Western Sahara: Now it gets serious

The New York Bar Association has issued a document recommending that a referendum be held in Western Sahara which follows the same lines as the South Sudan referendum on independence, making references to international law and claiming that such a right to independence is covered by its terms.

The document issued by the New York Bar Association is called The Legal Issues Involved in the Western Sahara Dispute*. The document recommends that the UNO supports a process identical to the one in which South Sudan voted for independence (the Machakos Protocol), which would provide the Saharawi people with the right to vote in favour of autonomy within the occupying power, Morocco, or else go for full independence.

The 107-page legal report drawn up by the New York Bar Association, which has sent a copy to the US Congress, states: "After six years of negotiations on a settlement policy conflict, the people of South Sudan won the right to a referendum with the option of independence. A similar approach for Western Sahara would be supported by international law".

The report goes further, claiming that international law supports the claim to a right for independence made by the Frente Polisario, representing the occupied Sahawari people: "The people of Western Sahara has clearly the right to self determination under international law. International law requires that the Sahrawis have the opportunity to determine their political status and that determination must include the option of independence".


It continues: "any plan that eliminates the option of independence of the exercise of self-determination is illegal under international law clearly defined," while calling on the international community to avoid "imposing" the Saharawi measures contrary to that point.

The report recommends that the UNO formulates a referendum providing the Saharawis with the following options: "The creation of a new independent and sovereign state, full integration with Morocco or a free association with Morocco by the status of autonomous region. "

"We encourage the international community to take steps so that this dispute is resolved in the near future. The longer it takes to resolve the issue of sovereignty, the more complicated to implement any solution is reached".

UN appoints new head of MINURSO

Last week a new head was appointed for MINURSO, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara - the German Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber. Morocco tried to veto his appointment, meaning a further defeat for the occupying power in Western Sahara by the UNO. He worked in East Timor, a territory which had a similar history of illegal annexation and a process towards full independence as a State.

The Moroccan armed forces invaded Western Sahara in 1975 (the Green March), annexing it after the Spanish walked out of their last colony in northern Africa and promptly sent thousands of Moroccan citizens southwards to repopulate the territory, altering the ethnic and nationality balance.

In 1991 the UNO brokered a peace agreement between the Moroccan armed forces and the Polisario Liberation Front, under which the UNO and Morocco promised to organise a referendum on self-determination. Morocco has since blocked and stalled at every turn, defying international law. Meanwhile around 200,000 Saharawi refugees brave the stark conditions of the Algerian desert in Tindouf, across the border.

*English translation



Timofei BELOV


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey