April 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 April 2023
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Western Sahara

Expected Council Action   

In April, Security Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The Special Representative for Western Sahara and head of MINURSO, Alexander Ivanko, and the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Staffan de Mistura, are the anticipated briefers.  

Key Recent Developments 

On 27 October 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2654, renewing the mandate of MINURSO for another year, until 31 October 2023. It was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (Russia and then-Council member Kenya). The resolution introduced new language stressing the importance for “all concerned expanding on their positions in order to advance a solution”. It seems that the term “all concerned” was inserted as ambiguous language to accommodate different views regarding who are considered the parties to the conflict, while giving de Mistura space to determine how to move forward with the political process. The resolution also expressed support for “building on the progress and framework of the former Personal Envoy” and strongly encouraged Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania to engage with the Personal Envoy. In addition, the resolution introduced new language calling for the resumption of the safe and regular resupply of MINURSO team sites. This language appears to have been added in response to movement restrictions imposed on the mission by the Polisario Front, which have negatively affected the serviceability and lifecycle of equipment, according to the Secretary-General’s October 2022 report on Western Sahara. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 26 October 2022.) 

De Mistura has faced complex regional dynamics as Personal Envoy. Only two months prior to his assuming this position in October 2021, Algeria suspended diplomatic ties with Morocco. In March 2022, Spain shifted its long-standing position of “active neutrality” on Western Sahara by saying it supported Morocco’s autonomy plan for the territory, which Spain governed until 1975. (Morocco’s autonomy plan, which it submitted to the UN in 2007, calls for integrating the territory into Morocco, with the Sahrawi people managing their internal affairs while being represented externally by Morocco.) On 8 June 2022, Algeria announced it was suspending its cooperation treaty with Spain, in force since 2002, because of Spain’s recognition of Morocco’s autonomy plan. 

The tense relations between Morocco and Algeria were apparent during the annual African Union (AU) summit held in Addis Ababa from 17 to 19 February. During the summit, the divisions between Morocco, on one hand, and Algeria and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), on the other, prevented the appointment of a North African country representative as Vice-President of the AU Bureau. 

On 16 December 2022, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat. In a press conference following the meeting, Colonna noted that France’s position on the Moroccan autonomy plan remains favourable to Morocco. She added that France’s position is “clear and steady” while noting that her country supports a ceasefire and the efforts undertaken by de Mistura. She also emphasised the need for the resumption of negotiations between the parties for a “just and realistic solution”. In a 21 December 2022 press briefing, the French Foreign Ministry announced that Colonna’s visit was part of the preparations for a state visit that will take place in the first quarter of 2023. It had been expected that French President Emmanuel Macron would visit Morocco in mid-January, but at the time of writing, the visit had reportedly been postponed to April. 

On 5 January, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell travelled to Morocco on a two-day visit to meet, among others, the Moroccan head of government, Aziz Akhannouch and Bourita. During a 5 January press conference following the meeting with Bourita, Borell noted that the EU supports the UN process on Western Sahara and the initiatives of de Mistura to “achieve a political solution that is fair, realistic, pragmatic, sustainable and mutually acceptable and based on compromise, in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council”.  

Borell also visited Algeria on 12-13 March, where he met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra. Following the meeting, Borrell reportedly called for an end to obstacles to trade between Algeria and Spain that have been in place since June 2022. 

On 10 March, de Mistura held a telephone conversation with Tariq Ahmad, UK Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Following the conversation, Lord Ahmad tweeted that the UK strongly supports the work undertaken by de Mistura and encouraged all parties and international partners “to work towards a renewed political process”.   

On 16 March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Major General Md. Fakhrul Ahsan (Bangladesh) as the Force Commander of MINURSO. Ahsan succeeds Major General Zia Ur Rehman (Pakistan), who completed his tenure at the end of March. 

On 20 March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Bourita in Washington, D.C. According to a press release circulated after the meeting, Blinken and Bourita affirmed their support for the efforts undertaken by de Mistura “in advancing an enduring and dignified political solution to the Western Sahara conflict”. In addition, Blinken underlined Morocco’s autonomy plan as “serious, credible, and realistic, and one potential approach to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara”.  

Key Issues and Options 

A key issue for Council members to consider is how to bring all parties to the negotiating table. Resolution 2654 called on all parties to resume negotiations with a view to “achieving a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”.  

Significant obstacles remain in the peace process. The Polisario Front announced in November 2020 that it would no longer respect the ceasefire agreement it signed with Morocco in 1991.  

An important issue, which is described in the Secretary-General’s 3 October 2022 MINURSO report, is the constraints on MINURSO’s logistical supply and maintenance of team sites east of the berm, which purportedly have serious consequences for the mission’s ability to sustain its field presences in the difficult conditions of the region.  

The human rights situation is another issue of concern. The Secretary-General’s 3 October 2022 report notes that OHCHR was unable to conduct any visits to Western Sahara for the seventh consecutive year despite multiple requests and despite the Security Council strongly encouraging enhanced cooperation in resolution 2602 (2021). The report added that OHCHR continued to receive allegations of human rights violations in Western Sahara, reportedly committed by Moroccan security forces.   

A possible option for Council would be to issue a presidential statement expressing support for de Mistura’s efforts and urging all parties to resume negotiations. 

Council Dynamics 

The US, the penholder on Western Sahara, recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the region in December 2020 during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has not changed this position. France has traditionally supported the Moroccan autonomy plan, and Gabon and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are also supportive of Morocco. Council members Ghana and Mozambique maintain diplomatic relations with SADR. 

Divisions among Council members were apparent in the meeting on Western Sahara on 27 October 2022. In its explanation of vote following the adoption of resolution 2654, Russia noted that “[i]n the past few years, the resolutions on the renewal of MINURSO’s mandate have included amendments that in our view harm the unbiased and impartial approach needed to resolve the issue of Western Sahara”. It objected to the references to the “round-table format” meetings, calling them irrelevant and limiting the mediation efforts of de Mistura. In addition, Russia noted that the final settlement should be based on mutually acceptable outcomes that could contribute to a fair political resolution for Morocco and the Polisario Front and provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. On the other hand, the UAE expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy plan, while recognising its sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara.  

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Security Council Resolutions
27 October 2022S/RES/2654 This resolution renewed the mandate of MINURSO until 31 October 2023.
Secretary-General’s Reports
3 October 2022S/2022/733 This was a Secretary-General’s report concerning Western Sahara.
Security Council Meeting Records
27 October 2022S/PV.9168 This contained the explanation of votes after the adoption of resolution 2654 renewing MINURSO’s mandate.