Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will receive a briefing in consultations on Western Sahara. It will be the second of the Secretary-General’s semi-annual briefings on the situation in Western Sahara this year. While at press time the briefers had not yet been confirmed, typically the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General conduct the briefing.
Key Recent Developments
The new Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, took up his functions on 8 September in New York, where he held meetings and consultations until 16 September. Mr. Köhler met with Secretary-General António Guterres and senior UN officials, representatives of the parties and neighbours, other member states and the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security. In a 17 September statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the intention of his Personal Envoy to travel to the region and stressed the importance of the visit to help re-launch the political process with a new spirit and dynamic, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2351. The Secretary-General had sent a letter to the Council on 30 May expressing his intention to appoint Köhler as his new Personal Envoy. Köhler’s appointment, however, faced delays due to administrative difficulties and his appointment was finally announced on 16 August. On 7 March, it had been announced that the Secretary-General’s previous Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, had offered his resignation after serving in the position for eight years.
On 28 April, the Council adopted resolution 2351, which renewed the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018. The resolution called on the parties to the conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution. It also called on the parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO and to take the necessary steps to ensure the unhindered movement of UN personnel in carrying out their mandate. The resolution reaffirmed the need to fully respect military agreements reached with MINURSO on the ceasefire and called for full adherence to those accords, and it recognised that the crisis in the Guerguerat buffer strip that began in August 2016 raised fundamental questions about the ceasefire and related agreements. The Council called upon the parties to demonstrate the political will to work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue in order to resume negotiations and to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions, and it emphasised the importance of their commitment to continuing the preparations for a fifth round of negotiations.
The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to update the Security Council within six months of the appointment of the new Personal Envoy on ways in which the Personal Envoy, working with the parties, was progressing towards a mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara; how MINURSO’s performance measures were being developed and implemented; how structures and staffing could be reorganised to achieve mission goals efficiently; and how new technologies were being considered to reduce risk, improve force protection, and better implement the mandate of MINURSO.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue is that the parties to the conflict remain deadlocked and the political process has stalled because the parties’ respective proposals for the basis of a political solution as outlined in 2007 are mutually exclusive. The Council may consider ways in which it can support the new Personal Envoy in his endeavours to convene a fifth round of talks between the parties. Council members may consider how they can encourage the parties, collectively or bilaterally, to approach such talks in good faith.
Another issue is that the parties have significantly divergent interpretations of the mandate of MINURSO. In Morocco’s view, the mission’s role is limited to monitoring the ceasefire, supporting demining, and assisting the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with confidence-building measures in the event that such activities resume after their interruption in July 2014; it does not encompass contact with civil society or other civilian actors. By contrast, the Polisario Front maintains that organising a referendum on self-determination remains the central element of the mission’s mandate, with ceasefire monitoring and other activities being subordinate to that aim. The Council could attempt to clarify the objectives and mandate of the mission, but this is unlikely as Council members themselves diverge on this question.
Council members are deeply divided on how they view the conflict. These divisions have rendered the Council largely unable to agree to outcomes on Western Sahara, even during successive recent crises. Following Morocco’s expulsion of MINURSO’s civilian component in March 2016 and the crisis in Al-Guergarat that August, the Council remained mostly silent because of the insistence of some members, notably permanent member France, which staunchly supports the Moroccan position concerning Western Sahara.
The African members of the Council do not have a common position. Egypt and Senegal have in the past worked to protect Morocco’s interests in the Council. Ethiopia recognises an independent Western Sahara and supports the positions of the AU.
Among other members, Uruguay, which recognises an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), has attempted to enhance the Council’s role and oversight of the situation by requesting ad hoc briefings. Bolivia also recognises the SADR. The parliament of another member, Sweden, voted to recognise Western Sahara in 2012, but the Swedish government has not implemented this.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara, and resolutions on Western Sahara are initially discussed among the Group of Friends (France, the UK, the US and Russia, joined by Spain, the former colonial power).
UN DOCUMENTS ON WESTERN SAHARA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 April 2017 S/RES/2351||The Council adopted a resolution renewing the mandate of MINURSO for one year.|
|Security Council Letters|
|25 May 2017 S/2017/462||This was a letter from the Secretary-General expressing his intention to appoint Horst Köhler as his new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.|
|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.|