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Western Sahara a 'shameful stain' on United Nations, says Polisario spokesman

Another generation cannot "grow old as refugees": The UN must "assume its full responsibility" for advancing resolution of the conflict between the Saharawi people and Morocco over Western Sahara. 

Commemoration of the Saharawi Republic’s 30th anniversary in liberated territories of Western Sahara. Jaysen Naidoo/Wikimedia. Some rights reserved.

Last month the people of Western Sahara marked an important milestone in the 40-year history of our country.

Although thousands of Saharawi citizens live as refugees in southwest Algeria – displaced from our homeland and separated from our families by Morocco’s colonial occupation – we have nonetheless developed an inclusive democracy and a well-functioning government in the refugee camps and liberated territory of our country.

The smooth, peaceful election of Brahim Ghali as the new president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a testament to the strength of these institutions.

READ MORE: Western Sahara: Africa's last colony

While we celebrated the election of a new president, the occasion was not without sadness.

The Saharawi people are still mourning the loss of our longtime leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, a towering figure who dedicated his life to the cause of liberation for Western Sahara. He leaves an impressive legacy behind, having transformed a movement that was originally built to resist a violent military invasion into a nation with a sophisticated set of state institutions.

Today, our government operates effectively and provides services to our people despite the fact that we have limited resources and operate in trying desert conditions.

We are cut off from most of our homeland, our coastline, our resources, and many of our people by an oppressive Moroccan military wall. The so-called 'berm' cuts a 2,700km scar across our country – an ugly symbol of oppression as well as a very real source of danger. It is manned by tens of thousands of Moroccan soldiers and millions of landmines litter the surrounding area.

Our government...provides services to our people despite the fact that we have limited resources and operate in trying desert conditions

The Saharawi people have made significant progress in our quest for self-determination.

The Saharawi Republic is a full and founding member of the African Union, has been recognised by some 84 countries and possesses a global network of diplomats who vigorously pursue our foreign policy goals.

International law is on our side and no country in the world recognises Moroccan territorial ambitions over Western Sahara. But despite this, Morocco and its powerful allies, particularly France, have for decades prevented us from choosing our own political future.

RELATED: 7 myths about democracy in Morocco

In addition to a robust foreign policy, we have built our own mechanisms of domestic governance and legislation.

The Saharawi Republic’s constitution enshrines equality and the presumption of innocence before the law, freedom of expression, the protection of human rights, and the right to education and medical care. The political, social and cultural participation of women is also codified in the constitution, and this is evident in the leading role of women in government institutions.

The many foreigners who visit our liberated areas and the refugee camps each year can attest to the fact that they are well-organised and feature modern provincial governance structures.

We also have basic medical facilities and an education system that has helped make our population amongst the best educated in the region. Once we have attained our national sovereignty, a market economy will be instituted.

Morocco has shown itself to not be...a partner for peace

There is also a robust civil society, which is active in areas ranging from arts and culture to politics and sports. Each year, we host international events such as the FiSahara Film Festival and Sahara Marathon, where supporters from around the world come to show their solidarity with the Saharawi cause.

President Ghali has stated his unequivocal commitment to a peaceful outcome to the conflict and a negotiated political solution. But this requires a partner for peace, and Morocco has shown itself to not be that partner through its continuous blocking and obstructing of all efforts to resuscitate peace talks.

READ MORE: What could the future of Western Sahara look like?

Members of the UN Security Council – tasked with resolving the conflict – continue to let the kingdom get away with this intransigence.

During my tenure as the Frente POLISARIO and SADR UN Representative in New York, I’ve seen the same cycle repeated over and over when it comes to the Council’s dealing with the question of Western Sahara.

Morocco strings the Security Council along either by placating with silence or throwing tantrums; by delaying progress on procedural grounds or creating a crisis.

Peace...cannot be achieved in the absence of basic principles of international law, mainly the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa

The latest episode, in which Morocco ordered the expulsion of much of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, is just another tactic to avoid dealing with the issue directly. Morocco knows that keeping the Council distracted is the best way to create an illusion of progress and to fool the Council into feeling productive when it is not.

The Council must stop playing the fool in Morocco’s games, and must assume its full responsibility for advancing the political process towards a resolution of the conflict.

Peace and security in our region cannot be achieved in the absence of basic principles of international law, mainly the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa.

The Security Council should not continue turning its back to the suffering of our people while pretending to be guarantor of peace and security across the world. France and its client, Morocco, cannot continue obstructing the Council from assuming its responsibility. Western Sahara is today a shameful stain on the credibility of the United Nations.

We have patiently built our nation and pursued diplomacy while keeping faith that the UN would deliver what it has promised since 1991, a referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco. This was agreed to with Morocco and endorsed by the Security Council.

It is time for us to decide our own future. One person, one vote in a free and fair referendum. The young have seen how the patience of their parents has been badly rewarded – they won’t accept that it is the fate of another generation to grow old as refugees.

About the author

Ahmed Boukhari is the United Nations Representative for the Frente Polisario, the political leadership of the government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).


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