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Sahrawi Women Demand End to Occupation of Western Sahara

  • Sahrawi women protesting against resource exploitation in Western Sahara earlier this year

    Sahrawi women protesting against resource exploitation in Western Sahara earlier this year | Photo: Sahara Press Service

Published 8 April 2015

Human rights groups say Morocco is exploiting Western Sahara's natural resources at the expense of the territory's indigenous people, the Sahrawi.

A union representing ethnic Sahrawi women called on the United Nations to take renewed action against Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara Monday, while an international solidarity group lobbied for Morocco to be forced to dump a controversial oil exploration program in the territory.

In a statement, the Western Sahara's National Organization of Sahrawi Women called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “impose the international law, speed up the decolonization process in Western Sahara and extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) to include the protection of human rights.”

Minurso is the only operating U.N. mission in the world without a human rights mandate.

The Sahrawi women’s organization also urged the U.N. to crack down on human rights violations against ethnic Sahrawi, accusing the government of waging a “criminal war.”

The statement was issued as the National Organization of Sahrawi Women concluded its seventh annual meeting in the Smara refugee camp, on the Algerian border.

A sparsely inhabited territory in North Africa, most of Western Sahara has been occupied by the Moroccan military since 1975. A thin strip of the territory's east is administered by the indigenous government, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

According to the SADR media outlet SPS, on Saturday, the National Organization of Sahrawi Women joined a march to the sand berm that separates Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara from the region administered by SADR, as part of protests against Morocco's use of landmines.

Dubbed the “wall of shame” by Sahrawi independence activists, the sand berm was constructed by the Moroccan government during its armed conflict with SADR in the 1980s.

Today, human rights groups say the wall is used to counter the flow of ethnic Sahrawis trying to flee the Moroccan occupation to the SADR's refugee camps on the Algerian border.

RELATED: Sahrawi Slam US Oil Exploration in Western Sahara

As the Sahrawi Women’s organization rallied near the berm, another activist group, Western Sahara Resource Watch, was collecting signatures online for its own demand to the U.N.

The resource   group   is circulating a petition calling for international organizations to demand the U.N.'s Security Council take action against Morocco's budding oil exploration programs in occupied Western Sahara. It says that oil exploration deals between the government in the Moroccan capital of Rabat and firms such as Kosmos Energy will “give Morocco even less incentive to engage in peace talks (with SADR) and fulfill its duties under international law.”

“Neither Morocco, nor the oil companies involved in the exploration work in Western Sahara, have the right to override the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination. No oil drilling should take place in the territory until the Saharawis have had the chance to exercise their right to self-determination and have freely and fairly decided the political status of their homeland,” the group stated.

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