A few days before the new year of 2016, a whole series of resolutions were adopted at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, one of which deserves special attention. It is dedicated to a forgotten international crisis and an ultimately forgotten country known as Western Sahara…
One reason that Western Sahara became a problem once Africa was decolonized was because Morocco and Mauritania had claims on its territory (Western Sahara covers 266,000 sq. kilometers, making it 20,000 sq. kilometers larger than Great Britain). The population of Western Sahara advocated for independence and the right to determine their own identity, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO) fiercely resisted its country’s occupiers. Currently, only 43 nations support the legality of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara. Most of the world backs POLISARIO, although only 37 countries have recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an independent state.
The UN Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples considers Western Sahara to be a non-self-governing territory and an unresolved problem resulting from decolonization. In the early 1990s, when preparations began for a referendum on independence, it seemed that the problem of Western Sahara was nearing a resolution… But then suddenly everything ground to a halt. And both the problem and the state were utterly forgotten.
The resolution on Western Sahara adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 clearly lacks teeth. That resolution «[s]upports the process of negotiations» conducted… in 2007-2008 and requests the UN Secretary-General to continue to report on the situation… And that’s it.
However, a few decades ago there were claims that it was the United Nations that was responsible for the people of Western Sahara. The last time the UN Security Council discussed the question of Western Sahara – in November 2015 – for some reason it did so behind closed doors.
In April 2015 the UN Security Council refused to hear (!) the African Union’s special representative for West Africa, the former President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano. The vast majority of African countries today recognize Western Sahara as an independent state. But the West does not approve of the African Union’s desire to handle regional crises in Africa on its own – so much so that it refused to even give the union’s representative an audience in the UN Security Council. But Africa can solve its own problems fairly well as long as the «global community» refrains from interfering.
And the UN Security Council has shown its complete impotence in dealing with the Saharan question. The rare UN Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara are overtly formal. They are adopted solely in order to facilitate the latest extension of the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara, although the mission does not take any action, but is simply «present» within the territory of the occupied state. There are no signs whatsoever that they are working to reach a political settlement. This is why the mission is so meagerly staffed, employing only 210 military servicemen and police (26 of which are soldiers, while the others are military observers). However, the mission has an impressive price tag, with a budget of more than $55 million in 2015.
The most recent UN Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara seem artificial in nature. For example, a resolution adopted in April 2015 states that the council «calls upon» the parties to resume negotiations and «requests» the Secretary-General «to brief the Security Council on a regular basis, and at least twice a year, on the status and progress of these negotiations». In other words, the council insists that it must be kept informed about the progress of negotiations that have not yet begun. But the Security Council is aware that the negotiations broke off back in 2008, and no one expects them to be resumed. It seems that the authors of the draft resolution did not bother to read the UN Secretary-General’s report, which refers to «the lack of progress towards a resolution of the dispute over the status of Western Sahara, which has not changed since my last report… [despite]… the efforts of the United Nations». All efforts over the last seven years to once again lead the parties to the negotiating table have led to naught. And this is despite the fact that the two sides in the conflict have been represented by the same people the entire time (King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Mohamed Abdelaziz, the president of the SADR), although their «intermediaries» change. So, is it the «intermediaries» who are the problem?
It is to the benefit of many for the problems of Western Sahara to remain unresolved. This is primarily true of course for Morocco, which siphons resources from both the SADR’s land as well as its water (the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Western Sahara is rich in natural resources, from fish to oil). Western companies also benefit from leaving the problem of Western Sahara unresolved. Such as, for example, the company San Leon Energy (headquartered in Ireland), which in August 2015 began drilling the El Aaiun-4 well near Tarfaya, in a region occupied by Morocco. The SADR’s president, Mohamed Abdelaziz, has asked the UN Secretary-General to condemn this theft of natural resources belonging to the people of Western Sahara, but Ban Ki-moon remains silent. And the UN Security Council meets behind closed doors…
For decades, the US has had a special interest in maintaining control over Western Sahara. For many years former US Secretary of State James Baker acted as the Secretary-General’s special envoy for Western Sahara. In 2009 another American – Christopher Ross – was assigned to this position.
It must be kept in mind that Western Sahara is very sparsely populated (with only 500,000 inhabitants) and it borders areas affected by terrorism and transnational crime (in particular, drug smuggling from Latin America), hence the importance of the territory of Western Sahara for the world-government regime. This also explains why the problem of the Saharan conflict seems impossible to resolve…