Mission of the Western Sahara

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The temperature in the Sahara Desert was over 130 degrees the first time I went to the refugee camps. Just weeks out of college, I was teaching English to Western Saharan refugees in southern Algeria. I was in the Sahara Desert, thousands of miles from home, because of a woman named Zahra. I met Zahra when I was a college student and she came to my university on a speaking tour to raise awareness about her country, Western Sahara.

Now, 22 years later, I’m going back to the refugee camps to run my first marathon. The SaharaMarathon winds its way through the refugee camps, bringing runners from around the world to raise funds and awareness for the 200,000 Western Saharan refugees who have been living in this harsh corner of the Sahara Desert for forty years.

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Desert schools bloom in Sahrawi refugee camps (The Guardian)

This November marks 40 years since Spain ceded control of Western Sahara, near the border with Algeria. When Morocco tried to take over the territory, it triggered a conflict with the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi still live in five refugee camps around Tindouf in Algeria.

Despite harsh conditions in the camps, schools are flourishing. ‘Education, autonomy and integration’, reads a slogan emblazoned on the wall of a special education centre in Dakhla camp. Many residents speak Spanish, as well as Hassaniya Arabic, the Sahrawi language

Full report here:


Facts about Western Sahara

Frequently asked question on Western Sahara and fact proven answers

1- Is Western Sahara really the last colony in Africa?

Answer: “In 1963, Western Sahara was included on the list of non-self-governing territories under Article 73 of the UN Charter and Spain was the administering power. The UN General Assembly had demanded that Spain should undertake immediate steps to guarantee the exercise of self-determination by the people of Western Sahara. This underscored the right to a referendum on self-determination under UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) adopted in 1960, The General Assembly has always maintained that the people of Western Sahara are entitled to the right to self-determination.”

“The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion on the status of Western Sahara on 16 October 1975 at the request of the UN General Assembly. In the opinion, the ICJ dismissed the sovereignty claims by Morocco and Mauritania. After the ICJ delivered its opinion, Spain entered into a secret agreement with Morocco and Mauritania (Madrid Accords) which purported to authorize Spain’s withdrawal from the Territory of Western Sahara and permit the occupation by Morocco and Mauritania.”

2- What is the legal Status of Morocco in Western Sahara then?

Answer: “It should be noted that the UN General Assembly characterized Morocco as the occupying Power in Western Sahara in 1979 and 1980. However, Morocco denies the applicability of such law as it considers Western Sahara under its own sovereignty even though this claim had been dismissed by the ICJ.”

“Despite the fact that it occupies a large part of the Territory of Western Sahara, Morocco has never acquired the status of an administering Power of the territory in terms of Article 73 of the UN Charter. The UN list of non-self-governing territories confirms that after the withdrawal and abandonment of responsibilities by Spain on 26 February 1976, Western Sahara has not had any other administering power. Morocco has also never complied or purported to comply with the requirements of Article 73 of the UN Charter, in particular the transmission of statistical and other information.”

“With regard to Morocco’s claims of sovereignty over the Territory of Western Sahara. It should be recalled that on 16 October 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion denying the claims of Morocco and Mauritania and affirming the right of the Saharawis to self-determination under international law (….) The ICJ found that both Morocco and Mauritania never displayed any effective and exclusive activity in Western Sahara. Both countries therefore failed to establish any tie to territorial sovereignty over the Territory of Western Sahara. The Court concluded that it had “not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) 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 people of the Territory.” Accordingly, the UN Security Council called upon Morocco to withdraw from Western Sahara when it occupied the Territory on 31st October 1975.”

“It should be also noted that the issue of Western Sahara is still dealt with by the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly, which addresses issues relating to decolonization.”

3- What is the Status of the legal Saharawi Republic (SADR)

Answer: “The SADR became a Member State of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1982. It should be recalled that membership to the OAU was open to any independent sovereign African state. The admission of SADR to the membership of OAU in 1982 signified that more than half of Member States of the OAU recognized Western Sahara as an independent sovereign African State. It should also be recalled that one of the purposes of the OAU was to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa. Accordingly, the SADR is one of the founders and a member of the African Union, the successor organization to OAU.”

“Notwithstanding the membership of SADR to both OAU and AU, there is recognition that the people of Western Sahara are not fully liberated. The SADR controls only a part of Western Sahara. To this end, both the OAU and AU have undertaken efforts to conduct a referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. “

4. What is the legal Status of POLISARIO Front in Western Sahara?

Answer: “The Polisario Front is a liberation movement fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.”

Polisario Front is recognized by the African Union and the United Nation and the international community as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people in relation to the ongoing negotiations and peace processes for the resolution of this last case of decolonization in Africa.

Malainin Lakhal

You can access the AU Legal Counselor opinion here:

legal.au.int/…/The Legal Opinion (final for posting on the website).pdf



Global Change, Peace and Security: Western Sahara: The Role of Resources in its Continuing Occupation (Law and Justice)

The exercise of the right to self-determination may result in one of the following: the emergence of a sovereign State, the free association of the peoples with an independent State, or integration into an existing State. Whatever the result of the exercise of this right, it has to be determined by a free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples.

Regardless of the fact that this right is an essential principle of international law, political and socio-economic factors may prevent its exercise, and consequently, the realisation of its benefits by ‘peoples’. Such is the situation of the Saharawis of Western Sahara in North-West Africa. The question of Western Sahara came before the International Court of Justice in 1975, the court finding that neither Morocco nor Mauritania had sovereignty over the territory, and that the Saharawis have a right to self-determination (SeeWestern Sahara, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975, p. 12). Till date, this right is yet to be given effect regardless of the wish of the Saharawis.

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After 40 Years, Time to End the Occupation of Western Sahara

For decades we have followed a peaceful path towards liberation, patiently making our case to the world that we too deserve to exercise our fundamental right to self-determination. We do this knowing that we have the full weight of of international lawon our side and that no country in the world recognizes Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Some of the strongest support for our right to self-determination comes from the African continent, where many countries have fought their own battles for freedom in recent history. Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa, classified by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, awaiting a process of decolonization.

The African Union has been clear in its support, stating that “Western Sahara remains an issue in the completion of the decolonization process of Africa” that must be resolved. Many countries in Africa and around the world formally recognize the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is a full and founding member of the African Union. Morocco, on the other hand, is the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union due to its illegal occupation of Western Sahara. And still, the UN Security Council has chosen to ignore the calls of Africans and the African Union to rid our continent of colonialism and exploitation

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Activists Gather to Demand of Morocco’s King: Stop Obstructing Referendum or Leave Western Sahara


Activists Gather to Demand of Morocco’s King:

Stop Obstructing Referendum or Leave Western Sahara

 FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 10-11 AM   

1601 21st Street, NW, Washington DC

(Washington, DC)…Human rights activists, including representatives of the US-Western Sahara Foundation, Nonviolent International, Sahrawi refugees and a former MINURSO official, will gather at the Embassy of Morocco Friday, November 6 at 10 am to submit a petition demanding that King Mohamed VI of Morocco stop obstructing the UN planned referendum over Western Sahara or withdraw from their illegal occupation of Western Sahara.

 “The recent devastating floods of October have caused further hardship for the people of Western Sahara who have been forced to live in refugee camps since Morocco invaded their homeland on November 6, 1975, ” said Suzanne Scholte, Chairman of the US-Western Sahara Foundation.  “Because this ongoing suffering is a direct result of the King of Morocco’s obstruction of the UN’s promised referendum, we are calling for the referendum to be held or for Morocco to withdraw from their illegal occupation of Western Sahara.”

 “Because November 6th also marks the anniversary of the Green March which followed Morocco’s illegal invasion of Western Sahara which began that October, it is ever more important to raise our voices on this day,” said Michael Beer of Nonviolent International, who has been a long time advocate for self-determination. 

 “The people of Western Sahara need to know they are not forgotten during this latest crisis,” said Gare Smith, who served under President Bill Clinton as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “This is the only remaining African colony and it is the obligation of the United Nations and the international community to see that a free, fair, and impartial referendum is held.  The only alternative is Morocco’s withdrawal from Western Sahara.”   

 Katlyn Thomas, who served as the Member of the Commission responsible for legal affairs at MINURSO, pointed out, “There is absolutely no reason why a referendum cannot be held which would permit the indigenous people of Western Sahara to choose their future.  The excuses offered by Morocco and certain other officials are patently false.”

 Zeiny Ali Taleb, a Sahrawi speaking on behalf of the refugees said, “This latest hardship makes us even more determined that our people will achieve their legal right to self-determination.”

 “We are now 40 years on with an occupation that was illegal from the outset.  We are now 25 years on after a promised referendum for self-determination, both an established right and a continuing obligation of the international community,” explained attorney Jeffrey Smith of Canada.  “If not justice now for the Sahrawi people, then when?  And if not justice in this clearest of cases, then what in the future for other peoples burdened by gross human rights abuses and the taking of their resources?”

 For further information, contact Suzanne Scholte at 202-257-0095.

Suzanne Scholte

President, Defense Forum Foundation


Chairman, US-Western Sahara Foundation



Suzanne Scholte

President, Defense Forum Foundation


Chairman, US-Western Sahara Foundation