April 2, 2024

The eternal struggle between international legality and realpolitik has produced some interesting cases in the last forty years. This paper will focus on two of these cases, a general view of the Western Sahara problem and a comparison with the similar question of East Timor. For many years Western Sahara and East Timor were side by side on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, waiting for the moment to exercise their right to self-determination.

In August 1999 the East Timorese were finally allowed to choose their future status through a referendum. They chose independence and East Timor has since 2002 been the youngest member of the United Nations. The Saharawis, who at an earlier stage had been promised a similar referendum by the international community, are still waiting. They hope that the similarities with the question of East Timor will inevitably lead to the same solution, but when looking at the way the problem of West Papua was handled by the United Nations they have also good reasons to be apprehensive.

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