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September of self determination

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By Sophia Javed

(source: Voice of the Cape Online)

The international community and civil society is walking on eggshells at the moment unaware of what the outcome will be at the UN General Assembly and Security Council meetings on Palestinian statehood toward the end of the month. The most serious conflict which has gripped our world for most of the last and this century, has been the issue of Palestine. Personally, the one-state solution is the only solution that will restore the full rights of all Palestinians, whether in occupied territories or living as refugees across the globe.

However, albeit the arguments in favour of and against the two-state solution, the UN contemplation may finally allow civil society to debate the conflict that has grappled the region. But the reservations and concerns of Israel and the USA and the leverage which they have on the world stage is set to overshadow the hopes and aspirations of the victims of the 63 year old conflict.

The nomadic Saharawi people of Western Sahara have much to be concerned about too. The outcome of the Palestinian story in the coming days acts as a genuine indicator for them to test the international waters as to their own entitlement to self-determination and freedom. Their similar story of colonisation and occupation shall be related to the UN High Commissioner of Refugees in Portugal after the UN meets on the Palestine issue. Laced with human rights violations and abuses and shaped by American interests in the region; Western Sahara has been neglected, usurped and violated by the very international community that has been entrusted to protect her.

UN & Western Sahara

In 1975 the UN promised the Saharawis a referendum to exercise their self-determination following their release from Spanish colonial rule. Morocco’s subsequent invasion and capture of the vast desert has held Western Sahara captive ever since and the conflict now represents a cat and mouse game between the mighty American supported Morocco and the meek refugees living in exile in Algeria.

Since then political in-fighting, Moroccan corruption and influence over the formation of ballot papers and the electoral role has bogged down the process completely. The change of Moroccan ruler as well as increasing police brutality and the 2000km berm that has been erected to sustain Moroccan occupation has only complicated the conflict beyond recognition.

Why Morocco was even allowed to occupy Western Sahara and interfere in its affairs in the first instance is an anomaly. What is even more disturbing is that Rabat is strongly opposing any independence for Western Sahara whatsoever, and instead has offered them “local autonomy”with a “sovereign parliament” whilst still being a part of Morocco. Hence completely ignoring their inalienable right to self-determination in the first instance.

The MINURSO mission introduced by the UN after the 1991 ceasefire has chaired informal negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s government in exile. But given French support for Morocco, this is one of the very few UN missions which was never given the mandate to monitor human rights abuses.

France pushed for human rights monitoring in Darfur, Kosovo and Timor-Leste but not Western Sahara. And with the dismal humanrights record of Morocco against the Saharawis in the occupied territories and the Saharawi refugees on the border this is another failure on the part of the UN. With the French seat on the Security Council she has ensured that Morocco be allowed to, quite literally, getaway with murder with a UN rubber-stamp.

Arab World & Western Sahara

Theadvent of the Arab Spring which helped liberate many of the Arab autocracies grappling the region may have in fact extinguished the rights of the Saharawis completely. Algeria together with the fallen despot Muammar Qaddafi was an ardent supporter of the move toward complete independence for Western Sahara. This caused much tension between Rabat and Tripoli which the outspoken leader ignored. With the Libyan military coup it is becoming increasingly apparent that Moroccan and French influence over the NTC has changed the face of support for the Saharawi cause.

NATO’s involvement in the region together with America’s reliance on Morocco for terrorism intelligence makes it unlikely that the argument for Saharawi independence will hold much clout with the international players. Algeria is now the only Maghreb nation left in support of Western Sahara and based on its support alone,it is uncertain whether the future holds any hope of independence for the nomadic population of the Western Sahara.

This week politicalanalysts will work overtime in interpreting the36leading up to the Palestinian bid as well as pouring out their predictions as to the outcome. It is also hoped that some attention be focused on the Saharawis who should also be awarded their natural right to call their land their home and be recognised as the nation state that they have fought so long for. The UN should not dismiss the Saharawi issue and allow it to protract and paralyse the globe as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has for the last 60 years. Instead release Africa’s last colonyfrom the clutches of colonialism, abuse and racism, after all this is why the UN was created in the first place.

Sophia Javed is a researcher for advocacy group, the Media Review Network.