Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A protest against Morocco's illegal occupation of Western Sahara on December 20, 2020 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo: Javi Julio/SOPA Images/Light Rocket via Getty Images)

Protesters march as they display a banner reading "Colonialist Morocco out of the Sahara" during the demonstration in San Sebastian, Spain on December 20, 2020. (Photo: Javi Julio/SOPA Images/Light Rocket via Getty Images)

'A Blatant Violation': Sahrawis Dismiss Pompeo's Announcement of US Consulate in Moroccan-Occupied Western Sahara

The move comes two weeks after the U.S. became the first country to recognize Morocco's claim of sovereignty in the illegally occupied territory.

Brett Wilkins

Sahrawi independence advocates defiantly dismissed an announcement Thursday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States would open a "virtual" diplomatic mission in Western Sahara as a first step toward establishing a permanent consulate in the Moroccan-occupied territory. 

"We the Saharawis are fighting [for] our complete sovereignty over our Western Sahara; we don't need your permission to do that."
Minetu Larabas Sueidat,
National Union of Sahrawi Women

Pompeo said in a statement that the U.S. was "inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, to be followed soon by a fully functioning consulate." 

The State Department said that the virtual post—which will allow U.S. officials to conduct consular and other business remotely—will be managed by the American Embassy in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. 

The development came nearly two weeks after President Donald Trump announced an agreement in which the U.S. recognized as legitimate Morocco's illegal occupation in exchange for the North African kingdom's establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel. This made the U.S. the first country to recognize Morocco's claim of sovereignty in Western Sahara. 

While Morocco's monarch, King Mohammed VI, hailed U.S. recognition of his country's claim to Western Sahara as an "historic turning point," advocates for Sahrawi independence roundly condemned the move. 

The Polisario Front—the United Nations-recognized, Algerian-backed Sahrawi national liberation movement—blasted the U.S. declaration as "a blatant violation of the United Nations charter and the resolutions of international legitimacy."

Additionally, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (pdf) states that an "occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," a proscription violated by both Israel in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories and by Morocco in Western Sahara.

There was widespread indignation following Pompeo's announcement, as Sahrawis and international human rights defenders condemned the move. 

Known as "Africa's last colony," Western Sahara was invaded by Moroccan and Mauritanian troops in 1975 as Spanish colonial troops withdrew from their former territory. In order to solidify Moroccan control over the phosphate- and fishery-rich land, former king Hassan II ordered a "Green March" of hundreds of thousands of Moroccan civilians into Western Sahara to colonize the vast desert territory.

Meanwhile, Moroccan forces committed horrific atrocities (pdf) while driving nearly half the Sahrawi population into neighboring Algeria.

Moroccan occupation forces built a 1,700-mile mostly sand wall to keep Algerian-backed Sahrawi militants out of Western Sahara, while denying Sahrawis inside their occupied homeland the U.N.-backed referendum they've been promised—and awaiting—for decades.

The Polisario Front has resisted the occupation for 45 years and today controls up to a quarter of Western Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which scores of United Nations member states have recognized since it was proclaimed in 1976. However, more than half of these countries have since either withdrawn or suspended their recognition.

Moroccan settlers today comprise over two-thirds of the territory's population of approximately 600,000. 

A fragile U.N.-backed 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario rebels lasted until last month, when SADR President Brahim Ghali declared it over after he said that Moroccan troops opened fire on peaceful protesters.

Inside occupied Western Sahara, Moroccan forces brutally repress all forms of resistance, severely restricting free expression, movement, association, and press.

According to a 2015 Amnesty International report (pdf), as well as documentation by local and international human rights groups, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, forced disappearances, and torture are some of the tactics employed by the occupation forces to control the territory and its people. 

Polisario forces are also accused of serious human rights violations, and some Sahrawis oppose their rule. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Truss' Tories Plan to Slash Public Spending While Clinging to Chaos-Causing Tax Cuts

"When the IMF tells you, 'hang on guys, this is going to be so bad for inequality it needs a rethink,' you've got a serious problem," one U.K. activist said of the new mini-budget.

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders, Kaine Hail US Senate's Passage of Brazil Election Resolution

"It is important for the people of Brazil to know we're on their side, on the side of democracy," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "With passage of this resolution, we are sending that message."

Brett Wilkins ·


Highland Park Victims Sue Gun-Maker, Stores Over Negligence and Deceptive Practices

Lawyers argued that the "shooter was the type of a young consumer susceptible to Smith & Wesson's deceptive and unfair marketing, and was enabled by his father."

Julia Conley ·


NC Dems Plead for Cash as Beasley Deadlocked With GOP Opponent in Decisive US Senate Race

Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley has a one-point lead, but Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd is getting more support from the Republican Party.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Yeah, Right': Pentagon Report Claiming US Military Killed Just 12 Civilians Last Year Met With Skepticism

"Once again the confirmed civilian casualty count is below what communities on the ground are reporting," lamented Emily Tripp, director of the monitor group Airwars.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo