Briefing 2017: Cracks Opening in Morocco’s position

Several developments over the last year have weakened Morocco’s political position regarding its occupation of Western Sahara. These give hope that, with continued pressure, progress towards a settlement of the conflict may be made.

Moroccan provocation

As has been widely reported, in August 2016, Morocco risked reigniting the armed conflict by sending its security forces into the neutral ‘buffer zone’ maintained by MINURSO, at a point near Guerguerat in the south of Western Sahara. Frente POLISARIO troops mobilised in response, and MINURSO was swiftly deployed to keep the peace. The standoff lasted for over six months until early March this year when, following pressure from the UN, Moroccan forces withdrew. This extraordinarily irresponsible gesture by Morocco is hard to understand. It may have been a deliberately provocative move, designed to test the response of MINURSO and the Frente POLISARIO to a violation of the ceasefire arrangements. Or it may simply have been a miscalculation based on arrogance, resulting from years of Moroccan impunity for its actions in Western Sahara. In either case, it demonstrates how Moroccan power in Western Sahara is a source of instability for the region. The Security Council will also be well aware of Morocco’s petulant reaction to the previous Secretary-General’s discussion of the right of self-determination for the Saharawi people, and subsequent expulsion of many MINURSO personnel.

Change in Africa and Europe

In February this year, just weeks before the end of its Guerguerat adventure, Morocco rejoined the African Union, some 32 years after leaving its predecessor (the OAU) in protest at the admission of Western Sahara. In doing this, the government of Morocco has thus tacitly admitted that its boycott of the AU has not worked. The SADR has responded positively to Morocco’s return and indicated its willingness to negotiate. And in December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the EU-Morocco trade agreement did not include Western Sahara – weakening the economic basis of the Moroccan occupation.

Nevertheless, the situation remains grave. Repression and human rights abuses continue in the areas of Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation, as detailed below. Further, despite the legal setback, Morocco continues its efforts to gain economically from the occupation of the territory.

Read more in the 2017 MINURSO Briefing.

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