April 2010 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2010
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AFRICA

Western Saraha

Expected Council Action

In April the Council will receive the annual report from the Secretary-General on Western Sahara. The mandate of MINURSO, first established in April 1991, expires on 30 April. A briefing by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, is likely. The Council is expected to again renew the mandate.

Key Recent Developments
On 11-12 February, Morocco and the Polisario Front held an informal meeting, facilitated by Ross, in accordance with resolution 1871. (Resolution 1871 urged the parties to continue a dialogue without preconditions to achieve “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”) During the talks, held in Westchester near New York City, the parties discussed:

  • Morocco’s proposal that Western Sahara be an autonomous region within Morocco; and
  • Polisario Front’s position that the territory’s final status can only be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option.

Representatives from neighbouring countries, including Algeria and Mauritania, were also present at the opening and closing sessions and were consulted separately during the discussions.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Ross said that neither side accepted the other’s proposal as the sole basis of future negotiations, and on 18 February he briefed the Council in Informal Consultations. He said that the parties had reiterated their commitment to continue negotiations. He also outlined his plan to consult further with the parties and other stakeholders during a visit to the region in March.

Ross arrived in Morocco on 17 March and planned to visit Mauritania and Algeria before briefing the Council in April.

The Secretary General’s report of April 2009 noted that the UN seeks to uphold human rights standards in all its operations, including in Western Sahara. But the report said the UN does not have capacity to conduct human rights monitoring in the Western Sahara or in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, since the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) does not have a specific human rights mandate and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has no presence in the territory or in the refugee camps near Tindouf.

In a letter on 19 June 2009 to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch urged the UN to establish a programme to monitor human rights in Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. The letter also urged the parties to take measures to ensure that all human rights are protected fully both in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps.

On 7 March, the EU held a summit with Morocco in Granada, Spain. EU President Herman Van Rompuy emphasised that the EU supported UN efforts on Western Sahara.

The upcoming Secretary-General’s report will discuss the latest developments in Western Sahara, including Ross’s efforts to bring the parties together. The report will also likely discuss:

  • efforts to clear mines in the region, which has an impact on civilians travelling from the Territory to Tindouf;
  • freedom of movement for MINURSO military observers; and
  • human rights issues.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances made its annual report to the Council in March. The Group commended Algeria for beginning a process of dialogue and cooperation with the Working Group. The Working Group visited Morocco last June to take stock of progress by the Moroccan Equality and Reconciliation Commission. The Group acknowledged several encouraging developments but recommended that Morocco take further measures to put an end to impunity as a fundamental step towards ensuring that acts of enforced disappearance are not repeated.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council is how best to support Ross in his efforts to bring the parties together and break the stalemate. A related question is whether the Council can be more helpful by trying to nudge the parties on the substance of the issues or to remain at arm’s length.

A second issue is whether to be more active in addressing the human rights situation. The parties continue to accuse each other of human rights violations. Several Council members expressed concern about the human rights situation at the time of the adoption of the resolution in April 2009.

Another issue is whether to be more active on confidence building measures. The Secretary-General raised this in his 2009 report.

A further issue is whether the Council should be more active in pressing other countries in the region, including Algeria and Mauritania, to be more active in supporting Ross’s mediation.

Underlying Problems
The two parties’ insistence on their mutually exclusive positions has been a key reason for the stalemate. A particular concern for many AU members (and others in the UN as well) has been the failure to implement UN decolonisation principles which require a referendum on self determination including independence.

The conflict and ongoing stalemate have high human costs, especially for the Sahrawi population, and has impacted negatively the security and economic situation of the Maghreb region.

Options

Options for the Council include:

  • a simple extension of MINURSO’s mandate for another year;
  • a more extensive resolution with language welcoming the parties’ reengagement in the peace process;
  • specifically addressing the role of countries in the region in supporting negotiations;
  • encouraging the UN Refugee Agency and MINURSO efforts to expand the family visits programme between the territory and the refugee camps in Tindouf; and
  • calling on the parties to ensure respect for human rights.

 

Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members and the parties seem comfortable with the recent efforts of the personal envoy.

Positions among the P5 seem unchanged. France has traditionally supported autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Russia sympathises with the Polisario position on a referendum that includes independence as an option. The US has alternated between a neutral and a pro Moroccan position depending on developments. The UK and China seem to have even handed positions.

Most Council members would like to see regional countries playing greater role in supporting the parties to commit to the negotiation. This is also supported by the US. Many believe that improved relations between Algeria and Morocco might help address some of the wider challenges facing North Africa but recognise that one of the keys to this is a solution to the Western Sahara issue.

The Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, Spain, the UK, and the US) usually takes the lead on resolution drafting. This has at times been quite controversial in the Council. At press time, however, no positions appeared to have been forthcoming.

Costa Rica, which is no longer on the Council, had led the discussion on the need for better respect for human rights. It remains to be seen if other members will take up this role.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1871 (30 April 2009) called on the parties to continue dialogue and negotiations through UN-sponsored talks.
  • 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/690 (29 April 1991) established MINURSO.

Secretary-General’s Latest Reports

Latest Press Statement

Other

  • SG/SM/12734 (2 February 2010) was the Secretary-General’s statement welcoming the parties’ agreement to the UN proposal regarding the upcoming meeting in February 2010.
  • SG/SM/12677 (18 December 2009) was the Secretary-General’s statement welcoming the end to Western Sahara human rights activist’s hunger strike.
  • S/2009/526 (6 October 2009) was the letter from the Secretary-General to the Council expressing his intention to appoint Hany Abdel-Azis as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and Head of MINURSO.
  • S/PV.6117(30 April 2009) was the Council meeting extending MINRUSO’s mandate.
  • A/63/871-S/2009/198 (9 April 2009) was a letter from a representative of the Polisario Front addressed to the President of Security Council.
  • 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 Front, as well as the presence of troops in the Tifariti zone east of the berm separating areas under Moroccan and Polisario Front 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

Hany Abdel-Aziz (Egypt)

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 2010): 224 total uniformed personnel, including twenty troops, five police officers and 199 military observers; supported by 97 international civilian personnel, 160 local civilian staff and 19 UN volunteers

Cost

1 July 2009-30 June 2010: $53.53 million (A/C.5/64/15)

Full forecast