Morocco has repeatedly been criticized by human rights organizations for their ongoing repression of the Sahrawi people from the forgotten nation of Western Sahara – with thousands having been stuck in refugee camps in Algeria for an amazing 35 years!
The Polisario Front, who are fighting for independence for their country and head the government in exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, have been running the refugee camps in the Tindouf region of Algeria, which are wholly reliant on foreign and Algerian aid – Food, clothing and water are brought in by car and plane.
Years of Pain
The Spanish government under Franco secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 giving them both control of Western Sahara and relinquishing its colonial power over the country.
The indigenous people led by the Polisario Front were left out of the agreement and thus set about trying to remove the new colonial powers by force – after successfully pushing Mauritania to concede defeat however, Morocco extended its control to the rest of the territory, and gradually contained the Polisario guerrillas by building an extensive sand-berm in the desert (known as the Border Wall or Moroccan Wall) to exclude enemy fighters. Hostilities ceased in a 1991 cease-fire, overseen by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO, under the terms of a UN Settlement Plan.
The referendum, originally scheduled for 1992, foresaw giving the local population the option between independence or affirming integration with Morocco, but it quickly stalled. In 1997 and 2000, the Houston Agreement and Baker Plan respectively attempted to revive the proposal for a referendum, sadly neither had any success.
Morocco is still in undemocratic control of Western Sahara and refugees, numbering between 40 -120 000 people under different aid agency estimates, are still stuck suffering in enormous camps away from their homeland.
A Careless World Watches On
It is true that the UN has recently re-engaged with the situation in Western Sahara, by talking to both parties and extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission for a referendum on self-determination (MINURSO) for another year, however it should not just be left to the UN – a large number of countries who have influence on Morocco have remained criminally silent over the past decades!
Adding insult to injury, it was recently revealed that the US Foreign Policy Research Institute has suggested to the White House that independence for Western Sahara could result in a failed state dominated by Al Qaeda. In the report, authored by Harvey Sicherman, the institute said the status quo on Western Sahara could mark the best interim solution.
“Morocco will not yield the territory nor can it be in U.S. interests to facilitate the creation of a failed state at the expense of its Moroccan ally,” the report, titled “A Note on the Western Sahara”, said.
This is an obvious purposeful misrepresentation of the real situation, as the UN itself has already agreed that the Polisario Front is not an extremist organization and certainly has no ties to Al Qaeda or any other extreme Islamic bodies.
Western Sahara has also sadly been left out of the Moroccan-EFTA free trade agreement, according to a clarification by Norwegian and Swiss authorities this year – the US-Moroccan free trade agreement also excludes Western Sahara, causing obvious economic damage to the country.
Instead of sticking the boot in when the people of Western Sahara are already down for the count, it is surely time for both governments from Europe and the US to finally take some positive action – to give them a chance of freedom – Better late than never!