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African Imperialism, 70 American Journal of International Law 801 (1976)


Some international cases are hard. The facts are controverted, the norms uncertain, hence determining the lawfulness of unilateral actions is difficult. In the Western Sahara case, facts and law are clear and condemnation of unlawful action must not be evaded. For years, the Kingdom of Morocco neither claimed nor indicated any aspirations for the Spanish Sahara. Indeed, from 1966, Morocco joined in resolutions for Saharan independence. But phosphate deposits and the potential strategic value of the Sahara apparently caused revisions of the Moroccan position. The announcement by Spain in 1974 that it would conduct a referendum under UN auspices and supervision in 1975 moved Morocco to seek to have the International Court adjudicate an issue essentially within the competence of the Saharan people; neighboring Mauritania's appetite was whetted, and it too joined the scramble. The Court, to its credit, affirmed the primacy of the principle of self-determination in the case. The shabby diplomacy of threats and secret deals which followed the decision discredits all who participated in it. Despite a series of resolutions by the UN General Assembly and the opinion of the International Court, the Kingdom of Morocco, in flagrant violations of law, has entered Western Sahara, annexed part of the territory into Metropolitan Morocco, the other part going to its accomplice, Mauritania, and conducted a mock referendum.

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