Flags fly for Western Sahara

February 21, 2009

Flag raising ceremonies will mark the 33rd anniversary of the Saharawi Republic in most states for the first time in Australia, as a gesture of solidarity and friendship with the people of Western Sahara.

On February 27, ceremonies will take place at the Victorian branch of the Australian Workers Union, the Western Australian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, Geelong and Regions Trades and Labour Council and other designated places in Newcastle, Sydney, Hobart, and Darwin.

Thirty-three years ago, the people of Western Sahara declared a republic to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Spain, the then colonial power.

In 33 years, they have achieved a great deal. The state is a member of the African Union and is recognised by more than 80 countries worldwide. In the refugee camps, they have established democratic institutions and have improved the rights of women. Literacy rates in their nation are now above 90%, one of the highest in Africa.

Jose Ramos Horta, president of East Timor, has said: "Western Sahara could be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and the Maghreb and, as a moderate secular state of an Islamic people, would be a bridge between the Islamic states and the rest of Africa."

More than 100 UN resolutions have called for the organisation of a referendum to allow the Saharawis to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination but Morocco has been able to obstruct the process and defy international legality.

It is time that the Australian government followed the example of South Africa and gave full diplomatic status to the Saharawi Republic until such times as the Saharawi are given the opportunity to vote, as promised by the United Nations-brokered ceasefire.

[Ron Guy is from the Australian Western Sahara Association. For more information visit <http://www.awsa.org.au>.]

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