The continental body, which admitted Western Sahara to its membership in 1982, has consistently defended the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence. But Morocco has always proved to be cunning.
Western Sahara is the last African decolonisation case on the agenda of the United Nations. It has been on the UN list of the Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963 when it was under Spanish colonial rule. The UN General Assembly has consistently recognised the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence, and called for the exercise of that right in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
However, the decolonisation process of Western Sahara was dramatically interrupted owing to Morocco’s military invasion and occupation of the territory on 31 October 1975. Despite the successive African and international settlement efforts, the decolonisation of Western Sahara has not been completed yet because Morocco, which occupies large parts of the territory, continues to reject any solution to the conflict based on the exercise by the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
Against this background, the paper will examine how the question of Western Sahara has been dealt with within the African context by looking at the role played by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its successor the African Union (AU) in the international efforts aimed at the decolonisation of the last colony in Africa. The history of the engagement of the African continental organisation with the question of Western Sahara is long and multifaceted. The paper will thus focus mainly on some defining moments of the OAU/AU treatment of the question of Western Sahara as well as the policy line that has informed their engagement with the question at different stages of its evolution until the present day. The paper will also touch on some key political events relating to the development of the question of Western Sahara in order to set the general context in which the OAU/AU treatment of this question began and evolved over the past six decades.
THE OAU TREATMENT OF THE QUESTION OF SPANISH/WESTERN SAHARA
It is pertinent to underline, at the outset, that the official policy of the OAU regarding the question of Western Sahara was essentially guided by the principles and objectives of the OAU Charter, in particular those relating to the total decolonisation of the African territories under foreign occupation. As may be recalled, one of the main purposes of the OAU Charter, which was adopted and signed by the Heads of African States and Governments assembled in the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 25 May 1963, was to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa (Article II; d). In addition, the First Conference of Independent African Heads of State and Government, held in Addis Ababa, from 22 to 25 May 1963, adopted resolution CIAS/Plen.2/Rev.2 on decolonisation in which the African leaders expressed their unanimous conviction of the urgent necessity of coordinating and intensifying their efforts to accelerate the unconditional attainment of national independence of all African territories still under foreign domination. They also reaffirmed the duty of all African Independent States to support dependent peoples in Africa in their struggle for freedom and independence. Recognising that border problems constituted a grave and permanent factor of dissention, the OAU was moreover unequivocal in establishing the intangibility of borders inherited from colonial period as a key guiding principle of the incipient continental organisation. To this end, the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, meeting in its First Ordinary Session in Cairo, Egypt, from 17 to 21 July 1964, adopted resolution AHG/Res. 16(I) on Border Disputes among African States. Considering that the borders of African States, on the day of their independence, constituted a tangible reality, the OAU Assembly solemnly declared that all Member States had pledged themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence.
It is also significant to recall in this context that the creation of the OAU in 1963 coincided with the inclusion of Spanish Sahara, as it was then known, on the list of the UN Non-Self-Governing Territories under Chapter XI of the UN Charter, which included those territories whose peoples had not yet attained a full measure of self-government. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Spanish Sahara on 16 December 1965. In resolution 2072, recalling resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, the UN requested Spain, as the administering power of the territory, to take all necessary measures to liberate Spanish Sahara from colonial domination.
As indicated earlier, the policy of the OAU regarding the question of Western Sahara was based on the organisation’s principles and objectives particularly those relating to decolonisation, and it was on this basis that the OAU was seized of the then Spanish Sahara as an African country under foreign occupation. This policy was further reinforced by the status accorded to the territory by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory whose people were entitled to exercise their inalienable right to elf-determination in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It was in this context that the OAU Council of Ministers, meeting in its Seventh Ordinary Session in Addis Ababa, from 31 October to 4 November 1966, adopted resolution CM/Res. 82 (VII) on the Territories under Spanish Domination. Considering Article 2 of the OAU Charter, which laid down the eradication of all forms of colonialism from the continent as one of the main goals of the OAU, the Council of Ministers expressed its full support to all efforts aimed at the immediate and unconditional liberation of all African territories under Spanish domination (Ifni, Spanish Sahara, Equatorial Guinea and Fernando Po). It also appealed to Spain to initiate resolutely a process giving freedom and independence to all these regions, and to refrain from all steps, which might create in them a situation jeopardising peace and security in Africa.
In its Thirteenth Ordinary Session, held in Addis Ababa, from 27 August to 6 September 1969, the OAU Council of Ministers adopted resolution CM/Res. 206 (XIII) on Decolonisation and Apartheid. In the resolution, the Council reaffirmed the legitimacy of the struggle launched in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea (Bissau), Namibia, South Africa, French Somaliland (Djibouti), Spanish Sahara and the Comoro Islands, and recommended that more substantial aid be extended to the African liberation movements materially, financially and diplomatically. It also urged Spain to implement resolution 2428 (XXIII) of the General Assembly on Spanish Sahara. It is to be recalled that resolution 2428 (XXIII), which was adopted on 18 December 1968 on the question of Ifni and Spanish Sahara, noted the difference in nature of the legal status of these territories as well as the processes of decolonisation envisaged for them by General Assembly resolution 2354 (XXII). Moreover, it reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Spanish Sahara to self-determination in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), and called upon Spain to refrain from any action likely to delay the process of the decolonisation of Spanish Sahara.
The same call on Spain was reiterated by the OAU Council of Ministers, in its Fifteenth Ordinary Session, held in Addis Ababa from 24 to 31 August 1970, when it adopted resolution CM/Res. 234 (XV) on Decolonisation in which it strongly urged Spain to comply without delay with the relevant UN resolutions concerning the legitimate rights of the population of the Spanish Sahara to self-determination. It is worth mentioning that the same position was reaffirmed by the OAU Council of Ministers in its Nineteenth Ordinary Session, which was held in Rabat, Morocco, from 5 to 12 June 1972, in which the Council adopted resolution CM/Res. 272 (XIX) on Special Measures to be adopted on Decolonisation and the Struggle Against Apartheid and Racial Discrimination. Regarding Spanish Sahara, the Council expressed its solidarity with the population of the Sahara under Spanish domination and called once again on Spain to create a free and democratic atmosphere in which the people of that territory could exercise their right to self-determination and independence without delay in accordance with the UN Charter. It is of special importance to note that resolution CM/Res. 272 (XIX), which was adopted unanimously and with the positive vote of Morocco, endorsed the right of the people of Spanish Sahara not only to self-determination but also to independence.
In its Twenty-First Ordinary Session, held in Addis Ababa, on 17 – 24 May 1973, the OAU Council of Ministers adopted resolution CM/Res.301 (XXI) on the Sahara under Spanish Domination. Referring to resolution CM/272 (XIX) that was unanimously adopted by the Rabat Summit, the Council denounced the dilatory manoeuvres of the Spanish Government and expressed its complete solidarity with the people of the Sahara under Spanish administration. It also urged the UN to assume without delay its responsibilities with regard to this problem, by ensuring the rapid application of the procedure laid down in the relevant resolutions for the total decolonisation of this region. It is worth mentioning that resolution CM/Res.301 (XXI) came few days after the creation of the Frente popular para la Liberación de Saguiat El Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) on 10 May 1973 as a liberation movement with the declared objective to use armed struggle to achieve independence from Spanish colonial domination. The movement immediately gained overwhelming support among the Sahrawi population and was later recognised as the sole and legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people. In the following year, the OAU Council of Ministers adopted resolution CM/Res.344 (XXIII), in which it reaffirmed, in letter and spirit, its earlier resolution on the Sahara under Spanish domination.
Despite the pressure brought to bear by the increasing attacks of the Frente POLISARIO and the UN and OAU successive calls for the decolonisation of the territory, it was not until August 1974 that Spain finally declared that it was prepared to organise a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara in early 1975. In response to Spain’s decision, King Hassan II of Morocco announced that his country could not accept a referendum that included the option of independence for Western Sahara. Mauritania, for reasons of self-preservation, also joined Morocco in claiming Western Sahara and in calling for arbitration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make a judgement on the pre-colonial legal status of the territory. On 13 December 1974, the General Assembly requested the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the status of Western Sahara prior to Spanish colonisation, and called on Spain to postpone the referendum until the General Assembly was able to decide on a decolonising process that included an ICJ advisory opinion. It was against this backdrop that the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, meeting in its Twelfth Ordinary Session, which was held in Kampala, Uganda, from 28 July to 1 August 1975, adopted resolution AHG/Res. 75 (XII) on Spanish Sahara. In the resolution, the OAU Assembly called upon Spain to abstain from all acts, which might prejudice the decolonisation process of the territory, until the opinion of the ICJ was known.
By referring the matter to the ICJ and by managing to suspend temporarily Spain’s plans to organise the self-determination referendum in Spanish Sahara, Morocco was hoping that the Court would legally endorse its claim to the territory. However, the ICJ advisory opinion, which was released on 16 October 1975, dealt a heavy blow to Morocco’s plans. As may be recalled, the ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara was unequivocal in terms of denying the existence of any ties of territorial sovereignty between Morocco and Mauritania and Western Sahara on the one hand, and endorsing the decolonisation of the territory based on the principle of self-determination, on the other. In response to the ICJ ruling, King Hassan II, with the complicity of certain Western powers, ordered the military invasion and occupation of Western Sahara on 31 October 1975, thus leading to the outbreak of the armed conflict between the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Moroccan forces.
The Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara was in violation of numerous UN and OAU resolutions as well as the OAU principle of intangibility of colonial borders and the ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara. In line with General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), which stipulates that no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognised as legal, the UN, the OAU/AU and all UN Member States have never approved Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara or recognised the legality of its forceful annexation of the territory. In accordance with General Assembly resolutions 34/37 (1979) and 35/19 (1980), Morocco is an occupying power of Western Sahara, and the UN has never recognised it as administering power of the territory.
Instead of assuming its responsibilities as a colonial and administering power of the territory, Spain began secret negotiations with Morocco and Mauritania, which culminated in the signing of a tripartite agreement in Madrid on 14 November 1975 whereby Spain put an end to its administration of Western Sahara. As a result, on 14 April 1976, Morocco and Mauritania signed an agreement in which Western Sahara was partitioned with the northern part given to Morocco and the southern part to Mauritania. It was also reported that Spain was assured of a 35 per cent share of the phosphates of the territory. Evidently, the Madrid agreement was null and void because its objective was to deprive a people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. By signing the agreement, the three signatories moreover have violated a fundamental norm of international law, namely the duty of states to fulfil in good faith their obligations in accordance with the UN Charter.
While Spain was withdrawing from the territory leaving behind a legal and institutional vacuum, the Frente POLISARIO proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27 February 1976. The proclamation of the SADR was the outcome of the anti-colonial and long-standing struggle waged by the Sahrawi people for defending their nation as well as their internationally recognised right to self-determination and independence. On 4 March 1976, the SADR had its first government and in the Third Congress of the Frente POLISARIO, held in August 1976, the SADR had its first constitution including the principles governing the establishment and operation of the state institutions. In its preamble, the constitution underlined the tripartite Arab, African and Muslim character of the Sahrawi people as well as their past and present anti-colonial resistance for defending their freedom and independence. Since its inception, the SADR has been recognised by over 80 countries around the world, and in 1984 it became a full member of the OAU and is a founding member of the AU.
In view of the accelerating events in Western Sahara at the time, the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, meeting in its Thirteenth Ordinary Session at Port Louis, Mauritius, from 2 to 6 July 1976, adopted resolution AHG/Res. 81 (XIII) on the Convening of an Extraordinary Summit on the Question of Western Sahara. Recalling the relevant resolutions of the OAU Liberation Committee and in particular its affirmation of the sacred principle of self-determination, the OAU decided to hold an extraordinary session at summit level with the participation of the people of Western Sahara with a view to finding a lasting and just solution to the problem of Western Sahara.
In its following ordinary session, which was held in Khartoum, Sudan, from 18 to 22 July 1978, the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted resolution AHG/Res. 92 (XV) on the question of Western Sahara. In the resolution, the OAU expressed its deep concern about the serious situation prevailing in the territory and the tension in the region, resulting from Morocco’s continued occupation of Western Sahara, and affirmed the principles and objectives of the OAU Charter, in particular those relating to the total decolonisation of the continent. It took note of the advisory opinion given by the ICJ with respect to the principle of the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and reaffirmed the responsibility of the OAU with regard to the search of a fair and peaceful solution in conformity with the principles of the OAU and UN Charters. It also decided to set up, for this purpose, an ad hoc Committee composed of at least five Heads of State of the OAU and entrusted it with the consideration of all the data on the question of Western Sahara, among which, the exercise of the right of the people of this territory to self-determination. Finally, it called upon all the States of the region to refrain from taking all actions likely to hamper the search of a fair and peaceful solution to this problem.
The huge costs incurred during the war made King Hassan II of Morocco realise the impossibility of a military victory in Western Sahara. In an attempt to halt the advance of the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army and the increasing diplomatic achievements made by the Sahrawi Republic in Africa and elsewhere, King Hassan II was forced to contemplate, albeit for tactical reasons, the possibility of holding a self-determination referendum in Western Sahara as a way-out of the conflict.
In its Eighteenth Ordinary Session held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 24 to 27 June 1981, the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government examined the report of the Secretary-General and the Reports of the Fifth and Sixth Sessions of the Ad-Hoc Committee of Heads of State on Western Sahara. It also noted with appreciation the solemn commitment made by King Hassan II of Morocco to accept the holding of referendum in the Western Sahara to enable the people of that territory to exercise their right to self-determination as well as his pledge to cooperate with the Ad-Hoc Committee in the search for a just, peaceful and lasting solution. The OAU Assembly consequently adopted resolution AHR/Res. 103 (XVIII) on Western Sahara in which it decided to set up an Implementation Committee with full powers to work with the UN and to take all necessary measures to guarantee the exercise by the people of Western Sahara of self-determination through a general and free referendum. It urged the parties to the conflict to observe an immediate ceasefire and directed the Implementation Committee to meet before the end of August 1981 and in collaboration with the parties in conflict to work out the modalities and all other details relevant to the implementation of the ceasefire and the conduct and administration of the referendum. It also requested the UN in conjunction with the OAU to provide a peacekeeping force to be stationed in Western Sahara to ensure peace and security during the organisation and conduct of the referendum and subsequent elections.
The African settlement efforts then culminated in the adoption by the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, meeting in its Nineteenth Ordinary Session in Addis Ababa from 6 to 12 June 1983, of resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) on Western Sahara. The resolution reaffirmed, in letter and spirit, resolution AHR/Res. 103 (XVIII) on Western Sahara, which was adopted earlier. It urged the parties to the conflict, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO, to undertake direct negotiations with a view to bringing about a ceasefire to create the necessary condition for a peaceful and fair referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, a referendum without any administrative or military constraints, under the auspices of the OAU and the UN. While deciding to remain seized of the question of Western Sahara, the OAU Assembly also welcomed the constructive attitude of the Sahrawi leaders in making it possible for the Nineteenth Summit to meet by withdrawing from it voluntarily and provisionally. The OAU resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) would then constitute the cornerstone of the subsequent UN efforts aimed at decolonising Western Sahara.
Despite the early commitment undertaken by Morocco before the OAU in 1981 and its pledge to allow the referendum to take place and to respect its outcome, it immediately became evident that Morocco was not sincere in its intentions, and that it was only playing for time. It was then in the context of responding robustly to Morocco’s manoeuvring and uncooperative attitude that the OAU took its historic decision in 1982 to admit the Sahrawi Republic (SADR) into the continental organisation, which was followed by the SADR taking up its seat as a full Member State of the OAU during the Twentieth Ordinary Session of the Assembly held in Addis Ababa on 12-15 November 1984.
As indicated earlier, the OAU resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) was instrumental in laying the foundations for the subsequent UN efforts aimed at decolonising Western Sahara. It was in this context that the UN General Assembly adopted unanimously resolution 40/50, on 2 December 1985, based on a draft that was introduced by the Chairman of the OAU, the then President of Senegal, on behalf of the African States. Resolution 40/50 mandated the Secretary-General to start discussions with the two parties to the conflict, Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO, with a view to obtaining their cooperation for the implementation of the resolution. In particular, the resolution, which also reflected the entire operative paragraphs of resolution AHG/Res. 104 (XIX) adopted by the OAU in 1983, requested the two parties to start (a) direct negotiations to reach (b) a ceasefire, and (c) to agree on the modalities of a free and fair referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.
In the framework of the General Assembly resolution 40/50, the OAU Chairman and the UN Secretary-General began, in 1986, a joint mediation aimed at obtaining acceptance by the two parties to the conflict of a settlement plan whose main aim was to enable the people of Western Sahara to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence under conditions acceptable to them and, hence, to the international community. In this context, the UN and OAU jointly elaborated a Settlement Plan that was agreed to by the two parties on 30 August 1988, and adopted by Security Council resolutions 658 (1990) and 690 (1991). The objective of the plan was to hold a free and fair referendum under UN supervision in which the Sahrawi people could exercise their right to self-determination in choosing between independence and integration into Morocco. The Security Council also mandated the establishment and deployment in the territory of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to supervise the ceasefire, which came into force on 6 September 1991, and to hold a referendum for self-determination at a specified date not later than February 1992 in accordance with the timetable for implementation as approved by the Security Council in its resolution 690 (1991).
Once again and despite its earlier commitments to the UN/OAU Settlement Plan, Morocco immediately exhibited its unwillingness to go ahead with the holding of the self-determination referendum because it became certain that the Sahrawi voters would inevitably choose the independence of Western Sahara. The UN mission is still present in Western Sahara supervising the ceasefire, but the referendum has not been held yet owing to Morocco’s intransigent position and its outright rejection of any solution to the conflict based on the exercise by the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. As partner of the UN in the Settlement Plan for Western Sahara, the OAU nonetheless remained seized of the question of Western Sahara whilst maintaining the same principled position regarding this issue, which was based on the principles and objectives of the OAU Charter and its relevant resolutions.
THE AU CONTINUED ENGAGEMENT WITH THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA
The transformation of the OAU into the African Union (AU) was described as an event of great magnitude in the institutional evolution of the continent. It took decades for this institutional transformation to evolve and materialise, but 1999 may be singled out as the year in which the OAU Assembly decided, in conformity with the ultimate objectives of the OAU, to establish an African Union as a way to expedite the process of economic and political integration in the continent. Since then, efforts were redoubled to achieve this goal that culminated in Durban Summit, South Africa, held on 9-10 July 2002, which marked the official launching of the AU and the holding of the First Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union.
In the AU founding Constitutive Act, which was adopted in Lomé, Togo, on 11 July 2000, the African leaders underlined that the AU shall function in accordance with a number of principles including, inter alia, sovereign equality and interdependence among Member States of the Union; respect of borders existing on achievement of independence; and prohibition of the use of force or threat to use force among Member States of the Union. It is therefore no wonder that Morocco remains the only African country that is not member of the African Union because it continues to occupy by force parts of a member State of the AU, namely the Sahrawi Republic, in violation of the objectives and principles of the AU Constitutive Act.
As a successor of the OAU, the AU over the years has maintained the same principled position as that adopted by its predecessor vis-à-vis the question of Western Sahara. It is pertinent to highlight in this context the plan of action (SP/ASSEMBLY/PS/PLAN(I)) adopted by the AU Heads of State and Government, meeting in Tripoli, Libya, on 31 August 2009, in the Special Session on the Consideration and Resolution of Conflicts in Africa, which included the measures that needed to be taken to accelerate the resolution of conflict and crisis situations and consolidate peace in Africa. Regarding Western Sahara, the AU leaders pledged their support for the on-going UN efforts to overcome the current impasse and for relevant UN Security Council resolutions. They also called for the intensification of efforts towards the holding of a referendum to enable the people of the territory to choose between the option of independence and that of integration into the Kingdom of Morocco.
Concerned about the human rights situation in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, the AU Executive Council, meeting in its Twentieth Ordinary Session, which was held in Addis Ababa, from 23 to 27 January 2012, adopted decision EX.CL/Dec.689(XX) on the Twenty Ninth, Thirtieth and Thirty First Activity Reports of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Regarding the situation in Western Sahara, the Executive Council requested the ACHPR to carry out a mission to the occupied territory of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a view to investigating human rights violations and to report to the next Ordinary Session of the Executive Council in January 2013. The significance of this decision lies in that it highlights the increasing interest given by the AU to the issue of human rights in the occupied territories of the SADR as well as the AU’s stance with regards Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara.
The AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, meeting in its Nineteenth Ordinary Session, which was held in Addis Ababa, on 15 - 16 July 2012, adopted the Report of the Peace and Security Council on its Activities and the State of Peace and Security in Africa. Regarding Western Sahara, the Assembly renewed the AU’s appeal to the Security Council for a more proactive approach to the dispute. In particular, it called upon the Security Council to endeavour to create conditions that would enable the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination in line with international legality and the relevant AU decisions, including the AU Plan of Action adopted on 31 August 2009. In the same context, the AU Executive Council, meeting in its Twenty-Second Ordinary Session, held recently in Addis Ababa, on 21 - 25 January 2013, adopted decision EX.CL/Dec.758(XXII) on the Activity Report of the Commission. Regarding Western Sahara, the Executive Council requested the Commission to take all the necessary measures for the organisation of a referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in compliance with the relevant OAU decisions and UN resolutions.
As indicated earlier, the decolonisation of Western Sahara has been endorsed by the UN and the OAU since the 1960s. However, due to Morocco’s continued occupation of parts of Western Sahara as well as its opposition to any solution to the conflict based on the exercise of the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, the decolonisation of the territory has not been completed yet despite the continued African and international settlement efforts.
The Sahrawi people nonetheless are pursuing the implementation of their national strategy in defence of their legitimate rights to recover the sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi Republic (SADR) has been consolidating its relations with a large number of countries in the world, mainly in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and South East Pacific region. At the regional and African level, the SADR has actively participated, along with friendly and neighbouring countries, in the consolidation and effectiveness of regional security structures and in combating internationally organised crime and other security threats in conformity with its obligations as a Member State of the African Union.
In view of the above discussion, it has been made clear that the OAU/AU treatment of the question of Western Sahara has been guided by the principles and objectives of the OAU Charter and the AU Constitutive Act respectively. In particular, the solemn commitment to the total decolonisation of the African territories under foreign occupation on the basis of the inalienable right of colonial peoples to self-determination, as well as the intangibility of borders existing on the achievement of national independence has been a guiding principle for the engagement of the African continental organisation with the question of Western Sahara. In this context, for the OAU/AU, Western Sahara remains a colonial case to which the UN doctrine and practice relating to decolonisation must be applicable. This means that the only viable and legal solution to this decolonisation issue lies in the exercise by the Sahrawi people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence through a free, fair and democratic referendum on self-determination.
Morocco’s occupation and forcible annexation of Western Sahara in 1975, which was in violation of numerous UN and OAU resolutions as well as the OAU principle of intangibility of colonial borders and the ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara, has constituted an enduring denial of the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence. Moreover, after rejecting the UN/OAU Settlement Plan and successive UN-sponsored peace plans, Morocco has shown beyond any doubt that it is still unwilling to go along the peaceful, democratic and viable path leading to a lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara, namely the self-determination referendum.
As the OAU responded robustly to Morocco’s intransigence by admitting the SADR into the continental organisation in 1982, the international community should now send Morocco a strong message that the basic rules of the international system and peoples’ inalienable right to self-determination and independence cannot be indefinitely held hostage to the intransigence of an occupying power that has repeatedly failed to honour its international commitments. In sum, the completion of the decolonisation of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, by means of ensuring the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence, will undoubtedly give an additional impetus to the on-going efforts aiming at confronting the challenges of peace and security in the continent, and will be a significant springboard for the achievement of the long-sought regional as well as continental integration.
* Dr Sidi M. Omar is former Permanent Representative of the Sahrawi Republic (SADR) to the African Union, but is now based at Interuniversity Institute of Social Development and Peace (IUDESP), Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain
A SELECTION OF ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS BY DR SIDI OMAR:
1. The right to self-determination and the indigenous people of Western Sahara. Published in: Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Volume 21, Issue 1 March 2008, pages 41-57. See here
2. Mapping of the Conflict in Western Sahara (2009).Click here
3. OMAR, SIDI M. (2008): Los Estudios Post-Coloniales: una Introducción Crítica, Castellón de la Plana: Universitat Jaume I. ISBN: 978-84-8021-639-5.
4. OMAR, SIDI M. et al (2008): El Papel de la Sociedad Civil en La Construcción de la Paz en el Sáhara Occidental, Barcelona: Icaria-Editorial. ISBN: 978-84-9888-011-3.
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