Inconsistent statements from the Norwegian Government
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs brushes aside debating the legal status of Western Sahara, while at the same time rhetorical statements made by the Ministry show a changing viewpoint. Only a week ago, the Ministry was adamant that the Western Sahara should be viewed as annexed, while now they talk about "the situation in the area". A rather odd statement can be read here.
In the documentary series Spekter, by Norwegian national broadcaster NRK, aired 7th Nov. 2007, Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Raymond Johansen explicitly stated, for the first time, that it was incorrect to refer to the Western Sahara as an 'occupied area'.
This is despite the fact that previous Norwegian Governments, the Norwegian Socialist Left Party (SV), the Norwegian Labour Party (Ap), the Swedish Government, and UN resolutions have called the area occupied.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has retreated back from its former standpoint, in that it is now only willing to refer to a "the situation in the area".
Trine Skei Grande (Norwegian Liberal Party) requested further information on the subject from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The following is the reply she received:
Reply from The Minister of Foreign Affairs – 13th November 2007.
Western Sahara is a non-self governing territory, and it has long been on the agenda of the United Nations. Norway does not wish to unilaterally influence or advance the outcome of the peace-efforts, or, the process of self-determination that has been initiated under the direction of the UN. Therefore, the Norwegian Government has decided to speak of this complex case as the situation in the Western Sahara, in accordance with e.g. UN Security Council resolution 1783 by 31 October 2007 and the General Assembly resolution 61/125, dated 15 January 2007. The situation is a complex one and can not be solved by interpreting legal concepts like occupation or annexation. However, there should be absolutely no doubt surrounding the fact that the Security Council has not authorised any annexation, but presupposes a process of self-determination that is compatible with the UN treaty.
The territory of Western Sahara was subject to Spanish Colonial rule in the period 1884 – 1975. In 1966, Spain stated that it was considering a decolonisation process, but would first organise a referendum. Morocco and Mauritania objected to this proposal, and each claimed sovereignty over the territory. A Moroccan initiative brought the case before the United Nations General Assembly, with a request to send the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, with a view to obtaining an advisory opinion on the territory's status.
With a vote of 15 to 1, the Court issued its opinion on 16th October 1975 in which it said that even during the period of Spanish Colonial rule there were legal ties between the Sultan of Morocco and certain individual tribes in the territory. A corresponding legal tie applied to Mauritania, where certain individual nomadic tribes that had retained land-rights in the territory. However, the Court also stated that the territory was not subject to Moroccan or Mauritanian sovereignty. Given the situation, the Court referred to the fundamental Colonial declaration approved by the UN General Assembly in 1960 (resolution 1514).
The aim of the decolonising process here, as in other similar cases, was to ensure that it be founded on the principle of self-determination, by allowing the inhabitants of the territory freedom to express their own opinion. The case of Western Sahara has since then been treated by the UN General Assembly and Security Council as a non-self-governing territory, in the light of the principles of article 73 in the UN treaty.
The day following the statement from the Court of Justice, King Hassan of Morocco proclaimed his "green march" - an unarmed, civilian march into the territory with the aim of preventing the holding of a referendum. This occurred in contravention of the Security Council’s clear recommendation, and was condemned in resolution 380 (1975).
The independence movement, Polisario, proclaimed on the 27th February 1976, The Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR), and it was later recognised by a number of African and other developing states. Mauritania signed a peace-agreement with SADR in 1979, and renounced its territorial claims on Western Sahara.
Norway’s foreign policy has consistently supported the UN Security Council requirements for rendering possible the conditions for self-determination, without advancing an opinion on the outcome of a referendum. In addition, the policy has unambiguously stressed the need for respect for human rights in the territory.
With regard to commercial interests, Norway is among those countries that have gone furthest in stressing that the area's natural resources, for example maritime resources, should not be exploited in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of the people of the non self-governing territory. The latest recommendations from the UN that are connected to the situation in the area appear, for example, in resolution 1783, dated 31st October 2007. The aim of this requirement is the maintaining of a cease-fire, supported by the peace operation MINURSO. Additionally, it is aimed at promoting confidence-building measures through family reunification under the auspices of the UN, and peace-efforts under the leadership of the UN General Secretary’s special envoy.
[Translated to English by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara]
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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