The Madrid Accords, also called Madrid Agreement or Madrid Pact, was a treaty between Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania to end the Spanish presence in the territory of Spanish Sahara, which was until the Madrid Accords’ inception a Spanish province and former colony. It was signed in Madrid on November 14, 1975, although it was never published on the Boletin Oficial del Estado. This agreement was in conflict with the Law on decolonization of Sahara, ratified by the Spanish Parliament (Cortes) on November 18. In cause of the Madrid agreement, the territory would then be divided between Morocco and Mauritania.
The province’s future had been in dispute for several years, with both Morocco and Mauritania demanding its full annexation to their territory and Spain attempting to introduce either a regime of internal autonomy or a Sahrawi pro-Spanish independent state. Additionally, an independent group of indigenous Sahrawis called the Polisario Front sought independence through guerrilla warfare. The United Nations had since 1963 regarded the area as a colony, and demanded self-determination for it in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514.
Motivations of the parties
Rabat had been claiming the territory as historically Moroccan since its accession to independence in 1956. Immediately after Morocco’s independence, the Moroccan Liberation Army‘s southern branch, the Saharan Liberation Army, had battled Spanish troops in Sidi Ifni, Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro, and managed to free most of the territory. Madrid later regained full control in 1958 with French help. Moroccan demands for the territory continued in the 1960s and increased in intensity in the early 1970s as it became apparent that colonialism was expiring.
Thompson and Adloff argue (e.g., pp. 132–134, 164–167) that the Green March, as well as increasingly heated rhetorical exchanges between Madrid and Rabat had convinced Spain that Morocco was willing to enter into war over the territory; a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency memorandum to Henry Kissinger had stated as much in early October 1975. With Spanish leader Francisco Franco dying (he had entered into a coma and died on November 20), the government was anxious to avoid conflict and decided to split the territory in order to preserve maximum possible influence and economic benefit.
President Moktar Ould Daddah had claimed the territory as part of “Greater Mauritania” even before independence (Ould Ahmed Salem, p. 498). Some argue that the intent of Mauritania’s claims was to keep Morocco’s border with Mauritania farther away. However, Rabat had historically claimed a “Greater Morocco“, in which Spanish Sahara and Mauritania were parts of Morocco, until 1969, when the latter claim regarding Mauritania was dropped.
Content and importance
Thompson and Adloff write,
According to [the treaty’s] publicised terms, Spain agreed to decolonise the Sahara and leave the area before 28 February 1976. In the interim, the territory would be administered by the Spanish governor general, assisted by two Moroccan and Mauritanian deputy governors, who would respect Sahrawi public opinion as expressed through the yemaa. (…) As to the Bu Craa (a phosphate mine) deposits, Spain would retain 35 per cent of the shares in the Fosfatos de Bucraa, S. A., Fosbucraa company, and a portion of the 65 per cent that would go to Morocco would presumably be allotted to Mauritania. Reportedly there were unpublicised agreements among the three signatories that gave satisfaction to Spain as regards its fishing rights and included a postponement of further Moroccan demands for the presidios, as well as compensation for repatriated Spanish and Canary Island civilians. (p. 175)
In early 1975, both Morocco and Mauritania agreed to abide by the decision of the International Court of Justice on the status of the Spanish Sahara, but when the court ruled in October 1975 that neither country was entitled to claim sovereignty over the territory, both governments chose to ignore the decision. In November 1975, they concluded the Madrid Agreements with Spain under which Morocco acquired the northern two-thirds of the territory, while Mauritania acquired the southern third. The agreement also included the proviso that Spain would retain shares in the Bu Craa mining enterprise. Mauritania acquiesced to the agreements under the assumption, probably correct, that Morocco, with its superior military power, would otherwise have absorbed the entire territory.
The agreement was bitterly opposed by Algeria and the Polisario Front, which remained committed to independence. Algeria dispatched a high-level delegation to Madrid in order to pressure Spain not to sign the Accords and started supporting the Polisario Front militarily and diplomatically by early 1975. Algeria officially viewed its opposition as a way to uphold the UN charter and combat colonialism, although many observers believed that Algeria’s actions were more to counter Morocco’s influence and to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. A long-standing rivalry between the two countries contributed to the tense relations.
The Boumédiène government consequently broke with Morocco and started supplying the Polisario guerrillas with weapons and refuge and condemned the Accords internationally. Algeria expelled some 45,000 Moroccan citizens then living in Algeria, and began radio broadcasts in support of both the Polisario and – more briefly – a separatist group in the Canary Islands, the latter presumably in an attempt to punish Spain.
As Morocco and Mauritania moved in to assert their claims, armed clashes erupted between the two countries troops and Polisario. Polisario and Algeria both deemed the advance of Morocco and Mauritania as a foreign invasion, while Morocco and Mauritania saw the fight against Polisario as a fight against a separatist group. In support of Polisario, Algeria sent troops deep into the territory, but they eventually retreated after the Amgala battle in 1976.
The clashes turned into a 17-year-long war, during which Mauritania was forced to retreat, abandoning all claims to the region, in 1979. As an effect of the conflict, a part of the territory’s population became refugees. It was finally ended with a ceasefire in 1991.
The international status of the accords
The United Nations considers Western Sahara to remain a Non-Sovereign Territory, awaiting formal decolonization. It recognizes that Morocco presently administers much of it de facto, but neither the General Assembly nor any other UN body has ever recognized this as constituting sovereignty. In a 2002 letter of the General Secretary for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Hans Corell, in which he gave an opinion on the legality of actions taken by Moroccan authorities in signing contracts for the exploration of mineral resources in Western Sahara, he stated:
On 14 November 1975, a Declaration of Principles on Western Sahara was concluded in Madrid between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania (“the Madrid Agreement”), whereby the powers and responsibilities of Spain, as the administering Power of the Territory, were transferred to a temporary tripartite administration. The Madrid Agreement did not transfer sovereignty over the Territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administering Power, a status which Spain alone could not have unilaterally transferred. The transfer of administrative authority over the Territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 did not affect the international status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory”
On 26 February 1976, Spain informed the Secretary-General that as of that date it had terminated its presence in Western Sahara and relinquished its responsibilities over the Territory, thus leaving it in fact under the administration of both Morocco and Mauritania in their respective controlled areas. Following the withdrawal of Mauritania from the Territory in 1979, upon the conclusion of the Mauritano-Sahraoui agreement of 19 August 1979 (S/13503, annex I), Morocco has administered the Territory of Western Sahara alone. Morocco, however, is not listed as the administering Power of the Territory in the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and has, therefore, not transmitted information on the Territory in accordance with Article 73 e of the Charter of the United Nations”
Morocco continues to claim Western Sahara as an integral part of its territory, by virtue of the Madrid Accords inter alia. The Polisario Front declared in 1976 an Algeria-based government-in-exile, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which denies that the Madrid Accords held any validity and claims the entire area whereas actually controlling only small uninhabitable parts of it. The SADR is also unrecognized by the UN, but has been admitted as Western Sahara’s representative to the African Union (AU) and its ruling party (the Polisario Front) is recognized by the UN at least as the sole legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people”. Mauritania has pulled out from the conflict entirely since 1979.
Text of the Madrid Accords
The following is the published text of the Madrid Accords:
On November 14, 1975, the delegations lawfully representing the Governments of Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, meeting in Madrid, stated that they had agreed in order on the following principles:
- 1. Spain confirms its resolve, repeatedly stated in the United Nations, to decolonize the Territory of Western Sahara by terminating the responsibilities and powers which it possesses over that Territory as administering Power.
- 2. In conformity with the aforementioned determination and in accordance with the negotiations advocated by the United Nations with the affected parties, Spain will proceed forthwith to institute a temporary administration in the Territory, in which Morocco and Mauritania will participate in collaboration with the Djemaa and to which will be transferred all the responsibilities and powers referred to in the preceding paragraph. It is accordingly agreed that two Deputy Governors nominated by Morocco and Mauritania shall be appointed to assist the Governor-General of the Territory in the performance of his functions. The termination of the Spanish presence in the Territory will be completed by February 28, 1976 at the latest.
- 3. The views of the Saharan population, expressed through the Djemaa, will be respected.
- 4. The three countries will inform the Secretary General of the United Nations of the terms set down in this instrument as a result of the negotiations entered into in accordance with Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.
- 5. The three countries involved declare that they arrived at the foregoing conclusions in the highest spirit of understanding and brotherhood, with due respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and as the best possible contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security.
- 6. This instrument shall enter into force on the date of publication in the Boletin Oficial del Estado of the ‘Sahara Decolonization Act’ authorising the Spanish Government to assume the commitments conditionally set forth in this instrument.”
This declaration was signed by the president of the government Carlos Arias Navarro, for Spain; the Prime Minister, Ahmed Osman, for Morocco; and the Foreign Minister, Hamdi Ould Mouknass, for Mauritania.