Spain cannot remain on the sidelines of the drastic developments taking place on the grounds of its adjacent former colony of Western Sahara. It has been clear that Morocco aims to involve external powers in a geopolitical game to complicate the solution of the conflict. However, Spain's obligations as still administering power of the territory permit it to advocate for the implementation of international law to avoid any escalation in the region as well as to safeguard its interests.
“Sahara, now! No more betrayals”, Madrid 2007
A timely move aiming to push the Spanish government to comply with its obligations towards decolonizing Western Sahara, was signed by the majority of the political parties represented in the Spanish Senate on 10th March urging their government to “actively facilitate the achievement of a political solution to the conflict in Western Sahara.” In a motion, promoted by the PNV Senator, Luis Jesús Uribe-Etxabarria, the groups underlined that the resolution of Western Sahara conflict “is essential for regional cooperation between the Maghreb countries and the stability, security and prosperity of the region.” Several spokesmen of the groups confirmed the “historical responsibility” of the Government of Spain that it continues to be the administering power of Western Sahara as the UN considers it a non-self-governing territory pending decolonization, something that the Government of Spain has rejected repeatedly.
This initiative intersects with the constant calls of the Polisario front, as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, for the government of Spain to correct its historical mistake that has led to much suffering for the Sahrawi people for more than 45 years. In 1975, Spain was about to transfer all powers in the territory to the Polisario on the basis of an agreement between them. In contrast, Spain stabbed the Sahrawi people in the back by agreeing with the Kingdom of Morocco to invade Western Sahara, in flagrant violation of international law and resolutions of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union. Nevertheless, the Polisario Front continued to welcome any initiative on the part of Spain that would advance the decolonization process in Western Sahara.
The motion “recognizes that Spain has a historical and affective link in the political conflict in Western Sahara”, therefore it “asks the Spanish Government to actively support and facilitate in the UN, the EU and the rest of international organizations a political solution in accordance with International Law and UN resolutions.”
While the Senators called for the “resumption of permanent, credible and constructive talks under the leadership of the United Nations,” they underlined the need of an “effective road map, with concrete objectives and clear deadlines.” They are convinced that “only dialogue, negotiation and agreement carried out in good faith and in a constructive manner, in accordance with International Law and UN resolutions, are the only way to achieve peace, coexistence, trust, security and economic and social progress in the region.”
The recognition of the political groups in the Senate that Spain's responsibility lies in empowering the Sahrawi people with their inalienable right to self-determination, an issue that should be evident in the Spanish political discourse, both externally and internally. The Spanish government still insists on ignoring this responsibility, throwing the ball vaguely at the UN’s goal. Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya turned her back on these voices by simply saying to questioning in the Spanish Senate that "Spain will not promote a concrete solution, but to support the United Nations efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution." It seems that Spain, as usual, is barely talking about the Western Sahara so that Paris and Rabat do not get angry!.
The Sahrawi people are tired of waiting for a referendum that the United Nations does not seem intent on organizing. The UN has not yet condemned Morocco’s violation of ceasefire in Guerguerat on last November 13th, which is understood as a kind of collusion against the rights of the Sahrawi people. No doubt that the escalation may claim many lives and will have repercussions for the region, but it may be better than a slow and ruthless death awaiting the mirage of a political solution.
Morocco failed to prove its claims over Western Sahara, so it resorted to bartering, hoping that would help delay its imminent departure. Its deal of December 10th with the US Trump's administration to recognize its sovereignty over the territory has no legal effect, but only to outbid the European Union's position and blackmail Spain in particular to take a vile step like the one it did in 1975. The current Moroccan-German diplomatic crisis comes within the framework of an extortion plan pursued by Morocco to impose its thesis. But Germany persists in defending the implementation of international legality in Western Sahara and criticizes Trump's decision.
There is a clear intention on the part of Morocco to restrict Spain, not only through waves of illegal migration or drug gangs but also by changing the nature of partnership in the region on(in) order to tighten its control on both sides of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Thus, the Kingdom of Morocco mortgages Western Sahara to countries such as Israel and the UAE in exchange for its protection.
In this context, the Spanish government must open its eyes well and release itself from the nightmare of the ever-haunting French-Moroccan fear. Both neighbors took advantage of Spain's vulnerability in 1975 during the death of General Franco and the transition period to compel the then government to abandon Western Sahara, leaving behind the incomplete decolonization process of the territory. But things have changed. There is no excuse for Spain now for not to stand with the Sahrawi people in their liberation struggle of territories occupied by Morocco.
Portugal's experience in East Timor is a real example for Spain to adapt to save the situation in Western Sahara, given that the two issues are similar. The Sahrawi people are in dire need of a loud cry on the part of the government of Spain in order to accelerate the referendum on self-determination to avoid the tragedy of the war that has broken out again, which undoubtedly will have very serious repercussions on the whole region of North Africa and the Sahel. Spain is called upon to intervene quickly to protect Sahrawi civilians who are subjected to unprecedented brutal repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, like the case of Sultana Sid Brahim Khaya and her family. Also, the Spanish government is called upon to save the life of the Saharawi journalist in prisoner, Mohamed Lamin Haddi, who faces the risk of death as a result of his hunger strike in protest against ill-treatment in Moroccan prison of Teflet2.
There is no need to remind the peoples, political parties and the Spanish government, by virtue of their close coexistence, that the Sahrawi people are peaceful and keep their good neighbors, because they know this very well. But the Kingdom of Morocco has been always the source of all misfortunes, and it is the reason behind the instability in the region. In this case, taking the stick from the middle is the most dangerous position anyone can take, as it is the case for the Spanish government.
There are many factors that may help Spain playing a pivotal role in resolving the Western Sahara issue:
1. The broad international support for the application of international legality in Western Sahara, accompanied by strong criticism of Trump’s decision of his last days in office.
2. The force of law, as the European Court of Justice has repeatedly renewed its judgments in conformity with the UN Charter and resolutions and the advisory opinions of both the International Court of Justice in 1975 and the UN Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, in 2002. The ECJ concluded that the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Sahara are two separate territories.
3. That the people of Western Sahara have been able to stand up to all attempts aiming to circumvent their legitimate rights. Recently, they celebrated the 45th anniversary of the proclamation of the SADR (Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic) on light of great gains, on top of which is the irreversible reality of the Sahrawi state, which enjoys a prestigious position within the African Union.
There is no doubt that an independent state on the other side of the Atlantic will enhance Spain's interests, as it will be the primary beneficiary of Western Sahara post-conflict. Most of the challenges facing Spain, especially those related to national security, migration and fishing, will disappear with an independent state in that territory. It is high time for the government of Spain to announce its support to the legitimate struggle of the people of Western Sahara for self-determination and independence. Spain would then have paved the way for the complete decolonization of its former colony.