Expected Council Action
In January 2019, Council members are expected to hold consultations on Western Sahara in accordance with resolution 2440 that requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council on a regular basis at any time he deems appropriate, including within three months of MINURSO’s renewal and again prior to the expiration of its mandate. The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, is expected to brief. There may also be a briefer from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The mandate of MINURSO expires on 30 April 2019.
Key Recent Developments
On 31 October 2018, the Security Council adopted resolution 2440, extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for six months. The resolution expressed the Council’s full support for the intention of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to initiate a renewed negotiations process before the end of 2018. At the adoption, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Russia abstained. In their explanation of vote, Ethiopia and Russia indicated their concerns that the resolution weakened the previously-agreed parameters for resolving the Western Sahara conflict. (The resolution removed one iteration of the habitual Council description of a solution to Western Sahara, namely that it be based on a “mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”, though it retained this formula in two paragraphs.)
On 5 and 6 December 2018, Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania attended a roundtable meeting in Geneva organised by Köhler. The Geneva roundtable meeting took place after a gap of over ten years since the last formal round of negotiations held between Morocco and the Polisario in March 2008 at Greentree in New York, and six years since the last informal talks were held in 2012, also at Greentree.
A short communiqué stated, “Delegations took stock of recent developments, addressed regional issues, and discussed the next steps in the political process on Western Sahara”. It added that “all delegations recognized that cooperation and regional integration, not confrontation, were the best way to address the many important challenges the region is facing”. The delegations agreed to hold a second roundtable meeting in the first quarter of 2019. At the press stakeout following the roundtable, Köhler described the meeting as an important first step towards a renewed political process that, according to resolution 2440, is to find a “just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”.
Key Issues and Options
A key focus of the upcoming consultations is to update Council members on the discussions at the Geneva roundtable meeting, and on next steps that the Personal Envoy is planning, including for a second roundtable meeting, towards resuming negotiations and a political process. A key issue that has kept the political process deadlocked the past ten years is that the parties’ respective proposals for the basis of a political solution, as outlined in 2007, are mutually exclusive. The Polisario’s position has been that the territory’s final status can only be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option, while Morocco has proposed that Western Sahara should be an autonomous region within Morocco.
Another issue, which played out during negotiations on resolution 2440, is Algeria’s role and participation in a political process. Morocco has insisted that Algeria should participate in a forthcoming political process as a party to the conflict. For its part, Algeria has insisted that it is not a party to the conflict and that it cannot take the place of the Polisario in negotiations, but is prepared to step up its role in the political process as a neighbouring state. So far, opting for the format of roundtable meetings appears to have been a way to avoid making this distinction and determination of how Algeria will participate in future negotiations.
Challenges to MINURSO’s operations and steps taken to address them are another issue. The parties have had significantly divergent interpretations of the mandate of MINURSO.
The Council may issue a statement that welcomes the initial roundtable meeting in Geneva, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, acknowledging the momentum generated by the resumption of direct contacts between the parties, and encouraging Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania to engage constructively at the next roundtable meeting.
Since last year, the US has sought to have the Council apply greater pressure on the parties to break the inertia around the political process. It has done so by pushing for six-month extensions of MINURSO since April 2018, instead of the one-year extensions that had been the practice since 2008, suggesting that it may not support further extensions of MINURSO’s mandate without progress on resuming negotiations. During MINURSO’s mandate renewal in October, the US contended that maintaining such pressure was necessary until a reliable political process is in place. France was the leading proponent for a 12-month extension this past October, reflecting the staunch support that it provides in the Council to Morocco, which has not been keen to have the more frequent reporting and Security Council meetings on Western Sahara that result from the shorter mandate extensions. Overall, members have been supportive of the efforts of the Personal Envoy.
Incoming member South Africa is a strong supporter of the Polisario Front. The African Council members do not have a shared position on Western Sahara, with only South Africa among next year’s A3 having recognised an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, as proclaimed by Polisario in 1976.
The US is the penholder on Western Sahara. 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|
|31 October 2018S/RES/2440||The Security Council extended the mandate of MINURSO for a further six months.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|31 October 2018S/PV.8387||This was the meeting record for the adoption and explanation of votes on MINURSO in which Bolivia, Ethiopia and Russia abstained.|
|3 October 2018S/2018/889||This was the Secretary-General’s report on MINURSO.|