Open letter from international academics and researchers to Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic
Mr. President of the Republic,
On 27 February 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union, in its judgment on the fisheries agreements between the EU and Morocco, reiterated very clearly the absence of sovereignty of the Moroccan State over the territory of Western Sahara and its adjacent waters. The Court also reaffirmed the right of the Sahrawi people, represented by the POLISARIO Front, to manage their natural resources as they see fit. This ruling, which will now prevent EU Member States from importing products (agricultural, fisheries, mining, etc.) from this Non-Self-Governing Territory of the United Nations, only underlines the urgent need for peaceful decolonization of this territory, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV). The decolonization should have happened following Spain's withdrawal from the Territory in February 1976.
Unfortunately, in this process, France supports every year in April, in the Security Council, the Moroccan position of refusing to extend the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) to human rights monitoring. Morocco also refuses to implement a referendum on self-determination, the primary objective of the 1991 ceasefire and, let us not forget, the United Nations requirement since
1966. This French position allows the Moroccan State - which the UN, the OAU-AU and the EU continue to consider as occupying this territory - to pursue its colonization. Morocco does so by promoting the displacement of populations from Morocco into the occupied Territory, by imprisoning and "judging" Sahrawi political prisoners on Moroccan soil, two flagrant grounds (among others) of violation of international law and international humanitarian law.
This unacceptable position of the French state was once again illustrated on February 12. Indeed, when two French lawyers, representing nineteen Sahrawi prisoners, sentenced in 2017, in a sham trial, to very heavy sentences up to life (group called "Gdeim Izik"), who came in the normal course of their duties to inquire about the state of health of their clients, were arrested on arrival in Morocco. The Moroccan authorities expelled them without the French Embassy in Rabat deeming it appropriate to intervene on their behalf. One of the prisoners, Naama Asfari, whose wife is French, and whom the Moroccan authorities banned from visiting her husband for eighteen months, was immediately put in solitary confinement in a dungeon. This has triggered a hunger strike among other prisoners of the group, a strike that is now causing the greatest concern among human rights defenders who, fortunately, are overseeing their situation.
This umpteenth tragedy, endorsed by the French State, can only plead in favor of extending MINURSO's mandate to include human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, as requested by the Sahrawi authorities and international human rights organizations for many years. To this repressive escalation, the Moroccan authorities imposed a very clear blockade over the territory in recent years: Moroccan law enforcement agencies have regularly expelled and intimidated the missions of international observers, lawyers, elected officials, journalists, human rights activists, researchers, of very diverse nationalities.
Only the organization of a referendum on self-determination will put an end to the colonization of this territory by Spain yesterday (still considered by the UN as the de jure "administering power") and by Morocco today. This colonization currently involves a massive presence of Moroccan police and military forces in the main cities of this territory, forces whose mission today is to stifle any Sahrawi peaceful protest movement. It also involves an unabated exploitation of the territory's natural resources, in particular phosphate and fish stocks, the main coveted resources of Western Sahara. This colonization still passes through a voluntarist policy of population transfers, rapidly unbalancing the sociology of the territory. Finally, it passes through a planned acculturation of Saharawi society, based on an ostensible policy of folklorization of local culture that shrouds a more cynical enterprise, especially in schools, of marginalization of this same culture.
Mr. President of the Republic, how can the French State endeavor in recent years to claim a major role in maintaining regional political order in the Sahara-Sahel, in particular through its involvement in the Barkhane Operation and in the constitution of the G5 Sahel, while delaying the application of international law in Western Sahara? How can colonization be qualified as a "crime against humanity" (your declaration in Algiers in February 2017), while preventing the decolonization of the last colony in Africa, which the United Nations has been calling for since 1963, as well as the OAU-AU and the EU? How can France plan and implement a referendum on self-determination in New Caledonia on 4 November 2018, while constantly postponing a similar enactment elsewhere?
The signatories of this letter believe that nothing can justify this French position any more than very shortsighted economic and geostrategic interests, the consequences of which are deplorable for the stability of the Maghreb and for irregular emigration to Europe. How can the home of human rights turn away from a population that has placed its future in the hands of international justice in order to express freely its right to self-determination? How can the French State, with its status in the Security Council, indirectly sentence the Sahrawi refugees of Tindouf to a new decade of misery, distress and frustration?
The Sahrawi authorities agreed to trust the United Nations and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict by laying down their arms in 1991 in exchange for the promise of a referendum on self-determination, which has still not taken place, giving rise to a growing feeling of betrayal of the great powers, France, in particular. The young people born in the camps of Tindouf have no other hope than turn to irregular emigration towards Europe to try, legitimately, to invent a future for themselves. Among these would- be migrants, more than 400 Sahrawi asylum seekers have settled in unstructured camps in downtown Bordeaux for nearly four years to obtain an asylum that France cannot refuse to them today, because France is among the first parties responsible for their misfortune.
The Sahrawi youth, who have known only exile or occupation, ultimately wish today to have access to dignity, which their peaceful struggle since the ceasefire of 1991 must legitimately grant them. At a time when, in the Euro-Mediterranean area, a certain number of disillusioned young people are espousing extremism of all kinds, it is time to show political courage by giving a future to this young Sahrawi nation of tomorrow, educated in and aspiring only to the values of freedom, equality and fraternity, which are those of the French Nation.
Mr. President of the Republic, it is perhaps still time for the French State to correct its position in favor of the application of the law in Western Sahara, by playing a leading role in a peaceful resolution of the conflict alongside international institutions. Having a European UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and his personal envoy, Horst Koehler, also a European, for the first time since the ceasefire of 1991, represents an unprecedented opportunity for Europe, with France in the lead, to play its natural role in contributing to the success of the process in an area strategically and historically vital for Europe. We, therefore, ask the French State whose destiny you preside, to put the question of Western Sahara on the agenda of the next meetings of the G5 Sahel. We also ask you to encourage the Moroccan State to respect scrupulously international law and international humanitarian law, to release the Sahrawi political detainees, and to support the rapid resumption of the organization of a referendum on self- determination. Any proposed solution must abide by and respect international law.
If the French State persisted in its unconditional alignment with the Moroccan position, it would inevitably exclude itself from playing any credible role in the political settlement process conducted under the auspices of the UN. The European leadership that you wish to give back to France would run the risk of being adversely affected, for the European Union does not only advocate respect for the law in domestic policy, but also places its foreign policy within the framework of respect for and application of international law.