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Opinion by Mikael Simble


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 suggests.

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 to self-determination.

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 for.

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.




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