Thursday, December 05, 2013



Why not?  Why not talk about Western Sahara, Africa's last colony, the place no one hardly ever mentions even though a struggle for liberation has been going on there for almost as long as I can remember.  Why not, indeed?

Just yesterday, the Foreign Minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), known to much of the outside world as Western Sahara called on the international community to assume some responsibility and force Morocco to clear all Sahawri lands of the millions of mines it planted there since 1975.  The mines kill and maim Sahrawi civilians every year.  Five people, three adults and two children, were killed in November.  

"I call on the 13th meeting of State Parties to the Convention on Anti-Personnel Mine Ban (held currently in Geneva) and all international community to force the Moroccan occupier to clear hundreds of areas in Western Sahara, which it littered with antitank and antipersonnel mines since the beginning of occupation in 1975," Ould Salek said in a statement to Algerian Press Service (APS). Salek also called on the international community to force Morocco to demolish the 2700-km wall of shame" preventing the Sahrawi people from moving freely on their own lands.

The Berm of Western Sahara (also known as the Moroccan Wall) is an approximately 2,700 km-long defensive structure, mostly a sand wall (or "berm"), running through Western Sahara and the southeastern portion of Morocco. It acts as a separation barrier between the Moroccan-controlled areas and the Polisario-controlled section of the territory that lies along its eastern and southern border.

Earlier in November, The 38th International Conference of Support for the Sahrawi People (known as; EUCOCO), initiated  campaign against the Moroccan wall.

The Sahara Press Service reported at the time:

Held under the motto: "together to remove the wall", campaign aims "to muster all possible support from policymakers and international public opinion to compel the occupying Moroccan State to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law and neutralise the wall and the entire arsenal of destruction that it contains, which includes antipersonnel and anti-tank landmines and unexploded ordnance."

Following the full text of the declaration:


International Campaign against the Wall of Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara: Together to Remove the Wall

The participants in the 38th EUCOCO Conference held in Rome, Italy, from 15 to 16 November 2013,

Aware that Wall of Moroccan occupation, since it was built in the early eighties, still poses a great danger to the Sahrawi population on both sides of the wall,
Aware of the devastating and enduring humanitarian, social, cultural, economic, legal and environmental consequences that the wall has had on the life of the Sahrawi people on both sides of the wall,

Deeply concerned about the presence of over 7 million landmines and large quantity of cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance in Western Sahara that continue to pose a great danger to the Sahrawi population on both sides of the wall,

Aware of the situation of the Sahrawi landmine victims as living testimonies to the destructive magnitude of the wall and its impact on the lives of innocent civilians and of the need to carry out demining operations on both sides of the wall.

Noting with appreciation that the Frente POLISARIO has committed itself to banning the use of landmines and to cooperation in mine action through the adherence to the Geneva Call, whilst deploring that Morocco is still reluctant to sign the Ottawa Treaty on the Convention on Cluster Munitions,

Aware of the commendable work done so far by Sahrawi actors and the solidarity movement to denounce the wall and to raise public awareness of its multiple negative consequences,

Aware of the urgent need to establish a common framework to integrate, coordinate and follow up all activities and initiatives that will be undertaken out in this context in order to make them more visible and effective,

Denounce the Wall of Moroccan Occupation as a heinous crime against the human rights of the Sahrawi people and a huge obstacle to the exercise of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

Denounce the Wall of Moroccan Occupation as an illegal wall of separation whereby Morocco has turned the Sahrawi occupied territories into a large prison in which all forms of physical and psychological repression are systematically practiced with impunity.

Denounce the Wall whereby Morocco is trying to entrench its military siege and information blackout imposed on the Sahrawi occupied territories and to impose its colonial fait accompli in Western Sahara.

Call on all states to cease their sales and supply of arms to Morocco, which uses them mainly to consolidate its military presence in Western Sahara.

Reaffirm the applicability of the rules of the international humanitarian law to Western Sahara as an occupied territory and call upon Morocco, the occupying power, to comply with the relevant rules of the international humanitarian law and other human rights instruments.

Decide to launch an international campaign against the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara, which will be known as "the International Campaign against the Wall of Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara: together to remove the wall".

The overarching objective of the campaign is to muster all possible support from policymakers and international public opinion to compel the occupying Moroccan State to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law and neutralise the wall and the entire arsenal of destruction that it contains, which includes antipersonnel and anti-tank landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Affirm their commitment to put in place strategies of action and mobilise all necessary resources to carry out the campaign and to achieve its objectives in the short and long run.

Call on all stakeholders to participate energetically not only in the preparations for the campaign but also in all stages of the implementation of the plans and action strategies of the campaign in order to ensure its effectiveness and continuity.

I have never figured out why the long struggle of the Sahrawi receives so little attention on this side of the Atlantic from all those anti-imperialist, solidarity, internationalists, progressives out there, but it doesn't. 

So here I am again feeling like a lone voice in the dark with some further information for anyone listening from the African Globe. 

Africa’s Last Colony: The Forgotten State

Africa Last Colony Western Sahara photo
Western Sahara
AFRICANGLOBE – There’s one state that has been left behind. Ignored by the international media, failed by the UN, its people in refugee camps for 38 years.
The state is called Western Sahara, the people are called Sahrawis, and this is their story.
First, some history: In the mid 20th century states in Africa began to be granted independence from their colonial powers. Today, all African states are considered sovereign and face the long struggle to reinstate their position in the international hierarchy.
All but one.
Western Sahara is situated on the northwest coastline of Africa, bordering Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. Despite being mostly comprised of desert land and lacking sufficient rainfall for most agricultural activities, the country does have fish-rich waters and large amounts of phosphate. It also potentially possesses a large amount of oil.
Unlike most African states, which, upon withdrawal of their colonial powers were offered a referendum on independence, Western Sahara was immediately laid claim to by its neighboring countries of Morocco and Mauritania. Spain, its former colonizer, rather than handing independence to the Sahrawis cut a deal with Morocco and Mauritania by signing the “Madrid Agreement,” in which Spain split the territory between the neighboring countries. In doing so, Spain both avoided a messy colonial war with their Moroccan neighbor, and gained access to the fish and phosphate in return for their favor.
In 1975 Morocco invaded and occupied Western Sahara.
A month earlier, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ruled that neither Morocco nor Mauritania had any legal claim to territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara. Morocco went ahead and occupied them anyway.
This was an illegal occupation.
The Moroccan occupation did not come without resistance from the Sahrawi people, who had developed a strong sense of nationalism in the 1960s, which gave birth to the Polisario Front, who are the sole representative of the Sahrawis. This Front had successfully rid itself of Spanish power through guerrilla warfare, and now faced the task of doing the same to its neighboring powers.
War between the Polisario Front and Morocco began soon after the 1975 invasion.
In 1979 Mauritania withdrew its right to Western Sahara and Morocco secured effective control of most of the territory.
There are an estimated 500,000 Sahrawi people, of which an estimated 100,000 have been forced into refugee camps in Algeria. They have been there for 38 years and are completely reliant on foreign aid. Morocco has built a 2,700-kilometer-long wall scattered with millions of landmines to prevent those in refugee camps from returning to their country. This is the longest strip of landmines in the world.
So why, now that Morocco has been illegally occupying this country for 38 years and considering that under UN law “freely expressed self-determination is an unalienable right,” did the international powers not step in and demand a referendum on independence, akin to those that all other African states had been granted?
The answer is because other, more dominant world powers were at play. When Morocco first invaded Western Sahara, the Moroccan government had strong backing from Spain, France and the Reagan administration in the United States. All these countries saw Morocco as a key ally in the Middle East, and didn’t want to disturb their relationship by giving support for a referendum on independence, even if it was backed by international law. The UN is weak to powers such as these, and often don’t implement international law, if it contradicts an interest of a powerful country. This has been visible in the way the UN has failed to implement international law in the case of Western Sahara.
The UN has been attempting — in the broadest sense of the term — to find a solution to the question of sovereignty and self-determination since 1991. The worst failure of theirs is their refusal to implement human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, despite numerous amounts of reports of heinous abuse. Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said in their 2008 report on Western Sahara that:
“The government bans peaceful demonstrations and refuses legal recognition to human rights organizations; the security forces arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Sahrawi activists, beat them and subject them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; and the courts convict and imprison them after unfair trials.”
Many people have never heard of this conflict. It is hugely under-represented in the news media, both by a corrupt censored Moroccan media, and by an internationally corrupt media who are unwilling to publish stories outside of a familiar narrative and that pose super-powers in a negative light.
I believe the path to the freedom of the Sahrawi people is through telling more people the story. I will tell this story, the story of the people, over and over again. I hope that after reading this you will too.

By: Holly Tarn

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