Polisario Front briefing paper on the question of Western Sahara

By the Polisario Front

October 2009

1. Western Sahara (the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic) is located in northwest Africa and covers an area of 266,000 square kilometres. It is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast and Mauritania to the East and southeast and has a 1,200-kilometre-long Atlantic Ocean coastline. The Saharawi Republic was proclaimed on 27 February 1976; its capital is El Aaiún.

2. In the pre-colonial times, the Saharawis lived as one independent community and developed their own cultural forms of expression and socio-political organisations; it was these idiosyncratic elements that constituted the distinctiveness of the Saharawi society over the centuries. The Saharawi are known for being a tolerant, open and peaceful society that has never been involved in any form of political or religious extremism.

3. Western Sahara is the last African decolonisation case in the agenda of the United Nations Africa, and it has been on the UN list of the Special Committee of 24 since 1963 when it was under Spanish colonial rule. The United Nations General Assembly has since consistently recognised the inalienable right of the Saharawi 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.

4. It was in this context that the UN repeatedly called on Spain, the administering power of Western Sahara, to decolonise the territory by means of organising a self-determination referendum for its people. Spain, however, failed to assume its responsibilities, and instead handed over the territory to both Morocco and Mauritania that militarily invaded and occupied the territory in 1975. The occupation was in contradiction of numerous UN resolutions and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The historic ruling of the ICJ, issued on 16 October 1975, affirmed unequivocally that:

“The materials and information presented to it [the Court] do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. Thus the Court has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonisation of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory”.

5. Moreover, in line with the 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 has neither approved the occupation nor recognised the legality of the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara. More precisely, in its Resolutions 34/37 of 21 November 1979 and 35/19 of 11 November 1980, the General Assembly deeply deplored the aggravation of the situation resulting from the continued occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.”

6. It is thus natural for the efforts aiming at settling the question of Western Sahara to have as ultimate objective the enabling of the Sahrawi people to decide their future by means of a free and fair referendum on self-determination.

African Union and the United Nations efforts and mediations

7. Following a 16 years protracted war, the two parties to the conflict, Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO [the Western Saharan people’s liberation movement], accepted the UN-OAU jointly elaborated Settlement Plan that was approved by the Security Council in its Resolutions 658 (1990) and 690 (1991). The plan provided for the entry into force of a ceasefire to be followed by a free and fair referendum on self-determination, without any administrative or military constraints, in which “the Saharawi people would choose between independence and integration into Morocco”(Para 4 and 6 of the Peace Plan, S/21360). It was also agreed that the electoral body for the referendum will be based on the last Spanish census of the indigenous population made in 1974 (Para 53, S/21360).

8. The ceasefire entered into force on 6 September 1991. However, the referendum has not been held yet, due to the delaying tactics and obstructions made by Morocco that, from day one, used all means to undermine the peace process. Morocco also exhibited the same obstructionist attitude towards the Houston Agreements that were negotiated and signed by both parties in September 1997 under the auspices of James Baker III, the then Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.

9. At the request of the Security Council, following Morocco’s rejection of the Settlement Plan, Baker put forward The Peace Plan for Self-determination of the People of Western Sahara (Baker Plan), which was supported by the Security Council in its Resolution 1495 (2003). The plan envisaged four to five years period of self-governance for the territory at the end of which a referendum would be held in which not only indigenous Saharawi but also Moroccan residents in the territory since December 1999 would participate. As a gesture of goodwill, the Frente POLISARIO accepted the plan despite the risks it involved, but Morocco rejected it out of hand.

10. Morocco’s main objection was that the plan included independence as one of the ballot options. However, the Secretary-General in his report of 16 October 2004 stated that the “United Nations could not sponsor a plan that excluded a referendum with independence as an option while claiming to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara” (para.14). The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, James Baker III, were of the view that it was inconceivable for a referendum on self-determination organised by the UN not to include the option of independence.

11. In fact, the reason behind Morocco’s reneging on its commitments and its unwillingness to allow any referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people is the fact that it knows too well that the territory is not Moroccan and that any free and fair referendum on self-determination, to be held even with the participation of the Moroccan settlers residing in the territory, will definitely lead to the independence of Western Sahara.

In an interview with the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), broadcast in August 2004, James Baker III revealed the reason behind Morocco’s change of heart and its rejection of the referendum saying that “The closer we got, the more nervous I think the Moroccans got about whether they might not win the referendum.”

Morocco’s rejection to peace

12. Since its rejection of the Baker Plan in 2004, Morocco repeatedly declared that it was willing to accept a solution to the question of Western Sahara only “within the sovereignty of Morocco”. In this context, on 11 April 2007, it presented to the UN a proposal aiming at granting “autonomy” to the territory of Western Sahara “within Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial unity”.

13. Presented as a major concession, this project, which puts aside all the achievements made so far by the UN to settle the conflict, is another delaying tactic by Morocco that aims at gaining recognition by the international community of its colonial fait-accompli in Western Sahara. In other words, the recognition of Moroccan “sovereignty” over a Non-Self-Governing Territory without meeting the requirements of the UN doctrine and practice relating to decolonisation.

14. The Saharawi Government and the Frente POLISARIO have underlined on countless occasions that the Moroccan project is bound to fail, for it is based on totally unacceptable premises:

First, the proposal evidently departs from the assumption that Western Sahara is already an integral part of Morocco’s territory. This assumption is clearly unfounded since, from the viewpoint of international legality, Morocco does not exercise any legal territorial sovereignty or even administering power over Western Sahara. As the Secretary-General stated in his report of 19 April 2006 (para. 37), “no member State of the UN recognises Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.” Moreover, as clearly established in General Assembly Resolutions 34/37 (1979) and 35/19 (1980), Morocco is only an occupying power in Western Sahara.

Second, Morocco once again ignores the fact that Western Sahara is still considered by the UN as a question of decolonization whose final status must be decided by its indigenous people, not by the occupying power.

Third, by declaring that autonomy is the only solution, Morocco is prejudging the will of the Saharawi people by limiting from the outset their choice to autonomy. This clearly violates the sacrosanct principle applicable to Non-Self-Governing Territories, as enshrined in General Assembly Resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV), that requires the free and genuine expression of the will of the people concerned through a popular consultation that necessarily includes the option of independence.

Fourth, the Moroccan approach deliberately ignores the Saharawi national reality, the long struggle of the Saharawi people for freedom as well as their strong attachment to independence that has been manifested daily for over thirty years. Furthermore, ,it ignores the fact that the Saharawi Republic (SADR) has been recognized by the African Union as full Member State and has today diplomatic relations with dozens of countries in the world.

Fifth, the project is also dangerous. Indeed, willing to impose an autonomy-based solution on a people who are fundamentally hostile to any form of Moroccan domination or control and that have fought the Moroccan occupation for over three decades, is taking deliberately the risk to increase the tension, and create an intolerable situation that would jeopardise the stability of the territory and the region and undermine the chances for a just and final settlement of the conflict.

15. In order to overcome the deadlock already caused by Morocco, the Frente POLISARIO presented to the UN, on 10 April 2007, a proposal titled “Proposal of the Frente POLISARIO for a mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara” (see the annex). The proposal is based on two pillars:

It stresses the need for the referendum on self-determination that would include the options already agreed by the two parties (independence, integration, autonomy) and endorsed by the Security Council in numerous resolutions.

Should the referendum lead to the independence of Western Sahara, the Frente POLISARIO will be ready to negotiate with Morocco the establishment of strategic relations between the two countries in all domains, particularly those that are or could be a cause of real or assumed concern to Morocco.

16. On 30 April 2007, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1754 (2007) in which it took note, in the preamble, of the two proposals and called upon both parties, Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO “to enter into negotiations without preconditions in good faith with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara” (OP2).

17. In this context, under the UN Secretary-General’s auspices, delegations from the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco met at Greentree Estate in Manhasset, New York, on 18-19 June 2007. A second round of negotiations between the two parties was also held in Manhasset on 10-11 August 2007. In October 2007 and April 2008, the Secretary-General submitted his reports to the Security Council in which he insisted on the fact that the two parties should enter into substantial negotiations and that the two proposals should be the basis for the negotiations. A third and fourth round of negotiations took place in Manhasset on 7-9 January and 16-18 March 2008. The Security Council adopted Resolution 1783 (2007) and 1813 (2008) in which it reiterated the substance of Resolution 1754 (2007).

18. The Frente POLISARIO came to the four rounds of negotiations encouraged by the same sense of earnestness and good faith with which it participated in the preceding process of negotiation led by James Baker III. On the four occasions, it has fully cooperated with the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara in the discussion of all issues including the confidence-building measures (CBMs), which he proposed in the second round with a view to creating a positive climate between the two parties. It is regrettable, however, that the Moroccan delegation rejected to discuss the Sahrawi proposal and the proposed CBMs, exhibiting once again its unwillingness to move the negotiation process forward.

19. A fifth round of formal negotiations is expected to take place at some time in the future. The aim of the recent round of informal talks held in Austria in August 2009 is precisely to pave the way to the fifth round. The Saharawi Government and the Frente POLISARIO have always underlined that the negotiations process underway should not become an objective in itself and consequently should not be emptied of its main content and ultimate goal, namely providing for the right of self-determination of people of Western Sahara. Moreover, they are hopeful that Morocco would one day cease its dilatory manoeuvres and engage, in good faith, in the effective implementation of the Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions which continue to support the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence.

20. Since the sixty-third session of the General Assembly (2008), major events have taken place.

21. The UN Secretary General has, in early August 20098, decided to appoint Ambassador Christopher Ross (USA), as his new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara in replacement of Mr. Peter Van Walsum. Mr. Ross undertook two regional visits (January and June 2009) which allowed him to discuss with the leadership of the two parties, Morocco and the F. Polisario, as well as with the leaders of the two observers, Algeria and Mauritania, the prospects of progress for the stalemated peace process.

With the support of UNSC resolution 1871 (2009), and the generous cooperation of the Government of Austria, both parties held, from 10 to 12 August 2009, informal conversations under the auspices of the UNSG Personal Envoy, in Durnstein (Austria) aimed at preparing the grounds for the fifth round of formal negotiations.

The conversations did not lead to a tangible progress. It was once again apparent that Morocco’s intransigent position which it has already exhibited in Manhasset continues to impede any substantial progress toward a peaceful and lasting resolution of the conflict. Both parties agreed however to continue the negotiations in a date and location that the UNSG Personal Envoy will determine. A report by the UNSG to the UNSC is expected to be finished before the end of April 2010.

The renewal of African Union position

22. Meanwhile, the Saharawi people is pursuing the implementation of its national strategy in defence of their legitimate right to be a free and sovereign nation, a process that should not be halted by the lack of progress in the negotiations with the occupying power. The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) has actively participated in all summits and meetings of the African Union.

It is worthy to recall that the Special Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union (AU) on conflicts in Africa, held at Tripoli (Libya), Aug 31, 2009, adopted an important decision on Western Sahara, which “Calls for the intensification of the efforts towards the holding of a referendum to enable de people of Western Sahara to choose between the option of independence and that of integration into the Kingdom of Morocco." [Special Session. AU Summit; 31 august 2009, Tripoli, Libya.]

By adopting this position, the AU intends to support the commendable efforts undertaken by the UN in the peace process in Western Sahara, which the AU is the initiator and co-sponsor.

It is clear for the African Union that Morocco’s position constitutes the major obstacle to peace. In his report to this special session, the chairman of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, said that the Western Sahara conflict is ''still at an impasse,” because, he said, “polarization of the positions of the parties and, more recently, because of Morocco's insistence that its autonomy proposal is the only basis for negotiations with the Polisario, although the Security Council of the UN has noted the proposals of the two parties, as submitted in April 2007.''

The SADR has been consolidating its relations with a high number of friendly countries in the world, mainly in Africa, Caribbean area, Latin America, Asia and South East pacific region.. It has been actively present in Latin America and Africa on the occasion of important events that took place in the two continents. In tandem with these diplomatic achievements, several ambassadors accredited to the SADR have presented to the Saharawi President their Letters of Credentials in the Saharawi liberated territories. The Frente POLISARIO has also become an observer member of the Socialist International.

23. The Saharawi liberated territories, over which the SADR exercises its full sovereignty, have assumed an increasing importance in the overall policies of the Saharawi Government. Significant political, social, economic and cultural events have taken place in those territories, especially in Tifariti where the 12th Congress of the Frente POLISARIO and the 35th anniversary of the foundation of the Frente POLISARIO as well as opening sessions of the Saharawi Parliament were all held there. Hundreds of foreign delegations and dignitaries as well as international media took part in those events.

The Saharawi Government is undertaking great efforts to provide the necessary infrastructure and security conditions for the Saharawi population living in those territories, while undertaking consistent efforts in coordination with friendly countries and neighbours to prevent and eventually to disrupt any illegal activities related to internationally organized crime. It has actively participated, given the long experience of its military forces, in the consolidation and effectiveness of regional security structures in conformity with its obligations as a full Member of the African Union.


24. After signing the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines in 2005, the SADR has destroyed the major part of its antipersonnel mine stockpile, and facilitated mine action activities in the liberated territories. The SADR has also declared its commitment to the Ottawa Treaty on banning antipersonnel mines. It should be recalled, however, that Morocco continues to use this lethal weapon (more that 5 million of personal landmines are planted in the territory) in the areas under its occupation whilst refusing to adhere to the Ottawa Treaty.

UNHCR activities in Western Sahara

25. The UNHCR sponsored exchange programme of visits between Saharawi families separated by the Moroccan occupation is still running albeit at a slow pace. It is regrettable that Morocco has obstructed for an extended period of time the visits to be conducted by land, and continues to block other confidence-building measures adopted by the Security Council such as cultural seminars and postal services. The recent visit in September 2009 to the region of the President of the UNHCR, Mr. Gutierres, was critical in the decision of the international community to increase the amount of humanitarian programs for the Saharawi refugees and certainly helped to overcome Morocco’s obstructions with regard the program of family visits by land.

Human Rights violations by Morocco in Western Sahara

26. MINURSO was established in 1991 for two inseparable purposes: first, to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and Frente POLISARIO forces; and second, to organize a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara by which they will freely choose between independence and integration into Morocco. Eighteen years later, due to Moroccan obstruction, no such referendum has taken place.

27. Until the fundamental right of self-determination of the Saharawi people is secured, the United Nations has a responsibility to protect the population of the Western Sahara pursuant to its clearly defined obligations towards Non Self-Governing Territories, as set out in Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations. It is worthy to recall that Members of the United Nations have accepted as a ‘sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost…the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories’ and to ensure ‘their just treatment and their protection against abuses’. These fundamental Charter obligations include the provision of basic human rights.

28. A human tragedy keeps on unfolding in our country since 1975 whose cruellest chapters are gradually overcoming the breach of the imposed silence. Moroccan news paper, Al Jarida Al Oula published in 2008 summer what a Member of Morocco delegation in Manhasset negotiations confessed to a Moroccan Official investigative body:

There are several people (…) three or four officers from the (Moroccan) Army that have committed what can be called war crimes off the battlefield, and many civilians were thrown off helicopters or buried alive on account of being Saharawi

29. Hundreds of Saharawi have been detained, made to face unfair trials and 32 political detainees, whose names and data were transmitted to the UNSG personal Envoy, are still imprisoned in Moroccan detention centres where the cruellest methods of physical and physiological torture are practiced with impunity. The entire occupied territories continue to be under a military siege and a total media blackout, whilst Moroccan authorities deny access to NGOs, international media and observers.

30. The recent wave of repression undertaken in September 2009 by Morocco forces in Bojador, Aaiun and Smra left dozens of victims, manly women and young ladies, like the famous human right activist, Sultana Kahaya. Torture, abuses, arbitrary detention, have been in situ graphically documented. (http://asvdh.net/english/, http://www.spsrasd.info/en/main3e.php and www.arso.org).

31. It should be recalled in this regard that on 8 September 2006, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) delivered a report expressing serious concern at the human rights situation in Western Sahara, and documenting incidents of arbitrary arrest, harassment, and intimidation of human rights activists, including excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators. While the report, unfortunately, has not been yet made public, it linked clearly the egregious and brazen human rights abuses in the occupied territory to the denial of the Saharawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination. The High Commissioner therefore recommended that the United Nations should institute a capacity to monitor human rights in the occupied Territory.

32. The findings of the OHCHR and recommendations were confirmed by a similarly critical reports published by Human Rights Watch in December 2008, [Human Right Watch, Human Rights in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf Refugee Camps, 19 December 2008] and by the European Parliament fact-finding Mission of February 2009, which documents Morocco’s systematic and abusive efforts to suppress political dissent in the occupied Territory.

33. According to Human Rights Watch, these efforts are manifested by ‘arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, restrictions on associations and assemblies, and through police violence and harassment’.

The report also finds that Moroccan security forces ‘arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Saharawi activists, beat them and subject them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; and the courts convict and imprison them after unfair trials’, all in violation of Morocco’s obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In light of these grave findings, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Security Council should ‘expand the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights monitoring and reporting in both Western Sahara and in the POLISARIO-administered camps in Algeria’.

34. In his reports to the Security Council on 14 April 2008 (S/2008/251), and S/2009/200 0f April 14, 2009 the Secretary-General noted that, while MINURSO has no staff dedicated to human rights monitoring, “it is the duty of the United Nations to uphold human rights standards in all of its operations, including its operations related to Western Sahara”

35. The F. Polisario urged the Security Council to act upon the recommendations of the High Commissioner and establish a human rights component within the MINURSO mandate to protect, promote and monitor the human rights situation of the Saharawi people as long as the conflict over the decolonization of Western Sahara remains unresolved.

The UNSC, because of Morocco’s rejection which was supported by a European Permanent Member historically known by its negative interference in the decolonization process of Western Sahara, made a reference to the importance of the “human dimension of the conflict” in its latest resolution(S/1871/2009 of April 30, 2009) ,thus failing to adopt a more clear recommendation with regard human rights monitoring system in Western Sahara, despite the efforts undertaken by several UNSC members.

Our hope is that the United Nations will address responsibly the long-standing and systematic denial of the human rights of the Saharawi people, and pave the way towards securing a democratic and legitimate process of self-determination in the Western Sahara.

Exploitation of Saharawi natural resources

36. In the meantime, the Moroccan authorities continue to illegally and massively exploit the natural resources of Western Sahara. The UN legal department opinion of January 29, 2002 stated clearly that any extraction of these resources is illegal since Morocco has no legitimate authority to engage in such exploitation.

37. Morocco claims that it has developed the territory. It is a classic “argument “used by all colonial powers. However, the revenues (Five billion USD) that the occupying power extracts from exploiting the Saharawi rock phosphate (3,500,000 tonnes annually at a price of about US$ 300 per tonne) and the fish industry, for example, go solely to the regime.

They are then used to buy more weapons and reinforce the presence of more than 130,000 of its soldiers stationed in the occupied territory, to sustain economically the needs of more than 300.000 Moroccan settlers, whilst the socioeconomic situation in the occupied territories is deteriorating, with an unemployment rate that exceeds 35 %. UN Member states should not participate directly or indirectly, in these illegal activities. In this connection we urge the EU to reconsider the chapters affecting Western Sahara coasts in the Fishery agreement it has signed with Morocco. The EU should keep its proclaimed reputation not to engage in agreements with countries that are violating international law and human rights.


38. For United Nations, Western Sahara remains a colonial case to which the UN doctrine and practice relating to decolonisation must be applicable. This means that the Saharawi people have an inalienable right to self-determination and independence to be exercised in a free, fair and democratic referendum on self-determination. Morocco, which has already recognized from 1966 to 1973 in statements before UN the right of independence of Western Sahara and has accepted many peace plans based on the option of independence, should cooperate with the international community to put an end to its expansionist colonial war.

39. Over thirty years of institution and nation-building have made the Saharawi nation an irreversible reality. The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is a fully-fledged State that exercises its full sovereignty over the Saharawi liberated territories and has the administrative and political capacity to handle its own affairs and conduct its international relations. Indeed, the establishment of an independent Saharawi State in Western Sahara, as a result of a genuine democratic process, is the sine qua non for a secure, prosperous and integrated Maghreb.

40. Today finding a just and final settlement of the question of Western Sahara in line with international legality is not only necessary but also possible. The Settlement Plan, the Houston Accords, the Peace Plan for Self-determination of the people of Western Sahara and the Manhasset negotiation process can provide, at any moment, if the political will exists, an appropriate and honourable framework to settle the conflict.

41. The Saharawi Government and the Frente POLISARIO, in keeping with the Security Council position, are ready to work and cooperate with the UN Secretary-General in order to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination in Western Sahara through the free and genuine expression of the will of the Saharawi people. We are strongly committed to give all chances to the current negotiating process.

42. However , as long as Morocco continue to feel that it has both a veto power to disrupt UN efforts and a guarantee of impunity with regard its policy of violations of human rights in the territory, the chances for the peace process to succeed will continue to be under a great and clear danger.

September 2009


Morocco’s commitments:

1. On 7 July 1966, the Representative of Morocco, Mr. Day Ould Sidi Baba, stated before the meeting of the Committee of the 24, gathered in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, that: “I ask for the independence of Western Sahara as soon as possible and this should be an authentic independence, hence we can get over the actual impasse...” [Statement by Mr. Day Ould Sidi Baba, of Morocco; Committee of 24, meeting in Addis Ababa, on 7 June 1966]

2. In the same year, on 13 October 1966, the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Mr. Charkawi, stated before the 21st session of the General Assembly, that: “Morocco supports a real independence for Western Sahara, putting the future of the region in the hands of its sons which in the context of liberty will decide freely on their self-determination...” [Statement by Mr. Mohamed Charkhawi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco; 21st Session of the General Assembly,13 October 1966]

3. Four years later, King Hassan II himself, in a press conference held on 30 July 1970, stated: “Instead of going on claiming the territory of the Sahara, I would make the specific request that a popular consultation takes place, assuring that the first result being the departure of the non-Africans and allowing the people of the Sahara to choose between life under the Moroccan aegis, under their own aegis, or under any other aegis.”[1] Translated from the original in French.

4. Three months later, the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Mr. Boutaleb, stated before the 25th session of the General Assembly, on 12 October 1970, that: “Morocco and neighbouring countries, concerned about peace in the area, the development and cooperation among them, have decided to implement and facilitate the application of the self-determination of the territory of Western Sahara in collaboration with the international organization and the administering power.” [Statement by Minister of Foreign Relations of Moroco, Mr. Butaleb; 25th Session of the General Assembly on 12 October 1970].

5. Two years later, in June 1972, the Council of Ministries of the OAU held in Rabat, Morocco, from 5 to 12 June, adopted with the direct support of Morocco, resolution CM/res. 272(XIX) that, “Calls on Spain, the administering power of Western Sahara to enable the people of this territory to exercise their right to self-determination and independence without delay and in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations” [OP2, resolution CM/res.272(XIX)].

6. One year later, the tripartite Summit among Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania held in Agadir, Morocco, on 24 July 1973, reflected this consensus whilst expressing:

“Their unshakable attachment to the principle of self-determination and their will to make sure that this principle is implemented within a frame that ensures the free and true expression of the inhabitants of Western Sahara, in conformity with UN decisions regarding this question”. (Algerian Mauritanian-Moroccan Summit, Agadir, 24 July 1973).

7. The regional consensus established at the highest political level was defended by Morocco three months later before the 28th session of the General Assembly, on 3 October 1973, when the Moroccan Foreign Minister Mr. Benhima stated:

“It is known that my country proclaims solemnly and in front of other international authorities to be in favour of the self-determination of the people in this territory”. (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, Mr. Benhima, at the 28th Session of the General Assembly of 3 October 1973).

[1] « Au lieu d’aller revendiquer tout court le territoire du Sahara, j’allais faire la demande spécifique qu’une consultation populaire ait lieu, assuré que le premier résultat serait le départ des non africains et qu’on laisserait au peuple du Sahara de choisir entre la vie sous les égides marocaines, sous leur propres égides ou sous n’importe quelles autres égides». [Conférence de presse du Roi Hassan II, le 30 juillet 1970, in Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord, 1970, CNRS, Paris, 1971, p. 807].


Date: 13 October 2009

Morocco/Western Sahara: Sahrawi activists targeted for Tindouf visit

Amnesty International is concerned about the arrest and incommunicado detention of seven Sahrawi activists who are under threat of facing trumped-up charges. The organization calls for their immediate release as they are feared to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully expressing their support for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Dakja Lashgar, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek were arrested at about 1:30 pm on 8 October at the Mohamed V airport in Casablanca upon their return from Algeria, where they were visiting the Tindouf camps between 26 September and 8 October. They are reported to have been arrested immediately after disembarking the plane. The seven belong to a number of human rights organizations and other civil society groups including Western Saharan branches of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains, AMDH), the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (Association sahraouie des victimes des graves violations des droits de l’homme commises par l’état du Maroc, ASVDH) and the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (Collectif des défenseurs sahraouis des droits de l’homme, CODESA); and several have long track records of monitoring of and reporting on human rights violations in Western Sahara. At least two of the seven are former victims of enforced disappearance including Dakja Lashgar, the only woman detained, and Brahim Dahane, who was forcibly disappeared in the 1980s until his release in 1991. Four have previously been imprisoned, including Ali Salem Tamek, who had been adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

A statement from the Moroccan official news agency dated 8 October 2009 disclosed that the Crown Prosecutor of the Court of Appeal of Casablanca ordered the transfer of the seven Sahrawi activists to the judicial police. The same statement alleged that they were arrested as a result of their meetings with “bodies opposing Morocco” therefore undermining the highest national interests in probable reference to the detainees’ meetings with representatives of the Polisario Front, which runs a self-declared government in exile in the Tindouf camps. In addition to meetings with senior representatives of the Polisario Front, the seven activists were reported to have attended a number of conferences and festivals organized in their honour. All of these activities should be regarded as peaceful and legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly as guaranteed in international law and standards.

The Moroccan authorities only informed the detainees’ relatives of the arrest four days later in the early evening of 12 October in contravention of Article 67 of the Moroccan Code of Criminal Procedure, which stipulates that the judicial police must notify the family of the suspects as soon as it is decided to place them in garde à vue (pre-arraignment detention). Furthermore, relatives were told that they are not allowed to visit the detainees as they were still in garde à vue, confirming fears that this case is being treated as one related to the internal or external security of the state in which cases according to Article 33 of the Code of Criminal Procedure garde à vue detention can be extended for up to eight days, pending permission by the general prosecution.

Amnesty International is also concerned by reports that the family of at least one detainee has faced harassment following the arrest. Since the late evening of 11 October, members of the police and the Auxiliary Forces have surrounded the house of Ahmed Alansari in the Salam neighbourhood of Smara and have prevented individuals, including other family members, from visiting the home. Biba Lala Salkha, wife of Ahmed Alansari, has also reportedly faced verbal harassment by members of the security forces. On 11 October, she went to the office of the general prosecution in Smara to file a complaint regarding her husband’s arrest and the heavy security presence outside her home, but her complaint was not accepted. She, along with her two eldest children, has started a 48-hour hunger strike on 12 October in condemnation of the harassment.

Amnesty International also urges the Moroccan authorities to disclose the exact place of detention of the seven activists held by the Casablanca judicial police and to provide them with immediate access to their families, lawyers and any medical attention they might require.


The arrest of the seven Sahrawis comes against the backdrop of Moroccan media and a number of political parties’ attacks on the activists dubbing them as “traitors” and in some cases calling for them to be punished. Family visits between Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps in south-western Algeria take place under the auspices of the UNHCR and Sahrawi activists have previously visited Algeria. This was, however, the first time that Sahrawi activists visited the Tindouf camps.

Their arrests also come in the midst of increased reports of harassment of Sahrawi activists including breaches of the right of individuals to leave the country in contravention of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of movement, and to which Morocco is a state party. For instance, five Sahrawi activists were prevented from travelling to Mauritania on 6 October. After prolonged interrogations, they had all their identification documents confiscated before being released without being given any official reason for the ban.

The status of Western Sahara, a territory Morocco annexed in 1975, remains taboo in the eyes of the Moroccan authorities, which show little tolerance for those publically expressing views in favour of independence of Western Sahara. Moroccan authorities not only target Sahrawi activists calling for the self-determination of Western Sahara, but also Sahrawi human rights defenders monitoring violations taking place in that context. Sahrawi human rights defenders continue to face intimidation, harassment or even prosecution. Amnesty International fears that defenders are targeted because of their human rights activities and for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, including the right to peacefully advocate for self-determination. Their work is further hampered as they are unable to obtain legal registration for their organizations due to politically-motivated administrative obstacles.

On numerous occasions, Amnesty International has called on the Moroccan authorities to take concrete measures to ensure that the rights of all Sahrawis to freedom of expression, association and assembly are fully respected. Such rights are enshrined in international law, notably the ICCPR. The organization has also urged the Moroccan authorities to allow Sahrawi human rights defenders to collect and disseminate information and views on human rights issues without fear of prosecution, harassment or intimidation as set out in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Barbara Becker, EqualShot

October 13, 2009 212-375-0661

Western Sahara Human Rights Defender wins 10th Annual Civil Courage Prize

Aminatou Haidar to be honored for her campaign on behalf of the self-determination of Western Sahara and against government abuses and disappearances of prisoners of conscience

New York, NY – Aminatou Haidar, a Sahrawi human rights defender struggling for the right to self-determination of Western Sahara, will receive the 2009 Civil Courage Prize in New York on October 20. The Prize of $50,000 honors individuals who have demonstrated steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk.

Ms. Haidar is being recognized for her courageous campaign for self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco and against forced disappearances and abuses of prisoners of conscience. Regularly referred to as the “Sahrawi Gandhi,” Ms. Haidar is one of Western Sahara’s most prominent human rights defenders.

Once a Spanish colony, Western Sahara has been under strict military control by the Kingdom of Morocco since its invasion in 1975. The region has experienced an extended conflict between Moroccan military and the Sahrawi independence organization, the Polisario Front. In response to the International Court of Justice’s rejection of Morocco’s claims of sovereignty in the region, the Polisario Front, in 1976, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as Western Sahara’s legitimate government.

In 1988, the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to settle the dispute through a UN-administered referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. The vote still has not been held. A UN-administered ceasefire has been in place since 1991. In 2007, the United Nations began facilitating peace talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front, but talks have stalled over disagreements, including who qualifies to participate in the potential referendum and whether full independence is an option for Sahrawis.

Ms. Haidar is part of a younger generation of Sahrawi leaders working through non-violent means to organize peaceful demonstrations in support of the referendum and to denounce the human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict. Her peaceful efforts have been met with increased police aggression and brutality. In 1987, at the age of 21, Ms. Haidar was one of 700 peaceful protestors arrested for participating in a rally in support of a referendum. Later she was “disappeared” without charge or trial and held in secret detention centers for four years, where she and 17 other Sahrawi women were tortured. In 2005, the Moroccan police detained and beat her after another peaceful demonstration. She was released after 7 months, thanks to international pressure from groups like Amnesty International and the European Parliament.

Since then Ms. Haidar has traveled the globe to expose the Moroccan military’s heavy-handed approach and to plead for the Sahrawi people’s right to self determination. Her efforts helped change the Moroccan government’s violent tactics for dispersing pro-independence demonstrations. Unfortunately, the torture and harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders continue behind closed doors.

Commenting on receiving the Civil Courage Prize, Aminatou Haidar said:
“The Sahrawi embrace universal values such as democracy, human rights, religious tolerance, and equality of women, yet our struggle is not very well-known. The Civil Courage Prize represents important recognition of the contribution of just one of many to the Sahrawi people’s striving for freedom and independence.”

Commenting on Aminatou Haidar’s award, John Train, founder of the Prize, said:
“The Civil Courage Prize exists to recognize heroes of conscience like Aminatou Haidar. She is one of many brave people all around the world who resist intimidation, ostracism and pressure, and risk their lives, to promote freedom and justice. They are not soldiers or politicians, but ordinary people with the courage to do extraordinary things. A healthy society relies on civil courage, and we hope that by recognizing it in people like Aminatou Haidar, we can encourage others to follow in her footsteps and defend peacefully their civil rights.”

Commenting on the relevance of the 2009 Prize, Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation and the nominator of Aminatou Haidar for the award, said:

"Especially at this time in world history, recognizing the efforts of Aminatou Haidar by the Train Foundation sends a wonderful and powerful message of hope to all Muslims and to all women who strive for the right to vote, for equality, for justice through peaceful means."

The Civil Courage Prize has been awarded annually since 2000 by The Train Foundation (formerly known as the Northcote Parkinson Fund). Wall Street Journalist columnist John Fund will speak at the award ceremony.

The 2009 Civil Courage Prize Award Ceremony will be held at the Harold Pratt House, 58 E. 68th St. in New York City, on October 20 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. To attend the event as a member of the media, please contact Barbara Becker at 212-375-0661.

For further information about the Civil Courage Prize and this year’s winner, please visit: http://www.civilcourageprize.org.

For comprehensive information on Western Sahara, please visit the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights website: http://www.rfkmemorial.org/legacyinaction/2008_factsheet


Media Release

15 October 2009

The Western Sahara support group in Australia said Morocco’s abduction of seven Saharawi human rights activists showed it would stop at nothing to keep its grip on the occupied territory.

AWSA President, Lyn Allison said “Morocco’s business-as-usual arbitrary arrests have seriously undermined the UN’s latest efforts in confidence-building for a peaceful solution to this 30-year occupation.

She called on the Australian Foreign Minister to express Australia’s disgust at Morocco’s latest action saying the capture and disappearance of Saharawis for trying to protect their people from human rights abuses should be condemned.

AWSA has called for the immediate release of these latest prisoners and encouraged the Australian government to join others in demanding that Morocco complies with International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the UN Basic Principles for Treatment of Prisoners. 

On October 8, 2009, Moroccan authorities arrested the seven prominent Saharawi activists at Casablanca airport on their return from visiting the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria and took them to an unknown location. 

Arrested were Ali Salem Tamek, vice president of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA); Brahim Dahane, president of the Saharawi Association of Victims of Serious Violations Committed by Morocco (ASVDH); Ahmad Anasiri, general secretary  of the Saharawi Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara and president of AMDH  Smara Chapter; Dagja Lachgar, member of the executive office of  ASVDH; Yahdih Ettarrouzi, member of AMDH; Saleh Lebayhi, president of the Forum for Protection of Sahrawi Children; and Rachid Sghayar, member of Committee Action against Torture. 

Earlier this month Moroccan authorities arrested five other Saharawis and preventing them from visiting Mauritania. 500 Saharawi civilians remain ‘disappeared’ and 151 Saharawi prisoners or war are still unaccounted for.


For comment:  Lyn Allison 0407 691 512

 Georgia Vlassopoulos 0425 702 975

The Western Sahara support group in Australia said Morocco’s abduction of seven Saharawi human rights activists showed it would stop at nothing to keep its grip on the occupied territory.

AWSA President, Lyn Allison said “Morocco’s business-as-usual arbitrary arrests have seriously undermined the UN’s latest efforts in confidence-building for a peaceful solution to this 30-year occupation.

She called on the Australian Foreign Minister to express Australia’s disgust at Morocco’s latest action saying the capture and disappearance of Saharawis for trying to protect their people from human rights abuses should be condemned.

AWSA has called for the immediate release of these latest prisoners and encouraged the Australian government to join others in demanding that Morocco complies with International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the UN Basic Principles for Treatment of Prisoners. 

On October 8, 2009, Moroccan authorities arrested the seven prominent Saharawi activists at Casablanca airport on their return from visiting the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria and took them to an unknown location. 

Arrested were Ali Salem Tamek, vice president of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA); Brahim Dahane, president of the Saharawi Association of Victims of Serious Violations Committed by Morocco (ASVDH); Ahmad Anasiri, general secretary  of the Saharawi Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara and president of AMDH  Smara Chapter; Dagja Lachgar, member of the executive office of  ASVDH; Yahdih Ettarrouzi, member of AMDH; Saleh Lebayhi, president of the Forum for Protection of Sahrawi Children; and Rachid Sghayar, member of Committee Action against Torture. 

Earlier this month Moroccan authorities arrested five other Saharawis and preventing them from visiting Mauritania. 500 Saharawi civilians remain ‘disappeared’ and 151 Saharawi prisoners or war are still unaccounted for.

For comment:  Lyn Allison 0407 691 512

 Georgia Vlassopoulos 0425 702 975