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Time to undo Trump's legacy in Western Sahara

By Kamal Fadel - posted Wednesday, 3 November 2021

The question of Western Sahara is once again being examined by the UN Security Council. This is an opportunity to kick-start the peace process in a region of strategic importance.

Almost six decades after it was promised a referendum on its future, Western Sahara awaits its destiny. The UN has spent more than two billion dollars on its mission in Western Sahara and appointed several envoys without accomplishing the task of enabling the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination.

On October 6, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment of Mr Staffan de Mistura as his new Special Envoy for Africa's Last Colony, Western Sahara.


If Mr de Mistura, is to have any hope of making progress towards a solution, he will need the full and unanimous support of the UN Security Council and a clear mandate to tackle the issue as a decolonisation matter.

The new Personal Envoy should be guided by the fact that Western Sahara's decolonisation was delayed when Spain abandoned its former colony in 1975 allowing Morocco and Mauritania to divide the Territory in contravention of UN's resolution.

In 1988 Morocco and Polisario accepted the UN and OAU Settlement Plan which called for the organisation of a referendum of self-determination. A ceasefire was declared on 6 September 1991 and the UN deployed its mission, MINURSO, in Western Sahara with a view to holding the referendum.

Moroccan authorities have obstructed the UN voter registration process and have arbitrarily rejected the final list of eligible voters. In 2002, the King of Morocco, without any basis, rejected the entire UN referendum process and described it as "obsolete".

Last November, hostilities resumed in the Territory after the Moroccan army moved into the Guerguerat area and occupied the UN supervised Buffer Strip. Almost 30 years of ceasefire ended drawing attention to the simmering conflict in Northwest Africa.

The UN should acknowledge that the peace process in Western Sahara has been derailed from its course and needs to be put back on the right path. A thorough review of the UN's involvement in Western Sahara is needed to determine the reasons why the United Nations has failed in Western Sahara. Such a review is essential to avoid repeating the same scenario again.


De Mistura's mission would be made easier if President Biden were to rescind Trump's erroneous decision on Western Sahara. This would restore America's credibility and its position as an honest broker and the penholder on Western Sahara resolutions at the UN Security Council.

Maintaining an unending and unchanging status quo in Western Sahara may serve a certain narrow purpose, somewhere. But it will not serve justice, international legality or stability and peace in the region.

Language in UN resolutions such as "mutually acceptable political solution", or "based on compromise" or "a realistic, practicable solution" are simply cogs in a machine that is rolling over the rights and aspirations of the Saharawi people. This language has nothing to do with the nature of the issue as a decolonisation matter.

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About the Author

Kamal Fadel is the Polisario Representative to Australia. He has been in the Polisario Front foreign relations corps since 1986 and has served in India, Iran and the UK, as a Saharawi diplomat.

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