According to Jean-Yves de Cara, any perceived aggression in Morocco’s operation to restore cross-border traffic is attributable to Polisario, who forced the action.
Rabat – French jurist and Head of the Scientific Council of the Observatory of Geopolitical Studies (OEG) Jean-Yves de Cara delivered an analysis on Monday about the legal merits of Morocco’s actions in the buffer zone of Guerguerat.
Beginning October 21, Polisario members and supporters imposed a blockade on civil and commercial traffic between Morocco and Mauritania in Guerguerat. Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces acted to lift the blockade and restore the flow of cross-border traffic on November 13.
De Cara first affirmed that Polisario led the forcible attacks with the support of Algeria, noting that the provocations were not the first of their kind.
The front’s militias threatened on several occasions to take action against the annual Africa Eco Race sport event for directing its route through the buffer zone of Guerguerat, the gateway to sub-Saharan Africa.
During the 2020 Africa Eco Race, Polisario addressed a message to the UN and the event’s hosts stating that allowing the runners to cross the buffer strip would constitute a “violation” of UN resolutions.
The Guerguerat buffer zone
A buffer zone is a neutral area between two conflicting nations that helps to manage disputes and protect civilians from potential attacks.
The establishment of the Guerguerat buffer zone came with Morocco and Polisario’s 1991 ceasefire agreement.
A buffer zone can serve to protect a country from incursions by gangs, rebels, terrorists, or “armed groups in the pay of a foreign state,” De Cara said, noting that “this is the case of the Guerguerat area in the Moroccan Sahara.”
By managing the buffer zone of Guerguerat, said the French professor, Morocco ensures the safety of civilians who live in the region as well as of those crossing the border.
“It is equally important to ensure the security and the neutral and demilitarized nature of the buffer zone,” said De Cara, recalling the international and humanitarian laws that apply to the use of force in these areas.
After Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (FAR) announced that it “completely secured” the buffer zone on the evening of November 13, the Mauritanian public and media expressed relief after more than three weeks of Polisario’s illegal occupation of the crossing point.
Mauritanian newspaper Al Wiam commeded FAR’s action to end Polisario’s blockade, stating that the operation was a “humanitarian” one, arguing it helped clear the way for much-needed commercial activities between Morocco and Mauritania.
Although international law does not cover all areas of such situations in a buffer zone, and in the absence of an international administration governing these cases, De Cara believes that circumstances may require an act from the country that has sovereignty over the area.
“In addition, the maintenance of security or, simply, public tranquility in the area may warrant limited action to restore order,” argued De Cara.
Legitimate action and self-defense
An International Law professor at Paris-Descartes Sorbonne-Paris-Cite University, De Cara linked Morocco’s operation in Guerguerat with necessity.
Morocco’s operation in Guerguerat, according to De Cara, represents a substitute act to maintain the neutral and peaceful character that defines the buffer zone, under the supervision of MINURSO.
Following the recent renewal of its peacekeeping mandate in Western Sahara within the framework of Resolution 2548 at the UN Security Council, MINURSO’s mission is now set to until October 2021.
The French lawyer believes that the action of the Moroccan army in Guerguerat did not come to prevent a potential risk or attack. Rather, it came to address the current situation following a long history of FAR-MINURSO communications about Polisario’s provocations.
Morocco’s decision to “act” came in response to more than two months of Polisario’s provocative acts in Guerguerat, interrupting the flow of goods and stranding some 200 Moroccan truck drivers on the Mauritanian side of the Guerguerat crossing for weeks.
In light of the absence of buffer zone jurisdiction, Guerguerat represents a risk for MINURSO members, according to the UN secretary-general. Accordingly, the aim of Morocco’s operation had a limited scope and satisfied the condition of proportionality, stressed the jurist.
De Cara concluded that Morocco’s operation in the buffer zone does not represent an act of aggression, but of defense. On the contrary, he attributes any aggression to the provocations and incursions of Polisario, which forced the action.
“It is therefore up to the Polisario to put an end to provocations and violations of international law and human rights in the region, to respect the status of the area.”