Sahrawi women hold Polisario Front's flags Farouk Batiche/AFP/Getty Images

Decolonizing Western Sahara

In 1975, the International Court of Justice recognized the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, and found no ties of territorial sovereignty between Morocco and the territory of Western Sahara. Yet Morocco has been allowed to continue illegally occupying Western Sahara for over four decades.

BIR LEHLU, WESTERN SAHARA – When Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975, it had been under Spanish control for nearly a century. But Spain’s grip on the territory had weakened in the dying days of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. And rather than allowing a process of decolonization, Spain signed the tripartite “Madrid Accords” with Morocco and Mauritania, both of which subsequently moved in to annex the territory. Mauritania relinquished its claim in 1979, but Morocco never left.

Western Sahara’s legal status is crystal clear. In 1963, it was officially recognized as a Non-Self-Governing Territory by the United Nations General Assembly under the UN Charter – a legal status it retains to this day. It is, in short, the last colony in Africa. In 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirmed the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, and found no ties of territorial sovereignty between Morocco and Western Sahara.

Yet Morocco has been allowed to continue illegally occupying Western Sahara for over four decades. And, as is often the case with unwanted occupations, Morocco has asserted its territorial claim through cruel repression, the systematic denial of basic human rights, and attempts to force demographic change – all while plundering Western Sahara’s natural resources.

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