By Emhamed Khadad
Last November marked forty two years since 350,000 Moroccans crossed into the Western Sahara as part of the staged manipulation called “Green March.” November 6 is a dark day for the Saharawi people, because it epitomises Morocco’s illegal military invasion and partial occupation of Western Sahara.
In October of 1975, the International Court of Justice had totally rejected Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara, and having failed to win the legal argument, Moroccan King Hassan II responded with force. He ordered the Green March, a manufactured “civilian” invasion, which was (rein)forced with an deployment of 20,000 Moroccan heavily armed troops.
Legacy of Dictator Franco still alive
With Francisco Franco on his deathbed, the Spanish colonial forces that had controlled the territory since 1884 did nothing to resist the annexation. In fact, that time Spanish dictatorship struck a deal to cede control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania. The “Madrid Accords” between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania deliberately excluded any representatives of the indigenous Saharawi people of Western Sahara – in the best fashion of neo-colonialism. Mauritania later relinquished its claim – applauded by all progressive word. However, Morocco has continued legacy of Dictator Franco and its occupation in defiance of international law and the world community calls ever since.
The Saharawi people refused to stand idly by and watch while their land was stolen. For fifteen years, the Frente POLISARIO resisted the invasion and fought a war with Morocco. In 1991 the Organization of African Unity (the precursor to the African Union) and UN – backed by the NAM/G-77, jointly brokered a ceasefire between the Frente POLISARIO, the legitimate political representatives of the Saharawi people, and Morocco with the agreement that the Saharawi people would be allowed to exercise its right to self-determination through a referendum. The Western Sahara nation is still waiting – its people divided between a brutal and oppressive Moroccan occupation in the west and the harsh desert refugee camps of southwest Algeria.
Western Sahara is divided by a 2,700 kilometers of sand “berm” that is littered with landmines and manned by tens of thousands of Moroccan troops. The landmines, in direct contravention of the Ottawa Treaty on anti-personnel mines, pose daily risks and dangers to the lives of the Saharawi population and their livestock in the liberated area of the territory. Those under occupation are denied basic human rights and freedoms; they are discriminated against and are frequently subject to arbitrary arrest, intimidation, detainment and torture. These areas are – by many independent accounts – some of the worst on planet earth. Those living in the refugee camps are exiled from their homeland – all that for decades, with new generations born under the refugee tends. The precariousness of this situation was highlighted recently when severe flooding destroyed the camps and created a major humanitarian disaster.
Morocco – Neocolonial Master-blaster
For decades, the legitimate representatives of the Saharawi people have followed a peaceful path towards liberation, patiently making their case to the world that they too deserve to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination – elementary liberty granted to any world nation. Saharawi do this knowing that they have the full weight of international law on their side and that no single country in the world recognizes Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Some of the strongest support for Saharawi right to self-determination comes from the African continent and the Non-Aliened Movement, where many countries have fought their own battles for freedom in recent history. Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa, classified by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, still awaiting a process of decolonization.
The AU (African Union) has been clear in its support, stating that “Western Sahara remains an issue in the completion of the decolonization process of Africa” that must be resolved. Many countries in Africa and around the world formally recognize the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is a full and founding member of the African Union. Morocco, on the other hand, is the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union due to its illegal occupation of Western Sahara. And still, the UN Security Council has chosen to ignore the calls of Africans, its African Union as well as the NAM to rid the continent of colonialism, oppression, flagrant brutality and economic plunder.
For over 25 years the UN Security Council has had the responsibility to facilitate a referendum on self-determination in accordance with the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, tellingly called the United Nations Mission on the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). But France and few otherr P-5 (permanent members) of the Security Council have failed to live up to this obligation by acquiescing to, or in some cases assisting with, Moroccan obstruction of the negotiating process. In the context of this stalemate, it is incumbent upon the UN Secretary-General to point the finger at Morocco and acknowledge that it is the reason why the UN’s efforts to resolve the conflict have ground to a halt. As a first step the UN Secretary-General must follow through on his promise to visit Western Sahara. This would at least send a signal to the Saharawi people that the UN is serious about resolving the conflict.
A new “Green March” every year in March
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing this mid March is again a bogus Dakhla Forum. This new form of “Green March” brings stashes of naïve officials and manipulated spectators – all free of charge. This ‘summit’ in the centar of Concentration Camp has no deliberations, directional agenda or substantive brainstorming. It is rather a showoff, pathetic one. This lavish pampering of (mostly purely informed and misused) visitors in Potemkin Village of brutally enslaved and tortured Dakhla has only one aim – to desperately try to legitimize this unjust occupation. Regrettably, some of the delegates are either European National (MP) or EU parliamentarians (MEP) who are taking perDiams (rather incorrectly) from their taxpayers – besides being fully covered by Morocco with a business class travel and the first class accommodation for themselves and for their spouses. Finally, nobody in the EU approved MPs or MEPs to participate at dubious political whitewashing events contrary to their constituencies’ official line – even charging their taxpayers for the non-existing costs.
It is hypocritical for the major Western powers, particularly some with the UN Security Council, to claim that they are the bastions of democracy and human rights while failing to stand up to Morocco when it denies the Saharawi people the basic right of self-determination. All Saharawi ask for is what their are owed under international law: the right to decide their own future.
Too often, the world has ignored the situation in Western Sahara because the ceasefire has held and Western Sahara nation has not returned to war. But the status quo is not sustainable. An increasingly restless generation of Saharawi youth will not accept that it is their fate to live and die without ever knowing freedom from occupation. The international community should take heed and live up to its responsibilities before it is too late.
Emhamed Khadad is a MINURSO Coordinator, Frente Polisario, Advisor to the President of the partially recognized Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)