In many ways, this is a territory that under other conditions would already be an independent state and a full member of the United Nations.
Colonized by Spain in the 19th century, in the 1960s the United Nations called for it to be able to exercise its right to self-determination. However, this was strongly opposed by neighboring Morocco and Mauritania, both of which laid claim to parts of the territory.
They referred the case to the International Court of Justice, which found that neither, in fact, had a historical claim to Western Sahara. In early 1976, Spain withdrew from the territory.
And on 27 February 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was proclaimed. However, sovereign statehood was thwarted by Morocco and Mauritania, which occupied the territory.
Although Mauritania departed a few years later, to this day Morocco remains in control of two-thirds of Western Sahara; despite the fact that its claim to that territory has not been officially recognized internationally.
Meanwhile, a Western Saharan government-in-exile operates out of neighboring Algeria. According to an UN-brokered agreement, the territory is meant to hold a referendum on its future.
However, this has been continually opposed by Morocco and it’s unclear when the vote will be able to take place – if at all.