Western Sahara is situated on the Atlantic coast of North Africa. Bordering Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania, Western Sahara was declared a non-self-governing territory by the United Nations in 1965. As decolonization was picking up steam around the globe, the United Nations pressured Spain to allow for the self-determination of the Saharawis of the Western Sahara, who had lived under Spanish control since 1884.
In 1975, Morocco and Spain signed the Madrid Secret Tripartite agreement to divide Western Sahara and ignore its population. Under attack with napalm and white phosporus, tens of thousands of Saharawis fled the Moroccan forces and settled in neighboring Algeria. On February 26, 1976, Spain unofficially abandoned its former colony. The following day, the Polisario Front, a liberation movement formed by the Saharawis, proclaimed the creation of the Saharawi Republic (SADR) as the legitimate government of the Western Sahara.
The Saharawis’ armed struggle for self-determination carried on against the occupying forces of Morocco continued until a UN-backed ceasefire was signed in 1991. Nineteen years later, the stalemate endures, with Morocco controlling the cities and coastal areas on the western side of a 1,500-mile-long military wall it constructed to divide the Saharawis in the 1980s, and the Saharawi Republic administering the eastern side.
With the ceasefire – which was also sponsored by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU) – signed, the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) deployed to begin preparations for a free and democratic referendum for the Saharawi people. Twenty-three years later, this referendum has yet to be held, and Western Sahara remains Africa’s last colony enlisted on the agenda of UN. The Saharawis who live under Moroccan rule are frequently victims of grave human rights violations, as reported by United Nations, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the SADR has gained political recognition from 84 states worldwide, including its neighbors Mauritania, Mali, and Algeria. The Polisario Front has been recognized by the United Nations as the representative body of the Saharawi people since 1979. The SADR is also a founding member of the African Union.