Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects to be briefed in consultations by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, after his visit to key North African and European capitals, scheduled for 27 October to 15 November. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber may also brief on MINURSO. No outcome is expected from the briefing.
MINURSO’s mandate expires on 30 April 2013.
Key Recent Developments
On 12 April, the Council held a meeting with MINURSO troop-contributing countries.
On 17 April, Council members received a briefing in consultations on MINURSO. The then-head of MINURSO, Hany Abdel-Aziz, and Ross briefed the Council on developments and on the Secretary-General’s latest report (S/2012/197). As requested by the Council in resolution 1979, the report took into account challenges to the MINURSO mandate and acknowledged that the mission had failed to fulfil its key purpose: “to organize and supervise a referendum on Western Sahara self-determination.” (This final version of the report contained no fewer than seven edited paragraphs, and it replaced three previously released advance versions of the report.)
On 24 April, the Council extended MINURSO’s mandate for another year through resolution 2044. As is customary, the draft resolution had been discussed by the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, US, UK and Spain) before being distributed to all Council members.
Morocco informed the Secretary-General on 10 May that it had a number of reservations regarding the current negotiating process, indicating a week later that it had lost confidence in Ross, describing his work as “unbalanced and biased.” Following this announcement, the Secretary-General asserted that he had complete confidence in Ross. (Ross was expected to visit Western Sahara in May, as agreed during the ninth round of informal negotiations in March between Morocco and the Polisario Front. The next rounds of informal talks, provisionally scheduled to take place in June and July, were postponed for an indefinite period.) On 25 August during a phone conversation with King Mohammed VI, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the UN did not intend to modify the terms of its mediation and reaffirmed his confidence in Ross.
On 15 June, the Secretary-General appointed Weisbrod-Weber (Germany) as his Special Representative and head of MINURSO to succeeded Abdel-Aziz (Egypt), who completed his assignment on 30 April.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous visited the city of Laâyoune and the MINURSO team sites of Oum Dreyga and Mijek in Western Sahara, Tindouf and Rabouni in Algeria, and Rabat, Morocco from 10-12 October. He met with MINURSO officials, Moroccan authorities, and officials from the Polisario Front. MINURSO’s activities and mandate were discussed, including the cooperation between Morocco and MINURSO.
Media reports in October indicated that lightly armed Sahrawis were seen in northern Mali, in particular in the towns of Timbuktu and Gao controlled by radical Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Juan E. Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture for the Human Rights Council (HRC), visited Laâyoune, Western Sahara, on 17 and 18 September. During a press conference following the presentation of his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 23 October, Méndez said that there was evidence of excessive use of force and a tendency to use torture in interrogation when national security is involved, both in Morocco and Western Sahara.
On 19 September, the HRC adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Morocco. Of the five recommendations specific to Western Sahara, Morocco said it was already implementing three related to measures to protect human rights defenders and to ensure the adequate protection of human rights. It did not support one calling for procedures governing registration of organisations advocating for the Sahrawi right to self-determination to conform with international standards, and it rejected another calling for the establishment of a permanent human rights component in MINURSO as beyond the HRC mandate.
A delegation of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights visited the refugee camps in Tindouf from 24-28 September, but was not granted access to the territories occupied by Morocco.
A key issue for the Council to consider is the nature of its role to encourage progress in the implementation of MINURSO’s mandate, in place since 1991, and to alleviate the situation of the Sahrawi population.
A related issue is its possible role in easing the 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 for negotiations. (The current negotiating process has gone on since April 2007, when both Morocco and the Polisario Front presented their respective proposals to the Secretary-General.) A connected issue is the impact of Morocco’s recent criticism of Ross’s approach to the negotiations.
An emerging key issue for the Council is to ensure that the Islamist radical elements operating in the Maghreb-Sahel do not infiltrate and manipulate the Sahrawi refugee camps.
An ongoing issue for the Council is to ensure that all parties fully commit to, and observe, the human rights of all individuals caught in the conflict.
One option for the Council is to simply receive the briefing and take no action.
Another option, to highlight its concern with the lack of movement on the negotiations, is to adopt a presidential or press statement supporting all or some of the following approaches recommended in the Secretary-General’s report:
- emphasise 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;
- highlight the need to obtain the approval of the population for any agreement;
- introduce a human rights component to MINURSO’s mandate (in line with the current practice of most UN peacekeeping missions); and
- request regular briefings, including on the human rights aspects of the situation, as well as the impact on the Sahel of the recent regime changes in the region.
Council and Wider Dynamics
As a party to the conflict, and a member of the Council, Morocco is regarded as having considerable impact on the overall dynamic of this issue.
Several Council members are not expecting any significant developments on this issue and feel that the Council is incapable of acting in a neutral way regarding this situation. This view appears to have been reinforced by the existence of the various versions of the Secretary-General’s report on Western Sahara (they were released inadvertently and revealed changes that indicated a reluctance to delve into some of the more difficult issues facing MINURSO).
South Africa is in favour of a human rights monitoring mechanism as part of MINURSO, but there has been opposition from others. Moreover, some Council members also feel that it is not necessary for the Secretary-General to brief on the “challenges to MINURSO’s operations and steps taken to address them” twice a year, but others believe that it is necessary for the Council to be kept abreast of developments more regularly. (Resolutions 1979 and 2044 requested the Secretary-General to “examine the existing challenges to MINURSO’s operations, reflecting the situation on the ground.”)
The US is the lead country on Western Sahara.
UN Documents on Western Sahara
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 April 2012 S/RES/2044||This resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO for another year.|
|29 April 1991 S/RES/690||This resolution established the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).|
|5 April 2012 S/2012/197||This was report on Western Sahara.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 April 2012 S/PV.6750||This was a closed meeting with the troop and police-contributing countries to MINURSO.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 June 2012 S/2012/442||This letter from the President of the Council to the Secretary-General acknowledged the receipt of S/2012/441.|
|12 April 2012 S/2012/441||This letter from the Secretary-General informed the Council of his intention to appoint Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber (Germany) as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and head of MINURSO>|
Other Relevant Facts
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MINURSO
Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber (Germany)
Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy
Christopher Ross (United States)
MINURSO Force Commander
Maj. Gen. Abdul Hafiz (Bangladesh)
Size and Composition of MINURSO as of 30 September 2012
Authorised: 237 troops, 6 police officers
Current: 233 total uniformed personnel (26 troops, 6 police officers, and 201 military observers), 94 international civilian personnel, 164 local civilian staff and 15 UN volunteers
1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013: $60.8 million (A/C.5/66/17)