Legal status of Western Sahara

Legal status of Western Sahara

Western Sahara, formerly the Spanish colony of Spanish Sahara, is a disputed territory claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. Its legal status remains unresolved.

The territory is mostly administered by Morocco since Spain handed over the territory to Morocco and Mauritania after the Madrid Accords in 1975-76. Part of the territory is controlled by the Polisario Front as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. A UN-administered cease-fire has been in effect since September, 1991.

In order to resolve the sovereignty issue, the United Nations (UN) has attempted to hold a referendum through the mission United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and is holding direct talks between the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Positions of the parties

Kingdom of Morocco

The position of the Kingdom of Morocco is that all of Western Sahara is an integral part of the Kingdom. The Moroccan government refers to Western Sahara only as the "Sahara," "Moroccan Sahara," "Saharan provinces," or the "Southern Provinces". Western Sahara is the historical birthplace of one of the most successful Moroccan ruling dynasties, the Almoravids. In 1958, the Moroccan Liberation Army of the South fought Spanish colonizers and almost liberated what was then Spanish Sahara. Among the veterans of the Moroccan Southern Army are fathers of many of the Polisario leaders, like the father of Mohammed Abdelaziz, the Polisario leader. Morocco is supported in this view by a number of former Polisario founders and leaders. The Polisario Front is considered by Morocco to be a Moroccan separatist movement, referring to the Moroccan origins of most of its founding members, and its self-proclaimed SADR to be a puppet state used by Algeria to fight a proxy war against Morocco.

Polisario Front

The position of the Polisario Front is that Western Sahara is an occupied territory, the rightful government of which is the exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). cite news | author = Saeed Taji Farouky | url = | title = The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic: Deserted in Western Sahara | publisher = | date = 2006-03-21 | accessdate = 2006-07-15 , German] The Polisario Front calls for the right of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara to be decided through a referendum. Although the SADR is not recognised as a state by the UN, Polisario is considered as a direct party in the conflict. The SADR is a member of the African Union.


Algeria has been supporting the independence of Western Sahara diplomatically since 1975. In 1976, Algeria got involved directly in the conflict, but after a military confrontation at Amgala against the Moroccan Army, the Algerian role became that of an indirectly involved party through political and military support to the Polisario front. Morocco argues that the Algerian position is due to the Sand War of 1963.

United Nations

Western Sahara was first placed, by Moroccan demand, on the UN list of territories to be decolonized in the 1960s when it was still a Spanish colony. It has retained that status since then due to the persistence of the conflict.cite web | url = | title = Non-Self-Governing Territories listed by GA in 2002 | accessdate = 2006-08-20 | author = United Nations Fourth Committee | year = 2002 | publisher = United Nations | language = English] The UN has been involved since 1988 to find a solution to the conflict through self-determination. In 1988, the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to settle the dispute through a referendum under the auspices of the UN, that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. In 1991, a ceasefire was agreed between the parties, contingent on the referendum being held the following year. Due to disputes over voter qualification, the vote has still not been held, and Morocco has made it clear in 2000 that henceforth it will not consider any option leading to the independence of the territory,Fact|date=July 2007 and instead, is now proposing autonomy within Morocco. Lately, the UN has argued for negotiations between the parties to overcome the deadlock, culminating in the Manhasset negotiations.

African Union

The African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) has given the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic full recognition, cite web | url = | title = A. U. Member States | accessdate = 2006-08-20 | author = African Union | format = Flash animation | publisher = African Union , French] and accepted it as a member (which has led Morocco to leave the union, cite web | url = | title = Political Alliances Within the UN | work = Eye on the UN | accessdate = 2006-07-15 ] becoming the only African state outside of it.)


The SADR is recognized by 46 states. States not recognizing the Sahrawi republic may, however, recognize the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, but not its exile government as a state.Fact|date=July 2007 Several states have withdrawn their recognition of the SADR. Although Morocco claims that no recognition is required, Moroccan sovereignty over the territory is supported by the Arab Leaguecite news | url = | title = Arab League withdraws inaccurate Moroccan maps | accessdate = 2006-07-15 | author = | date = 1998-12-17 | publisher = ] cite news | url = | title = Arab League supports Morocco's territorial integrity | accessdate = 2006-07-15 | author = | date = 1999-01-08| publisher = ] and by some other states as a policy of deliberate ambiguity.

tates recognizing the SADR

The following is a list of state governments that have formally recognized Western Sahara as a sovereign nation, with the exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as its legitimate government. The vast majority of recognitions took place during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, many states have retracted their recognitions, or suspended recognition pending the outcome of the referendum on self-determination. Despite the Spanish government fluctuated the King exposed the right to self-determintation [cite news | url =|author=Libertad Digital|title=The King bet on self-determination for WS|date=13-03-07] .

*Forty-eight recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Thirteen of them are home to Sahrawi embassies
*Thirty-seven have recognized the SADR, then "suspended" relations or "withdrawn" recognition.

Other states

flag|CAN - Canada does not recognizes the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic, the POLISARIO Front, or Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. Canada no longer participates in the Western Sahara peacekeeping force (MINURSO) but supports its presence. It also supports efforts made by the UN and the involved parties in achieving a peaceful settlement of the conflict [ Canada - Western Sahara relations ] ] .

flag|USA - Commenting on a 2004 free trade agreement with Morocco, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stated in a letter to Congressman Joe Pitts, in response to his questioning, "the United States and many other countries do not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and have consistently urged the parties to work with the United Nations to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. The Free Trade Agreement will not include Western Sahara." [ Letter from the trade office to Congressman Joe Pitts] ] . However the final text provided no provisions with respect to Western Sahara.

ee also

* Foreign relations of Morocco
* Polisario
* List of unrecognised countries


*Hodges, Tony. "Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War", Lawrence Hill & Company, 1983, ISBN 0882081527 , p. 308
*Hodges, Tony, and Pazzanita, Anthony. "Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara", 2 ed., Scarecrow Press, 1994, ISBN 0810826615 , pp. 378-379.

External links

Tables of states recognizing the SADR

* [ World Statesmen]
* [ Western Sahara On-line]
* [ The SADR] es
* [] es
* [ Friends of the Sahara] es
* [ The Association for a Free and Fair Referendum in Western Sahara]


* [ Arabic News - Senegal supports Morocco's territorial integrity]
* [ Balkan Peace - Serbia-Montenegro withdraws recognition of Sahara Republic]
* [ Morocco Times - Sahara issue - Sudan supports Moroccan territorial integrity]
* [ Arabic News - Morocco, Gabon voice resolve to enhance cooperation]

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