A forum at the University of Sydney on May 18 marked 50 years since the beginning of the national liberation struggle by the Saharawi people in Western Sahara against Spanish and Moroccan occupation.
It was organised by the Political Economy Society and the Autonomous Collective Against Racism, in collaboration with the Australia Western Sahara Association.
Kamal Fadel, a representative of the Polisario Front in Australia, outlined the liberation struggle from the initial colonisation by Spain in the 1880s until today. When Spain eventually withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, neighbouring Morocco and Mauritania invaded.
While Mauritania withdrew in 1979, Morocco continued to wage war against the Polisario Front-led liberation movement, until a ceasefire was brokered in 1991 by the United Nations and African Union.
The ceasefire lasted until November 2020, when Moroccan troops attacked Saharawi civilians who were peacefully protesting in front of the illegal crossing at el Guerguerat. This restarted the war between the Polisario and the Moroccan regime.
Meanwhile, in 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICC) determined that Western Sahara was not terra nullius at the time of colonisation, and that the Saharawis had the right of self-determination over their land.
“The 1975 ICC case over Western Sahara was, in fact, used as a precedent by the Australian High Court in the Mabo Native Title decision in 1992,” Fadel said.
“Morocco continues to obstruct any plans for a free and fair referendum on independence for Western Sahara … UN inaction on this impasse has meant a failure of the peace process till now.
“But Saharawis will never give up on their aspirations, after 50 years of strong resistance,” Fadel said.
Randi Irwin, from the University of Newcastle, spoke about the 2500-kilometre heavily guarded wall Morocco built to divide Western Sahara into a coastal zone occupied by Morocco and an interior section held by the Polisario Front: it gives the Moroccan regime control of 80% of Western Sahara.
The wall, guarded by Moroccan soldiers, is reinforced by 7 million land mines.
Saharawis are forced to live in refugee camps in nearby Algeria. “Stop stealing our future” is one of their demands, referring to corporations extracting oil, gas and phosphate from their land.
Australian companies have been involved in mining phosphate. However, following pressure from supporters of the Saharawi cause, now only one company, Incitec Pivot, is involved in the Western Sahara phosphate trade.
[For more information on the Saharawi struggle for independence visit the Australia Western Sahara Association website.]