The referendum for self-determination: Is it still a solution? The never-ending dispute over Western Sahara

Published: 1/Sep/2008
Source: African Journal of International and Comparative Law

By Erika Conti, in African Journal of International and Comparative Law Volume 16, Issue 2, Page 178-196


Since the advisory opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice in 1975, the difference between the legal and the political means of resolution became apparent in the case of Western Sahara. For the right of  self-determination to be exercised, the general statements pronounced by the international organizations, mainly the United Nations, claimed general provisions which have not been easily accepted as form of international legislation. They were expected to undermine the state sovereignty. Subsequently, the practices undertaken, notably mediation, faced several obstacles, and on a few occasions, represented a sort of failure of the UN politics, as Boutrous Ghali recognized in the Agenda for Peace 1992. As far as Western Sahara is concerned, neither legal nor political means have been able to achieve a permanent solution, and military means have not been contemplated beyond the cease-fire. A referendum, the traditional UN practice in colonial cases, has never been held. The settlement plan, which requires the identification of voters has been considered the main impasse. Indeed, it had the potential to produce an outcome in favour of one party or the other. Considering the failure of long-term negotiation, the referendum option, as originally expected in 1967, should start considering some shift in the future. This paper will attempt to analyse the UN efforts, especially Baker’s mediation, to achieve a peaceful and mutually accepted solution. It will also consider additional political solutions recently presented as alternatives. In particular, it will examine the referendum, a main point of this dispute. Principally, which role will it play in the recent scenario where new solutions are put on the table? Is it still practical to hold a referendum, or, is it better to abandon this traditional practice in favour of the new solution offered by Morocco?

Link to journal website : The Referendum for Self-Determination: Is It Still a Solution?

Themes: Apatridie, Succession d'États, Nationalité des réfugiés
Regions: Maroc, République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique (Sahara Occidental)
Year: 2008