Expected Council Action
In April, the Council expects a briefing in consultations on the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) by Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINURSO. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, is also likely to brief the Council.
A likely outcome is the adoption of a resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate—which expires on 30 April 2013—for another 12 months.
Key Recent Developments
Ross last briefed the Council on the status of negotiations on Western Sahara in consultations on 28 November 2012, following which there was no outcome. Weisbrod-Weber also made a statement. Ross focused primarily on his trip to North Africa from 25 October to 11 November—which included meetings with King Mohammed of Morocco and Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Secretary-General of the Polisario Front (in Algeria)—in addition to meetings in Madrid and Paris on 12-15 November. The trip resulted in an agreement on a “shuttle diplomacy” approach to the negotiating process, reminiscent of that undertaken by then Personal Envoy James A. Baker III in 1997, comprising regular visits to Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Western Sahara.
From 28 January to 15 February, Ross continued his tour of members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US) aimed at building international support for the negotiations, visiting Washington D.C. and Moscow, in addition to Germany and Switzerland.
The next step in the shuttle diplomacy began on 20 March and was scheduled to end on 3 April, with the aim of preparing for the subsequent phase in the negotiating process and a possible resumption of direct talks by mid-2013. Ross has held discussions with Morocco and the Polisario Front and visited Western Sahara, Algeria and Mauritania. Ross may also consider visiting Libya and Tunisia at a later stage, to explore further options for regional engagement and support for the negotiating process, as well as to discuss concerns about the heightened risks of instability and insecurity in the Sahel.
On 15 March, the Group of Friends issued a joint statement, welcoming the upcoming trip and expressing their support for the mediation efforts undertaken by Ross. The statement also encouraged the parties to show flexibility in their engagement with the Personal Envoy and each other, in the hopes of ending the current impasse and achieving progress towards a political solution.
There have been some improvements in the situation since the adoption of resolution 2044 renewing MINURSO’s mandate on 24 April 2012. UN officials noted an increase in access to a broader range of interlocutors, including Ross’s visits to Western Sahara in October-November 2012 and early 2013 and regular meetings with Morocco’s National Human Rights Council.
However, media reports suggest that access to Western Sahara for international delegations remains an issue of concern. On 6 March, four members of the European Parliament arrived in Casablanca on their way to Laâyoune for meetings with human rights organisations and MINURSO representatives; they were denied access by Morocco and later returned to Europe.
The programme run by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), offering separated families in Western Sahara and refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria a range of services to help them reconnect, has continued. UNHCR’s family visit programme has significantly expanded, with larger aircraft permitting a greater number of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf to reunite with their families in Western Sahara and vice versa. Furthermore, free telephone services allow separated Sahrawi families to contact and stay in touch with their relatives. However, as noted by Ross in his 28 November briefing, there is a need for increased funding for UNHCR’s confidence-building measures programme, which has seen a significant decrease in financial support due to the global economic crisis.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 19 February, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern at the use of a military court to try and convict 25 Saharan civilians charged in relation to violence surrounding the dismantling of the Gdim Izik protest camp near Laâyoune on 8 November 2010, and at the alleged ill-treatment they received during their pre-trial detention. According to a report of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council, the trial took place “under normal conditions and was marked by due process”.
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) considered several reports relevant to the situation in Western Sahara during its March session.
On 4 March, Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, introduced his report to the HRC on his September 2012 visit to Morocco that included Laâyoune (A/HRC/22/53/Add.2 of 28 February 2013).
On 5 March, the HRC considered the report of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances on the follow-up to its country mission to Morocco (A/HRC/22/45/Add.3 of 1 March 2013).
On 4 March, the HRC considered the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. In its addendum, Sekaggya expressed concern regarding the restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly encountered in Western Sahara, the excessive use of force during demonstrations, and the alleged difficulties to register for organisations in Western Sahara (A/HRC/22/47/Add.4 of 27 February 2013).
In the lead up to the ongoing negotiations on the draft resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate, a number of international human rights groups reiterated their call for the introduction of a human rights component in MINURSO’s mandate, obtaining widespread media exposure.
A key issue for the Council is the renewal of MINURSO’s mandate that complements the negotiating process and takes into consideration the regional context and the instability of the situation in Mali and the Sahel.
A related issue is for the Special Representative and Personal Envoy, UN and associated personnel and international delegations to have free access to interlocutors in Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Western Sahara.
Human rights monitoring and agreement on a mechanism that is independent, impartial, sustained and comprehensive is an ongoing issue.
One option is for Council members to adopt a resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate for a period of 12 months, maintaining similar language to that of the current mandate and encouraging progress in the negotiating process and the resumption of direct talks.
This option could include taking note of the Secretary-General’s recommendation for an increase in MINURSO personnel that appeared in his report of 5 April 2012 (S/2012/197). The request was for 15 UN military observers to bolster MINURSO’s monitoring capacities, in addition to six MINURSO police officers to support the expansion of the humanitarian family visit programme.
Further options that could be discussed in April for possible consideration at a later stage relate to the monitoring of human rights, such as:
- welcoming the work of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council and Morocco’s ongoing cooperation with Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council;
- requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to brief on the human rights situation in Western Sahara, encouraging consideration of alternative human rights monitoring arrangements such as regular OHCHR staff visits; and (although unlikely options at this juncture)
- asking the Secretary-General to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the overall human rights situation in Western Sahara; or
- introducing a human rights component to MINURSO’s mandate.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members engaged on the issue, including Morocco, remain supportive of the shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Ross and remain hopeful that such an approach could pave the way for moving into direct talks shortly.
Positions on Western Sahara—including those of the Group of Friends, four of whom are permanent Council members—remain unchanged, with most Council members remaining reluctant to speak out strongly on the issue and instead preferring to use their political capital on other issues on the Council’s agenda.
While the EU stance has generally been aligned with that of Morocco, some EU members may be shifting, as reflected by the 5 December 2012 vote by the Swedish parliament to recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Media reports suggest that advocacy efforts are underway to promote similar initiatives in other European parliaments.
The US is the penholder 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.|
|5 April 2012 S/2012/197||The Secretary-General’s MINURSO report (Western Sahara).|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|28 March 2013 S/PV.6758||This was the adoption of resolution 2044 renewing MINURSO’s mandate.|
Other Relevant Facts
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MINURSO
Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber (Germany)
Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara
Christopher Ross (US)
MINURSO Size, Composition and Budget
Strength as of 31 January 2013: 25 troops; 175 military observers; 6 police; 95 international civilians; 165 local civilians; 16 UN volunteers
Budget (July 2012-June 2013): $61.3 million
April 1991-to present