Achieving justice for Africa’s East Timor – book launch in Melbourne

Australian Book Launch at the New International Bookshop, Melbourne of Stephen Zunes & Jacob Mundy, Western Sahara: war, nationalism & conflict irresolution (University of Syracuse Press)

Roger Clark, a professor of international law at Rutgers Law School, New Jersey, USA in launching this important new work by his colleagues, Zunes and Mundy, recommended everyone to buy the book. He read some excerpts to give the audience a flavour of the clear prose and clear thinking of the authors and he talked about the legal issues in the conflict.

For Clark the story starts in the 1880s when Spain acquired Western Sahara, then jumps to 1955 when the Spain and Portugal were invited to join the United Nations. In doing so they were asked to hand over a list their non-self-governing territories. It turned out that the Spanish also had made treaties with the indigenous people of the territory, which showed that the country was not a “terra nullius” (a country belonging to nobody). This became important when in 1975 the International Court of Justice set about answering the question of whether Western Sahara was part of Morocco. They answered clearly  “no”. There was nothing to preclude self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

As a member of the International Platform for Jurists of East Timor,  Professor Clark went on to mention a developing area of law concerning whether countries which trade with Morocco in the natural resources of Western Sahara are “accessories after the fact of theft” . This issue arose for Australia in the case of East Timor’s oil. And is relevant now with Australia’s imports of phosphate which may be sold as from Morocco but is not really from Morocco at all but from Western Sahara. This issue will also be solved as soon as a referendum of self-determination for the Saharawi people is held.