Partition, propaganda and decolonisation

This is just a quick heads up to say that today (Monday) saw the opening of the latest meeting of the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization, not that you’d know about it by looking at the UN’s impenetrable website. Perhaps this isn’t surprising as they seem reluctant to let journalists cover the proceedings.

I scribbled a hasty “briefing note”‘ for some acquaintances who will be presenting evidence to the Committee, focusing on my favourite Western Sahara gripe, namely that the reality of partition is rarely discussed, with Morocco managing to hoodwink most people into thinking that it controls all of Western Sahara, and all that is needed is a nod and a wink in favour of its occupation in order to normalise the situation. You can download the briefing note here. I may beef up this document at some point, elaborating a few of the details and inserting more references, if I have time, and if there is a demand from anyone who might find it useful. So do let me know if think this would be at all illuminating.

A handy reference to have on your desk when reading the note is this map of Western Sahara (below), produced by MINURSO and showing how the territory is divided up. Further explanation at the MINURSO website here.

Division of Western Sahara under the terms of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Map from MINURSO.

Division of Western Sahara under the terms of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Map from MINURSO.

To my colleagues who are participating in the hearing of the Decolonization Committee, I’d just like to say Good Hunting. Give ’em hell.


9 Responses to Partition, propaganda and decolonisation

  1. […] under the terms of the ceasefire, and therefore in international law (see earlier posts here and here). To acknowledge this fact would be to admit that all its autonomy plan will do is legitimize a […]

  2. Dear Nick,

    Many thanks for the map which there is no mention to SADR or to any of the terms you used to employ in your vocabulary to support Polisario Front and Algeria i.e. liberated area, free zone and so on :)and where the restricted area is well presented. If I may, I will comment your document in my next post.


    Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
    Unionist Western Saharawi

  3. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem

    You’ll notice that the buffer strip (also sometimes referred to as the no-man’s land) is simply a 5km strip east and south of the berm. The areas outside the berm on the Polisario-controlled side have the same status as those on the other side of the berm. The point is that Polisario’s status in the areas it controls is technically equivalent to Morocco’s status in the areas it controls, under the terms of the ceasefire. Many of those who speak on behalf of Morocco, either officially or unofficially, like to pretend that Polisario has no recognised presence in Western Sahara, and use the term “buffer strip” to refer to all the areas east and south of the berm, for purposes of obfuscation. The UN does not recognise SADR or use terms such as Free Zone or Liberated areas, and I have never claimed that it does. The whole point of the UN presence is to organise a referendum so the status of Western Sahara – whether as the SADR or the southern provinces of Morocco or something else – can be determined, and then we’ll all know what terms to use. Morocco has unilaterally rejected this consensus approach in favour of one in which the parties to the conflict use their own terminology, so it is fair for the other side in the conflict to do the same. You will also note that the UN map does not refer to any parts of Western Sahara as the Southern Provinces of Morocco, or the Moroccan Sahara, either. Touché.

  4. Dear Nick,

    I read with great interest your document. To me there is nothing new from your side. Many ideas are already mentionned in your blog. Anyway, it’s YOUR blog and you are free to publish old articles as much as your blog is alive. Having said that, I admit Morocco didn’t work on the updating of worldwide maps after the recovering of the Western Sahara region. This map is based on “before-1975” political map of the region. It’s quite clear that the line is till over there even there are no borders or customs. There is no mention to Moroccan provinces in worldwide maps but Western Sahara is a region or a territory under the sovereign moroccan administration. There is no Polisario Front or SADR nationality or symbol of sovereignty in the region…In such case how can a military faction take the control of a region without any symbol of sovereignty. Coulé 🙂

  5. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem, perhaps any repetition on my part is a function of spending too much time reacting to the zombie arguments of Moroccan propagandists. I’d say Morocco seems to have done a pretty thorough job of updating its own maps. In non-Moroccan maps, while there is no mention of Moroccan provinces, there is plenty of mention of Western Sahara. I’m afraid you force me to repeat myself again and point out that as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it is a disputed, non-self governing territory. You are simply wrong when you state that “There is no Polisario Front or SADR nationality or symbol of sovereignty in the region”. When travelling in the Polisario-controlled parts of Western Sahara I have seen plenty of national symbols and indications of “sovereignty”. Technically, i.e. within the framework of international law, Morocco’s and Polisario’s claims to sovereignty are equivalent, as neither have been dismissed or endorsed, and the territory remains disputed, as you know, and as our discussions illustrate. Or are you following the lead of Abdelhamid El Ouali in telling bare faced lies about the presence of the Polisario in the areas east and south of the Berm (he told me they had no presence there, and had nothing to say when I told him I had been working with them in those very regions for several years). I’m sure you wouldn’t stoop so low as to try a similar tactic. And forgive me but, the following sentence is unclear: “It’s quite clear that the line is till over there even there are no borders or customs”.

  6. That means the line separating Morocco into two parts doesn’t make sense actually as there a no borders or customs. I am getting back to you “in few lines”.



  7. Nick,

    Here are my thoughts on your document and some ideas to give and take with you :

    1. What is your UN reference to the saying : “…the forcible integration of a disputed territory into a neighboring state is compatible with the principle of self-determination…” Do you have any official Moroccan source on that?

    2. Western Sahara is not physically portioned. Are there any borders over there? As you know the Berm was held in a context of WAR, a terrible war between Morocco and Polisario Front militia driven by Algerian militaries.

    3. The Western Sahara is actually under the Moroccan administration. That’s the official statute of the region. People living in the Western Sahara have Moroccan citizenship. Has Polisario Front a nationality or sovereign attributes? I guess NO. As you know Mohamed Abdelaziz and Polisario Front leaders went abroad with Algerian passports.

    4. The Minurso is controlling the area to maintain order after the terrible war held from 1979 to 1991

    5. As mentioned in the Military Agreement, there is no reference to “Free Zone” or similar. “Free Zone” is the phrasing of Polisario Front propagandists. The MA shows clearly the role of the MINURSO and the region under the supervision of MINURSO to maintain peace.

    6. How can you say ”Polisario exerts more effective control over its territory than does the government of Mauritania”? You are comparing a separatist faction to a SOVEREIGN NATION, how could that be? Please read the wiki leaks on terrorism in the region as well the concern of the US, UK, France, Spain on the situation in Tindouf camps south Algeria.

    7. The inhabitants of Tindouf camps aren’t free to go out of the camps. Only relatives to Polisario Front officials can go out of the camps. People without voice are persecuted and oppressed. Some of them are SLAVES as the very famous Australian film STOLEN screened which justify their resignation (FYI, Stolen was initially destinated to the usual propaganda of Polisario Front/Algeria but when the directors discovered slavery in Tindouf camps they decided to focus on it).

    8. There will be no specific international status to the east side of the Berm. The new international status will be global and will concern the whole Western Sahara region. It’s actually under the sovereign Moroccan administration. The new one will be the Autonomous region of Western Sahara under the Moroccan sovereignty.

    9. Polisario camps will be dismantled sooner or later. Those who confirmed to you that arms will talk again are those who benefit from the status quo, the officials who gain rewards. Bear in mind, you talk to officials in Tindouf camps who are authorized to talk to foreigners.

    10. Scenario 1: Polisario officials and Algerian observers aren’t independent. The figures of 165.000 are simply far from the reality. The UNHCR and WFP made a broad estimation of 85.000 to give aids. The former leaders of Polisario Front who returned to Morocco reported they aren’t more than 46.000 people!!! Who knows, Algeria has never permitted an independent census to maintain pressure on the international community. Morocco made the great effort to cancel the total integration demand to the benefit of autonomy. Polisario Front and Algeria have to get rid of historical spirit of revenge and negotiate on autonomy basis.

    11. Scenario 2: FYI the administration of the east side of the Berm is established in the west side for security reasons. There are many secured places in the region where well known nomads (and not terrorists) can cross the wall of sand.

    12. Scenario 3: There is no way to implement a micro-nation in this part of the world.

    13. Scenario 4: the 4th scenario should be to establish a republic in the Algerian land but before Algeria should accept an independent census and let free those without voice who want to return back to Morocco.

    14. Both of us improvised specialists in international laws, I believe you should keep your scientist statute and I feel cleverer in business 🙂 WE ARE REALLY BAD.

    15. Morocco autonomy proposal is supported by the entire unionist western Saharawis. Are you denying the existence of unionism in the Western Sahara Region?

    16. Referendum was a blocking issue and the UN has completely revised its strategy on the process since 2007. Autonomy could be a basis of negotiations. The Security Council is asking for realism. Algeria has to seize this great opportunity to work on the reconciliation of the unionist saharawis and the separatists of Polisario Front.

    You seem to be almost “forced“ to make such statement. Is that the consensus to continue working in the region? Why not working in the other side of the BERM? Did you try? Are there any interests in your domain in the west side of the BERM? I am really excited to read your answers. I WANT TO UNDERSTAND…BEFORE DYING 🙂


    Ahmed Salem – do you I need to remind you that I am an unionist western saharawi

  8. nickbrooks says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “there are no borders”, as borders are notional boundaries, made real by physical barriers. There are many borders along parts of which there are no physical boundaries, as in much of Europe, and indeed between the Polisario-held parts of Western Sahara and Mauritania. Come to think of it I believe at least some Moroccan maps don’t show the border with Algeria. What does this mean? Most maps outside of Morocco show a border between Western Sahara and Morocco, even if many do indicate it as disputed by showing it as a dashed rather than solid line.

  9. nickbrooks says:

    1. Western Sahara is disputed. Morocco is attempting to integrate it through military means, without a referendum. It is often said by Moroccan representatives that autonomy is a form (even “an advanced form”) of self-determination. So that is my interpretation. It seems pretty clear. I don’t have to rely on the UN to make sense of that.

    2. Nonsense. I work in one area of Western Sahara and I cannot travel to another because of the berm. No-one apart from the UN and the occasional special UN-approved individual can cross the berm. Western Sahara is a territory part of which is controlled by one party, and part of which is controlled by another. To say it is not partitioned is to engage in the most fabulous intellectual contortions.

    3. Nonsense – its official status is that of a non-self governing territory that is disputed and awaiting decolonisation. The SADR, of which the POlisario is the government, is recognised by a number of countries (this is why Morocco left the AU), but certainly not universally. So that is a point that depends on your perspective.

    4. Officially there are there to organise a referendum – United Nations Missions for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

    5. Sure – I never said “Free Zone” was a UN term. Think of it as equivalent to “Southern Provinces” or “Moroccan Sahara” 😉

    6. Easily. It’s evident from terrorist activities in Mauritania (and the vastness of Mauritania) that control is shaky. In the Polisario controlled areas you can’t go far before being challenged if you’re there without the local military being aware (as I’ve learned on several occasions!) I’ve read the WikiLeaks, and commented on them.

    7. Tindouf camps – blah blah – we’ve been there several times before. Morocco has a variety of assertions here. Read my previous replies. Or the HRW report on the camps. Or go there and see for yourself as I have done.

    8. Is that wishful thinking? We can speculate about what will be, but at present there is parity of status on either side of the berm under the ceasefire terms.

    9. Maybe – I can’t see the future. But I think if there was a popular movement for war this would as likely undermine the Polisario leadership as strengthen it. In the camps I don’t have the feeling of only being allowed to talk to approved people – difficult when you talk to people you just meet walking freely around the camps. Very different to other places where movement and access is closely controlled and monitored. I hear this is the case on the other side of the berm, where journalists are expelled for covering the situation.

    10. We don’t know the numbers, and a census would help, I agree. But the WFP were feeding 158,000 before reducing to 95,000, and this appears to have been the result of political pressure from donors. They then upped it to 125,000. You’re undercounting, which is another tactic of Morocco. Integration is not self-determination, as required under the ceasefire and subsequent resolutions (MINURSO again).

    11. I’ll have to take your word on the crossing of the berm, but I can’t do so easily. The administration of MINURSO is headquartered west of the berm, but the Polisario’s control of the areas on the east are certainly not. And they have a de facto presence just as Morocco has a de facto presence on the west. Parity.

    12. That is an assertion and not an argument, and “micro-nation” is a term you have made up to colour your assertion in a particular way.

    13. So you are in favour of Morocco taking territory by force and not giving up on its “territorial integrity”, but think Algeria should give up some of its territory to compensate the Sahrawi for their dispossession by Morocco. OK. That’s very illuminating.

    14. I’ll stick to science if you and your colleagues stick to business. Maybe.

    15. By definition, of course. I’m sure some Sahrawi do exist who are prepared for integration. But I don’t know how many, and I wonder if some of these are the new breed of “Moroccan Sahrawis” who are rebranded settlers. Again, fine, hold the referendum if you’re so confident that people want intergration, including those held “captive” in the camps.

    16. As far as I’m aware the UN resolutions on self-determination stand, even if France and the US are busy blocking progress so they can benefit from their economic relationship with Morocco and sell it weapons in the regional arms race that has quite a lot to do with Western Sahara. Autonomy is distraction, and the blocking has been of the decolonisation process, by a Morocco greedy for other people’s land.

    How do you conclude that i seem forced to do anything? Isn’t anger at the immorality and deception of a belligerent government and the dispossession of a people a good enough motive? Or are ethical positions based on a view of what is moral somehow disallowed in your philosophy? Contempt for bullies and liars is all it takes – I don’t need to be forced.

    As for working on the other side of the berm, (i) there is enough to occupy us in the areas we are currently working in, (ii) in my view if would be unethical to collaborate with an occupying power (and it wouldn’t look good on the university ethical statement that my colleagues need to fill in), (iii) I suspect there would be too much interference in and politicisation of our work by Morocco – the Polisario have been very hands off with the research and the results so far, (iv) i don’t really want to collaborate with the Moroccan state after having seen its uglier face, (v) I doubt I’d get a very good reception by the Moroccan occupying authorities anyway, and (vi) I wouldn’t get to have wonderful discussions like this with you if I became a collaborator!

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