Western Sahara is situated on the northwest coast of Africa between Morocco and Mauritania. During the colonial occupation of Africa, the Spanish colonised the territory. In 1973, the POLISARIO Front launched a war of liberation over Western Sahara, with Morocco and Mauritania also staking claims to govern the territory.
Following a 1975 ruling from the International Court of Justice determining that the Saharawi people had the right to self-governance, based upon the outcome of a referendum on self-determination, Morocco and Mauritania invaded the territory. Many Saharawi fled into the desert and over the border into Algeria to escape napalm bombing; today 165,000 individuals live in desert refugee camps. Those that elected to remain in the towns and cities of Western Sahara live under fear due to persecution inflicted upon the population by the Moroccan Government.
Morocco proceeded to occupy the entire nation after Mauritania’s withdrawal in 1979. The bloodshed and conflict between the Saharawi and the Moroccan Government continued apace, with the better-equipped Moroccan forces able to subdue the Saharawi’s best efforts to secure independence.
Since 1990, the United Nations has attempted to secure peace through MINURSO. A ceasefire between the POLISARIO Front and the Moroccan Government has been in place since 1991. Unfortunately, continuous delays in the implementation of the UN’s well-conceived Settlement Plan have led to an impasse.
The Moroccan Government has consistently acted to ensure the failure of such UN efforts, but a general lack of political will from the international community to resolve the conflict is also to blame. Negotiations continue to play out between the two parties to the conflict, with the Moroccan Government having rejected a series of proposed solutions, most notably from former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.
There is a growing body of information on Western Sahara. While the focus of WSAF is on human rights and the referendum in Western Sahara, other sources are provided for contextualising the issues WSAF works on.