Jun 08, 2020

The Role of States to Protect the Sahrawi Peoples' Right to Self-Determination

UNPO was recently asked by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights to submit and advisory opinion on issue of state responsibility to facilitate and protect the rights of the people of Western Sahara: one of only three internationally-focussed, alongside the International Commission of Jurists and Princeton Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination to be asked for its opinion by the Court. Working in collaboration with our partners at Aix-Marseille Université, we submitted our opinion on 5 June 2020 arguing that there are legal and practical precedents for States responsibility to ensure inclusion of peoples in states with limited recognition in international systems.

The UNPO amicus curiae offers an overview on four cases in which unrepresented states have had their right to self-determination promoted by member states of the UN without necessarily having their statehood claim recognised. 

Somaliland, Taiwan, Kosovo and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) show that despite the challenges of navigating on the fringes of the international system, states with limited recognition have successfully engaged with some UN member states through bilateral political, military, trade, travel and educational agreements. 

By drawing these parallels with the case of Western Sahara, UNPO hopes to encourage member states of the African Union to engage with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in order to ensure that the Sahrawi people have their fundamental rights protected and promoted.

In its legal analysis, the amicus curiae submitted by UNPO reiterates that the continuing occupation of Western Sahara constitutes a violation of the right of the Sahrawi people to sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. These rights are inextricably linked to the Sahrawi people's right to self- determination and, by virtue of the specific nature of this right, particular obligations arise for the Defendants.

Finally, the document reminds that international law does provide an obligation to act to “refrain Morocco from further occupying parts of the territory of Western Sahara in any manner  whatsoever and howsoever”. Additionally, it specifies measures that may be taken by member states of the African Union to comply with their obligation to act. Both law established under the AU charter and international law compels AU members to be proactive in terms of protecting a country’s autonomy.