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, and Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.
A resolution will likely be adopted to renew MINURSO’s mandate—which expires on 30 April—for another 12 months.
Key Recent Developments
Weisbrod-Weber and Ross last briefed Council members on 30 October 2013. Weisbrod-Weber mentioned MINURSO’s increasing range of interlocutors and the growing number of international visits in Western Sahara and the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. Ross briefed on his trip to North Africa from 12-25 October, during which the modalities and objectives of his shuttle-diplomacy were discussed. The approach consists in undertaking confidential and separate bilateral exchanges with Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Polisario) and the neighbouring countries (Algeria and Mauritania), to induce the parties to move beyond formal proposals. Ross has undertaken two trips to the region in 2014: in January he gave a confidential list of questions to each party to be answered during his next visits, including the recent 26 February-6 March visit.
Diplomatic tensions rose between Rabat and Algiers following public criticism of Morocco’s human rights record in Western Sahara by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on 28 October.
Since Ross’s October visit to Western Sahara, demonstrations were held periodically, including in Laâyoune and Smara, seeking self-determination for the territory. Clashes between protesters and the police were reported on at least one occasion.
As part of the confidence-building measures by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 140 people from the Tindouf refugee camps and from Western Sahara attended a week-long cultural seminar in the Azores Islands starting on 17 March. Resolution 2099 authorised the deployment of six additional police officers to implement the expanded family visit programme, which was suspended in the summer due to technical difficulties and disagreements on the eligibility of potential participants. It is expected to resume on 17 April with a series of four flights.
In its annual world report on the situation of human rights in 2013, Human Rights Watch reported restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Western Sahara.
Human-Rights Related Developments
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council (HRC) undertook its first visit to Morocco and Laâyoune, Western Sahara, from 9-18 December 2013. At the end of the mission, the working group expressed concern at the situation of the 22 individuals detained after their sentencing by a military tribunal following the events surrounding the dismantling of the Gdim Izik camp in November 2010. It reiterated that military courts should only have jurisdiction over the military and exclusively military offenses. On 14 March, Morocco endorsed a draft law that, if approved in the Parliament, will end the use of military tribunals to try civilians. A complete report from the mission will be presented to the HRC in September.
Morocco invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the country in 2014. Several HRC Special Procedures are expected to visit the country this year, including Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture in a follow-up visit.
The main issue for the Council in April is MINURSO’s mandate renewal.
The larger issue is what the Council can do to ease the deadlock in the negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, including how best to support Ross in his efforts to bring the parties together and break the stalemate.
Tensions between Morocco and Algeria remain an issue of concern.
The consideration of a refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps is another issue.
An ongoing issue for the Council is whether to be more active in addressing the human rights situation. Morocco believes the issue of human rights is being unnecessarily politicised, and that it is ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights through national mechanisms and through its interactions with the HRC mechanisms, including the visits by the HRC’s Special Procedures. The Polisario believes that a human rights mechanism within MINURSO is the only appropriate mechanism as Special Procedures are not based on the ground.
In resolution 1754 (2007), the Council took note of the Moroccan proposal for autonomy (S/2007/206) and the Polisario’s proposal for a referendum with three options—independence, self-governance or integration into Morocco—(S/2007/210) and called for negotiations with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution. There has since been no progress toward finding a “mutually acceptable political solution,” with neither proposal being accepted by both parties as the basis for negotiations.
The Council could adopt a resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate for a period of 12 months, maintaining language similar to that of the current mandate and welcoming the shuttle-diplomacy undertaken by Ross.
The resolution could also:
- request 15 additional UN military observers to bolster MINURSO’s monitoring capacities, as recommended in the last Secretary-General’s report (S/2013/220);
- encourage both parties to strengthen their cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); or
- introduce a human rights component to MINURSO’s mandate.
The Council could also:
- convene regular public briefings by the Secretary-General in addition to consultations;
- invite UNHCR and OHCHR to brief the Council; or
- convene separate “Arria-formula” meetings with the parties.
Council members remain supportive of the shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Ross.
Last year, an initial draft introduced by the US reportedly included language giving MINURSO a mandate to monitor and gather information on human rights violations, as well as a reference to human rights monitoring in the camps near Tindouf, but by the time the draft was distributed to all Council members this language had been withdrawn. Bilateral discussions between the US and Morocco (then an elected Council member) played a key role in the drafting of resolution 2099. At press time, it was unclear whether such an initiative would be renewed and Council members were awaiting the next report of the Secretary-General due on 10 April. The Group of Friends (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US) met once on 26 March to receive a briefing from Ross about his last visits to the region but did not discuss the upcoming MINURSO renewal resolution. The role of Council members that are not part of the Group of Friends is usually low-key.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara.
UN Documents on Western Sahara
|Security Council Resolution
|25 April 2013 S/RES/2099
|This resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO until 30 April 2014.
|8 April 2013 S/2013/220
|This was a report of the Secretary-General on MINURSO.