Vote on Resolution Extending UN Mission in Western Sahara
Tomorrow morning (28 April), the Security Council will vote on a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year. The draft resolution, which was put in blue earlier today, contains no significant changes to the mission’s mandate in spite of several proposals from the three African members, supported by Venezuela, during negotiations. Following the negotiations, the US as penholder indicated it would take the proposals into consideration. However, earlier today, the draft was put in blue, with no amendments made following the negotiations. It is therefore unclear if some of these members might choose to abstain or vote against the resolution.
The Group of Friends of Western Sahara, comprised of France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US, met to discuss the draft resolution on renewing the mandate of MINURSO and on 22 April circulated the draft to the wider Council, which met the following afternoon to negotiate the draft text. Aside from changing the date of the mission’s mandate expiry, the Group put forward a resolution that was nearly identical to the 2014 mandate, with the exception of adding the adjective “full” to the Council’s affirmation of support to the Personal Envoy, the Special Representative and the Secretary-General. It seems members of the Group were not keen on pursuing any action that could further derail a process that had stagnated due to a tumultuous year between Morocco and the UN.
Some Council members, however, felt that changes needed to be introduced to propel the stalled process forward. The three African countries on the Council – Angola, Chad and Nigeria-supported by Venezuela, presented several proposals for the resolution during negotiations. Some of these proposals reflected recommendations made by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) in a communiqué adopted on 27 March, following a meeting on Western Sahara. A letter dated 30 March that contained the communiqué was sent to the UN Secretary-General with a request for circulation to all Security Council members. The letter was not circulated to Council members until 7 April (S/2015/240) and there has been no formal response to the letter.
One of the proposals was to heed a recommendation made by the Secretary-General in his 2014 report on MINURSO (S/2014/258) that, if no progress had occurred by April 2015, the Council ought to engage “in a comprehensive review of the framework that it provided for the negotiating process in April 2007”. In the year since this recommendation was made the work of Personal Envoy Ross had largely come to a stand-still and no progress has been made between the parties, leading to the conclusion that the Council ought to conduct such a review. This was also a recommendation in the AU communiqué.
Another proposal put forth by the African countries and supported by Venezuela was that, given the risks involved in allowing the stalemate to continue, the Council ought to increase its engagement on the issue of Western Sahara. Other Council members also raised concerns about the situation, in which growing frustration among Sahrawi youth, the proliferation of weapons and extremists and criminal networks in the region, and growing disillusionment with the UN-sponsored negotiations, present clear threats. Currently, Council members meet on Western Sahara at two points in the year—during April, when they receive the annual written report of the Secretary-General, meet in consultations, and negotiate and adopt MINURSO’s mandate renewal—and in October, when consultations are held with the Special Representative and Personal Envoy, and it was proposed that the situation be considered more frequently.
Another issue that was raised by the African members and was one of the recommendations from the AU communiqué was that the exploration and exploitation of natural resources ought to be somehow addressed by the Council.
Council members met in consultations on Western Sahara on 22 April, where Special Representative Kim Bolduc and Personal Envoy Christopher Ross briefed on the annual report of the Secretary-General on MINURSO (S/2015/246). This year’s report, as in recent years, was mired in controversy. The current report notes that Morocco expressed strong reservations regarding some elements of the 2014 report, the contours of the negotiating process and the mandate of MINURSO. Due to these reservations, Morocco had refused to allow Bolduc to travel to her post in Laayoune, and withheld cooperation with Ross, who as a result did not visit the region for nearly a year. The report states that on 22 January 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and King Mohammed VI spoke by telephone and “agreed on the way forward”, with Ban confirming that his reports to the Council would “remain objective and reflect facts”. In reply, Morocco welcomed the deployment of Bolduc and Ross, who both travelled to the region in February.
The report indicates that when Ross met with the Secretary-General of Frente Polisario, Mohammed Abdelaziz, the Coordinator of the Polisario with MINURSO, M’hamed Khaddad, the head of the Polisario’s negotiating delegation, Khatri Adduh, and other representatives in Rabbouni, near Tindouf, they voiced regret that the Secretary-General had provided assurances to Morocco without consulting them as the other party. They expressed their unhappiness over the lack of attention that they perceived from the UN, stressing that, as one of the two parties to the conflict, they should be treated on an equal basis, and expressing uneasiness over the growing frustration in the camps, not only among Sahrawi youth, but increasingly within the military as well. The report also noted that in Ross’ meetings with Algerian officials in Algiers all interlocutors criticised the UN for “having overstepped its prerogatives in providing ‘unilateral and counterproductive’ assurances to Morocco”, in particular regarding the report, without consulting the Council or the other party.
Last week, media reports surfaced that the Polisario has threatened to review cooperation with UN monitors if it gives up on the idea of a referendum on the region’s final status. The Polisario’s coordinator with MINURSO, M’hamed Khadad, reportedly voiced fear that Ban may have abandoned the idea of a final status referendum under pressure from Morocco. Morocco maintains its position that its 2007 autonomy initiative is the maximum that it can offer and that a referendum with independence as an option, as desired by the Polisario, is not an option. With regard to the next steps, Ban reported that during his visits with officials in Algiers, Nouakachott, Rabat and Rabouni, a consensus emerged that a return to face-to-face discussions between the parties was premature and that Ross should continue bilateral consultations and shuttle diplomacy for the foreseeable future.
On the controversial issue of human rights monitoring, the report notes that on several occasions during the reporting period, the Polisario sent letters reiterating its call for the creation of a permanent UN mechanism for the protection and monitoring of human rights. In a letter sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) dated 4 November 2014, the Polisario offered to facilitate the establishment of an OHCHR presence in the Tindouf camps, as well as in that part of Western Sahara east of the berm, which is controlled by the Polisario. Morocco insisted repeatedly that international human rights and refugee law required the OHCHR to work with Algeria, the host country, in addressing human rights issues in the refugee camps. In his observations and recommendations, the Secretary-General stressed that such missions and other future forms of cooperation between the parties and UN human rights mechanisms should contribute to an independent and impartial understanding of the human rights situation in both Western Sahara and the camps. Language on the sustained “monitoring” of human rights found in the two preceding reports of the Secretary-General was not included in the current report.
Postscript: On 28 April, the Council adopted resolution 2218 unanimously, extending the mandate of MINURSO until 30 April 2016.