Wednesday, 23 December
As New Zealanders prepare for Christmas and enjoy food grown using fertilisers from Western Sahara, we hope they spare a thought for the Sahara people who continue to face serious challenges in occupied areas and refugee camps.
On December 10, President Trump announced that the United States in return for Morocco’s establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, would recognise its claim to Western Sahara, a Territory considered by the UN as Africa’s last colony whose people are entitled to the right to self-determination.
Trump’s decision is entirely contrary to what the International Court of Justice concluded in 1975, that Morocco did not have any claim to territorial rights in Western Sahara. Much of U.S. diplomacy in Africa and standing in the world has been damaged by the announcement on December 10 as Trump upended a longstanding bipartisan US policy on Western Sahara that has stood the test of time.
Commenting on Trump’s announcement, former Secretary of State James Baker who served as the UN Secretary General Personal Envoy for Western Sahara said “it would appear that the United States of America, which was founded first and foremost on the principle of self-determination, has walked away from that principle regarding the people of Western Sahara. This is very regrettable.” Another former UN envoy for Western Sahara, Christophe Ross, described Trump’s decision as “foolish and ill-considered decision flies in the face of the US commitment to the principles of the non-acquisition of territory by force and the right of peoples to self-determination.”
John Bolton, former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and who worked with the UN mission in Western Sahara said that “Trump was wrong to abandon thirty years of US policy on Western Sahara just to score a fast foreign policy victory. An Israel-Morocco deal was possible without abandoning US commitment to Sahrawi referendum on WS future, as Sen. Jim Inhofe rightly said.”
Responses to Trump’s surprising and controversial announcement have been quick to come from different parts of the world. The UN, the African Union, the European Union and many other nations have all reaffirmed that their positions on Western Sahara remain unchanged and that they support the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.
New Zealand Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, reaffirmed on Tuesday in a statement posted on her Twitter account that “New Zealand’s long-standing position on Western Sahara is unchanged and we remain strongly supportive of the United Nations peace process.”
New Zealand could play a positive role in encouraging the UN and the two parties involved to find a a just and lasting solution to the decolonisation process in Western Sahara. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is well placed to play such a role given given her firsthand knowledge of the issue and the respect and credibility she enjoys on the international arena. A solution to the question of Western Sahara is in the interest of New Zealand as it faces constant criticism for its controversial role in importing phosphates from the Non-Self-Governing Territory.
Many around the world have realised that Trump’s announcement sets a dangerous precedent and gives the green light for any despot or expansionist regime to grab the territory of another country by force. This would have a negative impact on international order and stability in a world that is already facing many trouble spots.
Trump’s decision seriously damages the credibility and reputation of the United States as a permanent member of the UN Security Council entrusted with maintenance of international peace and security. The US is the pen-holder of resolutions on Western Sahara and would draft the resolutions and supposed to seek consensus before their adoption by the Council.
Trump’s announcement comes at a time when the Northwest Africa region is facing serious challenges following the resumption of hostilities in Western Sahara last month. Trump’s decision is likely to increase further tension in the region.
On November 13 Morocco moved its army out of the heavily garrisoned sand ‘berm’ that partitions Western Sahara, into a UN-patrolled buffer strip. Morocco’s military operation objective was to chase out Saharawi civilians protesting peacefully to call for a closing of an illegal frontier crossing at Guerguerat and demand a UN-promised referendum which had been promised to the Saharawi people almost 30 years ago after a long war for independence that begun against Spain and continued against Morocco after Spain’s withdrawal in 1975. With last month’s armed incursion into the UN-monitored buffer strip at Guerguerat in the southern part of Western Sahara, a fragile ceasefire ended, one that had held since 1991.
Morocco’s violation of the ceasefire at Guerguerat is the latest of many violations met by inaction from the international community. Such passivity reinforces a message to the people of Western Sahara that they’ve been ignored and seemingly abandoned. The regime managed to get away with such serious violations thanks to France which uses a veto power in the UN Security Council to protect what it still considers as its chasse gardée.
As we face the prospect of a long war, we still hope for a just and lasting peace. As a peace-loving people, we desire no war, but we have been left with no alternative but to return to the legitimate struggle to achieve our inalienable rights and freedom. The people of Western Sahara have determined afresh to take their destiny into their own hands while offering, as they always have, to engage in meaningful negotiations of a just and lasting peace.
What has become a return to armed struggle in Western Sahara should predictably pressure Morocco to cooperate with the UN and achieve real peace. That is because the missing link in the past three decades has been the absence of tangible pressure on Morocco, until now allowed to thwart the UN Settlement Plan. Another means of pressure, one shown to have contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa, will be to impose sanctions against the regime in Rabat. Here, it can be recalled Morocco’s responsibility is for what is an act of aggression, invading and occupying Western Sahara and otherwise violating UN resolutions and settled international law.
We’re hopeful that the U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, a man of integrity, familiar with the legacy of colonialism in Africa, and well-versed in foreign policy, will have a positive influence on self-determination in Western Sahara and reverse Trump’s erroneous decision. A just and lasting solution – one in conformance with long-established human rights and international law – in Africa’s last colony will reliably contribute to stability in northwest Africa.
Polisario (Western Sahara) Representative to Australia and New Zealand