Expected Council Action
In April, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The Council will receive the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Western Sahara and will be briefed by Special Representative of the Secretary-General Colin Stewart and the Department of Political Affairs on the situation ahead of MINURSO’s renewal.
MINURSO’s mandate expires on 30 April.
Key Recent Developments
On 21 March, Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara Horst Köhler and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed Council members in consultations. The briefing was a follow-up to resolution 2351, adopted on 28 April 2017. In renewing the mandate of MINURSO for an additional year, the resolution requested the Secretary-General to update the Security Council within six months of the appointment of the new personal envoy. The resolution called for information about the ways in which the envoy, working with the parties, was progressing towards a mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara; how MINURSO’s performance measures were being developed and implemented; and how structures and staffing could be reorganised to achieve mission goals efficiently.
Köhler reported on his recent consultations, which included bilateral meetings with the parties, as well as meetings with neighbouring countries Algeria and Mauritania, and the AU and EU. Kohler also reported meeting with permanent Council members France, the UK and US, with plans to meet the other two permanent members China and Russia, as well as other relevant governments. While he did not divulge details, Kohler conveyed his intention to hold direct negotiations between the parties before the end of the year, stressing that the parties ought to engage in good faith and without preconditions. Council members overwhelmingly expressed their support for Köhler and his efforts.
Lacroix briefed Council members in response to operative paragraph three of resolution 2351, in which the Council recognised that the recent crisis in the buffer strip in Guerguerat raised fundamental questions regarding the ceasefire and related agreements and encouraged the Secretary-General to explore ways that such questions can be resolved. He conveyed to members that DPKO had sent a note verbale to the parties on its intention to send a technical mission to Guerguerat and requesting information from the parties on their questions pertaining to the ceasefire. He reported that Morocco’s response was that such a mission was “untimely and inappropriate”; and while the Polisario Front welcomed the mission, they did not give any of the additional requested information.
Following the briefing, the president of the Council delivered agreed elements to the press on behalf of Council members. In it, they expressed their full support for the efforts of the personal envoy and welcomed his recent bilateral meetings with the parties and neighbouring countries to relaunch the negotiating process with a new dynamic and a new spirit, leading to the resumption of a political process under the auspices of the Secretary-General. Council members underscored the importance of maintaining constructive engagement in an effort to advance the political process. They also expressed concern about the situation in Guerguerat, and recalled the importance of maintaining the status quo as mentioned in the report of the Secretary-General and the need for full implementation of resolution 2351.
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 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 in the resolution renewing the MINURSO’s mandate, but that is unlikely as Council members themselves have divergent views on this question.
There is division among Council members on how they view the conflict. However, it appears that the current Council composition may be less polarised than it has been in recent years, when divisions rendered the Council largely unable to agree to outcomes on Western Sahara, even during successive crises. Members also appear to be united in their support for Personal Envoy Köhler and his work.
Permanent member France staunchly supports the Moroccan position and is likely to continue to work to protect Morocco’s interests during this year’s renewal.
The African members of the Council do not have a common position. Ethiopia is the only African member that recognises an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as proclaimed by the Polisario in 1976. Neither of the new African members, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, recognises SADR.
Bolivia also recognises SADR, and the parliament of another member, Sweden, voted to recognise an independent Western Sahara in 2012. The Swedish government has not implemented this.
An indication that the US administration is likely to seek to cut funding for MINURSO is contained in its budget proposal for 2019, which proposes cutting the US contribution to MINURSO by more than half and suggests reductions in both civilian staffing and in the force.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara, and resolutions are initially discussed among the Group of Friends, comprised of France, Russia, the UK, and the US, 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.|