Caitlin Dearing Scott is Senior Vice President of Research, Projects, and Programs at the Moroccan American Center where she provides overall supervision and coordination of research for the Center, with a focus on political and security issues pertinent to Morocco, Moroccan-American relations, and North Africa. Fluent in French, Caitlin holds an MA in International Affairs from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and a BA in History and International Studies from the College of New Jersey.
I have closely followed Caitlin Dearing Scott (I will refer to her as “Dearing” for short) since she got out of college in 2008 and started working for the Moroccan American Center (MAC), a long-time paid lobbyist and foreign agent for Morocco. I admit to always being astounded by the disjoint between her impressive educational background – with specializations in international affairs, human rights, conflict resolution, genocide in Rwanda, and North African politics – and the ignorance, dishonestly, and hypocrisy of her work for the MAC.
Her first attempt at intellectual gravitas at MAC was her lengthy Group Rights and International Law: A Case Study on the Sahrawi Refugees in Algeria (September 2009), A Project of the Moroccan American Center for Policy of which she is the Principal Author. In a nutshell, she spends 70 pages bashing UNHCR, Algeria, and the Polisario Front for the “warehousing” of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, while at the same time ignoring Morocco’s trampling on the large body of international law that caused the refugee crisis in the first place and has sustained that crisis for almost 40 years. Basically, it takes her until the last sentence of the report to come up with something that I can wholeheartedly agree with:
It is legally, morally, and financially imperative that the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria be granted all of the rights to which they are entitled under international law, so that they do not have to live as warehoused refugees for another 30 years.
I agree that it is imperative that they be granted “all of the rights to which they are entitled under international law.” (my emphasis) And of all the many rights to which they are entitled, the first and foremost is the right to independence inherent in their status as the last non-self-governing territory in Africa.
The above is a short introduction to a look at a recent article by Dearing, Lesson on Self-Determination from Scotland – What’s Good for the UK is Good for Morocco, which strikes me as quite possibly her most incomprehensible, dishonest, and hypocritical piece.
I urge you to follow the link above and read her article in its entirety. I also urge you to read one of my earlier blog postings titled Samuel J. Spector’s Egregious Malfeasance on the Western Sahara (4/10/10), which looks at a similar attempt to justify Morocco granting autonomy to the Western Sahara by misstating the international law of self-determination. I will look at her current attempt paragraph by paragraph (Dearing’s article in in bold).
Lesson on Self-Determination from Scotland – What’s Good for the UK is Good for Morocco
Caitlin Dearing Scott’s idea that Scotland’s voting against secession from UK is a lesson for Western Sahara and Morocco is laughable. My point here is that Scotland and Western Sahara are totally different entities under international law and recognition. Scotland is an integral part of the UK under international law and is universally recognized by the international community as part of the UK. On the other hand, none of this is true about Western Sahara. Western Sahara has been categorized by the United Nations since the 1960s as a non-self-governing territory with the right of self-determination and independence, the International Court of Justice in 1975 ruled that Morocco had no sovereignty over the territory, and no country recognizes Western Sahara as part of Morocco. Dearing’s argument that what’s good for the UK is good for Morocco just doesn’t hold any water since self-determination under international law is totally different for secessionist entities and non-self-governing entities. Secessionist entities don’t have the “right” of independence; non-self-governing entities do.
Is there a lesson to be learned from the recent independence vote in Scotland? Was it about more than just Scotland as a precedent for separatist movements throughout the world? These are important concerns, since before the vote, separatists from Catalonia to Nagorno-Karabakh saw this campaign as an inspiration for their own claims for independence. Yet the result, though it may have disappointed some, really brings home a very important point about self-determination – that independence is not always the way forward.
I would say that for secessionist and separatist movements, there might be something to learn from the Scotland vote. I’m sure that many in Catalonia and Nagorno-Karabakh were following Scotland very closely and were hoping for an independence vote. But, believe me, Western Sahara, which as I explained above is not a separatist or secessionist territory, has nothing at all to learn from Scotland. Likewise, Dearing’s conclusion – “that independence is not always the way forward” – may pertain to separatist or minority groups, but rarely to non-self-governing territories. Almost all the 50 or so non-self-governing territories and colonies of Africa got independence. As the last non-self-governing territory of the continent and given the overwhelming support for independence among the indigenous Sahrawis, I feel strongly that independence for Western Sahara is the only way forward. And to the predictable Moroccan argument that most Sahrawis actually support inclusion or autonomy in Morocco, why doesn’t Morocco hold the long-postponed referendum?
As seen it Scotland, it is fraught with uncertainly – economically, politically, and socially. It remains to be seen what the impact of such a close vote (55% to 45%) will do to Scottish identity, but there is no doubt that Scotland’s social fabric is forever changed as families, siblings, and friends came down on opposite sides of the vote. Fortunately, things seem quiet for now. And Westminster and Holyrood seem committed to negotiations on devolution that will ensure the strength of the United Kingdom while providing the Scots with more of the self-determination they desire.
This paragraph is just incomprehensible. Only history will tell whether the Scots will be satisfied with more devolution. And yes it was a close vote, and would Dearing still be saying that Scotland was a good lesson for Western Sahara if it had voted for independence? But her blather here has clearly nothing to do with the Western Sahara.
Indeed, the major lesson is that self-determination is best arrived at through a negotiated political settlement – a process that ensures stability and avoids the uncertainty and marginalization that could occur between victors and losers. Scots in favor of independence didn’t get what they wanted from the ballot box, but the devolution process will provide them with genuine self-determination. This is good for the United Kingdom, for Scotland, and for other countries that are undergoing decentralization in order to empower people at the regional level while still maintaining territorial integrity.
Again, Daring’s conclusion that the “major lesson is that self-determination is best arrived at through a negotiated political settlement” might very well be true for separatist or minority groups, but not for non-self-governing and especially illegally-occupied non-self-governing territories. Does she really think that a negotiated political settlement is possible between the Polisario Front and Morocco? After all, Morocco illegally invaded and occupied Western Sahara, illegally annexed the territory, has arrested, tortured, and murdered untold numbers of Sahrawis, has illegally moved hundreds of thousands of settlers into the territory, has illegally plundered the resources of the territory, and has taken UN-mandated independence off the negotiating table. There is nothing left to negotiate. And while “the devolution process” might provide the Scots “with genuine self-determination,” there is no way negotiated devolution could ever provide Western Saharans with their “genuine self-determination.” And finally, international law very clearly rejects Morocco’s claim that their occupation of a portion of Western Sahara is justified by some mythical idea about Morocco’s territorial integrity.
It is also in line with international law. There are many paths to self-determination – the UN sets out three means by which a territory can achieve self-government: independence, free association with an independent state, or integration with an independent state. Beyond this, the concept is constantly evolving as different countries negotiate creative means of resolving internal conflicts. Examples include Aceh, where a peace agreement established special autonomy for the territory and Mindanao, where the Filipino Congress is currently reviewing a draft law proposing the creation of an autonomous Muslim region. This is why legal scholars – from Hurst Hannum to Donald Horowitz – have called for a new vision of self-determination, one that recognizes nation-state efforts to address questions of majority and minority rights through autonomy and devolution before they result in conflict and demands for independence.
This is where Caitlin Dearing Scott bares her unbelievable ignorance of international law. First of all, she totally ignores the Declaration on the granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, which spells out the right of Spanish Sahara to independence. On the many paths to self-determination, she summarizes Principle VI of General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) from 1960. This reads: “A Non-Self-Governing Territory can be said to have reached a full measure of self-government by: (a) Emergence as a sovereign independent State; (b) Free association with an independent State; or (c) Integration with an independent State.” In her summary, she leaves out two major things. First, she leaves out that the General Assembly is talking about non-self-governing territories here, not about separatist territories like Mindanao or Aceh or Scotland. General Assembly Resolution 1541 has nothing at all to do with Scotland. Secondly, she leaves out what follows in Resolution 1541: Principle VII (a) tells us that “Free association should be the result of a free and voluntary choice by the peoples of the territory concerned expressed through informed and democratic processes”; and Principle IX tells us that “The integration should be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory’s people acting with full knowledge of the change in their status, their wishes having been expressed through informed and democratic processes….” In other words, while autonomy and integration are perfectly acceptable expressions of the self-determination of non-self-governing territories, the non-self-governing territory is the one who gets to make the decision – not the colonizer or occupier. Yes, Morocco has been denying Western Saharans their right to de-colonial self-determination by refusing to allow a referendum on independence, autonomy, or integration. For non-self-governing territories, granting autonomy or devolution is just not “in line with international law.”
Let me add, furthermore, that Dearing’s chronic inability to get the international law of Western Sahara straight tells me that she never got around to reading the ICJ’s2010 Kosovo advisory opinion (see Paragraph 79) which clearly states: “During the second half of the twentieth century, the international law of self-determination developed in such a way as to create a right to independence for the peoples of non-self-governing territories and peoples subject to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation … A great many new States have come into existence as a result of the exercise of this right.” Why Dearing writes that this doesn’t apply to the inhabitants and descendants of Spanish Sahara is a great mystery to me. After all, the Sahrawis of Spanish Sahara are both the people of a non-self-governing territory and are people subject to alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation.
Dearing’s attempt to back up her shaky case by bringing up Hurst Hannum is probably her lowest blow. I have brought up Professor Hannum several times on my blog, because he has written the textbook on self-determination and because he has consistently supported the right of the indigenous people of the Western Sahara to determine their future. For example, he wrote in 2007: “Every resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in recent years has reaffirmed the right of the people of Western Sahara to determine their own future, but Morocco has consistently rejected any proposal that would allow the fate of Western Sahara to be determined through a free referendum in the territory.” Dearing’s dredging up Hannum to back up her thesis on the people of Western Sahara submitting to Moroccan sovereignty is a disgrace. She states above that he has “called for a new vision of self-determination, one that recognizes nation-state efforts to address questions of majority and minority rights through autonomy and devolution before they result in conflict and demands for independence.” For starters, Western Sahara is not a question of majority and minority rights. Anyone who has really read Hannum knows that his “new vision of self-determination” refers specifically to the self-determination of secessionist or separatist groups/territories, and clearly not to non-self-governing territories like the Western Sahara. There is something thoroughly unethical as well as totally dishonest about Dearing using Hannum to back up her bludgeoning of Western Saharan rights, when he has for years championed the Western Sahara’s cause and rights.
And lastly, it is also realistic. This is why Morocco is devolving power to its regions and offering an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, as a model for the country. The Kingdom understands the vital importance of self-determination for the Sahrawi people as a viable and durable solution to the current impasse. And that the most stable and secure way of ensuring such self-determination – and avoiding a failed state in the middle of the chaos in the Maghreb and Sahel – is a negotiated political solution based on autonomy. Morocco understands this, the UN Security Council understands this, and the United States understands it. Hopefully the Polisario – the separatist group fighting for independence for the Western Sahara despite the consensus of the international community that it is not a feasible option – will draw the right lesson from Scotland (and Aceh and Mindanao) and see that the vote was a confirmation of arguments for unity, stability, and peace.
Just as Caitlin Dearing Scott’s international law arguments are nonsense, so is her reality argument. Morocco’s devolving power and offering an autonomy plan for Western Sahara is hardly a model for anything since it is illegal under international law. It is a recipe for war and bloodshed because Morocco has long ignored their right to independence, there is plenty of evidence that the indigenous Western Saharans would never accept autonomy, and the Polisario is increasingly mentioning an end to the cease fire. And once again I repeat that Morocco’s refusal to allow the indigenous Western Saharans to choose between independence, autonomy, and integration confirms the real reality – that they overwhelmingly support independence and reject autonomy.
It’s hard to imagine where she comes up with the idea that autonomy would be a viable and durable solution. Plenty of statements by the Polisario and regular demonstrations in favor of independence in the occupied territories indicate otherwise. If it were true that there is an international consensus that independence for Western Sahara was not a feasible option, why is it that some eighty countries have recognized the Polisario Front, not one country has recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the territory, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a full member state of the African Union, and most of the member states of the AU support Western Sahara independence? Again, Scotland, Aceh, and Mindanao are not non-self-governing territories and offer no lesson for the Western Sahara. Granting autonomy to Western Sahara would hardly avoid a failed state in the Maghreb; it would throw the whole region into war and would create a failed state in the form of Morocco.
In summary, Caitlin Dearing Scott makes a totally dishonest attempt here to make a case under international law for giving Morocco the right to unilaterally grant autonomy to the Western Sahara. What is good for UK is not good for Morocco because Caitlin is comparing apples to oranges. What is good for UK is not good for Morocco because Morocco adamantly refuses to hold a referendum on independence. And her arguments are even more dishonest because, even if one were to concede that Scotland might offer some lesson for Western Sahara, she happily ignores South Sudan and East Timor’s successful votes to secede from Sudan and Indonesia. Does she think that these are good lessons for Morocco? But ultimately, her argument that international law and Hurst Hannum back up her case for autonomy is totally dishonest ’cause it just ain’t so.
I just realized that I didn’t quite get around to Caitlin’s hypocrisy. In my Caitlin Dearing Scott research, I ran across a mention online that in 2012 she was a fundraiser for Friends of UNRWA Association, “a non-profit organization that supports the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Given the similarities between the plight of the Palestinians and Sahrawis (see Stephen Zunes, 1 and 2) , I do find it hypocritical that her heart clearly bleeds for the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere (as does my heart) at the same time as she demonizes, spits on, and advocates for the annihilation of the indigenous Sahrawis in the occupied Moroccan territories and their refugee camps in Algeria. I’m sure that Caitlin would object to my observation here and would say that she is writing what she writes about Western Sahara for the good of the Sahrawis. Her propensity to lie in favor of Morocco’s ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation of Western Sahara at the same time as she gets paid by Morocco tells me otherwise. And finally her raising all of $145 for Friends of UNRWA tells me that she also is a rather mediocre fundraiser.