For nearly 40 years, both the Kingdom of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO Front) have claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. After years of armed conflict, in 1991 the United Nations established the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), a peacekeeping mission to oversee the ceasefire between the two parties and ensure a referendum on self-determination. Today, 22 years after the establishment of MINURSO, the referendum has yet to take place. Each side charges the other with failure to cooperate and the conflict between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front continues.
Without a resolution, nearly the entire Sahrawi population, roughly a half a million people, have been left without effective human rights protection. The situation is particularly dire for the more than 125,000 Sahrawi refugees who subsist in what were intended to be temporary camps established near Tindouf, Algeria, in 1976. Despite numerous independent assessments that confirmed human rights violations, the negotiations between Morocco, the POLISARIO Front, and the UN have primarily revolved around the issues of self-determination, autonomy, and independence.
In August 2012, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights visited the region and spoke with hundreds of victims, noting how the absence of a permanent solution to the conflict has had a direct impact on the denial of human rights for the Sahrawi people.
Unless the UN takes action immediately, human rights violations against the Sahrawi people will continue. The UN Secretary General, UN Special Envoy to Western Sahara, UN Members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees must work together and with the parties to the conflict to find and implement an effective human rights mechanism to protect the Sahrawi people.