Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which expires on 31 October. Ahead of the mandate renewal, Council members are also likely to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s annual report on the situation concerning Western Sahara, which member states anticipate to receive by 2 October.
Key Recent Developments
On 27 October 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2654, renewing the mandate of MINURSO for another year 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 to accommodate different views regarding the parties to the conflict, while giving the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Staffan de Mistura, the 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—the entity representing the inhabitants of the Western Sahara region, known as Sahrawis—Algeria, and Mauritania to engage with the Personal Envoy. In addition, it 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 the Polisario Front has imposed on the mission that have negatively affected the serviceability and life cycles 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.)
On 17 July, Israel announced that it would recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and intended to consider opening a consulate in Dakhla, a city in the disputed territory. In a Twitter post following the announcement, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that “[t]his step will strengthen the relations between the two countries…and will contribute to the efforts exerted to expand cooperation and deepen peace and stability in our region”. In a 19 July press release, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI welcomed Israel’s decision, saying it would contribute to closer ties between Morocco and Israel. In a statement the next day (20 July), the Algerian foreign ministry criticised Israel’s decision, which it said “cannot in any way legitimise the occupation of Sahrawi lands”.
On 27 July, the Secretary-General submitted his report on the “Question of Western Sahara”, covering developments from 1 September 2022 to 30 June pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/RES/77/133 of 16 December 2022. The report noted that during this period, the situation in Western Sahara was characterised by low-intensity hostilities between Morocco and the Polisario Front, creating challenges to MINURSO’s operational environment. It added that constraints on MINURSO’s logistical supply and maintenance chain to team sites east of the berm continued to seriously impede the mission’s ability to sustain its field presence. (The berm refers to an approximately 1,700-mile-long earthen wall that divides the Moroccan-administered portion of Western Sahara from that held by the Polisario Front.) The report said that following high-level engagement, MINURSO was able to conduct three separate ground convoy movements between April and June to its team sites east of the berm in Agwanit, Mehaires, Mijek, and Tifariti, delivering urgently needed fuel and other supplies.
The 15th BRICS summit was held in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August. Brahim Ghali, the Secretary General of the Polisario Front, attended the BRICS-Africa dialogue meeting on 24 August. The declaration adopted at the conclusion of the BRICS summit emphasised “the need to achieve an enduring and mutually acceptable political solution to the question of Western Sahara in accordance with relevant [Security Council] resolutions and in fulfilment of the mandate of…[MINURSO]”.
De Mistura has continued his diplomatic efforts in a bid to advance the political process. On 4 September, he embarked on a regional tour with Laayoune as his first stop, followed by Dakhla on 6 September. This was his first visit to Western Sahara since his appointment as Personal Envoy in November 2021. In response to a question concerning the aim of de Mistura’s visit to the region during a 5 September press briefing, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that de Mistura “looks forward to further deepening consultations with all concerned on the prospects of constructively advancing the political process on Western Sahara in the course of these regional engagements”.
On 8 September, de Mistura met Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat. During the meeting, Bourita reportedly reiterated Morocco’s position regarding its autonomy plan. (The plan, which Morocco 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 11 September, de Mistura met Ghali in New York. According to a media report, Ghali emphasised the “Sahrawi people’s commitment to defending their national rights and aspirations by all legal means enshrined by the UN charter and AU’s constitutive act”. On 13 September, de Mistura met with Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf in Algiers. According to a press statement released by the Algerian foreign ministry following the meeting, Attaf supported de Mistura’s efforts, expressing hope that they “lead to the revival of direct negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, namely the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, without pre-conditions and in good faith, to find a political solution preserving Western Sahara people’s right to self-determination”.
De Mistura also held a meeting with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El-Ghazouani in Nouakchott on 14 September.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for the Council is to renew the mandate of MINURSO and consider what changes to the mission’s mandate, if any, are necessary.
Another important issue for Council members to consider is how to bring all the 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, however. The Polisario Front announced in November 2020 that it would no longer respect the ceasefire agreement it signed with Morocco in 1991.
A possible option for the Council would be to issue a presidential statement expressing support for de Mistura’s efforts and urging all parties to resume negotiations.
The human rights situation is another issue of concern. The Secretary-General’s 3 October 2022 report noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was unable to conduct any visits to Western Sahara for the seventh consecutive year despite multiple requests and the Security Council strongly encouraging enhanced cooperation with OHCHR in resolution 2602 of 29 October 2021. The report added that OHCHR continued to receive allegations of human rights violations in Western Sahara, reportedly committed by Moroccan security forces.
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 the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WESTERN SAHARA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|27 October 2022S/RES/2654||This resolution renewed the mandate of MINURSO until 31 October 2023.|
|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.|