April 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 March 2012
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Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
Prior to the 30 April expiry of the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the Council is due to receive the Secretary-General’s report and a briefing on its contents and most recent developments by MINURSO’s head and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Hany Abdel-Aziz. 

The Council will also likely be briefed in consultations by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross. MINURSO’s mandate is expected to be renewed for another year.

Key Recent Developments
On 26 October 2011, Ross noted in a briefing to the Council that the last two rounds of informal talks (held between 5-7 June and 19-21 July respectively) between parties to the conflict—Morocco and the Sahrawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front—had only partially been successful. Ross stated that the issue could only be resolved with the Council’s attention and support and it was necessary to introduce new measures to break the current deadlock. He added that the next round of informal talks was likely to take place in early 2012 and after the parliamentary elections in Morocco.  Ross also emphasised the need for the Council to revisit MINURSO’s role as well as a requirement to assess the human rights situation. (Morocco’s parliamentary elections were subsequently held on 25 November 2011.)

Morocco and the Polisario Front met for the ninth round of informal talks between 11-13 March in Greentree, New York. Algeria and Mauritania sent delegations to attend certain sessions of the talks. After the meeting, Ross issued a communiqué, stating “the discussions took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness, and mutual respect.” Ross also noted that “each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a solution in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations.” The next rounds of informal meetings are due to take place in Europe in June and at a location yet to be confirmed in July.

In an incident that exposed ongoing tensions, seven people were reported dead after fighting broke out on 25 September 2011, following a football match in Dakhla between a Western Saharan team, Mouloudia Dakhla, and Chabab Mohammadia, a Moroccan team. The fighting lasted for a few days.

On 23 October, three aid workers—two Spanish and one Italian—were kidnapped reportedly by members of an Al-Qaida splinter group called Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in southwestern Algeria. In a 28 October press release, the Chairperson of the Commission of the AU, Jean Ping, strongly condemned the action of the kidnappers and called on all regional countries to increase their cooperation in fighting terrorism. On 4 March, the kidnappers reportedly asked for a ransom of 30 million euros to free the hostages, who at press time remained in captivity.

Human Rights-Related Issues
In an interview on 25 January with the UN News, Ross remarked that he hoped “that the people of Western Sahara, whether they be in the territory or in the refugee camps, would enjoy full human rights, including the freedom to express their views on their future and that the negotiators would take these views into account.”

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council to consider is the nature of its own role to encourage progress in the implementation of MINURSO’s mandate, in place since 1991, and to alleviate the situation of the Saharawi population.

A related issue is its possible role in easing the nearly five-year deadlock in the informal negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front. This impasse has been caused mainly by the refusal of both parties to accept the proposal of the other as the sole basis of negotiation. (The current negotiation process has gone on since April 2007 when both Morocco and the Polisario Front presented their respective proposals to the Council.)

A newly emerging key issue for the Council is the added sense of urgency and the need to ensure that the instability and reported proliferation of arms in the region following the change in regimes in nearby countries, notably Libya, are not used to exploit the sense of frustration inevitably felt by people living in refugee camps.

An ongoing issue for the Council is to ensure that all parties fully commit to, and observe, human rights of all individuals caught in the conflict.

Underlying Problems
An underlying issue for the Council when it renews the mandate of MINURSO, will be the situation following the Arab Spring affecting the whole Sahel region.

One option for the Council is to adopt a resolution that renews MINURSO’s mandate taking into account recommendations made in the Secretary-General’s forthcoming report.

To highlight the Council’s concern with the lack of progress in the negotiations, another option would be to adopt a resolution that would also include:

  • encouragement for both parties to focus on common ground to resume formal discussions instead of devoting energy to points of contention;
  • emphasis on the urgent need for the resolution of the dispute and, in this regard, encouragement to both parties to achieve short-term goals while aiming for the ultimate solution, “which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” (Resolution 1979);
  • emphasis on the inclusion of a wide cross-section of the population of Western Sahara in the discussion of issues related to final status and the exercise of self-determination;
  • introduction of a human rights component to MINURSO’s mandate (in line with the current practice of most UN peacekeeping missions); and 
  • request for regular briefings, including on the human rights aspects of the situation as well as the impact on Sahel of the recent regime changes in the region.

Council and Wider Dynamics
In the wake of the Arab Spring and the Council’s pronounced support, on the one hand for democracy in the region, and on the other hand its concerns about the destabilising impact of the fallout from Libya on the Sahel region, the situation of Western Sahara has acquired a degree of urgency in the minds of some Council members. These Council members are concerned that if the moderate elements from within the Polisario Front are not assisted by the Council in delivering a peaceful solution to the Sahrawi people soon enough, then, inevitably, Islamist radical elements operating in the Maghreb-Sahel will manipulate the situation to their advantage and find a favourable recruiting ground amongst a population that is in despair.

Some Council members, who are concerned about the lack of progress on this issue, are aware that the consultations due to be held in April for MINURSO’s mandate renewal will subsequently impact the next round of informal talks due to take place in June. They feel that informal talks, overall, have been unsuccessful despite some progress on confidence-building measures. Council members had shared Ross’s concern, expressed during his last briefing to the Council at the lack of progress made by the parties to the conflict and some were disappointed at the delay in the next round of informal talks. The UK has been supportive of Ross’ efforts but acknowledges that no progress has been made and that the current impasse is not sustainable long-term.

Council members remain divided on the best way to resolve the conflict in Western Sahara. Countries such as South Africa acknowledge that MINURSO has been successful in preserving the ceasefire since its inception. However, they are aware that the key objective of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara has yet to be met besides concrete progress in the human rights domain. The duration of this mission, over 20 years now, has been a considerable concern to several members. At the time of the last MINURSO mandate renewal, a concern was voiced that there were no African or Arab members within the Group of Friends of Western Sahara, which is comprised of France, Russia, the US, the UK and Spain. This remains the case.

As a party to the conflict, Morocco’s membership of the Council in 2012 will most likely have a considerable impact on the overall dynamic on this issue. Some Council members feel that Morocco’s close partnership with the P3 on the Syrian issue is going to be of benefit to Morocco in the context of Western Sahara, a key national priority of the country. Moreover, many Council members are not expecting any significant development on this issue and feel that the Council is incapable of acting in a neutral capacity on this particular issue.

The US is the lead country on Western Sahara.

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UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1979 (27 April 2011) renewed MINURSO’s mandate until 30 April 2012.
  • S/RES/1920 (30 April 2010) renewed MINURSO’s mandate and welcomed the parties’ agreement to hold small, informal talks.
  • S/RES/690 (29 April 1991) established MINURSO.

Latest Secretary-General’s Report


  • S/2011/460 (26 July 2011) was the President of the Council’s letter to the Secretary-General acknowledging the receipt of his earlier letter to the Council.
  • S/2011/459 (22 July 2011) was the Secretary-General’s letter to the President of the Council informing the Council of his intention to appoint Maj. Gen. Abdul Hafiz (Bangladesh) as force commander of MINURSO.
  • SC/10234 (27 April 2011) was a press release reporting the extension of MINURSO’s mandate.
  • S/PV.6516 (18 April 2011) was the official communiqué of the closed meeting between the Council and the troop- and police-contributing countries to MINURSO.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General

Hany Abdel-Aziz (Egypt)

Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy

Christopher Ross (United States)

MINURSO Force Commander

Maj. Gen. Abdul Hafiz (Bangladesh)

Size and Composition of MINURSO as of 29 February 2012

Authorised: 237 troops; 6 police officers

Current: 233 total uniformed personnel (i.e. 27 troops; 5 police officers; 201 military observers); 101 international civilian personnel; 165 local civilian staff; 19 UN Volunteers

Military Contributors: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Croatia, Djibouti, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Yemen.

Police Contributors: Egypt, El Salvador and Jordan.


1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012: $63.22 million (A/C.5/66/14)

Full forecast

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