Monday, August 21, 2006

International Court of Justice ruling on Western Sahara

Morocco invaded Western Sahara on the pretext that it was part of "Greater Morocco". Moroccans are fond of citing the International Court of Justice ruling in 1975, saying it found the Saharawis have a definable link to the Sultan of Morocco. But what does the ruling really say?

For one thing, it found that the entire Western Sahara had no historical allegiance to Morocco, Mauritania, or any other country: "was unanimously of opinion that Western Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain was not a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius)." Kate pointed out that this the double negative makes the meaning ambiguous, but my best guess is that it's a translation error.

A portion of the report found that both Morocco and Mauritania had historical ties to certain nomadic groups in Western Sahara: "[Taxes and other forms of fealty to Morocco] do, however, provide indications that a legal tie of allegiance existed at the relevant period between the Sultan and some, but only some, of the nomadic peoples of the territory." Morocco cited this portion of the ruling as justification for their occupation. The rest of their claim to the territory involves treaties with Western powers involving shipwrecked people on the Western Saharan coastline.

Shipwrecks aside, the International Court of Justice makes its opinion on Moroccan claims clear: "The Court's conclusion is that the materials and information presented to it do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco." Basically, while they shared political and economic ties, the ICJ found that a Koran tax and a few caravans do not a country make.

The next time a Greater Morocco supporter brings up the ICJ ruling, you know what's up.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Will,

    ...'"was unanimously of opinion that Western Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain was not a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius)." Kate pointed out that this the double negative makes the meaning ambiguous, but my best guess is that it's a translation error.'

    There's a reason it was a double negative. The Hague found that Western Sahara belonged to the Western Saharans:

    "The information furnished to the Court shows (a) that at the time of colonization Western Sahara was inhabited by peoples which, if nomadic, were socially and politically organized in tribes and under chiefs competent to represent them; (b) that Spain did not proceed upon the basis that it was establishing its sovereignty over terrae nullius: thus in his Order of 26 December 1884 the King of Spain proclaimed that he was taking the Rio de Oro under his protection on the basis of agreements entered into with the chiefs of local tribes."

    http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/idecisions/isummaries/isasummary751016.htm

    best,
    S-W

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