Expected Council Action
The Council will receive a briefing in consultations on Western Sahara in October. The Special Representative and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Colin Stewart, is expected to brief. Also during October, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of MINURSO, which expires on 31 October.
Key Recent Developments
When the Council renewed the mandate of MINURSO in April, it opted for a six-month renewal instead of the regular one-year extension. The US, which is the penholder on Western Sahara, pushed for the shorter extension to pressure Morocco and the Polisario Front to resume negotiations that are meant to obtain a mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The last round of formal negotiations occurred ten years ago. During its explanation of vote at the resolution’s adoption, the US warned that the further extension of the peacekeeping operation in October would depend on progress in the political process, saying that it expected to see the resumption of “real and substantive talks”. The then US political coordinator Amy Tachco added, “Should that fail, we will then need to take a hard look at our work and our responsibilities when the Mission again comes up for renewal in six months”.
From 23 June to 1 July, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, who is responsible for facilitating negotiations, visited the region to push for the resumption of negotiations. Köhler visited Algiers, Nouakchott, Rabouni and Rabat before spending three days in Western Sahara, where he held meetings in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla with local authorities, civil society organisations, and the business community.
On 8 August, Köhler briefed Council members in consultations on his visit and on his plans to advance the political process. Köhler said that he intended to invite the parties and neighbouring countries Algeria and Mauritania to direct talks that he would seek to organise in late November or early December. These talks, Köhler apparently explained, would allow the parties to discuss a general framework as a basis for subsequent negotiations, rather than going into substantive issues.
Since MINURSO’s renewal in April, an independent review of the mission was conducted. The findings of the review, which have not been made public but are to be integrated into the Secretary-General’s report on MINURSO, apparently determined that MINURSO plays a conflict-prevention role, providing a strong guarantee against a renewal in fighting in this part of the Sahel. If the mission were removed and fighting resumed, responding to the resulting situation could be much costlier than MINURSO’s annual $53 million budget. The review reportedly also noted that the mission has been operating in the same way for the past 27 years and proposed modernising it with new technologies, which would be more efficient for monitoring the cessation of hostilities and would provide financial savings.
In other developments, the AU Assembly agreed at its 31st summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania in July, to support a solution to Western Sahara through the UN process, as opposed to its previous position calling for joint AU-UN efforts. It appealed to the parties “to urgently resume negotiations without pre-conditions and in good faith under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the UN, whose Security Council is seized of the matter”. It also decided that a troika comprising the outgoing, current and incoming AU chairpersons, together with the AU Commissioner, should be its main mechanism for supporting UN-led efforts and considering the issue.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is progress in the political process towards resuming negotiations, without which the US has suggested that it may not support MINURSO’s renewal. The process has stalled over the last decade because the parties’ respective proposals for the basis of a political solution as outlined in 2007 are mutually exclusive. An important step will be the parties’ responses to the invitation to participate in the upcoming talks, which, according to Köhler’s envisioned timeline that he outlined when he briefed Council members, should be provided during October before MINURSO’s expiration. A 1 June letter to the Council from the Polisario said that it stood ready to resume direct negotiations immediately, without preconditions and in good faith under the auspices of the Personal Envoy.
Another issue will be members’ consideration of the recommendations that the Secretary-General is likely to propose to make MINURSO more efficient, based on the independent review. Other issues may include an update to the Council’s request in resolution 2414 to “interview” the parties “to better understand” the tensions that have occurred in recent years ahead of the mandate renewal pertaining to Guerguerat and, also this year, to Bir Lahlou. Also likely to be discussed is Stewart’s inability since his appointment in December 2017 as Special Representative to meet with the Polisario leadership, which has requested that the meeting take place in Western Sahara as opposed to the practice of meeting in Tindouf.
The Council may renew the mandate of MINURSO for an additional six months, expressing support for the Personal Envoy’s plans to resume political negotiations, and reiterating its calls upon the parties to engage in negotiations without preconditions and in good faith.
Council members want to see progress towards the resumption of negotiations, and during the last consultations most members expressed support for the Personal Envoy’s efforts. This included the US, which has driven the recent pressure being exerted by the Council on the parties to return to negotiations. US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who served as an assistant in the 1990s to former Personal Envoy James Baker, is said to have played an important role in the decision to have a six-month renewal in April. Personal Envoy Köhler met with Bolton in Washington, D.C. the day before Council consultations in August.
Permanent member France staunchly supports Moroccan positions. Ethiopia is the only current African member that recognises an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, as proclaimed by the Polisario in 1976. Last April’s mandate renewal vote saw China, Ethiopia and Russia abstain on resolution 2414, maintaining that the penholder was not adequately consultative during the negotiation process. Members are likely to have differences over the efficiency proposals that the Secretary-General’s report is expected to recommend for MINURSO.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara, and resolutions are initially discussed among the Group of Friends, comprising France, Russia, the UK, and the US, joined by Spain, the former colonial power.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WESTERN SAHARA
|Security Council Resolution
|27 April 2018 S/RES/2414
|This was a resolution renewing MINURSO for another six months, until 31 October 2018.
|Security Council Meeting Record
|27 April 2018 S/PV.8246
|This was the renewal of MINURSO, including Council members’ explanation of votes.