On December 22, 2020, Israel and Morocco officially normalized relations after former President Donald Trump’s administration declared occupied Western Sahara as Moroccan. In the years following, Israeli companies have boosted their business involvement in Western Sahara, suggesting the pair’s cooperation is fueling each other’s land theft. In 1975, Morocco annexed part of Western Sahara – a region indigenous to the Sahrawi people – and its entirety in 1979. Few have accepted these actions: today, 82 countries recognize Western Sahara’s independence, while only the United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the land.
In the middle of the Sahara desert, half a million people resist and fight for their liberation. Under the slogan “intensify the armed struggle to expel the invader and build sovereignty,” the Polisario Front, the political organization that leads the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), is holding its 16th Congress in Dajla – one of five Sahrawi refugee camps in the town of Tindouf, Algeria. After 30 years of ceasefire, this is the first Congress to be held again in the context of armed confrontation with Morocco. “All the human, financial, and material resources are sent to support the combat on the armed front. Before they were directed to other areas that will continue, but we must focus on the battlefield,” SADR’s Prime Minister Bucharaya Beyun declared. The Sahrawi Republic was founded in 1975, after gaining its independence from Spain.
Morocco, Western Sahara - Moroccan forces illegally occupying the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) have come under repeated bombardment by the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Moroccan forces currently occupy over 80% of SADR, also known as Western Sahara, which remains classified by the UN as among the last countries still awaiting decolonization. On Friday, December 30, according to a statement by the Ministry of Defense of SADR, the SPLA “targeted the trenches of the occupation soldiers in several areas of the Mahbas sector.” The SPLA bombarded the positions of occupation forces in this region, in the northwest of occupied territory, for the third consecutive day on Friday. Attacks were also reported on December 28 and 29, inflicting “heavy losses in lives and equipment along the wall of humiliation and shame.”
The Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara (CODESA) released its first annual report on July 28 titled, “Continuous war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Moroccan occupation against Saharawi civilians. What future for the decolonization process in Western Sahara?” According to Mahjoub Maliha, head of CODESA’s external relations, the report reflects “the gravity and scale of the violations committed by the Moroccan occupation forces against Saharawi civilians.” It records human rights violations and war crimes committed in the occupied Western Sahara in the period between September 2020 and December 2021. Morocco claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara after Spain withdrew its colonial control from the territory in 1975.
International institutions have failed the Sahrawi people. Over 100 resolutions adopted by the United Nations have recognized the Sahrawi peoples’ right to self-determination, to no effect. The International Court of Justice condemned Mauritania and Morocco’s claims to Western Saharan land as far back as 1975, but Morocco continues to occupy the land illegally. In 1991, the United Nations promised to hold a referendum on Western Saharan statehood, but that referendum has not yet come to pass. Today, some 200,000 Sahrawis live in conditions of violent occupation in Western Sahara. Another 200,000 live in refugee camps in Algeria near the Western Saharan border and in parts of Western Sahara under the control of the Polisario Front. A 2,700km wall with an estimated seven million landmines separates the two territories.
Algeria announced suspension of its two decade-old-treaty of friendship with Spain on Wednesday, June 8. It also announced the suspension of all imports from the European country over its decision to support Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. The Algerian President’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that it is suspending the long-term treaty with Spain, called the “treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation,” signed in 2002. A statement issued by the Algerian Banking Association later declared that the government had also decided to suspend imports of all goods and services from Spain. According to the Algerian government, the decision to suspend political, economic, financial, educational and defense ties with Spain was taken after it supported the Moroccan position on occupied Western Sahara earlier this year in March.
Immediately following the expulsion of the Spanish colonizers in the mid 1970's, Western Sahara was occupied by Moroccan forces. With support from the United States, those occupiers, who treat the indigenous Sahrawi People very similarly to the way the Israeli occupiers treat the Palestinians, have been committing human rights abuses. Clearing the FOG speaks with Ruth McDonough and Tim Pluta, who have been staying with the family of a human rights defender, Sultana Khaya, since March 15. Ruth began a hunger strike on May 4 to demand an end to the violence against the Khaya's and an investigation into the crimes committed against them. Ruth and Tim describe what people can do to show solidarity with the struggle of the Sahrawi People.
Washington, D.C./Boujdour, Western Sahara – Ruth McDonough, a US/British citizen, began a hunger strike on Wednesday, May 4, in order to bring attention to human rights abuses occurring in Boujdour, Western Sahara. Dr. Tim Pluta, US/Irish citizen, will be supporting McDonough as caretaker. Both McDonough and Pluta have been guests in the home of the Khaya family since March 15, 2022. Their arrival came on day 482 of an arbitrary detention in which Moroccan agents had periodically broken and entered the Khaya family home, attacked, beaten, and raped Sultana Khaya and her sister, Waara, in front of their 84 year old mother, Mitou. The agents had also destroyed nearly all furniture, cut electrical wires, turned off the water, poisoned the well water, tortured the sisters and injected Sultana with unknown substances, and forcibly prevented visitors entrance to the house.
Spain has announced that it has endorsed a proposal by the Kingdom of Morocco to designate the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an “autonomous” region within the North African state. Former United States President Donald Trump in 2020, recognized Moroccan control over the Western Sahara in an attempt to strengthen relations between the Kingdom and the State of Israel. Formerly known as the “Spanish Sahara”, the people of the territory have been demanding national independence for decades. All of the former colonies of Europe within the African continent have sought independence from the former imperialist masters. Although there are 55 African countries which are members of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations, the phenomenon of neo-colonialism has hampered genuine liberation and continental unification.
The collective of the Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara (CODESA) has called for global support to save the lives of Sahrawis as occupying Morocco resumed its oppression in the region fighting for self-determination. Last week, CODESA appealed to international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross for solidarity and action in “saving lives and humanity in Western Sahara.” CODESA appealed to the Red Cross to immediately establish a permanent mission for humanitarian operations in Western Sahara. It also asked other international organizations and individuals to sign a petition to that effect. The campaign to collect signatures had started on January 20 and ended on February 15.
The Trump administration’s announcement on December 10th 2020 that the USA recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the territory of Western Sahara disregards international law by endorsing colonialism and occupation. It also threatens prospects of future peace in northwest Africa. The decision reflects the priorities of Trump’s administration, but it is not new that global leaders disregard international law and prospects for peace in Western Sahara, nor that they tolerate and support colonialism and occupation there. Rather, the Trump administration’s decision has given these realities new public visibility. Ongoing efforts to support Sahrawis’ right to self-determination must go beyond pushing for a reversal of US recognition, and advocate for genuine conditions for decolonization.
There is a new U.S. war in Western Sahara, being waged by Morocco with the support of the U.S. military. The U.S. military, unbeknownst to most people in the United States — it’s perfectly knowable but few give a damn — arms and trains and funds the militaries of the world, including almost all of the most brutal governments of the world. I can’t compare this with the outrage in the U.S. media over the U.S. government feeding a few hungry people in the United States, because there isn’t any outrage over it at all.
We were extremely frustrated, outraged, and sad to learn that our Aug. 2 New York City screening of Life Is Waiting: Referendum and Resistance in Western Sahara was canceled at the last minute. The event was to be hosted by the Arab American Association of New York but was canceled due to the objection of board members who considered our film too political. Unfortunately, this cancellation is part of a pattern, as the government of Morocco has lobbied strenuously to prevent the public from viewing our film and other media critical of its occupation of Western Sahara. Although Western Sahara has been promised a referendum on self-determination for decades, the referendum has yet to occur.