Support for Morocco’s Western Sahara Autonomy Proposal Reiterated at UNHRC
The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco have battled for sovereignty over Western Sahara since the 1970s.
At a Tuesday meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, support for Morocco’s Western Sahara Autonomy proposal, an initiative first proposed in 2006, was reiterated in a joint statement of Middle Eastern and African countries.
The proposal is Morocco’s hoped-for solution to the Western Sahara conflict and would grant autonomy to the region, though it would remain under Moroccan sovereignty and Morocco would control defense and foreign affairs.
Western Sahara Conflict
Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert, situated on the northwest coast of Africa. It was a Spanish colony before it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, it has been a disputed territory, mostly situated on the northwest coast of Africa, between Morocco and its indigenous Sahrawi inhabitants, who are led by the Polisario Front. Both Polisario and Morocco have sought international recognition as sovereigns of the region. The Polisario are largely supported by Algeria while Morocco is backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and France.
The Polisario formed the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, which is now recognized by many governments and is a full member of the African Union. The Polisario rejected the Moroccan proposal and put forth their own proposal shortly after.
According to the BBC, a U.N.-negotiated truce was brokered in 1991 and promised a referendum on independence, but the vote has yet to occur. The truce also led to the creation of a buffer strip with landmines and fortifications that stretch the length of the disputed territory and separates the Moroccan-run western part from the Polisario Front-run eastern part of the disputed area.
In the statement delivered Tuesday to the UNHRC, “the group for the territorial integrity of Morocco” emphasized the significance of the Moroccan government proposal and pointed out that the United Nation’s Security Council had previously regarded the proposal as the only way out of the long-time territorial dispute.
The group supporting the Moroccan proposal includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, Jordan, Comoros, Gabon, Burundi, Djibouti, Senegal, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea.
Western Sahara is said to contain phosphate reserves, rich fishing waters and untapped offshore oil deposits.
According to Western Sahara Resource Watch, in January 2002, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Hans Corell, wrote to the Security Council that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law.”
Regardless, Morocco’s state oil company ONHYM has given numerous licenses for oil exploration and production in Western Sahara.