Last week, the Committee on House Administration approved the registration of the Congressional Western Sahara Caucus. The bipartisan caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Joseph R. Pitts (PA-16) and Betty McCollum (MN-04), was formed with the intent of highlighting the needs for self-determination and human rights monitoring for Western Sahara.
"Working together with Congressman Pitts, the Western Sahara Caucus will be a forum to share information with our colleagues and staff to promote a peaceful, just solution to this unresolved international dispute," said McCollum. "The people of the Western Sahara should be able to voice their opinions, assemble peacefully, and live free without fear. Human rights protections for the Sahrawi people will be a priority for this Caucus."
"As a past co-chairman of the Western Sahara Caucus, I'm very proud to help restart it in the 113th Congress," said Pitts. "The graveness of human rights violations in the country and the security environment in the region compel our government to address this longstanding crisis. I've been encouraged by the Obama Administration's renewed engagement on this issue, and look forwarded to continuing to act as an advocate for self-determination and human rights for the Sahrawi people."
Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa. According to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, it is a Non-Self-Governing Territory with the right to self-determination regarding its political status. Its people have been waiting to exercise that right for more than forty years, following the withdrawal of Spanish colonial rule. After over a decade of fighting between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, Western Sahara's national liberation movement, the two parties agreed to a United Nations sponsored ceasefire. In exchange, the Sahrawi people were promised a referendum to decide their political future, in keeping with international law. Twenty-two years later, this referendum still has not taken place.
The U.S. Department of State and international organizations have extensively documented the ongoing and widespread human rights abuses in some parts of the territory. Despite these abuses and the UN Secretary General's call for human rights monitoring, the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara ("MINURSO") is the only U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world without a mandate for human rights monitoring.