Seminar on Self-Determination and Western Sahara in Melbourne

A seminar was held on 13th September at Melbourne University’s Law School, under the title “Self-determination and Western Sahara”, hosted by Professor Gerry Simpson as a Global Justice Studio event.

Professor Simpson opened proceedings with some very interesting remarks about self-determination. He traced the origins of the concept to the time of the French Revolution with its Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and in the American Bill of Rights (1791).

However, it was not clearly expressed until after the First World War when Woodrow Wilson and Lenin found they could agree on self-determination.

The most important period of the use of self-determination was between
1960-1975. Self-contained states had the right to self-determination and
through the exercise of this right moved over to self-rule. Western Sahara lies within this period, also Angola and Mozambique.

In 1975 from the point of view of international law, Western Sahara was
settled by the International Court of Justice. Self-determination was a
cardinal principle in this resolution. If its subsequent history has an
interest, it is as a political story or from some other point of view, not
that of international law. The ICJ case has particular relevance in
Australia since it was used in the Mabo case for native title to the land
because Australia, like Western Sahara, was not “terra nullius” a country
belonging to nobody.

Kamal Fadel, Polisario Front representative to Australia spoke, picking up
the story in October 1975 when the Green March was ordered by the King of Morocco to counter the judgement of the ICJ that no claims to the territory by Morocco or Mauritania were valid and that the people of Western Sahara had the inalienable right to self-determination. The King of Morocco expected this to be an easy conquest (although behind the smokescreen of the peaceful Green March by 350,000 Moroccan civilians, just to make sure, a military invasion was taking place further inland).

Kamal described the “Wall of Shame” which the king built in the 1980s to try to stop the Saharawis from pursuing a war which was very costly for Morocco to maintain, and in 1991 accepted the UN-brokered cease-fire. However, the UN mission, MINURSO set up to organise the referendum of self-determination has still not accomplished its mission, although it has been successful in maintaining the cease-fire.

He underlined that Morocco now targets human rights activists in the
occupied parts of Western Sahara. Over half the population fled during the
war to refugee camps in south west Algeria, where they live in a desert so
harsh than it has never before been inhabited.

Morocco also illegally exploits the natural resources of Western Sahara, and
while it is allowed to do so with impunity has little incentive to engage
seriously in the UN peace talks. Australia is engaged in the resource theft,
as three Australian companies import phosphate from BouCraa mine in occupied
Western Sahara.

Kamal finished by considering various prospects for a solution, including a
referendum, a negotiated political solution and consideration of the
Polisario proposal which offers many reassurances to Morocco, pressure on
Morocco to force a resolution from abroad or internally, where an uprising
or seismic shift could occur or the final option of resumption of
hostilities, favoured particularly by the rising generations of Saharawis
born in exile.