The researcher stressed the autonomy plan is the only solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
Rabat – The President of the Sahara Center for Studies and Research on Development and Human Rights, Shaibata Mrabih Rabou, has laid the responsibility of the ongoing regional dispute over Western Sahara solely on Algeria.
Mrabih Rabou made the remarks while speaking to the citizen-run show “Sahara Debate,” broadcast on YouTube and intended as an open platform to discuss the regional dispute.
Autonomy Plan vs referendum
The president of the NGO supported his remarks by evoking Algeria’s unwavering support for the “obsolete” notion of a referendum, an approach the UN Security Council “has definitively ruled out since 2001.”
In recent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the UNSC has avoided using the two terms in its language. This reaffirms the Security Council’s demonstrated position that the only lasting solution for the Western Sahra conflict lies in Morocco’s 2007 Autonomy Plan proposal.
Mrabih Rabou firmly believes Algeria must respond to the call of Security Council Resolution 2494 to enter negotiations with the other involved parties, namely Mauritania, Morocco, and the Polisario Front, with the spirit of reaching a mutually acceptable political solution.
The UNSC has repeatedly welcomed Morocco’s efforts aiming for a solution deployed in the file. It deemed Morocco’s autonomy initiative “serious” and “credible” in all of its resolutions on the issue since 2007.
The Autonomy Plan consists of granting Morocco’s southern regions complete autonomy while remaining under Morocco’s sovereignty.
Mrabih Rabou stated that the Sahrawi people contributed to the elaboration of the initiative, which he believes poses the only solution to the decades-long conflict that “can secure their dignity.”
Disagreeing with Algeria’s push for a referendum and supporting the Autonomy Plan, many nations have withdrawn their recognition of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The number of countries formally recognizing the Polisario Front decreased from 80 to 50, announced then-government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi in June 2019.
Foreign countries’ official support for Morocco’s territorial integrity and Autonomy Plan is continuing to grow. Upon the opening of a Liberian consulate in Dakhla on March 12, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita announced that 10 consulates opened in the southern provinces over two months, a goal Morocco aimed to achieve over a course of two years.
Legitimate representation of Sahrawi People
The show was also an opportunity for the researcher to refute the Polisario Front’s claims of being the legitimate representation of the Sahrawi people.
Morocco is the only legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, he said, as the majority of them live in the southern province of the Moroccan territory while fully enjoying their rights.
Mrabih Rabou stressed that the only legitimate representatives of the population of Western Sahara are the region’s 3,500 elected officials, rather than Polisario, which he mentioned Algeria appointed and installed “for life” in the early 1970s. Mrabih Rabou is among the democratically-elected officials.
Despite claims of non-interference in Polisario’s internal affairs, Algeria continues to fund and support the front, allowing distress to prevail.
“Any contestation of Polisario’s legitimacy” in the camps, Mrabih Rabou said, is “met with systematic and brutal repression by Algeria’s illegal authority delegation deployed to Polisario on a part of its territory, in violation of its international obligations.”
Polisario’s human rights violations inside Tindouf camps
The Polisario Front deprives people living inside the Tindouf camps of many basic rights, including the right to decent employment, the right to food and medicine, and the right to freedom of movement.
The expert called attention to Algeria’s refusal to permit a census inside the Tindouf camps, in violation of “the provisions of international humanitarian law, especially the Refugee Status Convention of 1951 and in defiance of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council since 2011.”
All entrances of the Tindouf camps are controlled by the Algerian army’s checkpoints, imposing an impossibility to leave the camps.
“Obtaining travel documents depends on the goodwill of the Algerian authority, and is a privilege reserved for the [Polisario] apparatchiks,” he regretted.
Mrabih Rabou argued that the term “refugees” is misleading in the Tindouf case, and that it is more appropriate to speak of a “sequestrated population.”
Refugees must be holders of a refugee card and passport to enjoy the freedom and right to work.
Comparing the living conditions in Tindouf camps with Western Sahara’s, Mrabih Rabou said that in the latter, the population fully enjoys its political, economic, social, and cultural rights.
He also stressed that the budgets for investments in the southern provinces exceed by far the revenue generated through the extraction of the region’s natural resources.
Development projects in Western Sahara
King Mohammed VI launched the New Development Model of the Southern Provinces in 2015, aiming to establish major infrastructural projects for the benefit of the southern populations.
Mrabih Rabou is confident the “ambitious, visionary policies” and good governance have enabled Western Sahara “to emerge as a major economic hub.”
He said that “large-scale infrastructure projects make Western Sahara a fully connected space.”
Several countries and international business experts continue to support Morocco’s development projects in the southern regions.
In 2018, the chairman of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Morocco (CFCIM) Philippe-Edern Klein, also called the region an “ideal hub” for business and investment ventures in Africa.
Morocco has initiated massive development projects in the region with a budget of more than $7 billion.
In September 2019, the Government Council adopted Decree 2.19.737 to establish a committee to oversee the construction of the Dakhla Atlantic port.
Morocco pledged a budget of MAD 10 billion ($1 billion) for the project in addition to other budgets to set up development plans to enhance the region’s investment potential.
The development projects are in line with King Mohammed VI’s publicly declared vision. The King said in a 2014 speech, on the 39th anniversary of Morocco’s Green March, that “since we recovered the Sahara, for every single dirham of revenue from the Sahara, the state invests 7 dirhams there, as part of the solidarity between the regions and between the sons and daughters of the region.”