not double standards, it's no standards at all. The world has let
scofflaw Morocco ride roughshod over international law and the UN
Charter. It helps to have friends!
Their territory split by a huge wall
built at enormous expense, an occupied Arab population suffers under
police raids and arbitrary imprisonment while the occupiers try to
swamp the territories with settlers from their own population. In
response, the locals are beginning an intifada, but face a much
larger, better-equipped military force, the beneficiary of substantial
overseas aid. Refugees living in camps are refused the right to return
to their homes.
Despite clear decisions of the International Court of Justice and the
UN Security Council, the occupiers hedge whenever it comes down to the
question of a peace settlement that grants independence even when
American emissaries try to nudge them towards serious talks.
Welcome to Western Sahara, the occupation that admittedly has lasted
only three decades compared with Israel's occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza, but which has excited much less media interest.
This week, the issue came back to what passes for the fore in this
forgotten conflict, when the Polisario, on behalf of the Sahwaris and
the Kingdom of Morocco both submitted their plans for the resolution
of the problem.
The Moroccan one is superficially attractive after all these decades,
offering Scottish-style devolution. But their track record on keeping
promises is far from stellar. Over 15 years ago, Morocco accepted a
peace deal that involved the referendum on self-determination. The
cash-strapped UN has spent hundreds of millions on keeping a force
there to monitor the cease-fire and arrange a vote. But as soon as it
became clear that Morocco would lose any vote that involved
independence, the king and his father before him, gave prevarication a
bad name. They tried to stack the voters' rolls, and when that failed,
simply refused to allow a vote that asked the question.
Morocco's human rights record leaves much to be desired, as indeed did
Polisario's in the old days. But the Moroccan reticence about allowing
a vote is eloquent testimony to the government's assessment of the
What is the secret of Morocco's success? In essence, it is choosing
Morocco claims Arab solidarity -- and is one of the best friends of
Israel in the Arab World. Immediately after the Moroccans occupied the
territory despite the ICJ ruling that rubbished its territorial
claims, the UN security council passed resolutions 379 and 380, which
explicitly and unconditionally called on Morocco to withdraw. However,
the French and Americans blocked the enforcing of these resolutions.
According to then-US ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick
Moynihan, "the Department of State desired that the United Nations
prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task
was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable
While the US's anti-communist fervor has died down -- with communism
-- France has remained an important and unprincipled supporter of the
king. Despite all that Cartesian rhetoric with which it opposed the
invasion of Iraq, over the Sahara it has a novel and disturbing
principle: the security council cannot impose its decisions on parties
if they disagree.
France has claimed there was a tradition of using consensus on Western
Sahara, which was a bit like the apocryphal prisoner who had killed
his parents and then asked for the court's sympathy because he was an
orphan. Any such "tradition" developed in response to constant French
and American attempts to railroad a pro-Moroccan position past the
other security council members in defiance of all previous decisions.
Britain's attitude seems to be that it does not have a dog in the
fight, so it is prepared to go along with the Americans and the
French. But the standing of international law, the UN charter and
principles are surely a dog worth backing in any foreign policy with
-- in Robin Cook's words -- "an ethical dimension". In the end, the
illegal Indonesia occupation of East Timor succumbed to the persistent
refusal of the world to recognize it.
Polisario has made a very reasonable offer, which is in complete
accordance with UN resolutions and international law. It could also
offer, instead of a Scottish style solution with the Moroccan army and
secret police still in occupation - a Canadian style solution. We will
put King Mohammed on our coins and welcome an occasional royal visit
-- but nothing more.
But in any case, the UK, the EU, and the UN, should stop accommodating
Morocco and France and step up the pressure on Rabat. It's the law.
has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, ranging
from the Australian, to The Independent, from the New
York Observer and Village Voice to the Financial Times
and the Guardian. His blog is the
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