Bush Administration Seeks to Deny Self-Determination to the people of Western Sahara

Send Letters to the Bush Administration Supporting Self-Determination for Western Sahara and Opposing the Framework Agreement


The Bush administration is pressuring members of the UN Security Council to impose the “Framework Agreement” on the people of Western Sahara.  Last month the U.S. circulated a draft resolution to members of the UN Security Council that would have imposed the Framework Accord on the people of Western Sahara.  The Framework Agreement, if adopted, would effectively give Morocco sovereignty over Western Sahara and deny the people of Western Sahara the right to self-determination.  The Framework Agreement would supercede the current UN settlement plan that includes a referendum to determine the will of the people of Western Sahara.  The Security Council did not vote on the U.S. draft resolution and on April 30th extended the mandate of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for three months until 31 July 2002.  But the U.S. government is still working behind the scenes to get the Framework Agreement adopted before July.  If adopted as currently proposed, it would be forced by the UN on POLISARIO and the people of Western Sahara.  


Action:  send letters to President Bush and the State Department in support of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara and opposing the Framework Accord.  Address letters to President George W. Bush, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 and Secretary of State Collin L. Powell, Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520.


The following letter from Africa Action and TransAfrica to Assistant Secretary of State Burns opposes the U.S. supported “Framework Agreement” that would deny the people of Western Sahara their right to self-determination.   Richard Knight consulted on the text of the letter


May 8, 2002.


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Letter to the Bush administration supporting Self-determination for Western Sahara


May 2, 2002 


The Honorable William Joseph Burns

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Department of State

2201 C Street N.W.

Washington, DC 20520 



Dear Assistant Secretary Burns, 


We strongly support the right of the people of Western Sahara to self- determination.  We are shocked to learn that the United States circulated a draft resolution to members of the United Nations Security Council supporting a “framework agreement” that legitimizes Morocco’s occupation and annexation of Western Sahara.  The U.S. should strongly support the legal right of self-determination for non-self- governing territories and use its prestige and influence to support the holding of a referendum in Western Sahara.  The U.S. should make clear to the government of Morocco our support for the referendum and our opposition to its continued obstruction of the settlement process.  


The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, was occupied by Spain in 1884 as a result of the Berlin Conference that divided Africa among the European powers.  As in the rest of Africa, colonization was met with resistance, including armed resistance. On May 10, 1973 the Frente pro la Liberacion de Segiut El Hamra y de Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) was formed.  Ten days later, POLISARIO launched its first armed attack on a Spanish garrison.  By early 1975, a large area of the territory had been liberated from the Spanish, who kept solid control of only the larger towns and the phosphate mines. 


By 1975, Spain was ready to withdraw from Western Sahara, but both Morocco and Mauritania were laying claim to the territory.  In May 1975, the United Nations sent a mission to Western Sahara that concluded:  “Within the territory, the mission noted that the population, or at least almost all those persons encountered by the mission, were categorically for independence and against the territorial claims of Morocco and Mauritania.   The populations expressed the wish that the United Nations,  Organization of African Unity, and the League of Arab States should  help it to attain and preserve its independence...” The Frente POLISARIO, although considered a clandestine movement before the mission’s arrival, appeared as a dominant political force in the Territory.   The mission witnessed mass demonstrations in support of the movement in all parts of the Territory.” The Mission proposed a referendum to determine the will of the people of Western Sahara. 


In October 1975, the World Court upheld the right of the people of Western Sahara to self- determination “through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the territory.”  But when Spain pulled out in 1976 it divided the territory between Morocco and Mauritania.  In a recent legal opinion, UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell noted the agreement signed by the three countries “did not transfer sovereignty over the territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administrative power”, and that it “did not  affect the international status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self- Governing Territory.” 


Polisario, which had led the struggle for independence against Spain, rejected the partition and turned its military efforts against Morocco and Mauritania.  POLSIARIO declared the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is now a member of the Organization of African Unity.  Much of the population of Western Sahara fled the territory to Polisario run refugee camps in Algeria.  In July1978 there was a coup in Mauritania.  Two days later Polisario declared a unilateral cease-fire with Mauritania.  In 1979 Mauritania formally abandoned its claim to Western Sahara.  Morocco immediately asserted a claim for the portion of Western Sahara previously claimed by Mauritania. 


The United Nations General Assembly has consistently considered the issue of Western Sahara as one of decolonization and self- determination.  In 1980, it adopted a resolution that reaffirmed “the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination  and independence,” and expressed “deep concern… at the aggravation  of the situation prevailing in Western Sahara because of the continued  occupation of that Territory by Morocco.” 


The holding of a referendum is the best possible way for the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination and is at the center of the 1991 UN settlement plan.  We understand the frustration of the Secretary-General and the Security Council that over ten years have passed and it has not been possible to hold the referendum.  But the reason a referendum has not been held is because of obstacles created by Morocco, which has sought to pack the voter roll.  During the past  twenty-six years, the government of Morocco, which exercises de facto  control over much of the territory, moved many of its own citizens into  the territory in the hope that, should a referendum eventually be held,  they would vote for an outcome favorable to the government in Rabat. 


The proposed framework agreement, drafted by the Secretary-General’s  personal envoy James Baker as an alternative to the current settlement  plan, essentially gives sovereignty of Western Sahara to Morocco  without a proper test of the will of the people of the territory.  For five years the territory would have limited local autonomy at which time a referendum would be held to determine the final status of the territory.   However, anyone who has been resident in territory for one year will be able to vote in this referendum, thus allowing Morocco to add all the settlers it has brought into Western Sahara since 1975 to the voter roll.   This rewards Morocco for it years of intransigence.  Moreover, under the U.S. draft resolution this solution would be imposed on the people of Western Sahara by the Security Council without any test of their  opinion. 


Mr. Secretary, Western Sahara remains an issue of decolonization and the people of Western Sahara have a legal right to self-determination.   After the U.S. regained its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission, Sichan Siv, the U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social  Council, said “Human rights is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.”   The U.S. should support the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and the holding of a referendum.  The proposed framework agreement would deny that right. 







Salih Booker, Africa Action

Bill Fletcher, TransAfrica 


cc:  His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations