Why is Morocco not in the UN

Morocco and Western Sahara: Chronicle of an Ancient Conflict

The origins of the conflict

In the broadest sense, the tensions go back to 1884. As part of the so-called "Congo Conference", large parts of Africa were divided up among the European colonial powers of that time. The area known today as "Western Sahara" fell under the influence of Spain. In the 1960s, the United Nations declared that Western Sahara was not state independent, but at the same time called on Spain to withdraw from the area. In 1976, a year after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Spain began to evacuate its positions in Western Sahara.

Then Morocco and Mauritania claimed the area. In 1973 the Polisario (from Spanish "Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro", "Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro") was founded. The two regions named in the name together form the Western Sahara Their goal: the state independence of the Western Sahara region.

"The Green March": Moroccans on their way to the Western Sahara, 1975

The "Green March"

Morocco did not want to allow independence. The then Moroccan King Hassan II called in 1975 for the so-called "Green March". As a result, a good 300,000 people settled in Western Sahara - a clear sign of the Moroccan claim to power over the region. In an agreement concluded in 1976, Morocco was assigned the north of Western Sahara - around two thirds of the total area. The southern part went to Mauritania. In protest against this agreement, the Polisario proclaimed the "Democratic Arab Republic of the Sahara" (DARS) one day later - on February 27, 1976. Shortly afterwards, the armed clashes began between her and the Moroccan army. The Polisario was and is supported by Algeria. It owes its sometimes considerable military clout to this circumstance.

Mauritania renounced its territorial claims in 1979. Then Morocco occupied the south of the Western Sahara. In 1991 a UN-brokered ceasefire ended the fighting. As a result, the UN peacekeeping mission MINURSO was launched.

Sought-after mineral resources

The Western Sahara is an economically very attractive area due to its mineral resources. The phosphate deposits, which are considered to be the largest in the world, arouse desires in particular: around 72 percent of all known reserves are located on both their and Moroccan territories. Phosphorus is one of the most important components of modern fertilizers. Before the 1991 armistice, Morocco had started building a protective wall. Through them, the resource-rich regions are now on the territory of the kingdom.

Resolute: Polisario militias, Western Sahara, 2016

Diplomatic tug of war

Originally, the United Nations had planned a referendum after the ceasefire agreement of 1991. But it has not materialized to this day, mainly due to Moroccan resistance. Several initiatives by the UN special envoy for Western Sahara, former US Secretary of State James Baker, failed at the turn of the millennium because of the objection from Morocco, as did the Polisario. Also one of the current Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Working group appointed in 2006, made up of participants from Morocco as well as from the Western Sahara region - but without members of the Polisario - has so far not led to any result. From 2017 on, the former Federal President Horst Köhler tried to mediate between the two sides as a UN special envoy. For health reasons, he resigned the office in 2019.

Legal status of Western Sahara

The DARS is currently recognized by around 50 countries such as the African Union (AU). In addition, DARS has been a member of the AU since 1984 - a circumstance that prompted Morocco to leave the AU that same year. It was not until 2017 that Morocco returned to the ranks of the AU. The DARS does not have a seat at the United Nations. The prerequisite for this would be a referendum, the modalities of which Morocco and the Polisario have not yet been able to agree on.

The UN made a remarkable change of position in the autumn of this year: on October 30, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the Western Sahara mission MINURSO. However, the referendum previously requested by the United Nations no longer appeared in the related text.

The latest edition of the conflict could also put an additional strain on Morocco's already difficult relations with Algeria. Because the Algerian government continues to support the Polisario. In addition, up to 170,000 refugees from the Western Sahara live in the Algerian Sahara, some for decades.

Determination in exile: Celebrating the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the Sahara Democratic Arab Republic in the refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria, 2019

Endangered peace

On the occasion of a Moroccan maneuver at the end of last week, Polisario Secretary General Brahim Ghali wrote a letter to the United Nations. With the latest maneuver, Ghali wrote, "Morocco undermined not only the ceasefire and related military agreements, but also all chances of reaching a peaceful and lasting solution to the decolonization process in Western Sahara." Morocco, on the other hand, accuses the Polisario Front of deliberately blocking the Guerguerat border crossing. The operation that has now started serves to ensure mobility at the border crossing. In addition, the operation aims to finally end the "unacceptable behavior" of the Polisario. "It comes after all opportunities for a diplomatic solution by the good offices of the United Nations have been exhausted."

On Monday, King Mohammed VI. UN Secretary General Guterres reassured him that his country was committed to the agreed ceasefire. The Polisario, on the other hand, stated that with the blockade it was protesting against what it believed to have been inactive for years on the part of the international community.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said that the United Nations had tried in the past few days to avoid an escalation in the buffer zone. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres regrets that these efforts have not been successful.