Western Sahara – An Overview
For over twenty-five years, led by the Polisario Front, the people of Western Sahara have been struggling for self-determination and independence. Morocco wants to annex Western Sahara and Polisario is seeking independence. A UN settlement plan, based on a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would exercise their right to self-determination by choosing between independence and integration in Morocco, is deadlocked. Moroccan stalling and attempting to pad the voter roll.
Formerly Western Sahara was a colony of Spain. In 1975 the International Court of Justice ruled that the people of Western Sahara were entitled to self-determination including independence. That same year a UN mission determined that the people of Western Sahara were "categorically" for independence and opposed to the territorial claims on Morocco and Mauritania. But when Spain pulled out in 1976 it divided the territory between Morocco and Mauritania. Polisario, formed in 1973 to oppose Spanish colonialism, rejected this action and declared the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Much of the population of Western Sahara fled the territory to Polisario run refugee camps in Algeria.
Polisario, which had led an armed struggle Spain, turned its military efforts against Morocco and Mauritania. In July1978 there was a coup in Mauritania. Two days later Polisario declared a unilateral cease-fire with Mauritania. In 1979 Mauritania formally abandoned its claim to Western Sahara. Morocco immediately asserted a claim for the portion of Western Sahara previously claimed by Mauritania.
A United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1980 stated clearly that the issue of Western Sahara is one of self-determination. The resolution "Reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence" and expresses "deep concern… at the aggravation of the situation prevailing in Western Sahara because of the continued occupation of that Territory by Morocco."
Violations, violence, and Non violence resistance in Western Sahara
The Moroccan government has always abused human rights in Western Sahara in different brutal and inhumane ways. There is a long list of people who disappeared when they were kidnapped by the Moroccan secret services throughout the conflict. Many of the Sahrawi political detainees were denied any trial and they were kept in dungeons and other secret detention centers throughout Morocco and Western Sahara. Until the early 1990s, the Moroccan government denied the existence of these prisoners and prisons. In the early 1990s, some of these detainees were released via a royal pardon. The pardon stated that these prisoners were abroad on missions for the Moroccan government in order to explain their disappearance. Morocco is still imprisoning Sahrawis who are peaceful demonstrators or peaceful defenders of human rights for the sole reason that these people are calling for a referendum to be held in Western Sahara and that the Sahrawis should be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination. Not only is the right to self-determination a natural right of a people, but it is included in the UN Charter and is one of the basic principles that the UN is empowered to preserve. All of these prisoners were, and have been, a target for unjustified attention, torture, and surveillance. These actions constitute a human rights violation on the part of the Moroccan government.
Recently, some of these people have been tried in Moroccan courts. However, the Moroccan judges were mere puppets of the Moroccan regime. Therefore, it is necessary to have international human rights observers to attend those trials. It is amazing to see that the Sahrawi prisoners are only asking for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but when they petitioned the Moroccan regime for these rights, they were imprisoned.
Women were never spared this horrible fate either. The Sahrawi women were always part of the struggle and played a vital role in fighting against the Moroccan regime through peaceful resistance. These women were beaten, sometimes raped, denied their legal rights, and their houses were ransacked. Many international organizations have condemned these atrocities by the Moroccan state against Sahrawis. Nonetheless, the international community did not place sanctions on Morocco, nor was any real action taken to address these atrocities. Morocco may be a traditional ally of the United States, but the Moroccan regime has denied the Sahrawis their rights and has continued to abuse them in different ways. Distributing leaflets and writing on the wallas has a log-time used tactic to tell the Moroccans that we are here and that we are resisting and that we do refuse occupation .
It is a common practice, and a known policy, that the Moroccan government need not give Sahrawis positions where they can have access to confidential information. No Sahrawi can serve in a political office at any level of the Moroccan government—local, state, or national. The only Sahrawis who have been given this privilege were those who had served as Moroccan agents—they were used by the Moroccan government to disseminate propaganda. Some of those Sahrawis were defectors to Morocco, and have no sense of loyalty to the Sahrawi people. Some others choose to work for the Moroccans for financial gain. The Moroccan regime commonly gives bribes to Sahrawis in order to get them to defect and to get these people to continue to do work for the Moroccan government. Some of them defect out of fear because the Moroccan government threatens their lives or the lives of their family.
Aminatou Haidar is one of these heroes of the non-violence struggle as she is considered to have led many nonviolent actions towards the occupation in Western Sahara. She met many foreign delegations and initiated many non-violent actions such as: writing articles to foreign newspapers about the oppression of the Moroccan occupation and about the Human rights violations. She also wrote many letters to Officials in different countries such as to Condoleezza Rice and many others in different parts of the world. She also succeeded in getting more NGO’s interested in the malpractices of the oppressive Moroccan regime in Western Sahara . She also constantly in touch with human rights organizations all over the world and coordinated many activities towards revealing the truth to the world and unmask the atrocities of the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara.
It is also very important to specify that the non-violence resistance was the only weapon used by the Sahrawis in the occupied territories against the oppression. Meanwhile, war was the tool used against the Moroccan army at the borders with the sahrawi liberated territories. Therefore, it was very essential for Sahrawis under occupation to always look for different peaceful options to fight occupation and the Moroccan strategy to assimilate every sahrawi into the Moroccan society. King Hassan 2 tried to assimilate the young Sahrawis in the Moroccan society in 1989 by giving them jobs and free lodgment inside morocco and away from Sahara, but it was only a total failure as sahrawis preserved their identity and maintained their own heritage.
Sahrawis also adopted the strategy of not letting their own dialect and cultural heritage slip away from them as Moroccans hoped they would get moroccanized. Sahrawis under occupation spoke their own dialect and preserved their own identity and fought all Moroccan attempts to mingle in the Moroccan society.
Recently an intifada has begun in the occupied territories to give a push to the sahrawi cause as it seemed to have reached an impasse. This non violent political resistance was initiated by sahrawis under occupation from all walks of life, all ages, and from all genders. It was peaceful and successful as it drove Moroccans very crazy and they expressed their fear by crashing it and arresting many sahrawis and human rights activists.
Another non-violent tactic used by Sahrawis was forming human rights associations to be able to unveil the different many violations of human rights against Sahrawis and committed by the Moroccan state. These activists run a secret network of informants and activists who would assist them in gathering all information necessary to back their work and to show their support for the sahrawi cause. They succeeded in attracting the attention of many human rights organization and convincing the world that Sahrawis are suffering and are being segregated.
Another non violent strategy led by Sahrawis citizens was to refuse selling their houses to Moroccan settlers. Sahrawis also would live away from Moroccans settlers and would prefer to stay within sahrawi communities enclosed on it. When having a wedding ceremony or other local festival, only Sahrawis would be admitted or invited s as to keep the Moroccan infiltration away.
Finally, the sahrawis under occupation are always looking for diverse means to empower their non-violent struggle and always adopt non-violent means of struggle to defend themselves and also to resist the occupation. They have a great need to have NGO’s in the occupied territories, but the Moroccans won’t let them in. So, now they are hoping to have NGO’s to put pressure on their government and on the Moroccan government to let NGO’s in the Western Sahara.
Justice will prevail, and freedom will come!