Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Morocco: Western Sahara

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 4 March 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Morocco: Western Sahara, 4 March 2007, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In 2006, Morocco continued in its refusal to allow a referendum in Western Sahara that might end the long-standing impasse with the Saharawis in that occupied land.

The Saharawis of Western Sahara are traditionally nomadic herders, now largely urbanized, of mixed Berber, Arab and black African descent. They speak a dialect of Arabic called Hassaniya. In 1975, the colonial ruler Spain ceded Western Sahara, which is rich in phosphates, fisheries and suspected offshore oil, to Morocco and Mauritania. That same year the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that neither had legitimate claims to territorial sovereignty over the region. The Saharawi opposition, the Polisario Front, fought both countries. Mauritania withdrew in 1979, ceding its claim to Morocco, against whom the rebels fought for 16 years with Algeria's support. Of a population of around 250,000, some 160,000 Saharawis fled to refugee camps in southern Algeria, where they remain today. The conflict ended with the introduction of UN peacekeepers in 1991, and the expectation that there would be a referendum on self-determination in accordance with the 1975 ICJ ruling and subsequent UN resolutions.

Morocco has consistently refused to allow a referendum and, in October 2006, the UN Security Council extended the 15-year-old UN peacekeeping mission for a further six months. Following a May 2005 crackdown by Moroccan authorities, a September 2006 UN report leaked to the press raised concerns about Saharawis suffering police brutality, torture, lack of freedom of expression or due process. Nevertheless, Moroccan ally France blocked proposals to include these concerns in the latest UN resolution prolonging the peacekeeping force. A controversial July 2005 fishing agreement between the EU and Morocco, pending approval by the European Parliament, would allow EU fishing vessels to catch in occupied Western Sahara's rich coastal waters.

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