April 2011 Monthly Forecast


Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
The Council is expecting the Secretary-General’s report on Western Sahara. Briefings by Envoy Christopher Ross and Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINURSO Hany Abdel-Aziz are also likely.

Renewal of the mandate of MINURSO ahead of its 30 April expiry is anticipated.

Key Recent Developments
Informal talks on Western Sahara have continued in recent months in accordance with resolution 1920 which called on the parties to continue negotiations without preconditions and in good faith, with a view to achieving a mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. (The current series of informal talks began in 2009. A further four sessions were held in February, November and December of 2010 and January 2011.)

The most recent talks were held in Malta on 8 and 9 March. Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Sahrawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front participated. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, issued a communiqué saying “each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as a sole basis for future negotiations.” However, it seems the two sides agreed to explore innovative approaches and to hold the next round in Malta in May. Strengthening the role of the personal envoy, natural resources and demining seem likely to be discussed as part of the “innovative” approaches.

At the third round of talks in November 2010 confidence-building measures were discussed. One measure agreed to was to hold a meeting between Morocco and the Polisario Front to review the implementation of the 2004 Plan of Action on Confidence Building Measures. This took place in Geneva on 9 and 10 February. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres—whose office, UNHCR, had been involved in developing the 2004 Action Plan—convened the meeting. Algeria and Mauritania participated as observers. UNHCR and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) will now organise a technical assessment mission to map out a route to allow families to be reunited by road for the first time. Since the start of 2011, six family visit operations have been facilitated, all by air. Additional measures agreed upon in Geneva include having UNHCR present proposals on reactivating telephone service connecting separated families and establishing a postal link. The parties also agreed to organise seminars on non-political topics.

On 5 March approximately 200 young Sahrawi refugees living in camps in Tindouf protested against the “dictatorship of the Polisario chief Abdelazziz” and “lack of basic freedoms” in the camps. The protesters deplored the lack of the freedoms of expression and assembly and the one-party rule of Chief Mohamed Abdelaziz. (The constitution of the exiled government of Abdelaziz states that the single-party system will be changed into a multi-party system after independence.) Protesters also called for an end to widespread tribal-based nepotism in the camps. Protests had been discouraged by Polisario authorities but security forces allowed the demonstrations to proceed.

These protests seem to reflect the mood sweeping the region and are the first of this kind in the Sahrawi camps. The protesters did not express a position on how the Polisario leadership has been handling talks over Western Sahara. They reportedly emphasised continued Sahrawi unity in the fight against Morocco and appealed to the Moroccan media to refrain from using their protests to critique the Polisario and Algeria.

The protests demanded reforms without calling for a change of leadership.

In recent weeks Morocco has also seen nationwide protests. In response, Moroccan King Mohammed VI on 9 March announced constitutional reforms. The measures included a reduction of the monarch’s powers and the promise of free parliamentary elections. During a 24 March meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Tahib El Fassi Fihri, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed hope that reform will contribute to realising the legitimate aspirations of all Moroccans and to fostering stability in the region. On Western Sahara, Ban said that he was encouraged by the last informal meeting in Malta and commended Morocco for supporting the UNHCR/MINURSO technical mission in April.

Fihri also met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who told reporters that the US believes “Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible, a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity”.

Ross most recently briefed the Council on 16 November 2010. Afterwards in remarks to the press Council President Sir Mark Lyall Grant of the UK said the Council deplored the violence which transpired in early November, when Moroccan forces reportedly led a pre-dawn raid to break up a Sahrawi camp housing more than 12,000 people outside the city of Laayoune. The Council expressed condolences over the deaths and injuries and reaffirmed support for Ross and MINURSO, urging all parties to demonstrate further political will. Following the incident, Morocco established a Commission of Inquiry to look into the events. 

Human Rights-Related Issues
On 3 March Morocco announced the establishment of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH). The primary mission of the CNDH is to “monitor and assess the human rights situation, blow the whistle and enrich rights-related debate”. The establishment of the CNDH will be in conformity with the Paris Principles on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. CNDH will have an early warning mechanism, will undertake investigations on the ground and will handle allegations of human rights violations. The commission plans to work interactively with international NGOs and the Human Rights Council.

Key Issues
A key issue is the implementation in practice of confidence-building measures and what impact these may have on alleviating tensions and fostering compromise on both sides.

A second key issue is whether, given the current social and political climate in North Africa, the status quo on Western Sahara may be increasingly untenable. The dynamics on the ground may be shifting due to the democratic aspirations of young Sahrawis who have begun pushing for reforms from the ruling Polisario front, but may also be less patient about the slow pace of negotiations and what they see as Morocco’s refusal to compromise.

A third key issue is whether the Council, in light of the small signs of progress in the new and more intensive informal talks format, should seek to both commend the parties but also inject a stronger sense of urgency.

Underlying Problems
The main underlying problem is that both parties continue to reject each other’s proposals and maintain mutually exclusive positions.

Another underlying problem is that in the current climate the absence of a settlement may increase risks of a drift towards extremism.

One option for the Council is to simply extend the current mandate of MINURSO for another year.

Another option would be a resolution including language that:

Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members and the involved parties seem pleased with the recent efforts by Ross to convene more intensive talks and to devise innovative confidence-building measures.

South Africa in 2004 recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). (SADR was proclaimed by the Polisario in 1976 and has been recognised by 58, mostly African, states.) Western Sahara is a key issue for South Africa, which is uncomfortable with the past P5 dominance of the issue. They support a strong focus on human rights issues and feel that the substance of the Western Sahara issue should be addressed by the Council as a whole. South Africa also feels that the political process is not moving quickly enough and that finding a balanced but principled political solution to the conflict is urgent.

Nigeria has also recognised the SADR and, like South Africa, supports a human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism in the MINURSO mandate.

The Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, the US and UK plus Spain as the former colonial power) have generally been reluctant to discuss human rights-related elements, which they feel only complicate the issue. Morocco also maintains that human rights distract from the goal of achieving a political solution and should be addressed by national initiatives and other UN mechanisms outside of the Council.

The AU position is that the referendum envisaged by the Council in 1991 should be held, consistent with UN principles on decolonisation, to enable the people of the territory to choose between the option of independence from, or integration into, Morocco.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1920 (30 April 2010) renewed the MINURSO mandate until 30 April 2011 and called on the parties to continue dialogue and negotiations through UN-sponsored talks.
  • S/RES/1871 (30 April 2009) renewed the MINURSO mandate and welcomed the parties’ agreement to hold small, informal 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.
  • S/RES/690 (29 April 1991) established MINURSO.

Latest Secretary-General’s Report


  • S/2011/207 (30 March 2011) was a letter to the Council President from Morocco concerning implementation of the provisions of resolution 1920.
  • A communiqué (9 November 2010) was issued by Ross with the agreement of the parties after the third informal round of talks.
  • S/2009/19 (6 January 2009) was the letter from the Secretary-General about Christopher Ross as his new personal envoy for Western Sahara.

Full forecast