Country report and updates: Western Sahara

Last revision: 23 Jun 1998
23 Jun 1998

In 1973, when the territory of Western Sahara was still under Spanish colonial rule, the Popular front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) was formed to fight independence from Spain. After the Spanish withdrawal in 1975 Polisario proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) but the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces followed by Moroccan citizens invaded Western Sahara, leading to armed conflict between Polisario and Morocco. The 1988 peace agreement led to a cease-fire in 1991. Ever since Morocco has occupied the vast majority of the territory and Polisario, based in refugee camps in Algerian territory, controls small parts in the east and south. [2]

1 Conscription

conscription exists

There is some indication that the SADR, the independent state proclaimed by Polisario, has a system of conscription. [1]

In the Moroccan controlled parts of Western Sahara, the Moroccan conscription system is applied (see: Morocco).

military service

All 17-year-old men are liable for military service. [1]

It is not known for how long it lasts.

postponement and exemption

No information available.


During the guerrilla war, Polisario recruitment formed an integral part of the education programme. At the age of 12, children were either integrated into the National School of 12 October which prepares the political and military cadres, or they have been sent abroad to Algeria, Cuba and Libya to receive military training as well as regular schooling. At conscription age (17) they returned from abroad to be incorporated into Polisario's armed forces. They received more specialised training in engineering, radio, artillery, mechanics and desert warfare. At nineteen they became combatants. [1]

A case of forced recruitment of a Moroccan 16-year-old has been reported in 1980, but this was not a general practice. [1]

Nowadays most people working for Polisario claim to do so voluntarily although they hardly have an alternative. [2]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no legal provision for conscientious objection in the SADR.

3 Draft evasion and desertion

No information available.

6 Annual statistics

The Polisario armed forces are estimated to be 3,000 to 6,000 strong. [3]

In 1995 the SADR population, mainly living in refugee camps in the desert in southwestern Algeria, numbered 165,000. [2]


The 1988 peace agreement between Polisario and Morocco included a referendum to be held among the people of Western Sahara, to vote for independence or integration into Morocco. While both parties have created obstacles to the UN-supervised process of identifying those eligible to vote, the Moroccan authorities have severely tried to undermine the process and to influence the referendum. The referendum is planned to take place at the end of 1998.


[1] Woods, D.E. 1993 Child Soldiers, the recruitment of children into the armed forces and their participation in hostilities. Quaker Peace and Service, London, UK. [2] Human Rights Watch 1995. Keeping it secret; the United Nations operation in the Western Sahara. HRW, New York. [3] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK.