State Building in Western Sahara, 1991

By ELLA BROWNLIE, AL QUDS AL ARABI (Expository)

The Historical General Assembly for 1991 began yesterday by discussing in depth which topic would be debated: the decolonisation of the Western Sahara or the First Gulf War Refugee Crisis.

The committee eventually voted in favour of discussing the decolonisation of the Western Sahara. Proponents for this discussion emphasised the importance of continuing the United Nations work to reduce imperialism and allow for greater self-determination amongst emerging African states.

When considering the issue substantively, a contentious issue emerged pertaining to Morocco’s role. The Kingdom of Morocco has traditionally been heavily involved in the region and has become ever more interested since the discovery of raw mineral deposits in the Western Sahara. Such involvement has caused some states to question whether Morocco might seek an imperialist agenda of their own in the discussion over the sovereignty of the Western Sahara.

However, when asked for comment, the delegate from Morocco agreed with a substantial portion of the committee that a popular referendum of current residents in Western Sahara was required to make a decision on the future government in the region. Such continued emphasised by states on the importance of self-determination is consistent with attempts by the United Nations and Arab states to cement globally accepted norms which protect the rights of all states to build their own future, from a past and present shaped by powerful imperial forces.

Despite widespread agreement on the importance of a referendum, there was much dispute in the committee about whether or not a provisional government should be put in place in the interim period. Morocco has consistently argued for Moroccan control over the region in order to “reduce instability.”

Yet Portugal, in cooperation with the United States, Canada and a small bloc of Western European States, has stated that a temporary government would defeat the democratic purpose of allowing the Saharawi to choose how they are governed and who they are governed by. This bloc has emphasised the importance of autonomy, independence and full integration by all actors in the Western Sahara.

This viewpoint is shared by a coalition of African countries who see themselves as the main actors in any post-colonial project. They emphasize that the reconstruction of government in the Western Sahara needs to be led by those in the region in the true spirit of self-determination and anti-imperialism.

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