African Court rules for Saharawis

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights concludes Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara to be a serious violation of the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination and independence.

25 September 2022

Picture above: The judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in a meeting with the president of Tanzania on 10 September this year.  

On 22 September 2022, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights delivered a judgment concluding that Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara is a violation of the right to self-determination and independence, and that all States have an obligation to assist the people of Western Sahara in their struggle for self-determination.

Focusing specifically on the violation of the Saharawi people's right to self-determination, the Court noted that several other autonomous human rights were violated by Morocco in Western Sahara, including the right to dispose of natural resources, but “observed that their violation basically flows from the alleged denial of the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” 

See the full ruling on the website of the African Court [or download.] See all available documents on the case here

The case was directed against eight African States that recognize the jurisdiction of the Court over individual complaints : Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania and Tunisia. According to the applicant, these countries had failed to uphold their duties vis-à-vis an occupied people under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU). Specifically, by allowing Morocco to join the AU without requesting it to end its occupation of another AU Member - Western Sahara - these States would have failed in their obligation to support and protect the Saharawi people against violations resulting from Morocco's occupation.

The Court stressed that "both the UN and the AU recognise the situation of SADR as one of occupation and consider its territory as one of those territories whose decolonisation process is not yet fully complete » (para. 302). Referring to the 1975 ICJ advisory opinion on Western Sahara, the Court recalled that Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara have "never been accepted by the international community ». Accordingly, the SADR’s sovereignty over the occupied territory is a « settled fact » (para. 303). 

Against that background, it concluded that « the continued occupation of the SADR by Morocco is incompatible with the right to self-determination of the people of SADR »,  and that all while the eight charged States did not themselves directly violate the rights of the Saharawi people, they do have an obligation to assist the people of Western Sahara in their struggle for self-determination.

The ruling by the African Court echoes the International Court of Justice and the Court of Justice of the European Union, while emphasizing that “the notion of self-determination has strong resonance with Africa and carries a special and deep meaning to its people" that is viewed as "right to survival as people".

“The Respondent States, and indeed, all State parties to the Charter and the Protocol, as well as all Member States of the AU, have the responsibility under international law, to find a permanent solution to the occupation and to ensure the enjoyment of the inalienable right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people and not to do anything that would give recognition to such occupation as lawful or impede their enjoyment of this right", the ruling reads (para 323). 

The African Union in 2015 issued a legal opinion on the plunder of the natural resources the territory.


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