Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

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.

Al Jazeera Preparing ICC 'War Crimes' Case Against Israel for Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

"Targeting war correspondents, or journalists working in war zones or occupied territories by killing or physically assaulting them, is a war crime," the network says.

Andrea Germanos ·


Rapid Response Protests Planned to Stop Biden From 'Screwing Up' Student Debt Relief

"$10K, no way," said organizers. "Don't go small, cancel it all!"

Julia Conley ·


G7 Fossil Fuel Funding Pledge a 'Massive Win,' Say Climate Groups

Campaigners say "promises should now urgently be turned into action."

Jake Johnson ·


'This Is Bullsh*t': Instead of Canceling, Abbott Will Deliver Video Speech to NRA

Headlines suggested the Texas governor was "skipping" the group's convention, but in fact he will give a prerecorded address just days after the Uvalde massacre that left 19 children dead.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Democrat Demands Federal Probe of Police Response to Uvalde Shooting

"State officials have provided conflicting accounts that are at odds with those provided by witnesses," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo