What's In Blue

Posted Mon 16 Apr 2012

Western Sahara Consultations

Tomorrow (17 April), Security Council members are set to receive a briefing in consultations on the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, and the head of MINURSO, Hany Abdel-Aziz, are scheduled to brief on developments and on the latest report of the Secretary-General (S/2012/197). In the coming week or so, the Council is likely to adopt a resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate for a further 12 months before it expires on 30 April. It appears that the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, US, UK and Spain) has already held discussions on a possible draft resolution. Following tomorrow’s consultations, all Council members will likely be involved in the process.

Prior to the distribution of the Secretary-General’s final report last week, two earlier advance copies—both distributed on and dated 6 April—were subsequently replaced with a redacted advance report on 11 April. (It would appear that the latter advance copy of 6 April was issued to replace the earlier version which contained edit remarks left in unintentionally.) The final version of the report, which was back-dated to 5 April, was officially circulated on 13 April.

The final report takes into account challenges to the MINURSO mandate, as requested by the Council in resolution 1979, and acknowledges that the mission has failed to fulfil its key purpose: “to organize and supervise a referendum on Western Sahara self-determination.” In addition, it seeks the Council’s support for MINURSO to be able to “provide independent information on conditions on the ground to the Secretariat, the Security Council, and the international community”. It also encourages the facilitation of visits to the region by “diplomats, legislators, journalists, and others” in order to enhance the international community’s understanding of the issue.

The differences between the amended draft report of 6 April and the final report back-dated to 5 April are notable. (There are no fewer than seven edited paragraphs.) For instance, the earlier version stated that “the principle of United Nations neutrality has, for many years, been compromised by Morocco’s requirement that MINURSO vehicles display Moroccan diplomatic license plates. […] This practice does not fully respect United Nations neutrality.” The final version is more general and seems less critical. Additionally, the 6 April text recommended that the Council sustain MINURSO, as the mission’s name suggests, “as a mechanism to implement a referendum on self-determination”. Yet the final version alters the language to “support implementation of successive Security Council resolutions related to the mandate of MINURSO”.

These and other edits to the final version of the report were addressed by Ahmed Boukhari, the Representative of the Polisario Front to the UN, in a letter to the Council dated 12 April. The letter expressed “deep concern at the repeated efforts by the delegation of Morocco to negotiate and water down the contents of the reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council.”

Last year, a number of issues were raised during the negotiations of the draft text for resolution 1979, which renewed MINURSO’s mandate. Some of the key issues discussed were: the addition of language on improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the camps and allowing access to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; the establishment of a human rights monitoring mechanism within MINURSO; and the inclusion of language on the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) in Morocco. Some Council members, notably South Africa, had been in favour of a human rights monitoring mechanism but there had been opposition from others, including France. Some members had also considered that the language welcoming the establishment of NCHR and its sub-component in Western Sahara could lead to the assumption that Morocco had sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Once again, negotiations over the draft resolution are likely to be difficult. The debate regarding the introduction of a human rights monitoring mechanism within MINURSO remains a sensitive issue. However, those Council members that strongly support the establishment of this mechanism are less than optimistic and doubt that the new resolution will allow for an independent human rights component to be introduced.

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