Durham University

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research


Ceuta and the Spanish Sovereign Territories: Spanish and Moroccan Claims

Author: Gerry O'Reilly


Ceuta and the Spanish Sovereign Territories: Spanish and Moroccan Claims - image

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 largely historical grounds: right of conquest, terra nullis principles and longevity of occupation. Spain stresses that the majority of residents there are Spanish and wish to remain under Spanish rule. It also argues that military bases in the Territories are important for Spanish national security. Morocco argues that United Nations principles of decolonisation should be applied, that Spanish occupation obstructs the economic and political independence of the kingdom, and that the Spanish bases threaten Moroccan national security. Morocco also stresses that Spanish arguments for the recovery of the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar substantiate Morocco's claim. Both countries attempt to justify their claims in terms of the UN principle of the territorial integrity of the state. This dispute has occasionally reached boiling point, such as the face off between Moroccan and Spanish forces in July 2002 over the islet of Perejil off Ceuta.

This Briefing examines the Spanish and Moroccan arguments concerning the disputed territories from historical, geographical, demographic and legal perspectives. It argues that, fundamentally, territorial conflicts in the region are the legacy of the historical geopolitical organisation of the area, and that the dispute cannot be seen as a purely bilateral affair. In this context it also considers issues such as economic and strategic security, the impact of the dispute on the issue of Gibraltar, the potential for conflict and possible scenarios for the future.

Boundary & Territory Briefings (Vol. 1 no. 2)
Middle East
Morocco-Spain (Ceuta and Melilla)
This article is available as a free download.



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