Negotiations without hope to end the question of decolonization in Western Sahara

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Why without hope?

From the beginning, the end of hostilities in Western Sahara was not conducted by a peace agreement to end the question of decolonization but just to avoid escalation threatens the stability of the Moroccan regime and the Maghreb region view the geographical proximity of Europe. These reasons enhanced by the “Franco-American consensus”[1] within the Security Council to stop any resolution against Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. That means the settlement agreement is just a tool in order to consume de facto the Moroccan sovereignty without any real interest in the internationallaw of decolonization in Western Sahara.

Indeed, this is justified by the paradoxes of the conduct of the two belligerents, using everyone different approaches and finding in the UN system weakness a way to maintain  everyone an intractable position favouring the status quo.

Morocco and Polisario with two antagonistic approaches

The peace process in Western Sahara has been ongoing for several years without having made any significant progress. The main problem seems to be the two parties are distant from each other despite the existence of a peace agreement. Each party has a different perception and vision of the negotiations, it can already be said that they are in a predominantly conflictual negotiation. Indeed, we are faced with two distinct and antithetical approaches, one that finds in law the only solution and another one that finds in realpolitik the only way to settle this conflict.

Morocco’s approach is determined by its interpretation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which recognizes the existence of some relations between the kings of Morocco and a part of the Saharawi tribes and in the same way the signature of the agreement of Madrid with the Spain and Mauritania. That is to say, Morocco takes into consideration its occupation of the territory of Western Sahara as a reality without return and indisputable.

In opposition, the Polisario front remains attached to the classical doctrine of the right of peoples to self-determination with itself as reaffirmed in the ICJ in its opinion of 16 October 1975. It also exhausts in the legal arsenal resolutions concerning the question of Western Sahara and UN resolutions in this area, the basic foundation of his approach, which can be described as a legal or positive law approach.

In fact, the Polisario front approach is based on the logic of respect for the rules. According to this logic, one of the parties has not respected the agreed rules and must, therefore, suffer the consequences, whether in terms of compensation, or undergoing any administrative or disciplinary action. Here, we plan to evaluate who is right and who is wrong according to pre-established rules and principles.

For this reason, the Polisario’s strategy is focused on a central point: filing petitions in international courts, mainly the court of the European Union in Luxembourg[2] and in South Africa[3] (with the countries that recognize Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic – SADR) in order to bend the commercial partner of Morocco which makes their business in Western Sahara, anintention to engage the international responsibility of Morocco from the point of view of the international law for non-self-governing territory.

The natural resources have been all-time at the heart of war, likewise Western Sahara people suffering under the Spanish and Moroccan occupation of the lack to benefit from their natural wealth. The declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples assert “to protect the inalienable rights of the peoples of no self-governing territories to their natural resources, and to establish and maintain control over the future development of those resources and recognize the need to protect the people of non-self-governing territories from exploitation and plundering by foreign economic interests”.

The consequences of these strategies the natural resources became the key claim of Polisario and for the Sahrawi people under Moroccan occupation. The example of the big protest is ever seen in Western Sahara Gdeim Izik[4]is the most glaring illustration of this great social movement among the Saharan populations who claim the sovereign over their natural wealth. The immediateconsequencesof this situation the Sahrawi youth will become with time angrier, and can to turn towards radicalization.

While Morocco, with its actual occupation of the majority of the territory of Western Sahara (almost 80%), is in a more comfortable position, his strategy is to explore and exploit the natural wealth of Western Sahara, prisoners of an old geographical approach that of the great Maghreb at the time of the Almoravids[5].

Morocco most fundamental interest was to preserve Western Sahara as part of Morocco by any peaceful means or by war. The use of power as a reflection of the occupation can lead to a military confrontation and the negotiations will be removed for the logic of war. Hence to understand the Moroccan action we must begin by identifying the intention and motive involved in it.

Morocco sees in an independent Western Sahara a threat to the existence of the Alawite monarchy settled since the 17th century. Western Sahara gives Morocco an important weight at the African level as a relaunch between Africa and Europe and as a reservoir of raw materials necessary for the development of the Moroccan economy[6], while suffers from the absence of any notable growth to observe youth unemployment which threatens the peace and social cohesion of Moroccan society. These are the main reason behind the Moroccan intransigence which, up to the present day, categorically refuses any solution that no takes into account the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The power-driven Moroccan approach responds to the logic of the imposition of the will. According to this logic, the one with the most power can impose his will on the other and thus resolve the conflict on his terms. War is the ultimate procedure for resolving a conflict according to imposition logic. The balance of power in this sense seems to be in favour of Morocco then, the Polisario Front. From that point, you cannot talk about negotiation but about the imposition.

In this context how can United Nations manage the spirit of the peace agreement without infringing the decolonization aspect of the conflict? 

The lack of a regulation system within UN toend the game of negotiation in Western Sahara

The principal cardinal that would guide UN peacekeeping mission for more than three decades is consent, impartiality, and use of force only in self-defence. Some regional disputes have proven too tough and intractable, such the question of Western Sahara, despite the enormous involvement by UN. However, just with the events of el Guergarate[7] that the Security Council has manifested its weight for the return to status antebecause he had seen a threat to cease-fire established since 1991 by the initial peace agreement.

In chapter III of the UN charter explain the provisions relations to a peaceful settlement, while chapter VI offers a rich array of political and diplomatic tools. The Security Council is not directly responsible for ensuring compliance with Article 2 (4), but its mission is both broader and closer. It is for it to maintain or restore peace and international security on legal bases specific to its action. It has for this purpose a range of measures that it adopts discretionary. On the other hand, and insofar as it must implement material means, it remains dependent on the Member States, in the meantime, those States that have the right of veto.

In fact, the Western Sahara question was the subject of several vicissitudes of the dictates of the prevailing ideology before the disintegration of the USSR. That is to say during the period of the cold war there is a quasi-paralyze of the UN system because the politics of the blocks has undermined the scope of the application of international decolonization law for this territory.

After the collapse of USSR, a new order will emerge with the American hegemony[8]. It is in this sense that will be born in the process of peace in Western Sahara in contradiction with the right of classic determination which gives the choice to the people to choose his destiny freely without any interference of any part implies.

Thus to speak of a regulating system to optimize the problems which arise before the negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario is dictated by the position of a very restricted group called « friends of Western Sahara »[9]. From this point of view, the question of Western Sahara is going to be a question of a game of balance and power within the members of this group; each one plays its card according to its interests without bringing any value to the sufferings of the Saharawi people.

The mission of MINURSO is just confined neither to safeguarding the ceasefire without monitoring human rights nor to safeguarding the natural wealth of Western Sahara. These shortcomings are behind the blocking of negotiations and further strengthen the discordance and driveconflict between the two parties in a region, where terrorist groups and radical Islam is gaining ground. It is a kind of threat to peace and international security, a forty-two-year situation with no final solution for the last stronghold of colonialism in Africa.

Nowadays it is urgent that the mechanism of UN regulation should pass from chapter VI to chapter VII in order to push the two protagonists to reach an agreement of peace which respects to the right to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, whether it is independent or within the Moroccan sovereignty.

Since the States which have the right of veto can use this right to prevent any resolution contrary to its interests as the case of France which threatens every time to use its right of veto against any resolutions of the Security Council can threaten the Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara. This situation of misjudgements of one of the most important principles of jus cogens: the principle of self-determination can openthe way to the diplomatic conflicts that can lead to war.

Thereby, the self-determination is part of standards of jus cogens that mean norms of international law, which have peremptory force, which no derogation may be made except by another peremptory rule.

Ali El Aallaoui

— Notes de bas de page —

[1]Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy, Western Sahara war, Nationalism, and conflict irresolution, New York, Syracuse University Press,2010,pp-275-276.

[2]In its ruling, the ECJ 27 February 2018(European Court of Justice) stated that the EU-Morocco pact “is valid in so far as it is not applicable to Western Sahara and to its adjacent waters. If the territory of Western Sahara were to be included within the scope of the fisheries agreement that would be contrary to certain rules of general international law” it said.

[3]The High Court of South Africa confirmed that the owner of the cargo of phosphate rock aboard the detained vessel, NM Cherry Blossom, is the Saharawi Government, and not Morocco’s state-owned phosphate company which was not entitled to sell the commodity affirmed by The High Court of South Africa Eastern Cape Local Division, Port Elizabeth, 23/02/2018, after a request filed by SADR.

[4]Ali Omar Yara, la resistance des sahraouis ceux de Gdaim Izig(novembre 2010-novembre 2011), In l’Ouest Saharien, la resistance sahraouie à Gdaim Izig, l’Harmattan, Hors-série N° 11, 2015, pp61-84.

[5]The Almoravids are a Berber Sanhajian dynasty, which constitutes from the eleventh to the twelfth century a confederation of tribes and then an empire include Mauritania, Morocco, the West of Algeria and part of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal).

[6]The Moroccan economy characterized by wide gap between rural and urban standards of living. Poverty and unemployment remain high and are a principal cause of social discontent and provide a potential breeding ground for religious militancy. For the question of unemployment see

[7]El Guergarate is a buffer zone south of Western Sahara on the borders of Mauritania.

[8]John Agnew, Hegemony the new shape of global power, Philadelphia, Temple University Press,2005,pp-37-70

[9]The small group composed by FRANCE, RUSSIE, UK, USA and SPAIN, they decided in restricted meeting to sign each time the resolutions of the Security Council which is interested in the question of Western Sahara.

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