Expected Council Action
In July, the Council expects a briefing on the situation in Western Sahara and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), as requested by resolution 2285. The resolution renewed MINURSO’s mandate and emphasised the urgent need for the mission to return to full functionality following Morocco’s expulsion of 84 civilian staff members in March due to a dispute with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, following Ban’s use of the term “occupation” to describe Morocco’s relationship to Western Sahara.
Key Recent Developments
On 29 April, the Council adopted resolution 2285 renewing MINURSO’s mandate for an additional year with ten votes in favour, two against (Uruguay and Venezuela) and three abstentions (Angola, New Zealand and Russia). The lack of consensus on the resolution reflected the divisions over the developments and process leading up to this adoption. The resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO for 12 months and requested the Secretary-General “to brief the Council within 90 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality” and expressed the intention, should this not be the case, “to consider how best to facilitate this”.
On 16 June, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefed Council members under “any other business” on the situation in Western Sahara. Venezuela requested the briefing, the first Council meeting on the issue since the adoption of resolution 2285, in order to hear about the situation on the ground and ongoing efforts to restore MINURSO to full functionality. Ladsous provided a short update with few details on what he described as far-reaching consultations between the UN and Morocco held from 9 to 12 June. He reported that a UN team of four had travelled to Rabat and Layounne to meet with Moroccan officials and that it was agreed in principle that MINURSO would return to full functionality; however, talks were ongoing. Concerning the mission’s operations at that time, Ladsous said that the mission was unable to fulfil its mandate and that it was carrying out limited observation and de-mining activities at substantial risk to the personnel involved because of a shortage of security and maintenance staff in the mission.
On 17 June, media reports surfaced that Morocco had agreed to allow 25 staff members to return immediately to MINURSO. On 22 June, DPKO circulated a confidential note to the Council informing it that the gradual return of staff would commence with the return of an initial group of 25 critical staff “in the immediate future” and that it anticipated that additional staff would return subsequently. The note also said that with the return to full functionality, it was anticipated that a range of administrative and support processes that had been suspended would resume. The note added that the mission, along with DPKO and the Department of Field Support, would continue to monitor the return to full functionality and that the UN would provide the 90-day briefing as expected. Minutes after the note was circulated, it was recalled by the Secretariat. At press time, it appeared that no further update had been provided.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, the head and co-founder of the Polisario Front independence movement, died on 31 May. The Polisario ordered a 40-day mourning period, after which it said a new secretary-general would be chosen.
This year’s report of the Secretary-General said that the expulsion of most of MINURSO’s international civilian component had resulted in the “de facto alteration of the mandate of MINURSO”, and that the issue of immediate concern was to ensure that MINURSO resumes full functionality, as requested by resolution 2285.
The underlying issue is that the parties to the conflict remain deadlocked and the political process has stalled due to the fact that the parties’ proposals for the basis of a political solution as outlined in 2007 are mutually exclusive. Ascertaining what the Council can do to break the deadlock between the parties is therefore a key issue.
Another key issue is that the resumption of armed conflict cannot be ruled out, and the Council may need to focus on how best to mitigate that threat.
A wider issue for the Council are the implications of allowing a member state to insist on the removal of parts of a Council-mandated mission, especially from a disputed territory.
Depending on what the Council learns in the briefing, it may choose to take further action to facilitate MINURSO’s return to full functionality.
If necessary, one option would be for the Council to issue a statement urging Morocco to reverse its decision in order to let MINURSO continue its work unhindered. However, given the deep divisions among Council members on how to interpret the situation, agreeing on any further action is likely to be difficult.
The Council is deeply divided on both the approach to the wider conflict and the current impasse between Morocco and the UN.
Council members who support the Moroccan position include Egypt, France, Senegal and Spain, and it appears that their views cannot be reconciled with those of some other members, particularly those that recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario in 1976. Three Council members have recognised SADR: Angola, Uruguay and Venezuela. Angola and Uruguay also maintain diplomatic relations with Morocco, while Venezuela does not.
Council members who are sympathetic to the Moroccan position have resisted the Council’s putting pressure on Morocco to reverse its decision. These countries have advocated minimal Council involvement, which they argue could hamper bilateral efforts to resolve the crisis.
Several members, including Angola, New Zealand, Uruguay and Venezuela, have urged that the Council must act to protect the MINURSO mission that it has mandated. They dissented from resolution 2285 in part because it did not demand the immediate return of the expelled staff. Some of these members have also expressed frustration at what they perceive to be a double standard in how the Council has declined to impose measures on Morocco as, in their view, it would on other African countries in such circumstances.
In their explanation of vote on 2285, several countries lamented the lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the negotiation of the resolution, which was dominated by Moroccan ally France and the penholder, the US.
UN Documents on Western Sahara
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 April 2016 S/RES/2285||This was a resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate for an additional year.|
|19 April 2016 S/2016/355||This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on Western Sahara.|