Association for the Monitoring of the Resources and for the Protection of the Environment in Western Sahara ( AMRPENWS) has recently interviewed Professor Zunes, and discussed many Western Sahara related issues including the ECJ ruling and the Natural resources:
Stephen Zunes has been at USF since 1995, teaching courses on the politics of Middle East and other regions, nonviolence, conflict resolution, U.S. foreign policy, and globalization for the Politics department, the International Studies major, and the Peace & Justice Studies minor, as well as the Middle Eastern Studies minor, for which he serves as program director.A prominent specialist on U.S. Middle East policy, Prof. Zunes has presented numerous lectures and conference papers in the United States and over a dozen foreign countries. He has traveled frequently to the Middle East and other conflict regions, meeting with prominent government officials, scholars and dissidents. He has served as a political analyst for local, national, and international radio and television and as a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, Huffington Post, Truthout, Alternet and Common Dreams. He has published scores of articles in academic journals, anthologies, magazines, and newspaper op–ed pages on such topics as U.S. foreign policy, Middle Eastern politics, Latin American politics, African politics, human rights, arms control, social movements and nonviolent action. He has served as a research associate for the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz; a visiting professor for the International Master in Peace, Conflict, and Development Studies at Jaume I University in Spain, and, a visiting research professor at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He also published a book on Western Sahara co-authoring with Dr. Jacob Mundy.
1- Can you tell us about your involvement with the Western Sahara conflict and with the Saharawi issue in General?
I have followed the issue for close to 35 years now, writing a series of academic manuscripts and articles for a more general readership, as well as co-authoring in 2010 the most comprehensive English-language book in decades. I have visited the occupied territory and the refugee camps, as well as traveled with the SPLA into the liberated zones during the war. I have spoken at a number of international conferences on the topic and have worked with activists on the application of strategic nonviolent action and civil resistance under occupation.
What has led to my interest has been my deep concern for justice and recognizing the importance of the world maintaining at least some semblance of the international legal framework codified in the United Nations Charter. If something as basic as the right of self-determination for colonized peoples and inadmissibility of any country expanding its territory by force cannot be upheld, how can we hope to resolve more complex international issues?
2- What is the main legal framework of the Western Sahara territory and the evolution of the Saharawi conflict, and can you describe briefly the different UN resolutions and the many Courts ruling on Western Sahara?
In 1963, the United Nations placed Spanish Sahara on its list of known colonies. In 1965, following deliberations in the Fourth Committee, the General Assembly passed, in a nearly-unanimous vote, Resolution 2072, which ‘Urgently’ requested that ‘the Government of Spain … take immediately all necessary measures for the liberation of…Spanish Sahara from colonial domination’. In 1966, the General Assembly passed Resolution 2229, which contained the basic formula for a referendum in Western Sahara that the United Nations would use in the 1990s. In 1972, the General Assembly passed Resolution 2983 not only reaffirmed ‘the inalienable right of the people of the Sahara to self-determination’, but also ‘to independence’. The Spanish government announced in July 1974 that it intended to hold a self-determination referendum in early 1975. In response to a Moroccan request, the General Assembly passed Resolution 3292 (XXIX) on 14 December 1974, asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion regarding Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to Spain’s colony, and whether or not those claims trumped the Western Saharans’ right to self-determination. It also called for a special visiting mission to access the realities on the ground. In October, the commission confirmed broad indigenous support for both independence under the leadership of the Polisario in Western Sahara and the World Court recognised the Saharawi’s right to self-determination, was issued the following day.
When King Hassan threatened to march 350,000 of his subjects into the territory anyway, the Security Council passed a resolution (380) on 6 November which ‘deplored’ the Green March, called on the Moroccans to withdraw immediately, to respect the Western Saharans’ right to self-determination, and to cooperate with the Secretary-General’s mediation efforts. Despite this, Spain—under pressure from the United States—made a secret trilateral deal with Morocco and Mauritania to hand over administration of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania.
Following hearings by the United Nations Fourth Committee the following month, the General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution (3458A) calling on Spain, with the help of the Secretary-General, to hold a popular referendum on self-determination in the Western Sahara. Throughout 1976, the United Nations, with attention focused on the guerrilla war and the massive refugee exodus triggered by the Moroccan invasion, failed to address the underlying issue of self-determination. That December, the General Assembly passed resolution 31/45 in which the body decided to hold off further deliberations on the matter until the United Nations could learn the results of a scheduled extraordinary session of the Organisation of African Unity on the Western Sahara. The General Assembly passed a series of resolutions in subsequent years reiterating the territory’s right of self-determination, including some that specifically recognized Western Sahara as being under foreign belligerent occupation.
The Security Council again became involved in the conflict in 1990 with a series of resolutions which put in place a cease fire between Moroccan and Polisario forces, the stationing of United Nations’ peace keeping forces in the country, and an internationally-supervised referendum in which the remaining Saharawi population in Western Sahara combined with repatriated refugees, would take part in a referendum. A series of United Nations Security Council resolutions urged the referendum process to move forward (Resolutions 690, 725, 809, 973, 995, 1002, 1017, 1033 and 1056), but Morocco remained intransigent. In 1997, UN Special Envoy Baker oversaw the signing of the Houston Accords which codified the modalities of the referendum process, including identification of voters. However, despite a series of additional United Nations Security Council resolutions), Morocco refused to allow the referendum to go forward and, as they had done since the beginning of United Nations Security Council involvement, French and American threats of a veto prevented the Security Council from enforcing its mandate.
As a result, UN Special Envoy James Baker put forward a plan in which both the Sahrawis and the Moroccan settlers would be able to vote in the referendum, but the plebiscite would take place only after Western Sahara had enjoyed significant autonomy for the four to five years prior to the vote, independence would be an option on the ballot, and the United Nations would oversee the vote and guarantee that advocates of both integration and independence would have the freedom to campaign openly. The United Nations Security Council approved the Baker plan in the summer of 2003. Despite the advantages offered to Morocco, the kingdom rejected it. Once again, the United States and France blocked the United Nations from enforcing its mandate by pressuring Morocco to comply with its international legal obligations.
3-Regarding the natural resources, in what ways did they affect the Saharawi conflict? What is their implications, and what ways have they been used by both parties?
The acquisition of Western Sahara added significant sources of revenue to Moroccan state coffers. Foremost are the phosphate deposits at Boucraa, first developed by Spain in the 1960s and now exploited by Morocco. Even without Western Sahara, Morocco is the world’s leading exporter of this fast dwindling resource, which is key to modern industrial agriculture. The reserves in Western Sahara are of an extremely high quality and are close to the surface, though they still only count for a small percentage of Moroccan phosphate exports. Perhaps of more value to Morocco has been the rich fishing grounds found off the coast of Western Sahara, which is of increasing importance in light of the decline of fishing stocks off of Morocco itself. In addition to Moroccan fleets, the government has signed lucrative contracts with other countries and, more recently, the European Union. Furthermore, there are numerous other sources of revenue yet to be explored or exploited, whether minerals or hydrocarbons. With a number of top Moroccan military officers and other officials personally profiting from the exploitation of natural resources, it has given them a stake in holding on to the territory,
For the people of Western Sahara, they have witnessed how their country’s natural resources are being stolen, with the Moroccans being even more exploitative than the Spaniards. However, the theft has become so blatant that it can serve as a means by with the Sahrawis and their allies can raise greater international awareness and eventually pressure against the Moroccan occupation.
4- How do you perceive the idea of using the natural resources card by the Saharawis?
There is a strong legal basis for pressing the issue of natural resources. UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, passed as part of a series of resolutions addressing the rights of inhabitants of non-self-governing territories, declares that “peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources … based on the principle of mutual benefit and international law” in order to realize the right to “freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Resolution 1803, passed two years later, underscores that “economic and financial agreements between the developed and the developing countries must be based on the principles of equality and of the right of peoples and nations to self-determination.” The resolution makes clear that sovereignty to natural resources by the indigenous inhabitants of non-self-governing territory rather than the occupying power in noting, “The right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their wealth and natural resources must be exercised in the interest of their natural development and of the well-being of the people of the State concerned.” The resolution further put the General Assembly on record emphasizing that “Violation of the rights of peoples and nations to sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources is contrary to the spirit and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” A series of decisions by the International Court of Justice regarding Namibia, Nauru, East Timor and Palestine further codified protection of the peoples of non-self-governing peoples to sovereignty over their natural resources. As recently as 2011, the General Assembly reiterated “the right of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations and with General Assembly resolution 1514(XV) … as well as their right to the enjoyment of their natural resources and their right to dispose of those resources in their best interest.”
5- Can you tell us about the ruling of the ECJ´s Dec´21st , 2016 and its impact? And What is your interpretation of the ECJ´s ruling?
The European Court of Justice ruled that both the 2012 EU-Morocco free trade agreement and the 2000 EU-Morocco Association Agreement are not applicable to Western Sahara, recognizing the “separate and distinct status guaranteed to the territory of Western Sahara under the Charter of the United Nations.” Furthermore, it noted how “It cannot be held that the term ‘territory of the Kingdom of Morocco’, which defines the territorial scope of the Association and Liberalisation Agreements, encompasses Western Sahara.” This confirms the legal opinion of the ECJ advocate-general, Melchior Wathelet back in September that Western Sahara could not be considered Moroccan territory.
The ruling confirmed long-standing international consensus on Western Sahara’s legal status and the opposition of the Sahrawi people to Moroccan takeover. As with the last year’s EU decision that products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank could no longer be labelled as being ‘made in Israel’, it will be harder for products from the occupied Western Sahara to be labelled as ‘Made in Morocco.’ Though companies will still continue to invest in the occupation and exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources, they won’t be able to do so with the legitimacy and economic advantages This ruling therefore constitutes a major setback to the kingdom’s efforts to legitimise its occupation.”
6-How can the Polisario and the Saharawi civil society pursue this legal path to corner Morocco and to raise awareness of the Saharawis´plight? As a nonviolent strategy choice, can legal battles and court battles bring justice to Saharawis especially in UK and in USA? Does such a system work? Would embargo and boycott work in the case of Western Sahara? Are there ways out there to be used in order to win the legal battles against Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara?
Victories such as the recent ECJ ruling may limit the profitability of foreign investment since they will not be able to fully take advantage of free trade agreements. However, the most important ramification is how such cases underscore the fact that Western Sahara is not legally party of Morocco and that it remains a non-self-governing territory, therefore making it politically more difficult for governments to pretend otherwise. It could also serve as a legal means to create mechanisms to monitor and report Moroccan actions in the occupied territory and serve as the basis for imposing sanctions.
It also helps create opportunities to raise popular awareness of the situation on the ground. For example, those who defend foreign corporations exploiting Western Sahara’s natural resources point to Morocco’s ambitious large-scale development projects in Western Sahara. Morocco claims it has invested the equivalent of more than two billion U.S. dollars into infrastructure development in the territory, significantly more than Morocco has procured from Western Sahara’s natural resources and more than they would likely obtain in the foreseeable future. For this reason, foreign companies claim that this therefore fulfills the legal requirements regarding promoting the interests, well-being, and development needs of the indigenous population. However, this provides those who are aware of the actual situation on the ground to point out how the infrastructure development has involved the elaborate internal security system of military bases, police facilities, prisons, surveillance, and related repressive apparatuses; housing construction, subsidies, and other support for Moroccan settlers; and airport, seaport, and other transportation development designed to accelerate resource distraction, not build up the standard of living for the territory’s people. More fundamentally, the decisions on how to use the proceeds from resource extraction are being made by the Moroccan government in the capital of Rabat, not by the indigenous people of Western Sahara.
Having a strong legal foundation to oppose the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Western Sahara could provide proponents of international law and human rights an issue through which to challenge governments and companies which take advantage the occupation is such a way through campaigns advocating boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.
7- What is the Saharawi conflict status in USA? How is it handled by the American government? How come that most of the scholar and academic elite is on the side of the Saharawi cause?
Very few Americans are even aware of the conflict. This has given the U.S. government the ability to pursue pro-Moroccan policies with very little debate. The combination of a well-funded pro-Moroccan lobbying and public relations efforts and the tendency for the mainstream media to follow the lead of the U.S. government on foreign affairs has misinformed many people.
Those in the human rights community are quite sympathetic with the Saharawi cause, as are most American scholars familiar with the Maghreb (except those who have close ties to the Moroccan government.) There is great potential for the movement to grow, however, particularly if parallels with the better-known Palestinian situation could be made and make possible expanding the growing BDS movement to include Western Sahara as well
8-So far, the Saharawi peaceful resistance, even if little known worldwide, has earned the respect of many communities, movements and governments. In a world living in a turmoil, with the fear of terrorism and extremism, how can Saharawis used what they earned from their nonviolence resistance to gain the support of the international community to pressure Morocco into giving up its occupation of Western Sahara? 14- Any advices for the Saharawis?
The growth of the non-violent resistance struggle in the occupied territory offers a unique opportunity to build international awareness of the conflict among civil society organizations that could offer much-needed solidarity with the freedom struggle inside Western Sahara. Such massive non-violent action and other forms of non-cooperation provides an important signal to the Moroccan occupiers and the international community that the people of Western Sahara still demand their freedom and will not accept any less than genuine self-determination. The use of nonviolent methods of resistance also makes it easier to highlight gross and systematic violations of international humanitarian law by Moroccan occupation forces, gain sympathy and support from the international human rights community, and provide greater pressure on the French, American and other governments which continue to provide security assistance to Morocco and otherwise support the Moroccan occupation.
Similar support from Western industrialized nations for Indonesia for many years prevented resolution to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. It was only after human rights organisations, church groups and other activists in the United States, Great Britain and Australia successfully pressured their governments to end their support for Indonesia’s occupation that the Jakarta regime was finally willing to offer a referendum which gave the East Timorese their right to self-determination. It may take similar grassroots campaigns in Europe and North America to ensure that western powers live up to their international legal obligations and pressure Morocco to allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own destiny.