Expected Council Action
The mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) expires on 31 April. The Council is expected to renew it for six months and to discuss the report of the Secretary-General on MINURSO, which is due mid-April. The Council might also discuss a Moroccan plan for extended autonomy to Western Sahara.
Key Recent Developments
In his October report, the Secretary-General clarified that his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, was advocating direct negotiations between the parties because the Council had made clear in resolutions 1495 (2003) and 1541 (2004) that any solution had to be “on the basis of agreement between the two parties.” However, this did not mean that Van Walsum supported Morocco’s arguments. He explained that the UN could not support a plan that excluded a referendum with independence as a possible option.
The Secretary-General called on the two parties, Morocco and the Polisario Front, to enter into negotiations without preconditions and avoid extending the stalemate.
Morocco has continued to develop its plan for a solution based on autonomy. In February, it sent a ministerial delegation to all members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US) as well as Germany (which currently holds the EU presidency) and the UN Secretary-General to present “elements” of a possible autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
In early 2006 Morocco established a Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS, Conseil royal consultatif pour les affaires sahariennes), comprising all Moroccan political parties as well as Sahrawi leaders, but not the Polisario. Elected representatives for women, youth groups and civil society were also involved.
According to Moroccan official statements, the proposal, which would reflect the expectations of all CORCAS members, would respect Moroccan sovereignty and national unity and take into account social and cultural specificities of Western Sahara. It is also claimed that it would comply with “international standards for autonomy”, providing the Sahrawis with real authority in the legislative, executive and judicial fields. However, the plan has not been finalised yet. In part this may be because the CORCAS process has encountered tremendous difficulties. It may also be that Morocco is reluctant to finalise the proposal in the absence of clear signals that it would succeed.
In a memorandum to the Council on 13 February, Polisario said that the Moroccan autonomy plan would violate the principle of self-determination, and it would therefore not be acceptable. Algeria issued a declaration on 28 February along similar lines.
The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy has been unable to travel to the region but had some contacts with the Group of Friends and Morocco in New York. It is unlikely that he will make new recommendations on the political process.
a simple six-month renewal of the MINURSO mandate;
renewing the mandate for a shorter period (perhaps two or three months) to bring pressure on the parties to make progress;
endorsing the Secretary-General’s recommendations and urging the parties to resume direct negotiations without preconditions; and
including language on the need to respect human rights in Western Sahara.
Given that the Moroccan plan is not officially before the Council, reference to it in the resolution does not seem a likely option.
The most likely option seems an extension without change for six months.
The second issue is whether Morocco will present a plan in sufficient time for the Group of Friends and others to assess it, and also give Polisario reasonable time to review it and respond before the expiry of the mandate.
A further important issue will be whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will support any plan in his report on current information. This seems unlikely unless the parties agree to it as Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, had already stated that the UN could not welcome a solution that did not include self-determination with independence as an option. A related issue is whether Ban will even mention the existence of this plan. To do so might serve as a basis for pressing the parties to reengage. But given the Polisario and Algerian statements in February, this seems unlikely.
An issue that may come up in April or perhaps at a later stage is the possibility to expand the MINURSO mandate to include responsibilities to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.
A final issue which is likely to be unspoken but in the back of many Council members’ minds is the fact that similar issues arise in both the Kosovo and Western Sahara dossiers.
Council and Wider Dynamics
During consultations before the last extension of MINURSO’s mandate in October, Denmark and Argentina reportedly wanted to include a provision on the situation of human rights in Western Sahara. These were described in a confidential report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to in the last MINURSO report. This report, which was leaked and is available on the internet, revealed severe cases of violations by Morocco in Western Sahara and breaches of freedom of association, movement, expression and assembly by Polisario in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria.
Morocco, Polisario and others such as France were unwilling to go beyond a simple rollover of MINURSO, so this provision was not included. Another proposal that the Council should urge the parties to launch negotiations without preconditions was also resisted by both parties and Algeria.
In its previous resolution on Western Sahara, the Council was unable to tackle the substantive issues due to divisions among its members.
New Council members like Indonesia and South Africa seem to be influenced by established UN principles of self-determination in the context of the decolonisation process and are therefore likely to be reluctant to impose any outcome on Polisario.
Members of the Group of Friends on the Council seem to agree on the need to have sufficient time to evaluate the content of any plan. All seem to agree the plan has to be realistic, but they seem to have different expectations about what is realistic depending on their different interpretations of the concept of self-determination. France supports Morocco and considers that self-determination can occur within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty. The US tends not to specify whether self-determination should necessarily include independence as an option. Russia seems to believe that since Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has not been recognised by the International Court of Justice in its 1975 advisory opinion, self-determination must include all options for the people of Western Sahara including independence. South Africa seems to share a similar position.
France and the US seem to believe that it would be helpful for Morocco to present its plan. This plan, or some variant of it, might then become a basis for renewed negotiations between the parties, if Polisario can be persuaded to reconsider its position. However, the US is unlikely to support the plan to the point of imposing it on Polisario as it believes that it has to be acceptable to both parties.
In the light of all the above it is not surprising that there are differences on how to deal with the MINURSO mandate. The US may continue to toy with the idea of withdrawing support for a renewal of MINURSO as a lever to compel the parties to negotiate. Other members are hesitant about this and may be opposed to a total withdrawal of the force.
Despite differing positions, there is a consensus that previous Council principles should not change:
any solution should include provisions for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara;
any solution should be mutually acceptable; and
the Council would not impose any solution on the parties.
In the absence of negotiations between the parties, it seems that the process is condemned to stall further. Most Council members hope that the position of the parties will change and provide a window of opportunity.
|Latest Security Council Resolution|
|Latest Secretary-General’s Report|
|Selected Letters to the President of the Council|
|Other Related Documents|
|Special Representative of the Secretary-General|
|Julian Harston (UK)|
|Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy|
|Peter van Walsum (Netherlands)|
|MINURSO Force Commander|
|Major General Kurt Mosgaard (Denmark)|
|Size and Composition of Mission (31 July 2006)|
|Key Troop Contributing Countries|
|Malaysia, Egypt, Russia, France, Ghana, China, Honduras|
|1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007: $44.94 million|
The United Nations and Western Sahara: A Never-Ending Affair by Anna Theofilopoulou, United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 166, July 2006
Western Sahara Between Autonomy and Intifada by Jacob Mundy, Middle East Report Online, March 16, 2007