UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara Mandate Renewal
Tomorrow (29 April), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for twelve months. (The current mandate expires on 30 April.) The draft resolution was put in blue on 25 April. It seems that it does not differ fundamentally from the previous MINURSO resolution (S/RES/2099).
The draft resolution prepared by the US, the penholder on Western Sahara, was circulated to the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, Spain, UK and US) on 17 April, and discussed in negotiations on 22 April. The draft was then circulated to the Council on 23 April, and negotiations started the next day. Negotiations both within the Group of Friends and the Council were reportedly smooth.
The draft resolution in blue renews MINURSO’s mandate until 30 April 2015. It supports the Secretary-General’s request for an additional 15 military observers, within existing resources. As in resolution 2099, the draft encourages the parties to continue their efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria. However, additional language was added this year, including the freedoms of expression and association among these rights. The resolution also welcomes recent steps and initiatives taken by Morocco, such as the planned visit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014. Additionally, the draft resolution states that the Council is “inviting” efforts on the consideration of refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps, whereas last year’s resolution had the Council “encouraging” such efforts.
Council members had the opportunity to discuss the situation in Western Sahara on 17 April when the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MINURSO, Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber (Germany), and the Secretary General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross (US), briefed Council members in consultations.
In his briefing, Weisbrod-Weber updated Council members on MINURSO’s activities. He noted that progress had been made regarding the perception of MINURSO’s neutrality. He also reportedly briefed on the extent of, and limitations to, his access to all interlocutors. In his latest report, dated 10 April (S/2014/258), the Secretary-General indicated that, due to Morocco’s interpretation of the MINURSO mandate as strictly limited to ceasefire and military matters, the Special Representative was only able to meet with civil society representatives and human rights activists in Western Sahara in Ross’s presence during his visits in Laayoune, Dakhla and Smara.
During his briefing, Weisbrod-Weber also reported the resumption on 16 April of humanitarian family visit flights which had been suspended since June 2013. (The family visit flights are part of the confidence building measures programme aimed at facilitating contact and communication between refugees in the camps near Tindouf, Algeria, and their relatives in Western Sahara.)
Ross briefed the Council on his approach in trying to facilitate negotiations between the parties. Given that face-to-face talks produced no results, Ross is currently using bilateral and confidential consultations to determine the flexibility of the parties in coming up with a compromise solution and whether neighbouring states can help. Since his last briefing to the Council on 30 October 2013, Ross has visited the region twice: from 18-30 January and 27 February-7 March. Between November 2013 and March 2014, Ross also had consultations with members of the Group of Friends, visiting Madrid, Paris and Washington.
Ross told Council members in the consultations about the next steps in the negotiations, including the idea of holding bilateral discussions with the parties and the neighbouring states at least once a month, with his next trip to the region planned in May or June. Ross also reported how youth in the refugee camps near Tindouf were frustrated at the lack of political progress and at the difficult socio-economic conditions in the camps. He added that if there were no progress before April 2015, it would be time to review the framework provided by the Council for the negotiating process in April 2007.
During the consultations, Council members expressed their support for the work being done by MINURSO, Weisbrod-Weber and Ross, as well as for the current shuttle diplomacy approach. Most Council members welcomed recent efforts by Morocco in regard to human rights, including its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Some nonetheless raised the need for more improvements by both parties on the human rights situation. At least one Council member said it was in favour of the establishment of a human rights mechanism within MINURSO. (An advance copy of the Secretary-General’s report circulated to Council members included a recommendation for a “sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism” but the word “mechanism” was omitted in the published version.)
The April 2015 timeframe outlined by the Secretary-General in his report—and by Ross during the consultations—raised a few questions from Council members. Some Council members seemed not to be in favour of a deadline on the current political process, fearing a negative impact on the negotiations. Ross explained that, although it should not be considered a deadline, it was important to maintain pressure on the parties. It seems one Council member also asked about alternatives to the current shuttle diplomacy approach.
Several Council members also said that the registration of refugees in the Tindouf camps needed to be addressed. In his recent report, the Secretary-General noted that after a meeting in September 2013, UNHCR agreed with the concerned authorities to send a registration expert in the second quarter of 2014 to discuss the modalities for conducting registration in the camps.
One Council member raised the question of natural resources, underlying the importance of respecting the rights of the Sahrawi population. In his latest report, the Secretary-General wrote that “in the light of increased interest in the natural resources of Western Sahara”, he was calling upon all relevant actors to “‘recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount’, in accordance with Chapter XI, Article 73 of the Charter” on non-self-governing territories. (This recommendation comes at a time when Morocco has just renewed contracts with foreign oil companies and as a new Protocol of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Morocco signed late 2013 came into effect in February 2014.)
Other issues raised by Council members in the consultations included the question of the relationship between Algeria and Morocco; how to address the frustrations of the youth in the refugee camps; and the new model proposed by the Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council for the so-called “Southern Provinces”.