Madrid Accords

Last updated

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, six days before Franco died, 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. [1] In cause of the Madrid agreement, the territory would then be divided between Morocco and Mauritania.



President Moktar Ould Daddah of Mauritania, President Houari Boumediene of Algeria and King Hassan II of Morocco during a 1973 summit meeting on Spanish Sahara in Agadir. Presidents Ould Daddah and Boumediene, and King Hassan in Agadir, 1973.png
President Moktar Ould Daddah of Mauritania, President Houari Boumédiène of Algeria and King Hassan II of Morocco during a 1973 summit meeting on Spanish Sahara in Agadir.

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.[ citation needed ]

Motivations of the parties

The Madrid Accords followed on the heels of the Green March, a 350,000 strong Moroccan demonstration called by King Hassan II, intended to put pressure on Spanish authorities.

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.[ citation needed ]

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. [2] 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. [3] [4]

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)

The United States Library of Congress study of Mauritania (1990) states that,

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 [5] 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. [6] [7]


Partition of Western Sahara. Tiris al-Gharbiyya Location-en.png
Partition of Western Sahara.

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[ who? ] 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.[ citation needed ]

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, [8] [9] 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. [10]

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. [11]

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. [11]

Today, the status of the territory, now called Western Sahara, remains in dispute. [12]

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: [13]

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" [13]

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" [13] <

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.

Morocco broke the treaty to spark the 2020 Western Sahara clashes. [14]

Text of the Madrid Accords

The following is the published text of the Madrid Accords: [15]

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.

Related Research Articles

Western Sahara disputed territory in northwestern Africa

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa. About 20% of the territory is controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, while the remaining 80% of the territory is occupied and administered by neighboring Morocco. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population is estimated at just over 500,000, of which nearly 40% live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

The history of Western Sahara can be traced back to the times of Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator in the 5th century BC. Though few historical records are left from that period, Western Sahara's modern history has its roots linked to some nomadic groups such as the Sanhaja group, and the introduction of Islam and the Arabic language at the end of the 8th century AD.

Politics of Western Sahara

The politics of Western Sahara take place in a framework of an area claimed by both the partially recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco.

Sahrawi people People living in the western Sahara desert

The Sahrawi, or Saharawi people, are the people living in the western part of the Sahara desert which includes Western Sahara, southern Morocco, much of Mauritania and the extreme southwest of Algeria.

Spanish Sahara Former Spanish territory of Western Sahara

Spanish Sahara, officially the Province of the Sahara between 1958 and 1976, was the name used for the modern territory of Western Sahara when it was occupied and ruled by Spain between 1884 and 1976. It had been one of the most recent acquisitions of the Spanish Empire as well as one of its last remaining holdings, which had once extended from the Americas to the Spanish East Indies.

Green March 1975 military event

The Green March was a strategic mass demonstration in November 1975, coordinated by the Moroccan government, to force Spain to hand over the disputed, autonomous semi-metropolitan province of Spanish Sahara to Morocco. The demonstration of some 350,000 Moroccans advanced several kilometres into the Western Sahara territory, escorted by nearly 20,000 Moroccan troops, and meeting very little response from the Sahrawi Polisario Front. Nevertheless, the events quickly escalated into a fully waged war between Morocco and the militias of the Polisario, the Western Sahara War, which would last for 16 years. Morocco later gained control over most of the former Spanish Sahara, which it continues to hold.

Southern Provinces Moroccan-occupied territory in Western Sahara

The Southern Provinces or Moroccan Sahara are the terms used by the Moroccan government for Western Sahara. These two official Moroccan denominations explicitly include all of Western Sahara, which spans three of country's 12 top-level administrative regions. A frequent use of the term "Southern Provinces" is found for example in Moroccan state television.

<i>Advisory opinion on Western Sahara</i> 1975 ICJ advisory body on Western Sahara

The International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara was a 1975 advisory, non-binding opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of two questions presented to it by the UN General Assembly under Resolution 3292 regarding the disputed territory of Western Sahara. In 1969, Spain returned the region of Ifni to Morocco.

Tiris al-Gharbiyya

Tiris al-Gharbiyya was the name for the area of Western Sahara under Mauritanian control between 1975 and 1979.

1975 United Nations visiting mission to Spanish Sahara

To assist in the decolonization process of the Spanish Sahara, a colony in North Africa, the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 dispatched a visiting mission to the territory and the surrounding countries, in accordance with its resolution 3292.

Western Sahara conflict Military conflict

The Western Sahara conflict is an ongoing conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco. The conflict originated from an insurgency by the Polisario Front against Spanish colonial forces from 1973 to 1975 and the subsequent Western Sahara War against Morocco between 1975 and 1991. Today the conflict is dominated by unarmed civil campaigns of the Polisario Front and their self-proclaimed SADR state to gain fully recognized independence for Western Sahara.

Politics of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

The politics of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic refers to politics of the Polisario Front's proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic - an unrecognized country in North Africa, controlling parts of the Western Sahara region.

Opération Lamantin was a December 1977 – July 1978 military intervention by France on the behalf of the Mauritanian government, in its war against Sahrawi guerrilla fighters of the Polisario Front, seeking independence for Western Sahara. Airstrikes were launched in the provinces, but the results of the operation were not significant. France used Jaguar combat aircraft from Dakar Airbase. The bombings were targeted in the rail route from the iron mines in Zouérat to the coast of Nouadhibou, which were obstructed by Polisario.

Khalihenna Ould Errachid Moroccan politician

Khalihenna Ould Errachid is the Sahrawi chairman of the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), a Moroccan government body active in the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.

"Greater Mauritania" is a term for the Mauritanian irredentist claim to Western Sahara, and possibly other Moorish or Sahrawi-populated areas of the western Sahara desert.

Western Sahara War

The Western Sahara War was an armed struggle opposing the Sahrawi indigenous Polisario Front to Morocco between 1975 and 1991 and Mauritania from 1975 to 1979, being the most significant phase of the Western Sahara conflict. The conflict erupted after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords, by which it transferred administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, but not sovereignty. In late 1975, the Moroccan government organized the Green March of some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who entered Western Sahara, trying to establish a Moroccan presence. While at first met with just minor resistance by the POLISARIO, Morocco later engaged a long period of guerrilla warfare with the Sahrawi nationalists. During the late 1970s, the Polisario Front, desiring to establish an independent state in the territory, attempted to fight both Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict after signing a peace treaty with the POLISARIO. The war continued in low intensity throughout the 1980s, though Morocco made several attempts to take the upper hand in 1989–1991. A cease-fire agreement was finally reached between the Polisario Front and Morocco in September 1991. Some sources put the final death toll between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Outline of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Overview of and topical guide to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic:

This article is about the history of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978. Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is an Arab Maghreb country in West Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Western Sahara in the north, by Algeria in the northeast, by Mali in the east and southeast, and by Senegal in the southwest. It is named after the ancient Berber Kingdom of Mauretania, which later became a province of the Roman Empire, even though the modern Mauritania covers a territory far to the south of the old Berber kingdom that had no relation with it.

First Battle of Amgala Battle in Amgala, Western Sahara

The First Battle of Amgala was fought between 27 and 29 January 1976 around the oasis of Amgala, Western Sahara, about 260 kilometres (160 mi) west of the border with Algeria. Units from the Algerian Army were attacked by units from the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces on the night of 27 January. The Algerians withdrew after fighting for 36 hours. However, the retaliation came fairly soon, between 13th and 15th February 1976 Polisario units defeated Moroccan troops in the second Amgala battle.

Western Sahara peace process refers to the international efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict. The conflict has failed so far to result in permanent peace between Morocco and the Polisario Front. The standing issues of the peace process are the Sahrawi refugees, Human rights in Moroccan Southern Provinces and Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.


  1. Ley 40/1975, de 19 de noviembre, sobre descolonización del Sahara. - B.O.E. 20-11-1975
  2. Mundy, Jacob, How the US and Morocco seized Western Sahara. Le Monde diplomatique , January 2006.
  3. Library of Congress Country Studies. Mauritania. Background to Mauritanian Policy. The Moroccan Factor. June 1988.
  4. Thompson & Adloff, pp. 55–57, 145–147
  5. International Court of Justice .WESTERN SAHARA. Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975
  6. Library of Congress Country Studies. Mauritania Internal Factors June 1988.
  7. Library of Congress Country Studies. Mauritania. Madrid Agreements. June 1988.
  8. "Maroc/Algérie. Bluff et petites manœuvres". Telquel (in French). 27 June 2011. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  9. عمر الفاسي-الرباط (2006-03-15). جمعية لاسترداد ممتلكات المغاربة المطرودين من الجزائر (in Arabic).
  10. Thompson & Adloff, pp. 151, 176.
  11. 1 2 Zunes, Stephen (1995). "ALGERIA, THE MAGHREB UNION, AND THE WESTERN SAHARA STALEMATE". Arab Studies Quarterly. 17 (3): 23–26. JSTOR   41858127.
  12. "International law allows the recognition of Western Sahara". Stockholm Centre for International Law and Justice. 7 November 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  13. 1 2 3 Letter dated 29 January 2002 from the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, addressed to the President of the Security Council Archived 3 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine - webpage of Hans Corell.
  14. Keating, Joshua (November 15, 2020). "The Peace Deals of the '90s Are Breaking Down". Slate . Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  15. Declaration of Principles on Western Sahara by Spain, Morocco and Mauritania (also known as Madrid Agreement or Madrid Accords)

Further reading