April 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 March 2009
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AFRICA

Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
In April the Council will receive a report from the Secretary-General on the situation in Western Sahara. The mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), first established on 29 April 1991, expires on 30 April. A briefing by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, is likely and the Council is expected to renew the mandate.

Key Recent Developments
Since MINURSO’s last mandate renewal in April 2008 there have been no further talks between Morocco and Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Polisario). Over the past year, there has been no change in position by the two parties.

The last Council briefing was on 21 April 2008 by Ross’s predecessor, Peter van Walsum. Van Walsum suggested moving the discussions away from the two proposals on the table presented by the parties and instead going forward on the temporary assumption that there would be no referendum with independence as an option without recognising Moroccan sovereignty. He was apparently concerned that continuing in the same track would lead to a deadlock, and there would be no point in having another round of negotiations.

His conclusions were controversial and threatened to divide the Council. They were not reflected in the Secretary-General’s 14 April report, which recommended continued negotiations on the previous basis without preconditions.

The Council resolution of 30 April 2008 extended MINURSO’s mandate for 12 months. It reflected the Secretary-General’s recommendations and called on the parties to continue good faith negotiations without preconditions based on realism and a spirit of compromise.

The Secretary-General subsequently appointed Ross, an experienced Arabic speaking former US diplomat, as his new envoy. His appointment was delayed until January, however, because of Moroccan concerns, mostly regarding his mandate. The new mandate, spelled out in the Secretary-General’s letter to the Council of 6 January, states he will work on the basis of both resolution 1813 and earlier resolutions, and take into account “progress made to date, in order to achieve a just, durable and mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

After taking up his post, Ross held talks in New York and then in February headed to the region for consultations with Morocco, Algeria and the Polisario. He visited Madrid and Paris and met the new US administration in Washington. While still in listening mode, he has made clear that he will try a new approach and not continue in the same track as the previous talks. He is not planning to call a fifth negotiation round (Van Walsum held four) until the ground has been prepared sufficiently to make some progress possible. In meetings so far, he has apparently raised the possibility of expanding confidence building measures beyond the current family visits between the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf in Algeria and the Western Sahara Territory.

In December 2008, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the human rights situation in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf refugee camps. It criticised Morocco and the Polisario for human rights abuses, but was condemned by Rabat as being excessively critical of Morocco. The report recommended expansion of MINURSO’s mandate to include a human rights monitoring mechanism or establishment of another UN monitoring mechanism.

On 17 March the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that two UN-led missions would visit the Tindouf camps to assess overall conditions for the refugees following concerns over malnutrition resulting from a 2008 survey.

Key Issues
The main issue for the Council in April is MINURSO’s mandate renewal and whether to adopt a simple rollover resolution or whether to add additional content.

The Manhasset talks in 2007 and 2008 failed to move beyond statements of positions and towards real negotiations as requested by the Council. Unlocking the stalemate and convincing the parties to enter into substantive negotiations therefore remains a major underlying issue, but the key question for the Council is whether at this stage to leave it entirely to Ross rather than seek to steer the process.

A related issue is how long to give Ross to prepare the ground and whether to renew the mandate for 12 months or six as in the past. At the last renewal the Council wanted to provide more time for negotiations but at the same time requested the Secretary-General to keep it informed of progress.

Another issue is the expansion of confidence building measures and whether this should be dealt with in the resolution. The parties agreed to explore family visits by land (currently there are only visits by air), but have so far been unable to move beyond the exploratory stage. Confidence building measures between Algeria and Morocco might also be helpful. Inadequate funding has been an issue in the past and may have to be addressed again.

A final issue is whether to address the human rights situation as some Council members have proposed in the past. The Secretary-General has repeatedly pointed out that MINURSO currently does not have the mandate or the capacity to monitor human rights. A related issue is how this could be dealt with in a way acceptable to the parties.

Options
Options for the Council include:

  • extending MINURSO’s mandate unchanged for six or 12 months;
  • reiterating its call to the parties to enter into substantive negotiations without preconditions and in good faith;
  • expressing support for the personal envoy and requesting to be kept informed on the status of the negotiations on a regular basis;
  • expanding the mandate to include a human rights component (last year Costa Rica proposed an amendment calling on the parties to engage in a human rights dialogue with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and MINURSO); and
  • calling on the parties to discuss expansion of confidence building measures, once again urging states to fund such measures.

Council and Wider Dynamics
Council dynamics remain essentially unchanged. The general view is still that a solution cannot be imposed but must be found by the parties themselves through direct negotiations. France is considered the main supporter of Morocco whereas Latin American members and Russia are sympathetic to the Polisario. Libya, as a neighbouring country, wants to be neutral. Neither of the other two African members, although supportive of the Polisario’s position, are expected to take over the more vocal role played by South Africa. US policy is still under review and it remains to be seen whether it will maintain the more pro-Moroccan tilt of the previous administration.

At the last mandate renewal there were tensions because Council members outside the Group of Friends (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US), felt their views were not being adequately taken into account. Mexico, which holds the presidency in April, is seeking increased transparency this time.

There seems to be little appetite for any substantial new resolution when renewing MINURSO’s mandate. Most members agree that the human rights issues are becoming increasingly important, but they prefer to address these issues in a balanced way and are cautious about undermining the political process. Morocco seems to be strongly opposed to any human rights element and argues that it would create obstacles for the negotiations. However, Costa Rica, who in its explanation of vote after the last mandate renewal expressed disappointment over the lack of human rights references, is likely to push the issue again and may get some support from Austria and African members.

Council members and the parties seem to have a positive view of the new personal envoy. While his ideas on the way forward are still very preliminary, he has been well received.
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UN Documents

Selected Resolutions

  • S/RES/1813 (30 April 2008) endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendation that realism and a spirit of compromise are essential for the negotiations to move forward, called upon the parties to continue negotiations without preconditions and in good faith and extended MINURSO’s mandate for 12 months.
  • S/RES/1783 (31 October 2007) called upon the parties to continue negotiations taking into account the efforts made since 2006, requested the Secretary-General to report on these talks by 31 January and extended MINURSO’s mandate for six months.
  • S/RES/1754 (30 April 2007) called for negotiations without preconditions and extended MINURSO’s mandate for six months.
  • S/RES/690 (29 April 1991) established MINURSO.

Secretary-General’s Latest Report

Latest Press Statement

Other

  • S/2009/19 (6 January 2009) was the letter from the Secretary-General to the Council expressing his intention to appoint Christopher Ross as his new personal envoy for Western Sahara.
  • S/2008/348 (27 May 2008) was a letter from Morocco protesting political demonstrations held by the Polisario, as well as the presence of troops, in the Tifariti zone east of the berm separating areas under Moroccan and the Polisario control.
  • S/PV.5884 (30 April 2008) was the Council meeting extending MINURSO’s mandate.
  • A communiqué (18 March 2008) was issued by Van Walsum with the agreement of the parties after the fourth round of talks.

 

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General

Vacant

Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy

Christopher Ross (USA)

MINURSO Force Commander

Major General Zhao Jingmin (China)

Size and Composition of Mission

  • Authorised strength: 231 military personnel and six police officers
  • Strength (as of 28 February 2009): 226 total uniformed personnel, including twenty troops, six police officers, 200 military observers; supported by 102 international civilian personnel, 158 local civilian staff and 19 UN volunteers

Cost

1 July 2008-30 June 2009: $47.70 million (A/C.5/62/30)

 

Useful Additional Sources

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