I imagine life is quite good for Congressman Neil Abercrombie
these days. His approval ratings are high, and his re-election
to Congress this fall was easy. All the more reason to bring
up a particular issue, one that he himself has not exactly gone
to great lengths to publicize to the general voting public, his
support of an illegal occupation in Africa.
In late April 2007, Abercrombie signed a congressional letter
in support of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara,
a territory that, according to the United Nations, is pending
decolonization and is thus considered Africa’s last colony.
Western Sahara has rich phosphate deposits and fishing banks
along its coast, but other than that it is as barren as its name
The people living there are the Sahrawis, a secular, liberal,
and fiercely proud desert people. In 1975, Western Sahara, formally
a Spanish colony, was invaded and subsequently occupied by Morocco,
which claimed and incorporated the territory as its “southern
provinces,” much as Saddam Hussein in 1991 invaded and
claimed Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province.
Moroccan troops, using napalm and phosphorous bombs, indiscriminately
targeted refugee columns full of Sahrawi women and children in
1975-76 as they fled across the desert from the invading Moroccan
forces, attempting to reach safety in Algeria.
Morocco’s King Hassan II justified the 1975 invasion, saying, “One
Kuwait in the Arab world is enough,” meaning he did not
want an independent, minerals rich Western Sahara on his border.
From 1976 to 1991, Morocco and the Sahrawi liberation movement,
the Polisario Front, were at war. In 1991, a UN-brokered cease
fire took effect, with the promise of a referendum on self-determination.
Since then little has happened, other than Morocco abandoning
the UN peace plan and the referendum it called for. The Moroccan
Autonomy Plan that Abercrombie supports is an attempt by Mohammed
VI, the current Moroccan King, to solidify and formalize Moroccan
rule over Western Sahara, in blatant violation of international
law and numerous UN Security Council resolutions. The plan provides
for little more than Sahrawi “autonomy” in matters
concerning postal delivery, garbage collection, and some community
issues. Not one country has recognized the Moroccan annexation,
whereas some 80 countries worldwide have recognized Western Sahara
as an independent country, among them South Africa, Mexico, and
the African Union. More than 100 UN resolutions support the Sahrawis’ right
How is it, I wonder, that Abercrombie has come to the conclusion
that the Sahrawis would be best served by seeing their homeland
incorporated into an invading and expansionist Arab kingdom?
One would think Abercrombie already knew, from his time on the
Congressional Human Rights Caucus, that Morocco is one of the
worst human rights abusers in this part of the world. This past
May the American human rights group Freedom House labeled the
Moroccan regime in Western Sahara as “one of the world’s
most repressive.” Freedom House places occupied Western
Sahara on the same level as Zimbabwe, China, and Belarus. More
than 500 Sahrawis have “disappeared” and are unaccounted
Also, one cannot help but wonder why Abercrombie has been so
vocal in opposing a different occupation, that of the Chinese
in Tibet, by suggesting that the United States boycott the recent
Beijing Olympic Games, when he so strongly supports the occupation
of Western Sahara. In contrast to the occupation of Tibet, the
International Court of Justice in 1975, prior to the Moroccan
occupation, ruled against the invasion, upheld the Sahrawis right
to self-determination, and denied the Moroccan claim to the territory.
I am a relative newcomer to the Hawaiian Islands, but am I wrong
to expect a U.S. Congressman representing the people of Hawai‘i
to be more sensitive to the plight of an indigenous people experiencing
the occupation of their homeland and the plundering of its natural
resources by a much more powerful neighbor, even if it is half
a world away? Through his support of the Moroccan occupation,
Abercrombie has also chosen to overlook and disregard international
law and some of the rules and regulations, both American and
international, governing the civic discourse of international
relations. Chief among them are the Stimson Doctrine, the Fourth
Geneva Convention, the Atlantic Charter, the Charter of the United
Nations, and the aforementioned ICJ ruling, all reaffirming the
right of peoples and colonies to self-determination and decolonization.
Abercrombie should take note of the words of Lord Acton, who
said that power corrupts, and absolute power – such as
military rule over a foreign, comparatively powerless people – corrupts
absolutely. The Sahrawi freedom struggle is a war of national
liberation, and history teaches us that nations are not willing
to be ruled by other nations, and that wars of national liberation
almost always end successfully.
Congressman, on this issue I am afraid you have placed yourself
on the wrong side of history.