Western Sahara Conflict

Lehbib Breica


In his article "El Sahara Occidental: Un Conflicto que no cesa" (Western Sahara: A never-ending conflict) from 25 July 2004, the ambassador Fernando Arias-Salgado suggests that Spanish public opinion should support the "political initiative" that Zapatero has undertaken in order to "try" to solve the "stagnant" Western Sahara conflict. As the article implies, this "political initiative" would lead to a "political" solution in which the "self-determination" of the Saharan people would take the form of "free acceptance" of "democratic" institutions "constitutionally" guaranteed by the King of Morocco "himself". Arias-Salgado talks about a "formulación jurídica competencional moderna " (a modern legal formulation that confers powers) which would respect the historic ties of "allegiance" between the "Cherifian Empire" and the "Saharawi tribes".

It must be remembered that the ties of territorial sovereignty, which Morocco claims derive from an alleged historic right to possession of Western Sahara territory, were dismissed in 1975 by the International Court of Justice which " Has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonisation of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the territory". In our opinion, asking Morocco to allow the Saharawi people to exercise their "inalienable" right to self-determination and independence seems more in line with and pursuant to the "international law" than the delicate exercise of seeking "modern legal formulas" to integrate Western Sahara into Morocco, based on "historical" ties of "allegiance" that supposedly existed between the "Saharawi tribes" and the "Cherifian Empire" in ancient times.

Furthermore, the international community has cause to be deeply worried by the assertion that, as a consequence of the international terrorism perpetrated on 11 September 2001 (U.S.A) and 16 May 2003 (Casablanca), applicability of the "international law" in Western Sahara has become "difficult". Morocco uses this as a pretext to reject the Baker Plan. This statement, due to the grave consequences that it would have for humanity, cannot presume that the terrorism that is now considered an international phenomenon has become above international legality and that, instead of this being the legal framework with which to combat terrorism, terrorism has become a tool that prevents its application. It is even more worrying that, in addition to exempting Morocco from applying a legal system.The "key" to whatever solution to the issue of Western Sahara is put in her hands. An issue which the United Nations considers a question of decolonisation and due to its international dimension, must be subjected to international law.

This "modern legal formulation that confers powers" or "political" solution tends to be comparable, mutatis mutandis, to the commitment that Spain undertook, in its day, before the international community, as "administering" power of Western Sahara. The commitment to lead the "Saharawi people" towards a "complete self government", which it "breached" in 1975, due to the "internal political circumstances in Spain" at the time and the international context of the "cold war". If such a solution or a "similar" one would work, writes the ambassador Arias-Salgado, the terrible consequences of Spain's breach of its international obligations would be partly "repaired" for "part" of the refugee Saharawi population living now in exile in Tindouf .

It should not be forgotten that the United Nations does not recognise the status of an administering power to Morocco "a status that Spain alone could not have unilaterally transferred" (letter to the Security Council, 29 January 2002, UN legal counsel). Morocco, therefore, does not have the powers over Western Sahara that the international community conferred onto Spain in its day. Its presence in the Territory is rather described as an "occupation" and "urged" her to put an end to it. Resolution 34/37/1979, UN General Assembly.

The Saharawi people, while they appeal to the Spanish public opinion for continued support, would like to remind that the reason why the Western Sahara "conflict" has not ended is because they are still being denied the freedom to exercise their "inalienable" right to self-determination.

Lehbib Breica, representative of the Saharawi Republic in the African Union.

traanslation from spanish :
OPINION ABC.es August 10,2004
PRINTED EDITION- Letters to the Editor