Spain's position on Western Sahara

No consideration for the interests of the Sahraouis

Spain's questionable position on Western Sahara continues to cause international upheaval. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), the European Union must try to ensure that the member states comply with international law and respect the right to self-determination of peoples. "The people of Western Sahara have once again become a pawn in political issues in which their interests are not respected," criticized Nadja Grossenbacher, STP expert on genocide prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. "The Sahraouis should be able to decide on their territory – and no one else. Neither Morocco nor Spain should have the right to do so without the consent of the Sahraouis, and especially not by use of force, as Morocco is currently doing. Rather, Spain is obliged to work towards an effective decolonization of Western Sahara."

In March, Spain had given up its neutral position on Western Sahara. This had also caused tensions with Algeria. According to media reports, the government of Algeria has now suspended a cooperation contract with Spain that had been negotiated 20 years ago. "With regard to Western Sahara, Algeria and Morocco are to be seen as local rivals," Grossenbacher explained. "UN member states that are in charge of sovereign territories are obliged to protect the people living there from abuse. Clearly, Spain never managed to do so. Rather, the EU member is fueling conflicts over the region. This is unacceptable." Thus, the STP reaffirmed its demands regarding compliance with international law – calling for referendum on the status of Western Sahara, which should have been done a long time ago.

So far, Brussels has acted in an opportunistic manner with regard to this conflict. In September, the Court of the European Union had annulled a contract between the EU and Morocco according to which European fishing fleets would have been granted access to the water bodies of Western Sahara. The Sahraoui organization Front Polisario had protested against this. A few months before, the then US President Donald Trump had acknowledged Morocco's claims to Western Sahara in order to buy diplomatic relations with Israel.

In 1966, Spain had been in favor of a decolonization of Western Sahara – referring to the "right to self-determination" (Resolution 2229(XXI)). However, the occupation by Morocco eleven years later was accepted. In the same year, 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an "advisory opinion" in which the occupation was declared illegal. Until today, Western Sahara is still on the list of "non-self governing territories" – since 1963.