
transport fish and phosphate to the interna- businesses against operating in Western Sahara.
tional market. Morocco’s illegal export of The same stance is also evident in the man- Morocco clamps down the Sahrawis’ right to self-determination is the up violence between Moroccans and Sahrawis Following criticism of the human rights situa-
phosphate brings in an income of around agement of the State Pension Fund – Inter- primary cause of all other human rights viola- by “encouraging gangs of local thugs to break tion in Morocco and Western Sahara, in 2004
one billion Norwegian kroner every year23. national, which opted to sell its shares in the
hard on Sahrawis who tions in the country, and this is why the Moroccan into and vandalise the homes and places of the Moroccan authorities appointed a Justice

Norwegian MFA advises against Several of

American oil company Kerr-McGee in 2005.
The company was about to carry out oil
demand self-determination violations are mainly directed at those who
demand that this right be respected. Violations
business” of Sahrawis32. This is what happened
when Sahrawi students at universities through-
and Reconciliation Commission33. However, it
quickly became obvious that the Commission
the companies brush aside the ethical dilem- exploration off the coast of Western Sahara on or independence. against youth who are active in demonstrations out Morocco were attacked in May 2007. dealt with cases relating to Western Sahara with
behalf of the Moroccan national authorities. are particularly common.29,30, 31. Amnesty and more circumspection, and more randomly than
“Morocco has occupied Western Sahara It has never been easy to work for human rights other human rights organisations frequently Although the violations are less widespread than cases concerning Morocco. Of the public hearings
for many years, despite the strong condem- in Western Sahara. Since 2000 all the independ- report that Sahrawis are arrested and detained when the war was raging between 1975 and scheduled to take place in Morocco and Western
nation by the UN. In the Advisory Council’s ent human rights organisations in the occupied for weeks at a time, without being charged or 1991, they are still being extensively committed. Sahara, only one was cancelled, and this was
judgment, Kerr-McGee is facilitating Morocco’s territories have either had to cease operating tried, and with no visits permitted. Some violations committed in the seventies and in fact the only hearing planned to be held in
possible exploitation of natural resources in as a result of a court judgment, or have been eighties have left a lasting mark on the Sahrawi the Western Saharan capital El Aaiun. Human
the region. The Advisory Council views this denied registration. The networks of Sahrawi In addition to violations by the authorities, community. At that time one of the most widely Rights Watch has declared that the cases con-
activity as a ‘particularly grave infringement human rights activists must therefore operate many Sahrawis experience discrimination by used means of oppression was abduction, and cerning Western Sahara were “underrepresented”
of fundamental ethical norms,’ in part because illegally. They document how Sahrawi voices their Moroccan neighbours. This daily discrim- there are still around 500 Sahrawis listed as in the commission’s public hearings34.
this could help legitimise Morocco’s claim of are brutally silenced through arrests, extensive ination means that the Sahrawis have gradually “disappeared” following arrest by the Moroccan
sovereignty and thereby undermine the UN surveillance, violent dispersal of demonstrations become economically marginalised in their own police or military. In September 1991 King Amnesty International has noted a certain
peace process,” was the statement issued by and constant house searches. These violations country. Many find that poor Moroccans who Hassan released 350 Sahrawi prisoners from improvement in human rights conditions in
the Norwegian Department of Finance at are also well documented in an internal report have recently moved to Western Sahara to try secret jails. Many of them had been missing Morocco in the past few years, but points out
that time27. by the UN High Commissioner for Human their luck there have enjoyed greater economic since 1975, and the authorities until then had that this does not apply to the parts of West-
Kerr-McGee subsequently lost several of Rights.28 success than themselves. Sahrawis who are denied all knowledge of them. Except for this ern Sahara occupied by Morocco. “Here the
Fish oil from Western Sahara end up its other shareholders, until in 2006 it made politically active are often fired from their places one instance, Moroccan authorities have shown situation is far more critical”, they write in
in Omega 3 capsules all over the world, public that it would no longer continue its The main conclusion of the report by the High of work, have their wages cut or are refused no willingness to solve the many hundred cases their “Country Profile: Morocco and Western
particularly Norway. activities in Western Sahara. ■ Commissioner is that the non-fulfilment of schooling. Sometimes the Moroccan police stir of disappearance. Sahara”35. ■
Photo: M. Knutsen Bjørke/Norwatch

14 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 15

International law>a matter of decolonization International law>a matter of decolonization

The Sahrawis’ right to self-det ermination

The rights of refugees and of the Sahrawi people must be understood within the wider

Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council/ Richard Skretteberg

Systematic human rights violations As the
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
context of international law. Western Sahara is one of few remaining decolonization stated in its 2006 report50, the difficult general
human rights situation for refugees and the
questions which are governed, inter alia, by provisions of the UN Charter. Sahrawi people is linked to the failure to respect
the fundamental right of self-determination.
In 1963, the country was included in the Unit- nent place in international law, enshrined in of peoples” must be heard.43 This is normally For example, it is explicitly prohibited by the
ed Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Terri- common Article 1 of the 1966 International interpreted as requiring a census or referendum Moroccan authorities to question Morocco’s
tories36, and a number of General Assembly Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of some sort.44 In this process independence control of Western Sahara. Such a restriction of
Resolutions have confirmed that the Declaration and the 1966 International Covenant on Eco- must be an alternative for people who are sub- freedom of speech, particularly in view of the
on the Granting of Independence to Colonial nomic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and ject to alien occupation or other subjugation.45 people’s fundamental right to self-determination,
Countries and Peoples is applicable in this case.37 is considered a peremptory norm in interna- “People” is not synonymous with “population”, does not come under any of the permitted
For Non-Self-Governing Territories and their tional customary law. Morocco is a party to all and the Moroccan settlers do not necessarily restrictions in ICCPR Article 19. Furthermore,
interim administrators, the principle applies that the major human rights conventions. Examples have a right to participate in the self-determi- the Moroccan authorities do not respect the right
the interests of the population must be abso- of violations of the right to self-determination nation process. to form associations and assemble to express
lutely paramount.38 The International Court of are foreign military occupation or annexation, opinions on the matter. Demonstrators’ and
Justice in the Hague (ICJ) has also confirmed and other forms of colonial or neo-colonial International law and natural resources activists’ rights to life and not to be subjected to
that the conflict is a decolonization question exploitation. In a more indirect fashion, pop- By virtue of the right to self-determination, all torture or other inhuman and degrading treat-
and a matter of the right to self-determination.39 ulation transfers also constitute a breach of this peoples also possess the right to advance their ment are still violated, there are unresolved
The Moroccan invasion was also a violation of right.41 Morocco’s conduct in relation to Western own economic, cultural and social development, questions regarding the “disappeared”, and there
the ban on the use of force in the UN Charter Sahara is as an obvious violation. including the freedom to govern their own are continuous violations of the right to a fair
Article 2, and the de facto Moroccan control of natural resources.46 It is also stated in the 1982 trial. Reports and comments from the High
Western Sahara lacks both legality and legitimacy. People who are subject to a colonial power or Convention on the Law of the Sea that coastal Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human
to similar alien subjugation, clearly have this states have sovereign rights over natural resources Rights Commission, the Committee Against
The Sahrawi refugees and the population of the right.42 In other words, the Sahrawi people them- on the continental shelf outside their own land Torture, Amnesty International, Human Rights
occupied territory have certain inherent rights selves have the right to decide their international territory. Morocco has no sovereignty over Watch, the US State Department and several
which cannot be compromised in negotiations political status without pressure or interference. Western Sahara, and therefore no right to explore other institutions and organizations confirm
and Realpolitik. The right to self-determination The right to self-determination involves the right and exploit its resources. Article 73 of the UN the systematic pattern of human rights viola-
is a fundamental human right.40 It has a promi- to a particular process – “the freely expressed will Charter stipulates that the economic exploitation tions. As the UN High Commissioner for
of resources in non-self-governing territories Human Rights also concluded, fundamental
may only take place with the consent of the local changes in Morocco’s legislation and legisla-
Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council/Richard Skretteberg

population and must be in accordance with their tive practice are needed for the country to
economic interests. To trade or engage with comply with its international obligations.
Morocco’s illegal exploration and exploitation
of Western Saharan resources can be considered Refugees The humanitarian situation of the
a violation of international law and a contri- refugees in particular is becoming more and
bution to consolidate the illegal occupation. more precarious. The ICESCR has special
(The duty of non-recognition dealt with below, arrangements allowing developing countries to
is particularly relevant in this connection). prioritise their own citizens to a certain degree,
This was made clear in the advisory opinion but the 1951 Refugee Convention contains some
from the UN Legal Advisor47 and was also a minimum social and economic standards for
strong factor in a recommendation from the refugees. Algeria, as an asylum country, must
Norwegian Petroleum Fund’s ethical council meet its obligations according to the basic human
to withdraw investments in Kerr-McGee.48 rights conventions and the 1951 Refugee Con-
International Humanitarian Law / Laws of War vention, to which it is a party. Member states
also has similar rules: The occupying power can of human rights conventions are under an
only use property to the extent that it is neces- obligation to respect and promote the rights
sary for the administration of the occupied of all people within their territory, including
territory and to cover the needs of the soldiers; refugees and asylum seekers. Algeria, however,
never to cover the occupying state’s own needs is of the view that they have no responsibility
or to improve own economy (which must be for the refugees, due to the fact that they are
held separate from the economy of the occupied organised by a government in exile, SADR, led
A small number of Sahrawi nomads still live in the Polisario controlled areas of Western Sahara. territory.)49 by Polisario. Algeria’s stance has no support Camel and goat herding forms the basis of the livelihood of the Sahrawi nomads.

16 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara NRC REPORTS Western Sahara 17

International law>a matter of decolonization Endnotes

1 tursamarbeid/Norges-omdomme/Bedrifters-­ ble by analogy, cf. Letter from the UN Office of Legal

Photo: Berserk Productions

from international law and human rights bod- h ttp://
Sahrawi_Arab_Democratic_Republic samfunnsansvar/Vest-Sahara.html?id=480822 Affairs to the President of the Security Council,
ies, and the country must protect everyone on 12.02.2002, S/2002/161. Available at:
its territory. Polisario explains the restriction
 ee e.g. the report of the Office of the United Nations
S Toby Shelley: Natural Resources and Western Sahara.
High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Sep- Olsson, Claes (ed.) The Western Sahara Conflict –The Corell_olaeng.pdf
and temporary suspension of human rights tember 2006. Role of Natural Resources in Decolonization, p.17-21.
Western Sahara ,Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports
provisions by reference to the extraordinary 3 22 
Fiskaren, Norway. 1975, 16 October 1975, paragraph 68
“Sahrawi plight must not be forgotten, warns WFP
nature of the situation – that rights cannot chief”, press release by the World Food Programme Sahara-Update/message/1732
(WFP), 13 November 2006, See e.g. SIRES11675 of 28.04.2006. “OHCHR
properly be protected until Western Sahara 23 
For international legal aspects of the resource exploita- ­Mission to Western Sahara and the Refugee Camps in
has full independence.51 tion in Western Sahara, see UN opinion S/2002/161, Tindouf 8 September 2006” (OHCHR report).
“Sahrawi plight must not be forgotten, warns WFP Letter dated 29 January 2002 from the Under-Secre-
chief”, press release by the World Food Programme tary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel,
All countries have a responsibility The (WFP), 13 November 2006, addressed to the President of the Security Council. 41 
International Humanitarian Law / Laws of War is also
english/?ModuleID=137&Key=2291 relevant: Morocco is in breach of the Fourth Geneva
international community and individual coun- 24 
Norwegian TV2 news programme 3 September 2007. Convention Article 49 – that is, the occupant cannot
tries have a responsibility to resolve the conflict 5
“Sahrawi plight must not be forgotten, warns WFP deport or transfer parts of its population to the occu-
25  pied territory.
chief”, press release by the World Food Programme Norwegian TV NRK2 «Spekter», 7 November 2007.
in Western Sahara and to protect the rights of
(WFP), 13 November 2006, 42 
the refugees. As the High Commissioner for 26  This follows from preparatory work to the Convention,
english/?ModuleID=137&Key=2291 «UD tok hintet - offentliggjør frarådning», Norwatch,
12.09.2007, later UN Resolutions, and statements by the Conven-
Human Rights states, the international com- 6 php?artikkelid=1629&back=1 tion’s Commission for Human Rights. It is also clear
Sahara Press Service, 20 June 2007, http://groups.
munity must take all necessary steps to ensure in the ICJ opinion on Western Sahara paragraph 59:
Norwegian Department of Finance press release, 6 ”[I]ts [the principle of self-determination as a right
that the right to self-determination is respected. 7 June 2005. of peoples] application for the purpose of bringing all
Example: World Food Programme, “Shortage of dona-
Common Article 1 of ICCPR and ICESCR tions impact Sahrawi refugees in Algeria”, 27 October tarkiv/Regjeringen-Bondevik-II/Finansdepartemen colonial situations to a speedy end…”
2006, tet/234231/234458/forste_selskap_utelukket_fra_
oblige all member states to promote the reali- The Moroccan conveyor belt for phosphates from the occupied Western Sahara is more than petroleumsfondet.html?id=256344
The ICJ opinion on Western Sahara paragraph 68
fa978cb7091e 8121b8999692af1b2368.htm
sation of the right to self-determination and 100 km long and thereby the world’s longest. quoted above.
8 28 
Afrol News, 4 October 2006, “87% of young Sahrawis United Nations, Office of the United Nations High
respect that right, in accordance with the pro- want to emigrate”, Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 2006.
E.g. Cassese Self-Determination of Peoples. A Legal
visions of the UN Charter.52 Since the obligations non-recognition of gross violations of inter- Sahrawis their right to self-determination, is cles/21719 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Com- Reappraisal, 1995. According to the ICJ opinion
missioner for Human Rights Mission to Western Saha- ­paragraph 71 the General Assembly has a certain
we have dealt with, are peremptory norms and national law. This duty arguably goes beyond not a way of respecting this obligation in good 9
Klassekampen, Norway, 24 December 2007, «De unge ra and the Refugee Camps in Tindouf : 15/23 May and ­discretion regarding form and process.
apply erga omnes (that is, in relation to all; not active complicity, extending also to silent or faith. Policies that must be considered to sup- flytter ut». 19 June 2006. Geneva: OHCHR, 8 September 2006.
45 Inter alia Cassese op.cit. but also mentioned in UN
just between parties), all states must do what passive assistance by acquiescence.53 The ICJ has port or recognise the Moroccan presence in 10 
Read the declaration at report S/2003/565.
is in their power to make the parties respect also confirmed a duty of non-recognition.54 Western Sahara would be a direct breach of pdf/icj_opinion.pdf Amnesty International (AI). 2006. ‘Morocco/Western
Sahara’. Report 2006: State of the world’s human ICCPR and ICESCR common Article 1 (2), General
them. According to the Articles on State The lack of political will that has made it pos- the obligation. ■ 11
Resolution 34/37 of 1979 rights. London: AI. Assembly resolution 1803 (XVI), 1962, Declaration
Responsibility, individual states have a duty of sible for Morocco to continue denying the on permanent sovereignty over natural resources.
« Le Maroc avait recruté des militaires israéliens et Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2006. ‘Morocco’. World
américains pour concevoir “le mur de sable” au Sahara report 2006. New York: HRW. Letter from UN Legal Advisor, 12.02.2002,
Occidental », Le Point (France), 14 January 2008. S/2002/161, see footnote 3. Available at :
U.S. Department of State. 2006. Western Sahara:
Numbers are very difficult to ascertain. Morocco makes no Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2005. Corell_olaeng.pdf
distinction between Moroccan settlers and Sahrawis. The Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Bureau
number of military troops is kept secret. MINURSO is of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Council recommendation 12.04.2005, Available in

Recommendations of the Norwegian Refugee Council 14 

unwilling to give numbers.
U.S. Department of State. 2000. Western Sahara:
Norwegian here:
WFP Executive board WFP/EB.2/2004/4-B/4doc, 5
May 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 1999. html?id=91683
To the government of Morocco: through a strengthening of the MINUR- human rights, international law and Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Bureau
“How the US and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara” of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www. Inter alia the 1907 Haag Convention on land warfare,
■■ Halt its undermining the Sahrawi people’s SO mandate. International Humanitarian Law in the Jacob Mundy in Le Monde Diplomatique, January particularly Articles 52 and 53.
inalienable right to self-determination, ■■ Halt the exploitation of the natural resourc- occupied territories. 2006, wsahara.html.
See OHCHR Report
through a referendum with an option of es of Western Sahara and the involvement ■■ Increase the provision of aid to the Sah- 16 
Bolton, John (2006) Surrender Is Not an Option:
French: Instance équité et réconciliation.
independence. of foreign companies in such activities. rawi refugees in a way that is predictable, Defending America at the United Nations, Threshold See OHCHR Report
Editions. See relevant excerpts here: http://w-sahara. Human Rights Watch. 2005. Morocco’s truth commis-
■■ Show full respect for the human rights in sustained and timely. sahara. sion: Honoring past victims during an uncertain 52 
ICESCR and ICCPR text: “promote the realization of
the occupied territories, notably the right To the government of Algeria: ■■ Ensure the monitoring of, and reporting on, html ­ present. New York: HRW, November, 17/11E. the right of self-determination” and “respect that right
in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the
to freedom of association, assembly, ■■ Take all relevant measures to ensure that the human rights situation in the Minurso 17
Bolton, John (2006) Surrender Is Not an Option:
Amnesty International Norge. 2004. Landprofil: United Nations.” A duty to promote this right through
movement and expression. all Sahrawi refugees present on its terri- area of operations, for example through a Defending America at the United Nations, Threshold Marokko og Vest-Sahara common and independent action, is also mentioned in
Editions. nsf/pages/41A8D198956D4B0CC1256EA1004B9CFA General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV), ICJ opinion
■■ Halt and reverse the deportation of the tory benefit from the protection of the 1951 strengthening of the MINURSO mandate. bolton-on-western sahara.html on Western Sahara paragraph 58 and”The Wall”
36  para­graph 156.
occupied territory’s population and the refugee convention and the international ■■ Strive for the lifting of the information UN Charter Chapter XI (A/5514, annex III). General
Shelley, Toby: “Sons of the Clouds” in Red Pepper Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) 1960, also concerns
transfer of Morocco’s own population to human rights conventions to which it is a blockade imposed on the occupied territo- Magazine Dec. 2007-Jan. 2008, http://www.redpepper. non-self-governing territories. 53 
Principles on State Responsibility, inter alia 41, by the
International Law Commission.
the territory. party. ries by the Moroccan government so that 37 
Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colo-
■■ Release all political prisoners and prisoners people and information may flow freely. 19 
Amnesty International, 1996. Human rights violations nial Countries and Peoples, General Assembly resolu- 54 
In inter alia “The Wall” 2004 regarding the Israeli
tion 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, wall on occupied territory and the opinion in 1970 on
of conscience and account for the more To the international community, in particular ■■ Actively discourage the involvement of for- in the Western Sahara. London: AI Index MDE
South-Africa’s presence in Namibia.
29/04/96, April 18.
than 520 “disappeared” Sahrawis. France, Spain and the United States: eign companies in the exploitation of the 38 
UN Charter Article 73. Morocco is not considered as
■■ Lift the information blockade imposed on ■■ Exert more proactively their influence on natural resources of Western Sahara, as a 20 
Norwegian MFA, 11 September 2007. http://www. ”Administrative Power” for Western Sahara, but these provisions may in any case be taken as applica-
the occupied territories and allow the free Morocco in support of a solution that fully consequence of the duty of non-recognition.
movement of people and information in respects the Sahrawi people’s inalienable ■■ Secure the funding needed for confidence-
the occupied territories. right to self-determination through a ref- building measures (CBMs) to prepare the
■■ Allow the monitoring of, and reporting erendum with an option of independence. ground for future repatriation of the refu-
on, the human rights situation in the ■■ Exert more proactively their influence on gees. Interesting websites:
Minurso area of operations, for example Morocco to ensure full respect for the
18 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara
“The wall of shame” in Western Sahara
20 NRC REPORTS Western Sahara