Campaigners today have dismissed the unfurling of the world’s biggest flag in occupied Western Sahara as a political stunt by Morocco and demanded that Guinness World Records strip them of the record which they were awarded on 9th May.
The giant 20 tonne, 60,000 metre Moroccan standard was laid out on 9 May in Dakhla, Western Sahara and Guinness World Records sent a judge to authenticate the record. But campaigners from Europe, America and Australasia have pointed out that Western Sahara is classified by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory and that Moroccan claims to sovereignty over the territory have been dismissed by the International Court of Justice. Indeed not a single nation recognises Morocco’s occupation.
Campaigners last week contacted Guinness to point out that by authenticating the record they were legitimising the unlawful occupation of Western Sahara and requested that the record be rescinded. In response a spokesperson for Guinness responded stating that “our task is to measure, count, monitor all world records. We are not in a position to comment on the political nature of things - we simply document the world around us.” Stefan Simanowitz who chairs the global campaigning intiative the Free Western Sahara Network does not accept this. “Under international law, the situation of Western Sahara is unambiguous. Morocco’s invasion was a serious breach of the UN Charter and the UN has passed over a hundred Resolutions reaffirming the inalienable right of the Western Saharan people to self-determination” he argues. “By authenticating this record in occupied Western Sahara they are effectively legitimising an illegitmate occupation.”
The Free Western Sahara Network together with other campaigning groups around the world accuse Morocco of using the giant flag as a clumsy attempt to distract attention from a series of PR disasters surrounding Morocco’s 35 illegal occupation of neighbouring Western Sahara. The record attempt came just days after it emerged that the Moroccans had persuaded the French government to use their veto to prevent any mention of human rights being included in the latest UN Resolution on the disputed territory and just months after Morocco was forced to readmit hunger striking Nobel Peace Prize activist Aminatou Haidar after having her deported. Simanowitz believes that it is incumbent on Guinness to strip Morocco of their record. “If Saddam Hussein had unfurled a giant Iraqi flag in Kuwait in 1990 I am confident Guinness would not have flown out a judge to measure it” he argues. “By sending a judge to authenticate a record attempt that has clear political overtones, Guinness cannot claim to be non-political. We ask that this record be rescinded.”
Alice Lefevre is a London-based French journalist.