It was the last days of November 2019. The 44th International Conference of Support and Solidarity with the Saharawi People (EUCOCO), held in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain) had just ended with a very good attendance; and for the first week of December many members of Spanish families were due to go to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf (Algeria), to visit the children they generously and in solidarity welcome into their homes, in Spain, during the summer months, thanks to the programme ‘Holidays in Peace’, managed for many years by CEAS-Sahara, the State Coordination of Associations of Solidarity with Western Sahara. And at the end of that same month of December the XVth Congress of the Polisario Front was to take place in the Saharawi town of Tifariti, in the part of Western Sahara controlled by the Front.
Thus, three events were of great importance for the Sahrawi people, Spanish civil society and the international solidarity movement. It was not surprising that attempts were made to silence them, hide them, boycott them and, as far as possible, prevent them, in accordance with the petty interests of the Moroccan colonialist occupier.
And there, at that very moment, in those very circumstances – what a coincidence! -the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, first, and the Minister of Defence, later, raised a strange alarm which was then broadcast on the front page of all the media (press, radio and television), as required by the script: The Spanish Government claims to have credible information from ‘reliable’ foreign sources that terrorist attacks and the kidnapping of Spaniards in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf are going to take place in the near future, for which reason Spanish citizens were exhorted not to travel to these camps and, those who were there, to abandon them as soon as possible. And even, it was sowed the doubt of if it was going to proceed to repatriate the hundred of development and humanitarian workers who usually work there (and of whose existence until now we had never been informed…).
At first, this alarm and the apparent ‘unusual interest’ of the Spanish Government in the security situation in the Saharawi refugee camps surprised the citizens very much, given the stubborn silence and the usual information drought maintained officially on everything related to Western Sahara since that slogan of ‘encapsulating’ this issue launched in 2008 by former President Felipe Gonzalez (ho in 1976 had said to the Sahrawis: “…Our party will be with you until the final victory…”). And immediately, the alarm raised by the Spanish government outraged the Sahrawi government, the Polisario Front and the broad movement of solidarity with the Sahrawi cause, since neither the Sahrawi authorities nor the governments of the neighbouring countries, in particular Algeria and Mauritania, had been informed of this alleged “imminent” danger. Instead, and suspiciously, before warning the Spanish population of the alleged “imminent” terrorist attack, minister Josep Borrell had held a meeting with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, who had come to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs the previous evening. And even, according to unconfirmed rumours (El Confidencial Saharaui), the previous evening, the acting Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, had attended a dinner with the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, at which the suspected alarmist operation was allegedly prepared in collusion.
As was to be expected, the Moroccan media rushed to spread the news immediately on the basis of the alarm raised by the Spanish government (not by the Algerian authorities, those of the Polisario Front or MINURSO…). And in a very obscure manner, they also wanted to implicate Algeria and MINURSO, who strongly denied the existence of any alarm. “Algeria denies having warned MINURSO of the risk of attacks in the Sahara”, diariolibre.com reported: “The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied today that it had informed the United Nations Mission
in Western Sahara (MINURSO) that there was a high risk of jihadist attacks and abduction of foreigners in the Sahrawi refugee camps and in particular in the areas near the separation wall with [the Sahrawi territory occupied by] Morocco”.
The Algerian press agency, APS, reported: “The spokesman for the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AMOFA), Abdelaziz Benali-Chérif, denied information on the alleged ‘warning’ issued by the Algerian government to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). He added that “the media which have supported the dissemination of this false and unfounded information, with the aim of manipulating and spreading nonsensical information, have the obvious aim of harming Algeria, its people and its institutions”. He stated that “the Algerian Government’s alleged warning to MINURSO is even more fanciful, because the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf are on Algerian territory and, consequently, the Algerian security forces, led by the National Popular Army, guarantee security throughout the national territory”. The spokesman for the AMOFA also pointed out that “the moment chosen by these media and their sponsors is far from being fortuitous, given the regional context and the proximity of certain important events” (in reference to the Christmas visits of many Spanish families to the Sahrawi camps and the celebration at the end of December of the 15th Congress of the Polisario Front) (El Moudjahid, “Le MAE bat en brèche les informations sur le prétendu avertissement lancé par l’Algérie à la Minurso”).
For its part, the Polisario Front, through its National Secretariat, deplored the “suspicious” attempts to harm the struggle and the reputation of the Sahrawi people and the movement of solidarity with its just cause, notably the latest warning issued by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after meeting its Moroccan counterpart, which raises certain questions (…) Such attempts – the National Secretariat continued – also seek to interrupt the celebration of the 15th Congress of the Polisario Front. (Europa Press, “Polisario charges Spain with warning of attacks in Tindouf and links it to the visit of the Moroccan minister”).
The credibility of the Spanish government and former Minister Borrell’s ‘gift’ to Morocco
When the authorities of a country warn of a possible “imminent” terrorist attack on the basis of “reliable sources”, there should in principle be no reason for us citizens to distrust that warning, to the extent that we don’t follow the instructions given to us ‘for security reasons’. However, the unusual overreaction of the Spanish Government (Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, both ‘acting’) seemed very strange and highly suspicious. With the above-mentioned ingredients and many other proven precedents, the Spanish Government has lost whatever little credibility it may have left regarding the question of Western Sahara, given its systematic drift towards diversionary operations, its clamorous silences, the half-measures and the servility shown towards the Alaouite monarch.
The truth is that, today, no country is immune from a possible terrorist attack. That threat can materialize at any time and in any part of the world. As proof of this, precisely on those dates, the real terrorist threat materialized in London, Great Britain (November 29, two dead and three wounded stabbed); in Moscow, Russia, in the very headquarters of the former KGB (December 19, one dead and five wounded by bullets); in New York, USA (five wounded stabbed on December 28); in Mogadishu, Somalia (29 December, car bomb, at least 76 dead and over 100 wounded); in Ostrava, Czech Republic (10 December, 6 dead and 3 wounded by gunfire); in White Settlement, Texas, USA (30 December, 2 dead and 1 wounded by gunfire); in Paris, France (3 January, 1 dead and 2 wounded by gunfire); in Lamu, Kenya (5 January, 3 US Americans dead and 2 wounded),…
However, what a coincidence, there was no terrorist attack in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf. And in those places mentioned above, where terrorist attacks did take place, no prior alarm was given of possible attacks, nor were citizens warned not to travel to those places or to leave them as soon as possible… Because, certainly, they could have happened anywhere else: Madrid, Cambrils, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Finland, … and that does not mean that the population is advised not to travel to those places or to leave them, as was advised – in the case of the Saharawi camps in Tindouf – by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, through their own headlines in the press, radio and television; in addition to the strange abnormality, in the field of anti-terrorist cooperation, that the Sahrawi, Algerian and Mauritanian governments and authorities were not warned of the alleged danger, and instead the Spanish population was repeatedly alarmed (and, by extension, the whole world, as the well-oiled Moroccan machinery of intoxication and propaganda and its minions was hastened to spread, at its own discretion).
Well, despite this suspicious and self-serving alarm, it can be said that today the Sahrawi camps, established under the surveillance and control of the Sahrawi authorities themselves, are among the safest in the world. The experience of international organizations and NGOs operating in these camps, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and the UN Secretary General’s own reports to the Security Council attest to this. For all these reasons and because of the unusual alarmist manoeuvre of the Spanish Government, the Sahrawi Government and the Polisario Front immediately responded with a statement of indignation, trying to unmask this – in the opinion of many – not very credible operation of intoxication, already practiced on more than one occasion.
The then delegate and representative of the Polisario Front in Spain, Khira Bulahi – who had not been officially informed either and who learned of this alarm from the media (!) – had to go on her own initiative to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask for information on the reasons for this strange alarm. A fine way of neglecting the official representative of the Sahrawi people in Spain! And a good sign, too, of the lack of tact and diplomatic deference on the part of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, always suspected of collusion with the Moroccan government.
For their part, the Associations of Solidarity with the Sahrawi Cause responded by denouncing the Government’s suspicious act of collusion with Morocco and by expressing their intention to continue their trips and visits to the Tindouf camps. It is only known that, as a consequence of this dubious alarm, some groups of young people, who were going to travel on the December ‘bridge’ to the Saharawi camps, postponed the trip until the Easter holidays, for the logical fear of their families, which is what those who designed the alleged false alarm were looking for.
However, despite so much scaremongering, it seems that the performance of today’s ex-Minister Borrell achieved precisely the opposite of what it intended, since in the end more than 500 people travelled to the Tindouf camps on the Constitution ‘bridge’ (long weekend in early December), and all of them returned “safe and sound”, as Khira Bulahi pointed out. The Spanish solidarity movement thus made clear its unconditional support for the Sahrawi cause, always above and despite the manoeuvres of those who “are complicit in the illegal occupation of the territory of Western Sahara”, as the National Secretariat of the Polisario Front underlined.
This alarm has been described by some as “Borrell’s last gift to Morocco before leaving his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs”. From now on, Mr Borrell will be able to continue these manoeuvres in his new post at the European Union, as he did in the past in the European Parliament itself and more recently in the Spanish Congress of Deputies. The digital weekly Canarias-Semanal told it so clearly: “The Spanish Government continues to persecute the Sahrawis 44 years after their expulsion from their homes”, in reference to the illegal Madrid Accords of 1975, the military invasion, by blood and fire, of Western Sahara by Morocco and the massacre of the Sahrawis in their dreadful flight from the occupying power.
Morocco and France, after the terror alert
Experts in the field, such as Carlos Ruiz Miguel or Ignacio Cembrero, have long pointed out the geopolitical context and interests behind the use of the alleged terrorist threat in relation to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, the Polisario Front or the legitimate struggle of the Sahrawi people for their freedom and independence.
Thus, Carlos Ruiz Miguel, Professor of Constitutional Law, Director the Center for Studies on Western Sahara (CESO) at the University of Santiago de Compostela, co-author of the ‘Prontuario Jurídico’ (Legal handbook) on Western Sahara and author of numerous works on the Sahrawi cause and Morocco’s annexationist claims (see “The Moroccan Constitution of 2011. Critical Analysis”), points to the possible existence of “hidden state agents” behind terrorist blackmailing and points out that sometimes the jihadist threat is a creation of the intelligence services that hides, among other things, a geopolitical conflict between states, as in the case of Morocco; and that terrorism is used to create instability in states towards which there is hostility, as is the case of France with Algeria since its independence in 1962 (as the newspaper El País has also pointed out very recently, 14/12/2019). France – Ruiz Miguel points out – has always tried to weaken Algeria (which is where the Sahrawi refugee camps are located). It may be that the perpetrators of terrorist acts are fanatics, but those who mark the strategy – says the aforementioned author – are others who have a clear political objective; there are terrorist groups that follow strategies of certain States against other States.
As for the ‘Moroccan strategy’ in this area, Ruiz Miguel points out two aspects which Morocco has been strongly advocating: 1) introducing the variable of terrorism into the conflict in Western Sahara and 2) questioning the idea that the SADR-Polisario territory is safe. Concerning the first aspect, “Morocco has long claimed that the UN Secretary General’s reports on the conflict in Western Sahara refer to “terrorism”. Morocco has devised a thousand and one “operations” to introduce this variable into the conflict…, going so far as to “discover” an alleged “arsenal” of a supposed “terrorist” group in Amgala” (in the Moroccan occupied zone of Western Sahara!) …
Regarding the second aspect – the alleged insecurity of the SADR-controlled territory – Ruiz Miguel explains it as follows: “This idea was already launched when the so-called Spanish “aid workers” kidnapped in Mauritania  were abducted at the same time as Morocco had a serious problem with the deportation of Aminatou Haidar.” “On that occasion, it was even said that the kidnapper led the hostages across the liberated territory of the Saharawi Republic, implying that the latter was not properly securing its territory. This proved to be false.”
And in reference to the kidnapping, by AQIM (Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb), of two Spanish and one Italian aid workers in the Sahrawi camps, in October 2011, he points out: “This new operation is intended to emphasise the same idea: to make people believe that the Sahrawi Republic/Polisario Front does not sufficiently guarantee the territory and it is “better” that it is in the hands of Morocco”. (“A kidnapping with a geopolitical context”, Periodista Digital, 24/10/2011; “AQMI: When the State is an accomplice to terrorism”, p. 247 ff). As can be seen, this is pure intoxication of the Moroccan regime.
For his part, Ignacio Cembrero, a renowned information professional and expert on Maghreb affairs, complements the analysis of Professor Ruiz Miguel (introducing the variable of terrorism in the conflict in Western Sahara): “For three or four years now,” Cembrero said in 2011, “the official Moroccan press and some experts and research centres linked to Rabat insist that the Polisario Front has connivances with the Maghreb branch of Al Qaeda [!] The strike by the terrorist organisation AQIM in its refugee camps in Tindouf, in the south-west of Algeria, completely denies these assertions.
“For years, the independence movement has responded to these accusations [by claiming] that the area of the Sahara under its control… is the safest area in the desert. It also stresses that the Sahrawis are immune to Islamist extremism. The US Embassy in Algiers endorsed these assertions in cables sent to Washington and revealed by WikiLeaks. (…) “It has been demonstrated that the Polisario not only does not flirt with terrorists but can also be their victim”. “The triple kidnapping is above all a blow to the independence fighters and a reason for satisfaction for the Moroccan authorities. While those responsible for the Polisario were, in private, grieving, the Moroccan pro-regime websites were distilling their delight”. One of them, for example, ‘reported’ as follows: “The Polisario Front is no longer in a position to guarantee the security of the Sahrawis living in its camps and would have been infiltrated by AQMI (…), the option of a micro-state administered by the Polisario constitutes a threat to the security of the region…”.
Of course, the qualification of ‘micro-state’ is another invention of Moroccan intoxication, since the extension of Western Sahara is larger than that of the United Kingdom, Guinea or Romania, for example, practically half of Spain and much larger than many other countries and territories. And with abundant natural resources to become one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. What is not invented, however, is that most of the terrorist attacks, in Spain and in Europe, have been perpetrated by Moroccan citizens. In fact, the National Secretariat of the Polisario Front evoked Morocco’s close relationship with the support and promotion of terrorism, especially in the Sahel region, and even the direct use of terrorism to attack the Sahrawi people (see Ruiz Miguel, “¿Qué relación tiene Marruecos con el terrorismo en el Sahel”; Ignacio Cembrero, “Duro golpe para los independentistas saharauis y para su anfitriona Argelia”, El País, 24/10/2011).
And another undeclared claim of the reactionary Moroccan regime, trying to prevent the presence of aid workers and the visit of citizens from Spain and other countries, is to try to cut the much needed humanitarian aid and cooperation with the Sahrawi refugees, as also hinted by the two authors mentioned above. Anything that is detrimental to the just Sahrawi cause is a ‘reason of state’ for the Moroccan Makhzen. And we say “just” cause because it is fully supported by international law (UN Charter and more than a hundred resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, International Court of Justice, African Union, Court of Justice of the European Union, Supreme Court of South Africa, National Court of the Kingdom of Spain: reason of justice versus ‘reason of state’), as can be verified in the excellent ‘Legal Handbook on Western Sahara’.
Moroccan impunity and silence of the Spanish government
Almost at the same time as the Spanish government was sounding this strange alarm – denied by Algeria, MINURSO and the Polisario Front – Morocco was expelling from El Ayoun (capital of occupied Western Sahara, the former ‘Province 53’ of Spain) four autonomous Basque deputies and a lawyer. A few days later, on 10 December, a Portuguese citizen was also expelled. The expulsion of these parliamentarians (and of many others before them) shows, once again, that “Morocco acts with total impunity, to continue to hide the atrocities and human rights violations which the Sahrawi people suffer daily in the occupied territories”.
From January to November 2019 the Moroccan regime prevented at least 19 people of Spanish nationality from entering occupied Western Sahara: eleven lawyers, two journalists and six members of solidarity organisations. With the expulsion of the Basque parliamentarians on 1 December – none of them from the Socialist Party – and one lawyer, the list of Spaniards expelled in this period rises to 24.
According to the Contramutis website, the Polisario Front asked the Spanish government to take an interest in the expulsion of its citizens with the same concern with which it had tried to alarm aid workers and people of solidarity who visit the Sahrawi refugee camps, and not to use the double standard as it always does when it is necessary to draw attention to Morocco: to ask for explanations “in the face of this lamentable chapter” which adds to the list of Spanish delegations expelled from occupied Western Sahara, which are clashing “against this insurmountable wall imposed by Morocco”.
The coordinator of the deputies expelled on 1 December, Carmelo Barrio (People’s Party), reported from the same plane on which they travelled, that the plane landed in El Ayoun from Las Palmas, but as soon as they landed a representative of the Moroccan government informed them verbally that they could not get off and that they had to return in the same plane to the Canaries. Travelling with Barrio were MPs Iñigo Martinez (Elkarrekin Podemos), Eva Juez (PNV) and Josu Estarrona (EH Bildu), all belonging to the Parliamentary Intergroup of Peace and Freedom for the Saharawi People.
Carmelo Barrio said that the intention of the parliamentarians was “to make contact with the representatives of the Sahrawi people” and to speak with human rights organisations, without excluding a meeting with the Moroccan authorities “if they ask us to”, as they had not previously contacted them.
The daily ABC underlined the obvious: that “it is not the first time that a group of Spanish politicians have been forced to turn back without even setting foot on Saharawi territory; in fact, the most common thing is that this happens almost systematically”.
Only a few days later, on 10 December 2019, the Moroccan authorities expelled the Portuguese journalist and member of the Western Sahara Foundation, Isabel Lourenço, from the occupied Western Sahara territory. She was arrested on her arrival in El Ayoun by unidentified policemen who locked her up in a hotel and held her incommunicado while waiting for her deportation. Lourenço, a reporter with the online media ‘Tornado’, affirmed that at no time did she hide the purpose of her trip: to visit the families of various Sahrawi prisoners sentenced by Moroccan courts, adding that this could not constitute “a threat to public order”, of which she was allegedly accused when she was expelled.
Under the headline ‘Portuguese activist and journalist expelled from the Sahara’, Jesús Cabaleiro Larrán reported on the digital journalism website Periodistas-es.com that the Bloco de Esquerda [Left Bloc] had condemned what had happened as “a serious and unfriendly act which deserves our strongest condemnation” and had already presented a question in the Portuguese Parliament to the government of the Socialist Party about what had happened, which it demands be condemned. It should be remembered – continued the aforementioned journalist – that last August a total of twenty-four Portuguese organisations urged the government and the United Nations to take measures “in front of the wave of repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and to guarantee the Sahrawi people the exercise of their free right to self-determination”. Among the signatory organisations were, the Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation (CPPC), the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers – National Trade Union (CGTP-IN), the Democratic Movement of Women (MDM) and the Portugal-Western Sahara Friendship Association (AAPSO). It should not be forgotten that the present Secretary General of the United Nations and responsible for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) is the Portuguese António Guterres.
Morocco – Cabaleiro Larrán denounced – almost systematically expels from Sahrawi territory journalists who are not in favour of the ‘Moroccan Sahara’ (!), always justifying it with the same argument, “a political agenda hostile to Morocco”. In many cases, the police do not even allow the accused to get off the plane and force them to take the same plane back, as happened recently with the four Basque autonomous parliamentarians of the Intergroup ‘Peace and Freedom for the Saharawi People’ belonging to the Popular Party, Basque Nationalist Party, Podemos and EH Bildu.
With Isabel Lourenço, there are now 43 foreigners expelled from Saharawi territory by the Moroccan authorities in 2019. According to the daily El Pais (1/12/2019), “in 2016, the last year for which official figures are available”, the Moroccan authorities expelled 93 persons in total when they tried to enter [occupied Western] Sahara or when they had already entered. In no case did the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs – until very recently led by Josep Borrell – say anything or file any complaint with Morocco, or ask for explanations from the Moroccan regime. According to the Sahrawi press agency SPS, since January 2014, Morocco has banned the entry into the occupied territories of 274 people of 20 nationalities (political personalities, independent observers, journalists, jurists etc).
The International Conference of Support and Solidarity with the Sahrawi People (EUCOCO)
It is not by chance that the ‘established’ press has silenced – that is, stolen from the public – the knowledge of the celebration, in Vitoria-Gasteiz (22-23 November), of the 44th edition of the International Conference of Support and Solidarity with the Saharawi People (EUCOCO), which has been held continuously since 1975, every year in a different European city. 1975 is the year of the beginning of the ‘conflict’ in Western Sahara, that is, the beginning of the Moroccan invasion, the signing of the illegal Madrid Accords and the handing over of the Sahrawi territory and its population to Morocco (and Mauritania) by the last government of the Franco dictatorship (Historical memory!).
Although the acronym ‘European’ Conference (EU) is still used, the successive editions of the EUCOCO have, for years, had an international dimension, with the participation of organisations and people from the five continents, although with a greater presence of European participants. Representatives of governments that recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), MPs, MEPs and other elected officials, autonomous governments, Spanish state councils and municipalities, political and trade union organisations, associations of friendship with the Sahrawi people and NGOs in general, participate each year in this obligatory event of solidarity. The Sahrawi people, represented by their government authorities, as well as ambassadors and delegates from numerous countries, also participate at the highest level. The EUCOCO is without doubt the most important annual meeting of the International Movement of Solidarity with the Sahrawi People. The motto this year was: “1975-2019, 44 years of struggle for the Independence, the decolonization of Western Sahara, guarantee for Peace and Stability in the Region”. 44 years are more than what we Spaniards had to endure during the grey and bitter times of Franco’s dictatorship. That, to those who, in spite of everything, were able to maintain life in those distressing times, can give us an idea, saving the distances, of what the Sahrawis (formerly, Spanish citizens) are enduring and suffering, only in circumstances and conditions much worse than ours, without any point of comparison.
The 44th EUCOCO brought together over 400 representatives from different countries and again pointed to Spain and France as key actors in the search for a just and definitive solution to the process of decolonisation of Western Sahara, through the holding of the referendum of self-determination and strict compliance with the resolutions of the UN and the African Union (Mundiario, 24/11/2019).
In the final declaration, the EUCOCO asks Spain to denounce the Madrid Accords of 14 November 1975 (by which Morocco claims to justify its occupation of Western Sahara, despite the fact that it has not complied with them, by also occupying the ‘Mauritanian side’) and to grant diplomatic status to the Polisario Front as the sole and legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, and “to provide it with the necessary political and humanitarian assistance to defend Sahrawi rights and interests”.
In reference to France and its role in the conflict, the international platform of support for the Saharawi people directly points to the French government as “the main obstacle to any solution in accordance with international law, both within the United Nations Security Council and in the European Union”. It therefore asks the French government for a new position which could “contribute to the solution of this conflict and thus help to build a united Maghreb among free and equal partners”.
In the field of European institutions, “the Movement of Solidarity with the Sahrawi People reminds the European Commission and its new High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, of their obligation to respect the judgements of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and to recognise the Polisario Front as the sole representative of the Sahrawi people, legitimised to negotiate cooperation agreements.
While expressing satisfaction at the progress made within the African Union (AU) “with the aim of putting an end to the colonial occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco”, the EUCOCO recognises the delicate situation in the former 53rd province of Spain and calls on the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, to take appropriate measures to ensure that MINURSO fulfils its promises and extends its mandate to monitoring respect for the human rights of the Sahrawi population.
In addition to representatives of the Basque institutions, delegations from Algeria, Brazil, Belgium, France, Panama, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland participated in this 44th Conference. The Sahrawi delegation, led by the then Prime Minister of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Mohamed Elouali Akeik, included several ministers, parliamentarians, members of social organisations and activists from the occupied territories.
As has already been said, what began 44 years ago as a European Conference has long since taken on an international character, having become an essential meeting to evaluate the support work, project plans of action in various fields (political, legal, institutional), make the situation in the occupied territories visible and broaden international solidarity with the struggle of the Sahrawi people.
The 15th Congress of the Polisario Front
Held in the liberated Sahrawi town of Tifariti, between 19 and 25 December 2019, the 15th Congress of the Polisario Front met in memory of the Sahrawi diplomat and former representative of the Polisario Front at the UN, Ahmed Bukhari, under the theme: “Struggle, perseverance and sacrifice for the full sovereignty of the Sahrawi State”.
If the first congresses had focused on the objectives of the war of liberation and the consolidation of the Polisario Front, and the subsequent ones on the consolidation of the Sahrawi State and its settlement on the African continent, this 15th Congress has been especially relevant because of the new decisions for the future of the Sahrawi cause, merging diplomacy and belligerence and bringing new energies to the rethinking of the peace process. This is because the successive resolutions of the UN Security Council and the decisions and judgements of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) have hardly been effectively implemented to date and the international community seems indifferent to the paralysis of the decolonisation process. It was therefore a question of giving new impetus and a more belligerent dimension to the negotiations under UN tutelage, which remain entrenched. That is why the main objective of the Congress was to find ways out of the impasse.
The participants in this 15th Congress, over 2,400 delegates, analysed the best options for continuing the struggle for the liberation of the Saharawi people, reaffirming their attachment to the exercise of the right to self-determination and independence, rejecting categorically any attack on these legitimate rights, as set out in the final declaration.
Foreign delegations (more than 400 participants) from Africa, Europe, America and Japan took part in the work and sent a clear message to the whole world that the Sahrawi cause calls on all international institutions and organizations to defend the right of the Saharawi people to freedom and independence and to continue the struggle until it is achieved.
The Congress expressed its full support for the decision taken by the Polisario Front – following Security Council Resolution S/RES/2494 (2019) of 30 October 2019 – concerning the review of its participation in the peace process under the auspices of the UN. “The Sahrawi people will not tolerate the present situation of blockade nor the transformation of MINURSO into a protector (and instrument) of legalisation of colonisation”, the delegates warned, insisting on the full sovereignty of the Sahrawi people over the whole territory of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), in accordance with international resolutions, including those of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the European Courts, as well as the resolutions of the United Nations and the African Union.
The African countries reiterated their call for the necessary decolonisation of the last colony in Africa and their firm support for the Sahrawi people in their struggle. The delegations of the European countries, for their part – in particular those of France, Spain, Germany and Italy – sent a clear message to their respective governments to cease their support for the Moroccan occupier, “the main culprit in the deterioration of security in the region”. They underlined the need to intensify solidarity with the Sahrawi cause in order to put an end to the violations perpetrated for over 40 years against the people of Western Sahara and the plundering of their natural resources.
In his speech to the Congress, Brahim Ghali, President of the Saharawi Republic and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, said that the present impasse is the product of the policy of intransigence and systematic obstruction – by the Moroccan occupying state – to the implementation of the UN Charter and UN resolutions, and that, above all, there is the right to independence of the Sahrawi people, like all peoples and colonial countries. Even though the UN Charter and resolutions demand the organisation of a referendum on self-determination, Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975, hindering the process of decolonisation of Africa’s last colony. The stagnation of the conflict and the current status quo call into question international legality, promote the violation of human rights in the occupied territories and encourage the plundering of the Sahrawi people’s natural resources.
There have been more than four decades of waiting, including 28 years in a theoretical peace process. And patience is running out. Brahim Ghali, expressed it this way: “After more than twenty-eight years since the signing of that ceasefire agreement between the Polisario Front and Morocco, the UN has been unable to achieve the main objective of that agreement, which is to organise a referendum on self-determination where the Sahrawi people decide freely on their future”. (…) “We are a peaceful people who have waited 28 years for a peaceful solution to the conflict”, but “the Moroccan delays and the fact that the Security Council [of the UN] does not assume its responsibilities, have forced us to reflect on different means of recovering our rights”.
The President of SADR also affirmed that the Sahrawi people will not accept any more delays in the peace process and that it rejects the perpetuation of the Moroccan occupation, emphasising that “the Saharawi people are fighting a war which will only end with the liberation of our country by using all means available within the framework of legality”. He called on the international community to assume its responsibilities by demanding the application of the UN Charter and resolutions and enforcing the right to self-determination and independence, which are non-negotiable. He recalled that the Polisario Front will use all means permitted by international law to impose the rights of the Sahrawi people and urged the UN Secretary General to appoint urgently a new Envoy to complete the efforts of his predecessor – former German President Horst Köhler – in the process of decolonisation of the last colony in Africa. According to various media, the resumption of armed struggle is not ruled out.
The Congress commended the unwavering position of the African Union (AU) on the right of the Sahrawi people and called on this pan-African organisation to ensure the implementation of its statutes, in particular the clauses relating to the borders inherited from colonisation, to put pressure on the Kingdom of Morocco to comply with the principles and objectives of the AU’s founding charter and to withdraw from the Saharawi territories occupied since 1975.
Concerning the European Union (EU), the Congress welcomed the successive decisions of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) on Western Sahara (December 2016 and February and July 2018), calling on the new leaders elected by the Congress to continue the battle before the European Court in defence of the sovereignty of the Sahrawi people over its natural resources.
In its final declaration, the Congress recalled the historic responsibility of the Spanish government towards the Sahrawi people and regretted the support to the Moroccan occupier of certain countries in the Security Council, France in particular, which has been delaying the process towards a referendum of self-determination, and reiterated the attachment of the Sahrawi people to its sovereignty over all its national territory, which it will never renounce.
Brahim Ghali was re-elected Secretary General of the Polisario Front for the next four years, by an absolute majority, with over 86% of the votes, in accordance with the provisions of the Statutes of the Polisario Front. The 25 members (six of them women) of the National Secretariat were also elected. They were all sworn in at the end of the Congress.
The final declaration constitutes the road map that will mark the political orientation of the Front for the next period. The newly elected leaders must now specify the detailed procedure for the implementation and development of the delegates’ recommendations. They will also have to take appropriate action to relaunch and promote the principal mission for which MINURSO was created, the referendum of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and to ensure that the referendum is held in the context of the political process.
They should also take appropriate action to relaunch and promote the principal mission for which MINURSO was created, the referendum of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and to ensure that it is given all the prerogatives of the UN international peace missions. Throughout the work of the Congress, it was repeatedly stressed that MINURSO should commit itself to the protection of human rights in the occupied Saharawi territories and work to stop the plundering of the natural resources of the Sahrawi people.
The Polisario Front reaffirmed that it “will never be an actor” in an operation which does not respect the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and independence, asking once again that the international community should assume its responsibilities by demanding the application of the Charter and relevant UN resolutions “and avoid Moroccan expansionist pretensions and their consequences for stability and peace in the region”.
‘Too many setbacks’
Meanwhile, and despite the silence of the Spanish government, Morocco has continued to invade the Spanish coasts, in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, with hundreds of landings and new tragedies due to shipwrecks. In this way, once again, it has failed to comply with the alleged agreements reached with the Spanish and EU authorities to control these migratory flows in exchange for money from Spain and the European Union, the stony silence of the Spanish government on the continuing human rights violations in Western Sahara and the infamous support for Morocco’s alleged illegal and illegitimate annexation of Sahrawi territory .
The Spanish government also remains silent when the Moroccan government, taking advantage of the complex political situation in Spain – as did Hassan II at the time of the ‘Green March’ – unilaterally extends its jurisdiction over the territorial waters of the Canaries and tries to appropriate also the adjacent waters of Western Sahara, in violation of international law. And while the Spanish officials are fighting in Brussels to obtain from the EU the transfer to Morocco of €400m “for the control of immigration”…, the Spanish government is lying in wait for the Moroccan government to buy from Spain two military ships for about €260m, an operation “only pending the signature of King Mohamed VI”…
It should be remembered that Morocco has enough means and adequate technology to control its internationally recognised coastline, and that if it does not do so, it is to put pressure on and blackmail the Spanish government and the EU. There is no other explanation for the fact that it opens or closes the exit of boats when it is convenient, to remind us “who is in charge here”, and at the same time, maintains a strong surveillance and an exorbitant expense in the control of the mined military Wall of more than 2,700 km that crosses and divides the whole illegally occupied Western Sahara. And “while the Moroccans are emigrating massively, Morocco is making a royal luxury display at sea” (Ignacio Cembrero).
It is obvious that the task is not easy at all, because there have already been “too many setbacks” – as Santos Juliá titled his last book – and too many concessions to the Alaouite monarch. But perhaps the time has come to consider a ‘Second Berlin Conference’, given that migrants come not only from Morocco and the Maghreb, but also from sub-Saharan Africa. And now that Mr. Borrell is heading the EU’s foreign policy, perhaps he could try to change the chip and to establish this idea among his European colleagues from the powers that divided up Africa at the 1884-1885 Conference. If at that time they were ‘capable’ of sitting down and agreeing to the division of the African continent with squad, bevel and tracers, the plundering of its resources and the subjugation of its populations, there should be no problem today in reaching a great joint agreement between ‘civilised’ Europe and the formerly colonised African countries and territories, in order to repair to some extent the damage done and to contribute to the generation of wealth, democracy, respect for human rights and jobs in those countries and territories, so that it would be unnecessary to leave the country of origin on a patera to die on the journey to the European continent. Surely the reflections of Professor Sami Naïr (“Refugees“, “Immigrant Humanity“) could be of great help in outlining this ambitious pending project.
It is also time for the new Spanish government to stop being silent and submissive, and to start effectively demanding compliance with international law from its much-vaunted “strategic partner”. As the digital think tank PiensaChile points out, “Morocco’s expansionist policy is a direct consequence of Spain’s failure to fulfil its legal and historical responsibility towards Western Sahara”. An independent Western Sahara, the SADR, a friend of a Spain that fulfils its international responsibilities, will be the best guarantee of security and tranquillity for the Canaries and its inhabitants. “Making further concessions by the Spanish government will only encourage Morocco to persist in the expansionism of its colonial adventure” (Mohamed Jadad). Although Professor Françesc de Carreras did not make it explicit in his recent article “Catalonia and the right to self-determination” (El País, 08/01/2020), it must be said loud and clear, once again: If anyone today has the right to self-determination, legally and internationally recognised – but not yet exercised – it is the Sahrawi people. There is no need to go so far, Mr De Carreras, and set the example of British colonial Kenya, having Western Sahara and the Sahrawi people so close to us, and illegally subjected to brutal Moroccan colonisation.
It is now sixty years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted (on 14 December 1960) the ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’ – Resolution 1514 (XV) – proclaiming that “Subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the cause of world peace and co-operation”; and recognizing the right of these peoples to self-determination and independence.
It would be desirable for academics, historians, jurists and other social scientists to fulfil their privileged role with society, history and justice by promoting and defending the just cause of the Sahrawi people.
This article was translated by Fausto Giudice (Tlaxcala-int.org)
Luis Portillo Pasqual del Riquelme, Ph.D. in Economics, former professor of Economic Structure and Institutions at the Autonomous University of Madrid.