In a move that contravenes the United Nations’ practice and rules of procedures, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists the Sahara, known in UN terminology as the “Western Sahara”, as a country on equal footing with other North African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, etc.
In its 2011 World Urbanization Prospects, the 2011 Revision, published in 2012, which was obtained by Morocco World News the UN entity lists “Western Sahara”, which is considered as a disputed territory, as being among the other North African countries. This is not the first time that the UN entity lists the Sahara as such in its reports amidst the silence of Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yet as of today the United Nations counts 193 sovereign countries, which are recognized by the entire international community as being full-fledged countries. To say that the “Western Sahara” or other territories are countries implies that they are recognized as such by the international community.
According to the United Nations Fourth Committee, the “Western Sahara” is considered as a non-self-governing territory, a territory whose sovereignty is disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which claims to be the sole representative of the Saharawi population.
Some might argue that the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) discharges itself of any irresponsibility when it says in the disclaimer that “designations employed in this report and the material presented in it do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.”
Yet this disclaimer is not enough to show that DESA does not prejudge the legal status of this territory. As a responsible global entity, the UN secretariat should ensure that the language used in its reports is in line with its practice and designated terminology. This inclusion of “Western Sahara” under a chart with the heading ‘Classification of Countries’ may misinform the average reader of the DESA report about the status of the territory, irrespective of a disclaimer several pages earlier.
The United Nations should refrain from any language that might mislead the laymen. A high school, college student, or a researcher who is doing a paper or research about the Sahara, would not pay attention to the disclaimer that goes with the report, nor would this disclaimer remain in his mind. What he would retain is that the “Western Sahara” is considered as country by a UN official document. Therefore, as a responsible global entity the United Nations ought to strive to use the language that is in line with its practice and with international law.
In any political dispute like the Sahara issue, the UN has to be clear-cut and careful in the use of its terminology, for any single word might have heavy political implications. The same remark applies to the other 15 self-governing territories, such as Gibraltar, Samoa, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, etc. The latter should not be included under the category of “Classification of Countries by Major Area and Region of the World,” but as non-self-governing territories. In this regard, the appropriate language to use is to be in line with the UN terminology and international law is “classification of countries, non-self-governing territories and occupied territories by major area of the world.”
Since people in charge of drafting the report are putting the disclaimer regarding the disputed territories they include as countries, one wonders why they did not include Kosovo and Taiwan under the same list. Since it declared its independence in February 2008, Kosovo has been recognized as a sovereign country by 92 countries. In addition, Kosovo is a full member of the World Bank and the IMF since 2009.
Unlike the “Western Sahara” or the self-proclaimed Sarahawi Arabic Democratic Republic, none of the countries that have recognized Kosovo have withdrawn their recognition, whereas, the bulk of countries that had previously recognized the independence of the “Western Sahara’” have withdrawn their recognition, which brought the number of countries that recognize this entity to 43 down from 86 in the early 1980’s.
Kosovo and Taiwan are not included in the UN report as countries, because of the pressure that Russia and China exert regarding any mention of Kosovo or Taiwan in any UN report. Russia and China would never allow any report that lists these two territories as countries, regardless of the number of disclaimers it might include.
The United Nations is by far the most politicized organization in the world. Any word might have political implications. In any single resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council or other entities, member states always make sure that the wording of these resolutions do not entail any political commitment for them or does not go against their political orientations. This causes negotiations some time to be stalled and drag out for hours in some instances, for the simple reason that some member states do not accept the inclusion of a single word and demand the use of another term.
This leads us to the role that the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays in order to prevent this kind of misleading use of language from happening.
The UN personnel are not the only ones to blame. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs shares its part of responsibility in the repetition of this mistaken language that undermines Morocco’s claims and rights over the Sahara. This could have been avoided if our Ministry devoted enough personnel and had a clear strategy devoted to prevent any trivialization of the use of “Western Sahara” as a country. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not limit itself to condemning this or that country when it shows the Moroccan map without the Sahara. It should be proactive and ensure that no official UN report or paper includes language that prejudges or is misleading about the legal status of the Sahara. It should also devote more people to the Permanent Mission of Morocco to the United Nations, as the number of diplomats working to defend the country’s strategic interests is not enough. More personnel should be dedicated to the Moroccan Mission in order to enable it to cope in an effective way with the overload of work it has to deal with on a daily basis.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News