Image from the documentary 3 Stolen Cameras, secretly filmed in occupied Western Sahara by Equipe Media in collaboration with RåFilm.

Guest analysis

Invasion is always wrong - even in Western Sahara

Russia's invasion of Ukraine rightly takes a large place in the media. But it must not make us completely forget about other wars and conflicts. One of them is Morocco's invasion and occupation of Western Sahara - which was blessed by former US President Donald Trump. This is what Lena Thunberg, editor of Tidskriften Västsahara, writes in a guest analysis.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine naturally provokes an outcry. If a country with military force invades another country, it is against all international law. According to the UN Charter, the borders of countries must be respected.

How is it then that the United States, the great power in NATO and active in the verbal defense of Ukraine's sovereignty, has recognized Morocco's annexation and ongoing occupation of Western Sahara? 

Now the media's eyes are understandably on Ukraine and Russia, but that must not mean that we totally forget conflicts and invasions in the rest of the world. 

In December 2020, just before he was forced to leave his post, then-US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco's right to Western Sahara. This took place in exchange for Morocco recognizing Israel.  

The interesting and outrageous thing is that the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, has not changed Donald Trump's decision in violation of international law.  

No country in the world has previously recognized Morocco's right to Western Sahara, which according to the UN is a non-autonomous territory to be decolonized. 

The United States thus approves that a country, Morocco, enters a neighboring country, Western Sahara, by military force, occupies the country, terrorizes, imprisones and kills people who peacefully protest. In addition, Morocco steals Western Sahara's natural resources, such as phosphate and fish, and hinders independent media and international organizations to visit the occupied Western Sahara.  

The Western Saharan population in the occupied part of Western Sahara is in the shadow of the media and without international assistance. 

Western Sahara is Europe's last colony in Africa with the right to self-determination according to the UN and at the same time occupied 80 percent of Morocco since 1975, when the colonial power left Spain without having decolonized the area. 

Morocco has no right to Western Sahara. It hit in addition, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in 1975.  

Western Sahara, then the Spanish Sahara, has been on the UN list of areas to be decolonized since 1963, ie the Western Sahara population must decide whether it wants to become independent or belong to another country. It is usually decided by a referendum. 

Spain did not hold a referendum in its commodity-rich colony. Instead, Spain withdrew and allowed neighboring Morocco to occupy the area. For that "gift", Spain retained fishing rights and part of the profits from one of the world's largest phosphate deposits.  

When the last official Spaniard left the colony, the liberation movement of Western Sahara declared the Polisario Front the Republic of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in February 1976. 

The Moroccan military invasion began in the autumn of 1975. Large sections of the Western Saharan population fled into the desert and were then allowed to set up refugee camps near the border in Algerian territory. 

The Polisario would now fight the Moroccan invasion, help Western Saharan civilians escape through a deserted desert and organize refugee camps in Algeria. 

The war of attrition between Morocco and the Polisario lasted for 16 years from 1975 to 1991 - without a winner. Then the UN and the OAU (now the African Union) presented a "settlement plan" - which both Morocco and the Polisario accepted. The plan involved a ceasefire and then a referendum, in which the Sahrawi people would choose independence or integration with Morocco.  

That referendum on Western Sahara's independence has not yet - 30 years later - taken place. 

Morocco has in various ways sabotaged and prevented the referendum and since 2004 Morocco has refused to accept independence for Western Sahara as an alternative in a referendum. 

What then does the UN do? 

France, with a veto in the UN Security Council and with strong economic, political and military ties with Morocco, has contributed to the fact that the annual UN resolutions have become increasingly diluted. 

The United States has also given its silent support in the Security Council to Morocco's obstructions. 

Decolonization has stalled. 

In addition, Minurso, which has been in place since 1991, is the only UN peacekeeping force without an HR mandate, ie the right and obligation to prevent and report human rights violations.  

This means that Western Saharans are completely defenseless. They are a minority in their own country after Moroccan settlers are now in the majority. 

- The UN force Minurso will never get an HR mandate, because then the outside world would know everything we have had to endure - assault, torture, persecution, imprisonment and death, says a brave and refined Western Saharan human rights defender. 

And what does the EU do then? Spain has not completed the decolonization of Western Sahara. The EU has long had an agreement that Morocco will stop migrants across the Strait of Gibraltar to Europe. 

- You know very well that as soon as the EU makes a decision that does not suit Morocco, Morocco threatens to open the border across the Mediterranean to the EU, says a Spaniard. 

Morocco has for years sold "stolen" fish, phosphate and vegetables from Western Sahara to the EU via trade agreements between the EU and Morocco. The money from these Western Saharan goods thus ends up in Moroccan pockets. 

The EU's own court has ruled in three separate judgments that the EU's trade agreement with Morocco cannot include Western Sahara, as Western Sahara does not belong to Morocco. The European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament have sat over the judgments just as many times. 

The latest ruling from the European Court of Justice came in the autumn of 2021 but it has now been appealed by the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately, Sweden was the only country in the EU that did not want to appeal this just judgment. 

Refugee camp in Algeria, where about 190 Western Saharans have lived since 000. Photo: Ulla-Karin Karlson.

Western Saharans' wait for freedom and justice, in the refugee camps and in the occupied territories, continues.  

83 countries in the world have recognized the Western Saharan state of SADR. Sweden has a parliamentary decision from 2012 on recognition, but no government has so far implemented it.

In connection with IKEA opening its first department store in Morocco in the autumn of 2015, the Moroccan Foreign Minister threatened to boycott all Swedish companies if Sweden were to recognize Western Sahara. In January 2016 declared then Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (S) that Sweden will not recognize Western Sahara.

When will it be Western Sahara's turn to come into focus? When will the media take up the double standards of the United States and the European Union regarding their legitimate condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine but total silence about the invasion and occupation of Western Sahara and the theft of its raw materials? 

This is a guest analysis. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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