The question of the Moroccan Sahara remains one of the oldest conflicts in contemporary history due to the overlapping interests of the parties to the conflicts. Unfortunately, there are many illusions about the Moroccan Sahara conflict which hinder the understanding of the truth and realities of the conflict making it difficult to properly read the parameters of the conflicts and to find a solution for it.
Unlike any other African country, during the colonial period, Morocco was divided by colonial powers into several zones (protectorates and colonies) administered by France (center) and Spain (north and south) while the city of Tangier was an international zone, administered by 12 powers.
In 1956, Morocco started to recover its territorial integrity gradually and through negotiated international agreements. France and Spain retroceded the central and northern zones to Morocco. In 1958, an Agreement was concluded by virtue of which Morocco recovered the city of Tarfaya; Sidi Ifni was recovered by Morocco in 1969 and the Spanish army retreated from the Sahara in 1975, right after Moroccan population conducted a peaceful “green march” to liberate its territories from Spain.
The Sahara issue is not a mere item on the agenda of the UN Security Council but rather represents a historical injustice done to Morocco in the recovery of its territorial integrity. In fact, during the Spanish colonial period, Morocco was the only country to claim the territory at the international level (UN decolonization committee in 1963), while the polisario did not exist at all. This entity was created months prior to the withdrawal of Spain from the Sahara region, in February 1976, by Algeria using its diplomatic, military and financial assets, in a context marked by the Cold War.
With Algeria's assistance, polisario set up headquarters in Tindouf (Algeria). An armed fight took place between 1975 and 1991, year of the proclamation of the cease-fire, following the UN Security Council Resolution 690, by which the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established. Hence, the question of the Moroccan Sahara has always been on the agenda of the Security Council under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter on the peaceful settlement of disputes, as a regional dispute.
Faced with the difficulties hovering over the United Nations settlement plan, and over the process of identifying persons entitled to participate in the referendum, the UN adopted resolution 1309 on July 25, 2000, which underlines the importance of proposing a political solution as one of the options which could be accepted by the parties concerned, and which could overcome the problems encountered by the referendum process, particularly in terms of identification. Finally, the UN was convinced of the failure and the impossibility of organising the referendum.
Since then, the Security Council no longer mentions either the settlement plan or the referendum contained therein in any of these resolutions adopted since 2001. The referendum option has been irrevocably abandoned, for almost two decades, by the international community and legality which are focused exclusively on the prospects of a political solution.
In 2007 and after the situation ended in stalemate, Morocco presented an autonomy project, which is the result of a consultation process at national and local levels with the involvement of all Moroccan forces, elected , Sahrawi citizens through the Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS).
Not only the Moroccan autonomy Initiative enjoys the full support of the population of the Moroccan Sahara but the international community, also supports it to solve this issue according to the Security Council demand to find political, realistic, pragmatic, lasting and accommodating solution.
The full text of the Initiative is available online:
Today, the population of the Moroccan Sahara enjoys all of its civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, this population has democratically elected its representatives in the regional and national bodies of the kingdom. In fact, during the 2021 general elections, the highest vote turnout of 75% was recorded in the southern regions of the Kingdom.
Moreover, the southern regions of Morocco enjoy the highest level of development in the entire North African region. The Moroccan Government has been investing heavily in various projects since 1976 to improve the living conditions of the local population.
Finally, 27 countries and organisations have opened consulates in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla of the Kingdom, reaffirming the Moroccan character of the Sahara.
At the Berlin Conference, Spain informs European powers of its claims of sovereignty over the Sahara region, based on the assumption that the territory claimed by Madrid was terra nullis (no-man’s land).Dec 26, 1884
The British government recognizes that the territory between Cap Juby (an area near Tarfaya) and Cap Boujdor belongs to Morocco. “no power can lay claims to the lands that are between Oued Draâ and Cap Boujdour, because those lands belong to the territory of Morocco”.Mar 13, 1895
Morocco’s Sultan signs the Fez Treaty with France, allowing the French army to make Morocco as a protectorate. Morocco under foreign occupation (France in the Center, Spain in the North, the South, including the Sahara, and a Council of 12 foreign powers governed the international zone of Tangier).Mar 30, 1912
After years of resistance against Spain and France, Morocco gains back its central and northern territories, including Tangier. Morocco claims sovereignty over its Sahara region, but Spain refuses to withdraw forces from the the territory. Later on, Morocco first raises the question of Spain’s occupation of Morocco’s southern provinces, including Sidi Ifni and the Sahara at the United Nations.Mar 02, 1956
Morocco and Spain sign the Treaty of Angra de Cintra, allowing Morocco to recover part of its southern territories, including Tarfaya and Tan-Tan, after resistance operations conducted by the Moroccan Army of Liberation against Spain.Apr 01, 1958
Morocco reqeusts the United Nations Special Committee on decolonization to add the Sahara issue in its agenda, urging Spain to return the southern region to Morocco.Dec 01, 1963
UN General Assembly resolution 2072 requesting Spain, as administering power, to take immediate action and initiate negotiations for the liberation of the colonially dominated territories of Ifni and the Sahara.Dec 16, 1965
Spain and Morocco sign the Treaty of Fez amid international pressure, allowing Morocco to recover the Sidi Ifni region.Jun 30, 1969
The polisario front is established with the goal of putting an end to Spanish colonialism in the territoryApr 29, 1973
UN General Assembly resolution 3292 requesting an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, on the legal status of the territory and particularly its legal ties with Morocco and Mauritania.Dec 13, 1974
ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Sahara: Sahara (Rio de Oro and Sakiat El Hamra) was not, at the time of colonization by Spain, a land belonging to no one (Terra nullius). There were ties of allegiance between the Sultan of Morocco and the resident tribes of Sahara.Oct 16, 1975
UN Security Council resolution 377 recalling that parties might enter into negotiations to peacefully resolve the dispute on the basis of Article 33, Chapter VI - Pacific Settlement of Disputes, of the UN Charter.Oct 22, 1975
In a historical speech, King Hassan II calls for the Moroccan people to participate in the peaceful demonstration namely the “Green March” Also called the “March of Braves,”. The demonstration sees 350,000 unarmed Moroccan civilians gather in Tarfaya and peacefully head into the Sahara in order to oust Spain out of the southern territories.Nov 06, 1975
Morocco, Spain, and Mauritania sign an agreement on the Sahara issue in Madrid. Spain confirms its intention to end its occupation of the territory and withdraws its forces from the country.Nov 14, 1975
Morocco definitively and irreversibly recovered its Sahara through the signing of the Madrid agreement which was registered by the Secretary General of the United Nations on November 18, 1975 and adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 3458/B of December 1975.Dec 10, 1975
First battle of Amgala between Moroccan Army and polisario militia which was backed by Algerian units. Algeria was already receiving separatists from the region in refugee camps set up in the Tindouf province (Algeria)Jan 27, 1976
In Laayoune (Sahara region) the Jemaâ (an assembly of notables/elders representing the Saharan tribes) approved the Sahara decolonization and reintegration in Morocco.Feb 26, 1976
the polisario self-proclaimed the saharan arab democratic republic (SADR) and announced an armed conflict against Morocco and Mauritania. Fighting broke out between the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies and polisario militia. Some of the local population fled to refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.Feb 27, 1976
Morocco recovers the Oued-Eddahab region after Mauritania withdraws from the conflict and renounced to its all claims on the Saharan region.Aug 14, 1979
At the 18 th OAU Summit in Nairobi, King Hassan II expresses his willingness to hold a referendum, taking into account Morocco’s historical claims to the TerritoryJun 26, 1981
The so-called sadr joins the Organization of African Unity (OAU) even-though its membership is deemed illegal and in violation of OAU regulation and procedures as well as its Charter. the so-called "sadr" does not fulfil the criteria of statehood as defined by international law.Feb 22, 1982
Morocco withdraws from the organization, condemning the so-called sadr’s unlawful admission, particularly the violation of the article 4 of the OAU Charter.Nov 12, 1984
Acceptance by the parties of the propositions of the UN General Secretary, adopted by the Security Council in the resolution 621 (cease-fire, Settlement plan).Aug 30, 1988
The Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report S/21360 containing the full text of the settlement proposals and the outline of the Secretary-General's Plan for implementing themJun 18, 1990
UN Security Council resolution 690 decides to constitute, under its authority, a United Nations Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in the Sahara (MINURSO) whose mandate includes monitoring the cease-fire and organizing the referendum.Apr 29, 1991
Following agreement with the parties, the UN Secretary-General announces the cease-fire. Military operations are suspended.Sep 06, 1991
The UN Secretary-General appoints James Baker III, former US Secretary of State, as his Personal Envoy to Sahara.Mar 17, 1997
The adoption of the Houston Accords and restart of the identification process.Feb 16, 1997
Completion of the identification process. 147,000 people have been identified. The problem of Sahraouis living abroad, as well as members of groups H41 (Ait-Oussa), H61 (Azouafit), J51 (Ait-Oussa, Ait-Boumeggout) and J52 (Inzouen) disputed by the “polisario” remained pending.Sep 03, 1998
SG Report (S/2000/131) in which M. Annan explicitly questioned the applicability of the Settlement Plan.Feb 17, 2000
Adoption by the SC of the resolution 1301 extending the mandate of MINURSO to July 31, 2000 and asking the parties to submit to Mr. Baker concrete proposals to overcome the obstacles standing before the Settlement Plan.May 31, 2001
The Algerian government rejects all the propositions. The letter states also that “by rejecting Algeria’s objections, the Secretariat decides simply to ignore the perspective of an important actor.” Letter of the “polisario” date on May 30, 2001, to the SG rejecting also the Framework Agreement.May 22, 2001
SG Report (S/2001/613) in which it is suggested to consider the principle of the third way, and proposed the “Framework Agreement” on the status of the Sahara. “This agreement may be the last chance for the coming years”. Algeria is invited “to participate to the consultation as a part and to negotiate any changes it wishes to make ...”Jun 20, 2001
UNSC Resolution 1541 endorsing the search for a political solution acceptable by both parties, and extending the mandate of MINURSO to a period of six months till October 31, 2004.Apr 29, 1994
James Baker resigned from his position as Personal Envoy of the Secretary General. Álvaro de Soto, Special Representative for the Sahara dispute at that time, took over, shortly, the political process.Jun 11, 2004
Appointment by the SG of the Dutch Peter Van Walsum as his Personal Envoy for the Sahara with a mandate to “consult with the parties and States of the region so as to resolve the current impasse ...”Jul 25, 2005
The presentation by Mr. V. Walsum before the Security Council can be summarized in the following 4 axes: · Confirmation of the invalidity of the Baker Plan; · Call for the initiation of negotiations without preconditions; · Need to balance between political realities and legal requirements; and · - Need for Algeria’s involvement in the negotiations.Jan 18, 2006
His Majesty the King’s letter to the Secretary General reiterating Morocco's commitment to a political solution and informing him about the process of national and local consultations in preparation for the submission by the Kingdom of an autonomy project within the framework of the territorial integrity and the national unity of the Kingdom of Morocco.Apr 05, 2006
Morocco submitted an autonomy plan for the Sahara entitled “Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Statute for the Sahara Region” to the Secretary-General.Apr 11, 2007
The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1754 and calls on the parties to engage in negotiations in order to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution. The resolution takes note of the Moroccan autonomy proposal and welcome its “serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution.”Apr 30, 2007
The first direct meeting between the parties since 2000 was held in Manhasset. The 2nd round of negotiations were held in Manhasset on August 10 & 11, 2007.Jun 18, 2007
Adoption of resolution 1783 by the Security Council which, taking note of the Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Statute for the Sahara Region, welcomed, for the second time, “Morocco’s serious and credible efforts to move forward towards resolving” the issue. Similarly, the resolution calls “the parties to continue negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary General without preconditions and in good faith, taking into account the efforts made since 2006 and the developments in recent months in order to reach a political, just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution”Oct 31, 2007
On January 2008, The 3rd round of negotiations in Manhasset (New York), under the auspices of the UN SG’s Personal Envoy. On March 2008, The 4th round of negotiations in Manhasset (New York), under the auspices of the UN SG’s Personal Envoy. On April 2008, the report of the UN Secretary General (S/2008/251) on the Sahara called to find a solution to the political impasse on the basis of realism and compromise.Apr 14, 2008
The UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum, said that the independence of Sahara is, in his view, “not an achievable goal”. The former head of the United Nations mission in Sahara (MINURSO), Erik Jensen, expressed his support for the views of the UN SG’s Personal Envoy, M. Peter Van Walsum, that “Sahara's independence is not a realistic option”.Apr 28, 2008
Adoption of resolution 1813 (2008) by the Security Council which, taking note of the Moroccan proposal for negotiating an autonomy statute for the Sahara region, welcomed the “serious and credible efforts made by Morocco to move the process forward towards resolving” the issue. Resolution 1813 (2008) calls on the parties to show “realism and a spirit of compromise. U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said “we share Van Walsum’s view concerning the fact that independent sahraoui state is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under the sovereignty of Morocco is the only feasible solution.Apr 30, 2008
The Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1871, strengthening the support of the Council to resolution 1813 (2008), to find a mutually acceptable political solution to the dispute over the Sahara. This resolution calls for the continuity of the efforts of the Secretary General and his Personal Envoy, refusing any regress in positions and welcoming the developments since April 2007.Apr 30, 2009
The General Assembly adopted resolution 64/101, supporting the ongoing process and reaffirming the responsibilities of the parties and States of the region to cooperate with the General Secretary to find a political solution mutually acceptable. This resolution reaffirms that negotiations are the only way to find a political solution mutually acceptable and excludes referendum as a means that guarantees the right to self-determination, as do the resolutions 62/116 (2007) and 63/105(2008).Dec 10, 2009
The Security Council adopted resolution 1920 in which it welcomed the new serious and credible efforts made by Morocco and emphasizes the primacy of the Moroccan autonomy initiative; calling on the parties to enter into a phase of intense and substantial negotiations on the basis of realism and compromise. This resolution calls upon the parties and States of the region to fully cooperate with the UN to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution.Apr 30, 2010
Dismantling of a terrorist network, a member of the AQIM group, and an arsenal of weapons in the region Amghala (Khang Zriba area). Al Qaeda assigned this terrorist group to create a rear base in Morocco and perform terrorist acts in the Kingdom using the weapons found.Jan 04, 2011
Following the 7th round of informal talks on the Sahara, the SC welcomed the mechanisms put in place by the Kingdom, namely the National Council for Human Rights with its antenna and its local component as well as the institution of interministerial delegate on human rights. The SC member states are convinced, more than ever before, of the fact that the Maghreb region can no longer tolerate the lack of resolution of this conflict, because of the threat of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group in the region, as well as the terrorist acts performed in neighbouring countries.Jun 08, 2011
During the 8th round of informal talks, held in Manhasset, July 19-21, 2011, Morocco highlighted the accuracy of the United Nations’ innovative approach that can help evolve the current situation through a full involvement of the population legitimate representatives. Morocco disclosed the status quo installed by the other parties and reiterates its call to the international community and to Algeria, as a country host of the refugees, to apply the international humanitarian law, in particular the organization and the registration of the population living in the Tindouf camps in AlgeriaJul 19, 2011
During the 9th round of informal talks held in Manhasset from March 11 to 13, 2012, Morocco reiterated its strong commitment to contribute effectively to an innovative solution that goes beyond the classical methods to end the current deadlock on the Sahara issue, expressing its regret that the other parties are sticking to their position, especially regarding the identification and the registration of the Tindouf camps population.Mar 11, 2012
The Security Council resolution 2044 (2012) unanimously adopted April 24, 2012, consolidated the parameters set by the Council to reach a final political solution to the regional dispute over the Sahara. It has reinforced the process of negotiations as single-track dispute resolution and enhanced innovative approaches.Apr 24, 2012
Visit of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Christopher Ross, to Morocco. This visit is part of the efforts being made to relaunch the political process with a view to finding out a political, definitive and consensual solution to the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara.Oct 27, 2012
The Security Council resolution 2099 unanimously adopted on April 25, 2013, consolidated, once more, the preeminence of the Moroccan autonomy initiative, and fixed the parameters to reach a final political solution based on realism and a spirit of compromise. Similarly, the Security Council reaffirmed via this resolution the MINURSO’s mandate and activities. The Security Council reiterated his appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to proceed to the identification of the populations of the Tindouf camps, in consultation with Algeria, the host country, according to the 1951 convention on refugees.Apr 25, 2013
Resignation of Christopher Ross, UNSG’s Personal Envoy for the Sahara. The Secretary-General Guterres inform the President of the Security Council to appoint as his Personal Envoy to the Sahara, the former Federal President of Germany, Horst Kholer.May 27, 2017
Horst Köhler conducts his first visit to Morocco and meets with King Mohammed VI in the Royal Place in Rabat. M. Köhler held two rounds of talks in presence of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and polisario front, from 2017-2019.Oct 18, 2017
Resignation of Horst Kohler, UNSG’s Personal Envoy for the Sahara due to health problemsMay 22, 2019
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2494 which extends the mandate of MINURSO for one year, reaffirming the relevance of the Moroccan initiative for autonomy and underlined the round-table meetings process as the only framework for reaching a political solution.Oct 31, 2019
After the intrusion of polisario militia on October 21, 2020, and while supporting the action of the Secretary General, the Sovereign had affirmed in a letter to Mr. Guterres: "The status quo can no longer continue. If this situation persists, the Kingdom of Morocco, in respect of its attributions, by virtue of its responsibilities and in full compliance with international legality, reserves the right to act, at the time and in the manner it deems necessary, in order to safeguard the status of the zone, to restore freedom of movement and to preserve the dignity of Moroccans".Oct 21, 2020
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2494 which the council Reaffirmed its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, based on compromise. The UNSC welcomed the serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution, as well as the steps and initiatives taken by Morocco, and the role played by the National Council on Human Rights Commissions operating in Dakhla and Laayoune, and Morocco’s interaction with Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Security Council "noted with deep concern the continued hardships faced by Sahrawi refugees and their dependency on external humanitarian assistance, and further noting with deep concern insufficient funding for those living in Tindouf refugee camps and the risks associated with the reduction of food assistance" and "reiterated its request for consideration of a refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps and emphasizing efforts be made in this regard"Oct 30, 2020
In response to the provocations of the polisario at the Guerguerat border crossing which aimed to disrupte civilian and commercial transport along the border between Morocco and Mauritania (Buffer zone), the Moroccan Royal Forces intervened at the El Guergarat crossing in order to restore free movement, peacefully, without clashes or threats to the safety of civilians. The operation was undertook after the polisario militias repeatedly violated military agreements and ignored UN calls to leave the area and after having given every chance to a diplomatic solution through the good offices of the United Nations. The operation carried out by the Royal Armed Forces aims precisely to consolidate the ceasefire by preventing the recurrence of such serious and inadmissible acts which violate the military agreement and threaten regional security and stability.Nov 12, 2020
The leader of the polisario front declared its unilateral decision to end ceasefire and resume armed conflictNov 14, 2020
Algeria announced unilaterally on Tuesday August 24 the severance of diplomatic relations with Morocco, after months of heightened tensions and days after the Algerian presidency announced in a statement their relations with Morocco would be reviewed. In response, Morocco regrets this completely unjustified but expected decision - in view of the logic of escalation noted in recent weeks - as well as its impact on the Algerian people. For its part, the Kingdom of Morocco will remain a credible and loyal partner for the Algerian people and will continue to act, with wisdom and responsibility, for the development of healthy and fruitful inter-Maghreb relations.Aug 24, 2021
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2602 which welcomes the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the new Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahara and urging the constructive resumption of the political process, building on the progress of the former Personal Envoy, particularly the round-table meetings process to reach a political solution. The Security Council also Noted with deep concern the breakdown of the ceasefire. The UNSC "emphasizes the need to achieve a realistic, practicable, enduring and mutually acceptable political solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise and the importance of aligning the strategic focus of MINURSO and orienting resources of the United Nations to this end"Oct 29, 2021