United Nations Visiting Mission| May-June 1975

To assist in the decolonization process of the Spanish Sahara, the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 dispatched an important mission of enquiry to the territory and the surrounding countries, in accordance with its resolution 3292 (PDF, December 13, 1974).

Purpose of the visiting mission
The mission intended to investigate the political situation in the Spanish Sahara, as well as the conflicting claims to the territory:

  • Spain had administered the Spanish Sahara since the Berlin Congress in 1884, but had announced it was pulling out of the territory. A Madrid-backed political party, the Partido de Unión Nacional Saharaui (PUNS, headed by Khalihenna Ould Rachid)), argued for a gradual transition to independence and demanded privileged relations between Spain and a future Western Sahara.

  • The Polisario Front, an indigenous anti-colonial organization that was waging a guerrilla war against Spanish forces since 1973, claimed the country for its inhabitants, the Saharawis, and demanded immediate independence.

  • Morocco invoked historical ties between its royal family and the Saharawi tribes, claiming the territory as its Southern Provinces.

  • Mauritania referred to common ethnicity (of Saharawis and Moors) and historical territorial connections, to claim it as a northern part of the country; Tiris al-Gharbiya.

  • The United Nations had since 1966 demanded that a referendum among the native population should determine the future status of the territory.

    The mission was sent by the UN secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim to Western Sahara, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria in May-June 1975, it produced an exceptionally well-documented report which concluded that the overwhelming majority of Saharawis wanted full independence. Its three members were Simeon Aké (chairman), Marta Jiménez Martinez, and Manouchehr Pishva, diplomats from Ivory Coast, Cuba, and Iran respectively. Their brief was to examine conditions in the territory and the views of its inhabitants and of the governments of Spain and the neighboring countries in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 3292 of December 13, 1974.

    The mission's conclusions about the wishes of the Saharawi people were unambiguous:

      "Owing to the large measure of cooperation which it received from the Spanish authorities, the Mission was able, despite the shortness of its stay in the Territory, to visit virtually all the main population centers and to ascertain the views of the overwhelming majority of their inhabitants. At every place visited, the Mission was met by mass political demonstrations and had numerous private meetings with representatives of every section of the Saharan community.
      From all these, it became evident to the Mission that there was an overwhelming consensus among Saharans within the Territory in favour of independence and opposing integration with any neighbouring country....
      "The Mission believes, in the light of what it witnessed in the Territory, especially the mass demonstrations of support for one movement, the Frente Polisario..., that its visit served as a catalyst to bring into the open political forces and pressures which had previously been largely submerged. It was all the more significant to the Mission that this came as a surprise to the Spanish authorities who, until then, had only been partly aware of the profound political awakening of the population."

    The mission's final report is archived in the General Assembly Official Records.
    United Nations Visiting Mission to Spanish Sahara, 1975, General Assembly, 30th Session, Supplement 23, UN DocumentA/10023/Rev.