City Bar Testifies at UN that Morocco Has No Legitimate Claim over Western Sahara

“After examining every available legal argument to support Morocco’s presence in the territory we have come to the conclusion that Morocco cannot claim a legal right to the territory on the basis of any historic relationship it had with the territory prior to its colonization by Spain,” the New York City Bar Association testified on the dispute over Western Sahara yesterday before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. In her testimony, based on a report issued by the City Bar’s United Nations Committee, Katlyn Thomas, former Chair of the Committee, noted that in 1975 the International Court of Justice held that Morocco had no claim over the territory of Western Sahara. “Morocco’s action within weeks of that decision to avoid the implications of that ruling by sending its army into the territory against the wishes of its inhabitants arguably violates Article 2, Paragraph 4 and Chapter VII, as well as Article 3(a) of General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) to refrain from acts of aggression,” states the testimony. Nor does the agreement Morocco reached in 1975 with Spain under which Spain agreed to withdraw from the territory and permit Morocco and Mauritania to occupy it justify any legal claim to the territory. “Despite its more than 30 years of occupation of Western Sahara, neither the United Nations, nor the African Union, nor any individual state has recognized Morocco‘s claims to the territory as legitimate,” states the testimony. “Even the members of the Security Council who have advocated direct talks between Morocco and the Polisario that have taken place since 2007, as opposed to the implementation of the Settlement Plan that would require a referendum, have maintained their support for the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” Ms. Thomas testified, “Our Committee concluded that the right to self-determination under international law requires that the Sahraouis have the opportunity to freely determine their political status and that this determination must include the option of independence.” Turning to the question of how the right of self-determination by the indigenous population of Western Sahara can be exercised, the testimony cites three procedures: enforcement of the original U.N.-OAU 1991 Settlement Plan; enforcement of a version of the Peace Plan advanced by former United States Secretary of State James Baker III when he was the Personal Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General to Western Sahara; or UN-ordered negotiations on a “political solution” with preconditions, including a timetable, similar to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was developed for Sudan. Each of these three options may require a mandatory order by the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. The testimony concludes, “The international community needs to take steps to see that this dispute is resolved in the near future. The longer it takes to resolve the sovereignty issue, the more complicated will be the task of implementing any solution reached. On behalf of the United Nations Committee of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, I call upon this Committee to adopt a position with regard to the settlement of the dispute over Western Sahara that is consistent with principles of international law.” Read the testimony here: