Trump signs bill allowing Morocco to use kingdom’s funds in Western Sahara

United States president Donald Trump signed a fiscal law on Friday, approved by the US Congress, which allows Morocco to use funds allocated to the kingdom in the Western Sahara.

The Appropriations Bill passed by Congress and signed by the American president requires that “funds appropriated under title III of this Act” for Morocco “shall be made available for assistance for the Western Sahara, Provided, That not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and prior to the obligation of such funds, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the USAID Administrator, shall consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the proposed uses of such funds.”

Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affaires and International Cooperation has issued a communiqué hailing the United State’s decision to allow Morocco to use US-allocated funds in the Western Sahara.

This provision is similar to that of the Appropriations Bills passed under former president Barack Obama in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

However, what is new and may signal a new shift in US policy towards the conflict is that the first bill adopted under President Donald Trump adds a new sub-section devoted to the situations of refugees in North Africa.

The new bill calls on Secretary of State to consult with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme and, within 45 days, “submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations describing steps taken to strengthen monitoring of the delivery of humanitarian assistance provided for refugees in North Africa, including any steps taken to ensure that all vulnerable refugees are receiving such assistance.”

This recommendation puts heavy pressure on the Polisario and Algeria, and it echoes Morocco’s recent calls to the Security Council in recent years to compel the Polisario to allow the UN to conduct a census of the population in the Tindouf camps and to shed light on the systematic embezzlement of humanitarian assistance provided to the Tindouf camps.

The latest UN Security Council resolution adopted on April 28 to renew the UN mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) puts more emphasis on the need for conducting such a census.

The Security Council reiterated “its request for consideration of a refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps and emphasizing efforts be made in this regard.”

This new recommendation is a far cry from the that of the Appropriation Bill passed in 2012, which did not only refrain from making the fund allocated to Morocco available for use in the Western Sahara, but made the allocation of military assistance contingent on Morocco’s respect for human rights and permission for human rights organization to have access to the territory.

The 2012 bills called on the Department of State to submit a report on steps Morocco has taken to “respect the right of individuals to peacefully express their opinions regarding the status and future of the Western Sahara and to document violations of human rights; and (2) provide unimpeded access to human rights organizations, journalists, and representatives of foreign governments to the Western Sahara.”

The same condition was introduced in the 2008 Appropriations Bill, which allocated USD 3.5 million of military assistance to Morocco and stipulated that the an additional USD 1 million be allotted, provided Morocco makes progress in the respect of human rights of the Sahrawis by allowing them to freely express their views with regards to the status of the Western Sahara.

The new bill signed by the US administration means that it is taking Morocco’s request for the conduct of census in the Tindouf camps and the monitoring if humanitarian assistance more seriously and breaks away from the approach of the former administration, which was more concerned with the politicized question of human rights than by making sure that the humanitarian assistance provided by the international community to the Tindouf camps benefits the entire population there.

A report released by by the UNHCR in 2005 and another report by the European Union Anti-fraud Committee (OLAF) in 2015 documented the large-scale embezzlement of humanitarian assistance by the Polisario leadership and the Algerian government over the past four decades.

It was high time that the international committee acted and showed its determination to put an end to the opacity surrounding the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Tindouf camps. The new US Appropriations Bill is a move in the right direction and might signal to the Polisario that the rules of the game have changed with the new US administration.