Expected Council Action
In October, Council members expect a briefing in consultations by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara. The incoming Special Representative and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Kim Bolduc, may also brief the Council. MINURSO’s mandate expires on 30 April 2015.
Key Recent Developments
The Council last considered Western Sahara in April prior to adopting resolution 2152, which extended the mandate of MINURSO for a year. The resolution supported the Secretary-General’s request for 15 additional military observers; encouraged the parties to continue their efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria that house approximately 95,000 Sahrawis, including the freedom of expression and association; and welcomed initiatives taken by Morocco, including the then-planned visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014, which took place in May.
On 16 April, the Council held a meeting with MINURSO’s troop- and police-contributing countries. On 17 April, then Special Representative Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber (he left his post on 31 July) briefed Council members in consultations along with Ross on MINURSO’s activities and developments covered in the latest Secretary-General’s report. On Ross’ current strategy of bilateral consultations and shuttle diplomacy, in which he meets with the parties as well as Algeria and Morocco, the report says that Ross’ October briefing “will provide an opportunity to convey a first assessment on whether or not this new approach is proving fruitful”, and if no progress occurs before April 2015, “the time will have come to engage the members of the Council in a comprehensive review of the framework that it provided for the negotiating process in April 2007.”
On 6 May, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Council announcing his intention to appoint Kim Bolduc (Canada) as his Special Representative and head of MINURSO. Bolduc was to take up her position on 1 August, replacing Weisbrod-Weber. Morocco was apparently displeased that it had not been consulted about the appointment and at press time Bolduc had not yet been able to travel to her post.
Oil exploration and resource exploitation in the territory continue. On 19 June, Mohamed Abdelaziz, Secretary General of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro, or Polisario, sent a letter to the Secretary-General concerning the recently renewed Moroccan contracts with US and French firms for oil and gas exploratory drilling off the coast of Western Sahara. The letter said that these contracts were not in accordance with the wishes of the Sahrawi people and undermined the negotiation efforts of the Special Envoy. Abdelaziz urged the Secretary-General to call upon Morocco and the companies concerned to “immediately desist from any further illegal activities with respect to the natural resources of Western Sahara”. In light of the increased interest in the natural resources of Western Sahara, the Secretary-General in his April report called on all relevant actors to “recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount”, in accordance with Chapter 11, article 73 of the UN Charter.
In late June, during its summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the AU appointed former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano as its Special Envoy for Western Sahara. Chissano’s role will be to seek ways for the AU to support international efforts aimed at finding a settlement to the conflict. Morocco’s foreign office dismissed the appointment, contending that “the African Union has no legal basis, no political fundament, nor moral legitimacy to intervene in that issue which is the exclusive domain of the United Nations”. (Morocco left the AU’s precursor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after it granted membership to the Polisario-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.)
Meanwhile, tensions between Morocco and Algeria continue to escalate. In mid-July, Morocco announced the construction of an electric fence along the border with Algeria, with a stated purpose of protecting Morocco against terrorist threats from the Sahel. Algeria responded by deploying troops along the border.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Navi Pillay, who was then High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Morocco from 26 to 29 May. It was the first visit by a High Commissioner for Human Rights in 13 years. In a press conference in Rabat on 29 May, Pillay who did not visit Western Sahara, reported that a technical team from her office did so prior to her visit. The team reported state development projects and investments in economic, social and cultural areas, but also heightened scrutiny by the state of the exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Pillay welcomed invitations extended to UN independent human rights experts to visit Western Sahara. Pillay commended recent developments in Morocco, including the strengthening of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) and the creation of an inter-ministerial delegation on human rights, but noted that protections under the constitution and legislative reforms needed better implementation. Addressing the issue of torture, Pillay welcomed the creation of the National Preventive Mechanism while calling for a thorough investigation into the case of 21 prisoners arrested at Gdiem Izik, a protest camp in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara that was dismantled by police in November 2010. She also offered technical assistance and capacity-building for the regional commissions of the CNDH, which she said were playing an encouraging role in Western Sahara.
The ongoing core issue for the Security Council remains supporting the process of devising a political solution and form of self-determination for Western Sahara.
At this time the main issue is ascertaining what the Council can do to break the deadlock between the parties and, in the likely event that no progress is made by April 2015, determining what alternative approach ought to be adopted by Special Envoy Ross.
A key issue is that given the protracted nature of the conflict, the threat of a resumption of military hostilities exists. There is also the threat of popular unrest and the recruitment of frustrated Sahrawi youth, who have spent their entire life in the camps, by violent extremist or criminal networks proliferating throughout the region.
Another key issue is the question of the legality of natural resource exploration and exploitation. In January 2002, in response to a 13 November 2001 request from the Security Council for an opinion on “the legality in the context of international law, including relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations, and agreements concerning Western Sahara of actions allegedly taken by the Moroccan authorities consisting in the offering and signing of contracts with foreign companies for the exploration of mineral resources in Western Sahara”, then Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell issued an extensive opinion. It said that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories” (S/2002/161). The Council has not addressed the question of natural resources since receiving the Corell opinion.
Human rights monitoring and agreement on a mechanism that is independent, impartial, sustained and comprehensive is an ongoing issue.
The deteriorating relationship between Morocco and Algeria remains an issue of concern.
One option for the Council is to simply receive the briefing and take no action.
Revisiting a discussion of the Correll opinion is another option.
Undertaking a visit to Western Sahara prior to the April expiry of MINURSO’s mandate is a further option.
Recognising the lack of progress between the parties, the Council could also explore options for innovating its approach to the conflict by organising additional meetings with the parties and stakeholders, such as convening regular public briefings in addition to consultations, inviting relevant UN organs such as UN High Commissioners for Refugees and Human Rights to brief the Council or convening separate Arria formula meetings with the parties.
Council members remain supportive of the shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Ross.
The Group of Friends on Western Sahara—France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US—four of whom are permanent Council members, joined by Spain as the former colonial power, leads on decisions pertaining to this issue. The role of other Council members remains limited and, generally, most other members do not follow the situation closely apart from receiving the semi-annual briefings and annual report of the Secretary-General.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara.
UN Documents on Western Sahara
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 April 2014 S/RES/2152||This resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO for a year and supported the Secretary-General’s request for an additional 15 military observers, within existing resources.|
|30 April 2007 S/RES/1754||This resolution provided the framework for the negotiating process.|
|10 April 2014 S/2014/258||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report.|
|Security Council Letters|
|6 May 2014 S/2014/322||This was a letter from the Secretary-General announcing his intention to appoint Kim Bolduc as his Special Representative and head of MINURSO.|
|16 April 2007 S/2007/210||This was a letter from South Africa to the Council transmitting the Polisario plan.|
|11 April 2007 S/2007/206||This was a letter from Morocco to the Council transmitting the Moroccan plan.|