Colonial period & the beginnings of the decolonization 1667-1963
The King of Spain Carlos III and the King of Morocco sign the Maraketh treaty in which Maraketh recognizes that its authority and power do not go beyond “Oued-Noun”. This provision is confirmed in the Meknes Treaty signed by both parties in 1789.
The Berlin conference distributes Africa between the colonial powers: Spain occupies Western Sahara. The anti-colonial resistance is suppressed in 1934 with help from the French army.
Spain and France sign the Muni treaty (ratified in October 1904) specifying limits of the Spanish occupation: Rio de Oro from White Cape to 26o, Saguia El Hamra from 26o to 27o, 40 and the zone starting from Tarfaya up to Oued Draa. These boarders are permanently fixed in an agreement signed between Spain and France in 1912.
Western Sahara has been listed by UN as “non self governing territory”.
The UN General Assembly adopts its first resolutions (2072-2229) calling for decolonization of the territory and self-determination through a referendum.
Résolution 2229 “Question of Ifni and Spanish Sahara” 20 Dcember 1966:A_RES_2229(XXI)_E
Résolution 2072 “Question of Ifni and Spanish Sahara” 16 Dcember 1965:A_RES_2072(XX)_E
The Saguia El Hamera and Rio de Oro Liberation Movement of (SLM) is born. It is led by Mohammed Sid BrahimBassiri. It is formed with the objective of fighting against the assimilation move by Spain and against the Moroccan territorial claims.
1973 (20 May)
Birth of the Polisario Front.
Spain announces its intention to organize a referendum for self-determination under the auspices of the UN and makes a census for this purpose.
The General Assembly requested an advisory opinion on the following questions :
“I. Was Western Sahara (Rio de Oro and Sakiet El Hamra) at the time of colonization by Spain a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius) ?”
If the answer to the first question is in the negative, “II. What were the legal ties between this territory and the Kingdom of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity ?”
1975 (16 October)
In its Advisory Opinion, the Court replied to Question I in the negative.
In reply to Question II, it expressed the opinion that the materials and information presented to it showed the existence, at the time of Spanish colonization, of legal ties of allegiance between the Sultan of Morocco and some of the tribes living in the territory of Western Sahara. They equally showed the existence of rights, including some rights relating to the land, which constituted legal ties between the Mauritanian entity, as understood by the Court, and the territory of Western Sahara. On the other hand, the Court’s conclusion was that the materials and information presented to it did not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. Thus the Court did not find any legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of the General Assembly’s 1960 resolution 1514 (XV) — containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the territory ».
International Court of Justice / Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders – Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975 on the case of Western Sahara6197
1975 (October 18)
Letter from the Permanent Representative of Spain requesting an urgent meeting of the Security Council:
“On behalf of my Government, I would like to inform you that, as a result of the statements made by His Majesty King Hassan II of Morocco, threatening to carry out a march of 350,000 people to invade Western Sahara, there has been a situation of international friction that endangers international peace and security. My Government, aware of its obligations, draws the attention of the Security Council to this situation, under Article 35 of the Charter of the United Nations. Consequently, I beg you, Mr. President, to urgently convene this Council to adopt the relevant decisions and dissuade the Moroccan Government from carrying out the announced invasion, which, in addition to compromising peace and international security, ignores the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and is contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
I beg you, Excellency, under article 37 of the Rules of Procedure, I may be invited to the deliberations of the Council on this matter”.
1975 (14 November)
Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania sign the Madrid Agreements giving away 2/3 of the north of Morocco and 1/3 of the South to Mauritania.
1975 (06 November)
Morocco invades the territory of Western Sahara by the “green march” and the Security Council asks it the same day to immediately withdraw from Western Sahara all the participants in this march.
1976 26 February
Spain informed the Secretary-General that as of that date it had terminated its presence in the Territory of the Sahara and deemed it necessary to place on record that Spain considered itself thenceforth exempt from any responsibility of any international nature in connection with the administration of the Territory, in view of the cessation of its participation in the temporary administration established for the Territory.
1976 (27 February)
Polisario Front declares Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
Western Sahara territory is shared between Morocco and Mauritania which sign a convention separating their parts from the Western Sahara territory. The map starts from the intersection point on the Atlantic side with 24o and goes towards the intersection point of 23o north with 13° meridian west. The intersection of this right line with the current boarder of Mauritania is the south boarder of the Moroccan occupation zone.
1979 (10 August)
Mauritania renounces its claim on Western Sahara and signs the Algiers Agreement with Polisario Front.
The General Assembly reaffirmed that the question of Western Sahara was a question of decolonization which remained to be completed by the people of Western Sahara.
Morocco starts the construction of “defense walls”.
Morocco announces at the Nairobi OAU summit (24-27 June) its acceptance of a referendum in Western Sahara.
« Noting with appreciation the solemn commitment made by His Majesty King Hassan II to accept the holding of referendum in the Western Sahara to enable the people of that territory to exercise their right to self-determination« .
Text of the Resolution AHG/Res. 102 – 103 (XVIII): 9528-assembly_en_24_27_june_1981_assembly_heads_state_government_eighteenth_ordinary_session
1983 (12 June)
The 19th AU summit in Addis Ababa and in Morocco’s presence unanimously adopts resolution 104 in which it asks the parties to the conflict, Morocco and Polisario Front, to make direct negotiations in view of coming up with a cease fire to create the necessary conditions for a referendum for self-determination of the Sahrawian people, which are fair and without administrative or military constraints under the auspices of AU and UN.ahg-res-104-xix-f
Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is admitted to the Organisation of African Unity and Morocco leaves the organization.
1991 (29 April)
UN takes charge of the referendum with collaboration of AU and puts in place a settlement plan.
(August) Morocco and Polisario approve this settlement plan.
Resolution 690 established UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) with the mandate to implement the settlement proposals during a transitional period in which the referendum would be organised. The plan also created an identification commission to determine voters.
1991 (24 May)
The Secretary-General proposed that the ceasefire should enter into effect on 6 September. Both parties accepted that date.
Why the Western Sahara is a question of decolonization ?
Because, in 1963, this Spanish colony has been listed by UN as “non self governing territory”.
What mean « non self governing territory »?
In the UN Charter, a Non-Self-Governing Territory is defined as a Territory “whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government”.
In 1946, several UN Member States identified a number of Territories under their administration that were not self-governing and placed them on a UN list. Countries administering Non-Self-Governing Territories are called administering Powers.
As a result of the decolonization process over the years, most of the Territories were removed from the list.
It urged the administering Powers concerned to take effective measures to safeguard and guarantee the inalienable rights of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to their natural resources, including land, and to establish and maintain control over the future development of those resources, and requests the Administering Powers to take all necessary steps to protect the property rights of the peoples of those Territories.
- All data is from United Nations Secretariat 2017 Working Papers on Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs), and for Western Sahara, from UNdata (data.un.org), a database by the United Nations Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations.
- On 26 February 1976, Spain informed the Secretary-General that as of that date it had terminated its presence in the Territory of the Sahara and deemed it necessary to place on record that Spain considered itself thenceforth exempt from any responsibility of any international nature in connection with the administration of the Territory, in view of the cessation of its participation in the temporary administration established for the Territory. In 1990, the General Assembly reaffirmed that the question of Western Sahara was a question of decolonization which remained to be completed by the people of Western Sahara.
UN Charter & Self-determination
CHAPTER XI: DECLARATION REGARDING NON-SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES
Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end:
- to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses;
- to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement;
- to further international peace and security;
- to promote constructive measures of development, to encourage research, and to co-operate with one another and, when and where appropriate, with specialized international bodies with a view to the practical achievement of the social, economic, and scientific purposes set forth in this Article; and
- to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General for information purposes, subject to such limitation as security and constitutional considerations may require, statistical and other information of a technical nature relating to economic, social, and educational conditions in the territories for which they are respectively responsible other than those territories to which Chapters XII and XIII apply.
Members of the United Nations also agree that their policy in respect of the territories to which this Chapter applies, no less than in respect of their metropolitan areas, must be based on the general principle of good-neighbourliness, due account being taken of the interests and well-being of the rest of the world, in social, economic, and commercial matters.