The US has backed down on its demand that UN peacekeepers in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara also shall monitor the human rights situation after Moroccan sources threatened to scale down relations with Washington.
A renewed mandate for the UN peacekeepers in Western Sahara, MINURSO, is supposed to be approved by the UN Security Council tomorrow. US Secretary of State John Kerry had surprised everybody when his ambassador to the UN on 9 April proposed that MINURSO for the first time also would monitor the human rights situation in the occupied territory and the Sahrawi refugee camps.
The American u-turn came after the Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights late last year published a strong-worded report on grave human rights abuses against Sahrawis by Moroccan authorities, even describing the use of torture in the territory. Mr Kerry has also been known to have a more critical stance against the Moroccan occupation than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
The surprise act caused immediate reactions in Morocco, where the King united all political parties to seek a plan to avoid UN monitoring of human rights in the occupied territory. The meeting, according to information obtained by afrol News, agreed on a threefold action plan: enhanced lobbying in Washington and Europe; igniting grass root action against the plan in Morocco; and sharpen the diplomatic tone towards the US, a historic ally of Morocco.
One of the first steps was to call off the annual joint military exercises with the US at short notice. The “African Lion” exercise was scheduled to take place around Agadir from 17 to 27 April and was postponed indefinitely, although more than 1.000 US troops had already arrived in Morocco.
The coordinated “grass root action” equally demonstrated Moroccan grievances at the US u-turn. In media like Facebook, thousands expressed their will to stand up for a Moroccan ownership of Western Sahara in coordinated campaigns, and at the same time sent everything from disappointed to hateful messages to the US government. Especially the Facebook page of the US embassy in Rabat was overwhelmed by aggressive messages.
In a coordinated move, a Moroccan government-financed propaganda and lobby medium in Washington, the ‘Morocco News Board’, was strongly radicalised. The “medium” claimed to know that influential politicians in Morocco “are demanding that the government reassesses completely its age-old friendly US policy by inviting the Chinese and Russian navies to engage in joint military exercises in Moroccan territorial waters along the Strait of Gibraltar.”
More diplomatic Moroccan lobbyists in Washington reminded US legislators about the long and thorough relationship with Morocco, repeating Rabat’s standard claim that great gains had been made regarding human rights. The representation of the Sahrawis, the Polisario, on the other hand was, again, called “a former communist movement”, enjoying support “from America’s enemies” such as Cuba and Venezuela.
Meanwhile, in Paris and Madrid, Moroccan lobbyists tried to win France and Spain for its point of view. France, as normal, gave its support, but President François Hollande would not promise to veto the text at the UN Security Council. Spain, weakened by its economic crisis, now also promised to support Morocco.
And as US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, today presented a changed text in the US proposal for the renewed MINURSO mandate, the Moroccan government celebrated what it sees as a “major” diplomatic victory. The new text only demands improvements to the human rights situation in Western Sahara and will probably be adopted like this by the Security Council tomorrow.
“Victory” comes at high price
But observers hold that the “victory” may have come at a high price. The US will keep up its monitoring of the human rights situation in the territory and may present a new demand to expand MINURSOs mandate next year. At the same time, the Moroccan “overreaction” and poorly disguised threats have been noted in Washington and may drive the US even further towards Morocco’s archenemy Algeria.
Also among the Sahrawis, the supposed Moroccan “victory” was taken calmly. The Polisario representative at the UN, Ahmed Bukhari, said the most important lesson had been that the US now in general was “supportive to the fight for freedom of the people of occupied Western Sahara.” Mr Bukhari said the US initiative had “thrown new light” on the human right situation in Western Sahara that “will not disappear.”