Ban Ki-moon, Morocco and the Western Sahara: What is going on?

Published March 10th, 2016 - 12:28 GMT
A recent visit by the UN secretary general to the Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria has sparked controversy in Morocco. (AFP/File)
A recent visit by the UN secretary general to the Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria has sparked controversy in Morocco. (AFP/File)

The situation in Western Sahara is often considered to be massively overlooked by activists and media outlets concerned about occupation and human rights. The dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front—who believe the area belongs to the Sahrawi people—goes back to 1975, when colonial Spain withdrew from the region and Morocco took control.

After a long guerilla war, a ceasefire was negotiated by the UN in 1991, however the dispute continues to this day. Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, and has been accused of enforcing a media blackout in the area. Awareness groups often consider Morocco to be violating human rights on a massive scale, arresting protesters and stealing resources.

Some describe the situation as a second Israel-Palestine, but without the media attention.

So when last week Ban Ki-moon visited Tindouf, a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, it was not surprising that Morocco would be watching closely.

In the wake of the UN visit, the Moroccan government accused Ban Ki-moon of violating his neutrality by using the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara.

“The kingdom of Morocco has noticed [...] the Secretary General has dropped his neutrality and impartiality and has showed a guilty indulgence with a puppet state without attributes, territory, population, nor a recognized flag,” state media said.

The UN disputed this claim, saying that the organization and Ban himself remain neutral on the topic.

Farhan Haq, a UN spokesperson, said that Ban would make sure Western Sahara was firmly on the agenda during his final year as head of the UN.

The UN press office said that Ban “referred to 'occupation' as related to the inability of Sahrawi refugees to return home under conditions that include satisfactory governance arrangements under which all Sahrawis can freely express their desires.”


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