University of Pretoria and the Department of Foreign Affairs co-host conference on International Law and Western Sahara

The conference took place at the Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria. It was attended by representatives of governments of various countries, international bodies, non-governmental organisations, pressure groups; journalists, law experts and academics of various tertiary institutions from across the world. Ms Sue van der Merwe, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs also attended the conference.

The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is currently under the control of Morocco. On 15 September 2004, South Africa took a decision to recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) when it became clear that Morocco had ruled out any possibility for a referendum for self-determination, in contravention of Security Council resolution 1495.

Deputy Minister van der Merwe told the conference participants that South Africa as a member of the United Nations and the African Union is obligated to actively support the legitimate right of the Saharawi People to choose their own destiny.

“In this support, South Africa remains committed to the following principles and objectives: the right to self-determination and the recognition of colonial borders; respect for international humanitarian law and the rendering of humanitarian assistance and support; the principles of multilateralism and international legality and the centrality of the African Union and United Nations in the resolution of the conflict; the non-exploitation of natural resources of the illegally occupied territory; and stability and integration of the Maghreb Union,’ she added.

The conference sought to reflect on the status of the Western Sahara under international law, the principle of self-determination, the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, obligations on third states and the lawfulness and/or legitimacy of natural resource exploitation in that territory (Western Sahara).

Welcoming those who attended the conference, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Professor Calie Pistorius said that the University was proud to be able to co-host this Conference on Multilateralism and International Law with Western Sahara as a Case Study with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“By providing a forum for discussion and debate, we hope to contribute towards the process of finding a solution to what has become to Africa’s longest running territorial dispute and is seen by many to Africa's last remaining colony. This is a serious issue facing the African continent and one in which African academics have an important role to play. The pursuit of a rules based international order in an increasingly conflict rife world, cannot be achieved without an open and in depth academic reflection, he added.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the conference was convened within the context of South Africa’s foreign policy which is guided by the principle and vision of “a better South Africa in a better Africa and a better World”.

Key to this foreign policy precept is the promotion of a rules based international order through multilateralism. The conflict in Western Sahara and the response from the international community in resolving the issue presents a pertinent case study for the assertion that legality remains the essential prerequisite for the resolution of conflict between nations.

Professor Pistorius also pointed out to the audience that universities must provide platforms where important issues can be debated and discussed, where solutions to the world’s problems, conflicts and other dilemmas can be forged.

“The University of Pretoria also has a very strong internationalisation thrust, where we actively pursue and encourage interaction and engagement with other countries, particularly also in Africa, ” he said.

Topics discussed at the conference included: Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in terms of international law; The legal claim of the Saharawi people to the right to self-determination and decolonisation; History of Western Sahara and Spanish Colonisation of the Territory; Self-determination, decolonisation and human rights with reference to the Western Sahara; Legal Analysis of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara; Role of the United Nations with regard to Western Sahara; African Union and the Principle of the Sanctity of Colonial Borders; Laws of occupation; Spain’s legal obligations as Administering Power of Western Sahara; The legality of exploring and exploiting resources in Western Sahara; Role and Responsibility of the International Community in support of the resolution of the Western Sahara Dispute; The role of the natural resources in Western Sahara, and the interests involved; Testimony of human rights violations against Saharawis; A solution for the Western Sahara conflict based on Multilateralism and full respect for international law; Geopolitics and Realpolitik as impediments to the Saharawis Right to Self-determination; Western Sahara from Stalemate to Statehood; Who are the Saharawis, etc

Click here to read Prof Pistorius’s full address.

Click here to read Deputy Minister van der Merwe's full address.

Click here to read Ambassador Ebrahim Saley's full adress.

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