Territorial disputes in Africa: Spain in Africa (cont.)
The previous post referred to individual territorial disputes between African and non-African parties and the case of the Glorioso Islands. Today we continue with the Spanish presence in African territory and another case.
Ceuta and Melilla
Both Morocco and Spain claim sovereignty over the five Territories of Ceuta, Melilla, Penon de Vélez de la Gomera, Penon de Alhucémas and the Chafarinas Islands in North Africa. The most important of these is Ceuta which is located at the eastern entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.
Spain claims these territories on historical grounds: right of conquest and terra nullis principles; longevity of occupation; national security and the UN territorial integrity of the state principle. Spain stresses that the majority of residents there are Spanish and wish to remain under Spanish rule. Also treaties were signed by Morocco in relation to the Sovereign Territories.
Morocco argues that the: UN principles of decolonization must be applied; Spanish occupation obstructs the economic and political independence of the kingdom; the Spanish bases threaten Moroccan national security; and the UN territorial integrity principle applies. Morocco stresses that Spanish arguments for the recovery of the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar substantiate Morocco’s to the Plazas. Fundamentally, territorial disputes in the region are the legacy of the historical geopolitical organization of the area. Because of Spanish control of the Sovereign Territories, since 1986 the EC has common boundaries with an Arab state. The Territories are also within the NATO defence area because of Spanish membership of the Alliance.
Though the Plazas are an integral part of the Spanish state, they are officially referred to as “North African Territories under Spanish Supervision”, “Plazas de Soberania” (Sovereign Territories) and in everyday speech “Presidios”. Spain acquired the Plazas in the following ways: Ceuta was ceded by Portugal, Melilla was seized by force, Vélez was occupied with reference to the Treaty of Tordesillas, Alhucémas was ceded by the Sultan, and the Chafarinas were peacefully occupied.
Today, the political nomenclature of these regions can be understood by the status of autonomous cities. While the Mediterranean Sea separates Spain from Ceuta and Melilla, both cities are considered self-governing regions of Spain, without belonging to any other autonomous community.
Ceuta is located 15 miles from mainland Spain while Melilla is further east and geographically much closer to Moroccan cities than Spanish ones. As both of these Spanish cities neighbor and border Moroccan territory, they demonstrate a unique linguistic situation. While Ceuta and Melilla have relatively similar populations, each at slightly over 70,000, they have very distinct situations. In Ceuta, 50% of the population is of Peninsular origin, while the other half comes from a Moroccan background. Bilingualism, however, only affects those of Moroccan descent. That is to say, those living in Ceuta who are of Peninsular origin remain monolingual Spanish speakers. Education is entirely in Spanish, and Arabic does not have any official status.
Meanwhile, Melilla is composed of a population representing 60% Peninsular origin and 40% Berber origin. The Berber language was the indigenous tongue of Morocco before the Arab conquest in Northern Africa toward the end of the seventh century, in 670. In contrast to Ceuta, Spanish is in contact more with Berber than with Arabic. Trilingualism, nevertheless, is common among those Berber descendants in Melilla who establish contact between the Spanish, Arabic and Berber languages. Similar to Ceuta, the Peninsular originating population remains monolingual, education is strictly in Spanish, and Berber does not have any official status.
Being on the frontline of arrivals to Europe, Spain has faced numerous complex challenges over the last three years, which have been accentuated by the fact that the borders of the autonomous cities of Melilla and Ceuta are the only land borders of the EU on the African continent.
Spain has experienced a sharp increase in the number of migrants and refugees arriving in the country over the last three years, with 16,263 arriving in 2015; 14,094 in 2016; and 28,346 in 2017. They came from different countries, including Syria, North African countries, in particular Morocco and Algeria, as well as conflict-torn sub-Saharan countries. Migrants and refugees have reached Spain primarily by arriving by land or sea at either of the two autonomous cities of Melilla and Ceuta located in Northern Africa, or arriving by sea to mainland Spain. In the first half of 2018, the number of arrivals reached a total of 20,218.
Boundary and Territory Briefing Link to the complete document
The Relation between Spanish and Arabic Link to the complete document
Information Document (Migration and Refgees) Link to the complete document
This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.
Territorial disputes in Africa: the historical claim (available online on Monday 16th November 2020).
Friday 30th October 2020
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez