What's In Blue

Posted Wed 15 Jun 2016

Meeting on Western Sahara

Tomorrow afternoon (16 June), Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous will brief Council members under ‘any other business’ on the situation in Western Sahara. Venezuela requested the briefing in order to hear about the situation on the ground and ongoing efforts to restore the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to full functionality following Morocco’s demand for the withdrawal of most of the civilian staff from the mission in a dispute with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (For background to these developments please see the What’s in Blue stories on 26 March and 26 April.)

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first meeting on Western Sahara since 29 April, when the Council adopted resolution 2285, which renewed the mandate of MINURSO for one year. That resolution had the support of only ten Council members, as two voted against (Uruguay and Venezuela) and three abstained (Angola, New Zealand and Russia).

Resolution 2285 emphasised the urgent need for MINURSO to return to full functionality, and Council members will be interested in hearing if progress has been made towards this end. In particular, Council members may want to hear about the work of a “technical mission” from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that was in Laayoune last week and that has engaged Morocco in a dialogue aimed at restoring the mission’s capabilities. On 10 June, the Secretary-General’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric reported that there had been no change in the mission’s staffing in the last few weeks.

This year’s report of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara stated that without a suitable and fully staffed international civilian component, the mission cannot fulfil a core component of its functions and will thus fail to meet the Council’s expectations. It further noted that the expulsion of most of MINURSO’s international civilian component had resulted in the “de facto alteration of the mandate of MINURSO”, and warned that the inability of the mission to execute its mandated tasks would entail, in the short to middle-term, significant implications for the stability of the region as well as for the credibility of the Council and peacekeeping operations and political missions globally. In his recommendations, the Secretary-General called on the Council to restore and support the mandated role of MINURSO, and recommended that the Council extend the mandate of MINURSO for a further year.

Deep divisions remain within the Council on Western Sahara, as reflected by the negotiations on resolution 2285. Among the contentious issues was that the resolution emphasised the urgent need for the mission to return to full functionality, but did not prescribe any measures to seek to bring this about. Several countries, including Angola, New Zealand, Uruguay and Venezuela, said that the resolution should have demanded the immediate return of the expelled staff. (For more information on the adoption of resolution 2285, see our story from 29 April).

Council members who are sympathetic to the Moroccan position, such as Egypt, France, Senegal and Spain, have resisted the Council’s putting pressure on Morocco to reverse its decision. These countries have advocated minimal Council involvement, which they maintain could hamper bilateral efforts to resolve the crisis. Others members, believing that the Council must act to protect the MINURSO mission that it has mandated, have sought more Council involvement, including by raising the issue under the ‘any other business’ format. Tomorrow’s briefing will be the third such briefing requested by Venezuela, which, along with Uruguay, requested briefings on 7 and 13 April.

On 14 June, Council members Angola and Venezuela made statements during a meeting of the Special Committee on Decolonization focusing on Western Sahara. Angola expressed concern regarding the difficult living conditions in the refugee camps in Tindouf, while Venezuela, which chairs the Special Committee, called for MINURSO’s restoration to full capacity.

In resolution 2285 the Council requested the Secretary-General to brief within 90 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and expressed “its intention, if it has not done so, to consider how best to facilitate this”. The 90-day briefing is likely to be held in late July.