Over the last year, Horst Köhler, the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, has made some progress. In December 2018, he organised the first roundtable meeting of the parties to the conflict, Morocco and the POLISARIO Front, and of Algeria and Mauritania. Conflict specialists the International Crisis Group have identified this as a sign of a ‘resolution opportunity’ for the conflict. Talks continued in March this year.
But as we write, many of the Gdeim Izik group of imprisoned Saharawi rights activists are on hunger strike. They are protesting against their continued detention, the inhumane conditions they are held in, and being scattered across Moroccan prisons many hundreds of miles from their families. International human rights organisations condemned the violent break up of peaceful Saharawi demonstrations held to mark the visit of Horst Köhler to occupied Western Sahara in June 2018. And in February 2019, the European Parliament voted to approve a new EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement which has been designed to permit the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s fish resources.
Unchecked Moroccan power – manifest in violence against civilians, unfair trials and arbitrary detention and the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources – brings instability to the territory. Above all, the continued denial of the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination creates tension, frustration and “an illegal situation”, in the words of the EU Advocate General.
The UN needs to take action to build confidence among the people of the region, especially the Saharawis, that law and human rights will be respected in the future of Western Sahara. Without that confidence, renewed conflict remains a danger; with it, a peaceful solution becomes a possibility.
Find out more via our 2019 MINURSO Briefing.
Join us in taking action. You can write to members of the UN Security Council ahead of the annual MINURSO vote at the end of April. Find out how you can get involved here.