By Michael Beer, Mohamed Brahim
The United States needs to end its support for Moroccan human rights abuses and its occupation of Western Sahara. Last month, Sahrawis who were wearied with the Moroccan occupation, nonviolently blocked traffic in a narrow 5 km demilitarized area (buffer zone) between Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Mauritania. The Sahrawis rightly claimed that the demilitarized area was being exploited to the benefit of Morocco and not to the Sahrawis. Morocco broke the cease-fire by entering the buffer zone, attacking the nonviolent protesters, and re-opened the illegal border trade route. In response, the Polisario Front of Western Sahara ended the cease-fire and declared renewed war on Morocco. War is not the answer…and yet un-ending occupation is not the answer either. We do not want to see a single Moroccan or Sahrawi killed when the entire world agrees on how to resolve this issue nonviolently.
The Moroccan government invaded and has occupied the Western Sahara since Spain withdrew in 1975. From then until 1991, there was a war between the Moroccan Government and the Polisario Front, which fought and campaigned for independence. In 1991, under the auspices of the UN, a cease-fire agreement was announced with Morocco controlling about 80% of the country. The cease-fire and occupation have continued for 29 years causing more damage to the land and suffering to the people of Western Sahara.
There is widespread nonviolent resistance to Moroccan rule, led in large part by women such as RFK Human Rights Laureate Aminatou Haidar. Sahrawis have protested, boycotted and at one point in 2010 even deserted the capitol to create a tent-city in the desert. Many have been tortured, imprisoned and killed. Sahrawi allies in Africa and Europe have launched solidarity boycotts and seized Moroccan contraband. Since 2012, international funds, including the National Employment Savings Trust in the UK, the Netherlands’ APG, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, AP Funds in Sweden, and FDC (Luxembourg) have divested from companies that extract resources from Western Sahara for ethical reasons.
Tensions have risen since the nonviolent road block and Morocco’s attack. Many young urban Sahrarwis were abducted this week by the police, tortured and then dumped in the outskirts of cities. Some other Saharawi activists have been jailed and await trial for crimes they did not commit.
The plunder of natural resources continues despite all UN resolutions, European court rulings, and its special UN status as a non-self governing territory. The people of Western Sahara living under occupation are impoverished and marginalized while more numerous settlers are benefitting from the resources of Western Sahara with the blessing of the Moroccan government.
Sadly, the U.S. government has provided vast economic and military support to the Moroccan government. Last year Morocco purchased $10.3 billion in weapons from the US, totalling more than Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE combined.
There is much a Biden/Harris administration can do to help Morocco end its occupation of Western Sahara. The US government, corporations and civil society should:
Halt arms sales to Morocco;
Ban any purchase of stolen resources (e.g. phosphates) from Western Sahara and sanction any company that does so;
Support and enforce a UN administered referendum;
Work with Europeans and Africans to limit economic cooperation that supports the occupation;
Build multi-lateral pressure to resolve this conflict nonviolently.
The world has known how to nonviolently resolve this issue since 1963, when the United Nations called for a referendum on its future status. Morocco has refused to cooperate. We must act swiftly to prevent war and further conflict, end the occupation, and allow Sahrawis to make their decision on union with Morocco or independence.
There is potentially bi-partisan support for this approach. Senator Inhofe (R-OK) and Senator Leahy have spoken out strongly for the rights of the Sahrawi for self-determination. However, we also need Democrats and other Republicans to stand up and speak up for international law and to condemn attacks on nonviolent protesters and the occupation. Their silence is deafening.
Michael Beer has been the Executive Director of Nonviolence International since 1998. Michael is a global activist for human rights, minority rights and argues against war and casino capitalism. He has trained activists in many countries, including Myanmar, Kosovo, Tibet, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States. He is a frequent public speaker on nonviolence and has been broadcast on CSPAN, CNN, and other major media outlets.
Mohamed Brahim, Sahrawi Association in USA
Published on Monday, November 23, 2020 By Common Dreams