Afrol: Europe considers recognising Western Sahara
The exiled government of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara for the first time eyes hope of recognition by European states as several political parties are taking this into their programmes. Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975 but is a full-fledged member of the African Union (AU).
The exiled government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) noted its greatest diplomatic achievement in many years when South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki announced his government's full diplomatic recognition of SADR in September 2004. Some 80 states, mostly African and Latin American, have recognised SADR although this means tense relations with the occupying power, Morocco.
So far, however, no Western country has opted to recognise the Sahrawi republic, neither in Europe nor in North America. Although all these countries treat the SADR government as the legal representative of the Sahrawi people and do not recognise Morocco's claim to Western Sahara, they have shied away from the economic and diplomatic consequences a SADR recognition would imply.
Lately, however, two forceful initiatives have indicated that this may soon change. All over the European Union (EU), liberal youth parties have agreed to pressure their (often ruling) mother parties to go for recognition. Additionally, in Scandinavia, socialist parties are moving in the same direction.
At its annual congress, held in late April in Berlin, the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) agreed on a forceful resolution headed "Recognise Western Sahara". Mentioning UN efforts since 1960 to achieve self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara territory, the liberal youth parties noted that Morocco had seen to it that all efforts in this direction had failed. Meanwhile, LYMEC emphasised, Morocco was responsible for "grave and systematic violations of human rights in the occupied territories."
The European liberal youth parties therefore concluded on the need to "formally recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as an independent state." This demand now is to be propagated among Europe's liberal parties. "Now, we have united liberals from all corners of the continent that will take the demand of recognition to their respective capitals and contribute to put the issue on the agenda," said Boye Bjerkholt of Young Liberals of Norway, which had tabled the draft. Their mother party, the Norwegian Liberal Party adopted a resolution in January 2007 demanding official Norwegian recognition of SADR.
LYMEC has member organisations in 37 European countries and a total of almost 250,000 individual members throughout Europe. The youth parties have a varying degree of influence of their mother parties, of which many participate in national governments, for example in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.
In Scandinavia, even governing mother parties are now approaching the idea of recognising the Sahrawi state. The first governing party to make a formal decision on this was Norway's Socialist Left Party, which is the second largest party in the current Centre-left government of Norway. Also condemning Morocco's attitude and human right violations, the party's national executive passed a resolution calling for Norway to formally recognise SADR.
But Norway will not yet formally recognise SADR. The kingdom's largest party, which dominates the ruling coalition, still holds that a last diplomatic effort must be made. At the Labour Party's bi-annual congress in late April, a group of several delegates and members of parliament also presented a draft resolution that included a formal recognition of SADR. It was seriously considered, but concluded that for now, increased pressure on Morocco needed to be prioritised.
Nevertheless, the Norwegian Labour Party demanded the Sahrawi people were given the right to decide on independence in a referendum and condemned the Moroccan human rights violations in the "annexed territory", which the UN peacekeepers there should get a widened mandate to supervise. Together with the Socialist Left, the party agreed to work actively against trade with goods emanating from Western Sahara "until there is a solution to the conflict."
Also in neighbouring Sweden and Denmark, ruling parties are getting closer to consider recognition. In Denmark, the Liberal Party dominates the ruling coalition. In Sweden, socialists and conservatives are equally annoyed by Sweden's recent diplomatic failure in excluding Western Sahara waters from the new fishing accord between Morocco and the EU.
Indeed, the successful adoption of this fishing accord seems to have backfired as it has drawn greater international attention to Morocco's exploitation of natural resources from the occupied territory, deemed illegal by a UN analysis. In Scandinavia and all over Europe, political parties that so far have taken little interest in the Western Sahara conflict are now considering banning trade with the occupied territory. At least as a first step.
While a first European recognition may not be imminent, the Western Sahara solidarity movement at least made very substantial gains in April. With the resolutions by the European liberal youth, the Sahrawi struggle is put on the agenda in countries where it so far enjoyed little attention, in particular in the east. In other countries, trade limitations may soon be implemented. The heat is slowly being turned up on Morocco.
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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