Western Sahara Resolution
The Council is scheduled to vote later this afternoon on a draft resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 30 April 2018. The vote was initially scheduled for yesterday morning, but was postponed to allow time for efforts to resolve the situation in Al-Guergarat, where Polisario Forces remained in violation of the ceasefire agreement. (For a full account of the situation in Al-Guergarat, see the most recent report of the Secretary-General, S/2017/307).
The US put a draft in blue yesterday; however, in the afternoon, Namibia transmitted to the Council a letter from the Polisario stating that in response to the appeals of several friendly countries it had “taken the decision to redeploy the elements of its armed forces present” in Al-Guergarat, where they “had been dispatched in response to the serious violation” of Military Agreement No. 1, signed by both parties in 1997 (S/2017/367). Subsequently, the US yesterday informed Council members that it would await confirmation from MINURSO of the withdrawal before circulating a revised text to be voted on this afternoon.
Morocco then sent a letter to the Council in response, arguing that “a simple ‘redeployment’” does not constitute a withdrawal of the Polisario from the zone. In its letter, Morocco expressed hope that neither MINURSO nor DPKO “will fall for this masquerade” and stated that Morocco will not recognise any verification by MINURSO of such redeployment.
At press time, no new draft text had been circulated, and it appears that it may not be presented until shortly before the vote. In view of the intense diplomatic activity that has taken place around the text, some members may want to reopen it for deliberations. The late circulation of the draft text to be voted on may be an attempt by the US to avoid restarting difficult negotiations.
The text was drafted by the US, and discussed once on 21 April among the members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, Russia, the UK, the US, and Spain as the former colonial power). There were several issues of contention among members of the group, mainly pertaining to three matters: how to address the situation in Al-Guergarat, how to refer to the parties’ proposals for a political solution, and whether to reflect the issue of MINURSO’s functionality. The US circulated a revised draft text to the Group following its meeting, but as it became clear that there could be no consensus text of the Group, opted to circulate it to all Council members on Monday afternoon. Negotiations of the whole Council were held on Tuesday and Wednesday (25 and 26 April). Given that members of the Council have widely divergent views on the nature of the conflict and how the Council ought to approach it, resolving some of the more contentious issues was not possible. It is likely that the resolution will not be adopted unanimously.
The preambular paragraphs pertaining to the situation in Al-Guergarat were extremely contentious. In the preamble, the initial draft from the US to the Group welcomed Morocco’s decision to withdraw its elements from the buffer strip in response to calls made by the Secretary-General and – using the language of the Secretary-General’s report – expressed “deep concern” that elements of the Polisario remained there. In the related operative paragraph, the text used the much stronger “condemns” in referring to the Polisario’s presence, strongly urged its withdrawal and requested the Secretary-General to report in 15 days on whether the Polisario had withdrawn. No agreement could be found on these references in the Group of Friends, as Russia objected to the lack of context on what transpired in Al-Guergarat. It also felt that it was inappropriate to put so much pressure on the Polisario, when last year’s resolution did not pressure Morocco to reverse its decision to expel members of MINURSO’s civilian staff. Both Russia and the UK felt that condemnation was too strong and could serve to harden the Polisario’s position.
When the draft was first discussed by the full Council, Uruguay and Bolivia said they could not support condemning the Polisario. Others, including Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sweden and the UK were among the members who agreed that “condemn” was too strong. Several formulations were suggested by various Council members, with Senegal proposing the strongest option of “strongly condemning” the Polisario.
In consultations on Tuesday, Uruguay questioned why the silent diplomacy advocated by many members following Morocco’s expulsion of civilian staff was not being employed in this case, and why in last year’s resolution Morocco was given 90 days to reverse its decision, while the text offered the Polisario only 15 days. Senegal apparently responded that silent diplomacy was a tool to be reserved for ‘members of the international community’, and that the Council must heed the Secretary-General’s call on the Council “to urge” the Polisario to withdraw, as a strong message needed to be sent.
The first text that was put in blue welcomed Morocco’s withdrawal from Al-Guergarat, and expressed deep concern that the Polisario remained there. It strongly urged its withdrawal, and called on the Secretary-General to brief within 30 days on whether this has transpired. While there was talk of providing more context on the situation after the second negotiation, none was added. It is unclear whether the text that will be voted on will welcome a withdrawal by the Polisario, or adopt a more tentative approach, which would be preferred by members who support the Moroccan position.
The first draft that went to the entire Council also had new operative language taken from the Secretary-General’s report recognising that the crisis in Al-Guergarat raised fundamental questions about the ceasefire and related agreements, and encouraged the Secretary-General to explore ways in which this could be resolved. Some members supported this inclusion. France, supported by Senegal, opposed this language, arguing that it could give a pretext to the Polisario to remain in the buffer strip. However this language was retained in yesterday’s text in blue. Apparently, the US had proposed to the Polisario that, should it withdraw from Al-Guergarat, the US would remove all the other related language and include only this portion. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case in the final draft.
The political process
The other major source of difficulty was reference to the political proposals of each party. In last year’s negotiations, preambular paragraph 9 was quite contentious. The paragraph drew on previously agreed language to take note of the Moroccan autonomy proposal of 2007 “and the serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution”, while also taking note of the Polisario’s 2007 proposal. At that time, and again now, Russia contended in the Group of Friends that this language of serious and credible Moroccan efforts was outdated and sent the wrong political message. When the language was retained last year, Russia gave it as one of the reasons why it abstained in the vote. This year, the first US draft went further by welcoming Moroccan efforts and Russia again objected. Other formulations were discussed; however it appears that France objected to the deletion and the text circulated to the entire membership welcomed the Moroccan proposal as a serious and credible effort, merely taking note of the Polisario’s proposal.
In negotiations, Uruguay argued that this was unbalanced and offered the language of ‘recalling’ both proposals, while omitting the language on Moroccan efforts. This was supported by Russia. Several members, including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Sweden and the UK wanted to maintain the previously agreed language; however, Russia and Uruguay maintained that even the agreed language is unacceptable and unbalanced. France and Senegal wanted language that would welcome the Moroccan proposal as a credible effort, while Bolivia, Russia and Uruguay said they could not welcome Moroccan efforts. The language in yesterday’s text in blue however takes note of both proposals, and welcomes serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process towards resolution.
Also pertaining to the political process is a new paragraph introduced by the US regarding additional briefings by the Secretary-General. Besides agreed language from the previous resolution requesting the Secretary-General to brief the Council on a regular basis, and at least twice a year, the US added a request for the Secretary-General to update the Council within six months of the appointment of the new Personal Envoy on, among other things, ways in which the Envoy, working with the parties, is progressing towards a mutually acceptable political solution. Sweden proposed that the six-month duration should be shortened, so that the briefing would not coincide with the already established bi-annual briefing. This was supported by the UK but opposed by others, some suggesting that the new envoy would conversely need to be given more, not less, time. Uruguay, supported by Ethiopia, proposed that the Secretary-General’s regular briefings be increased in frequency. Uruguay also suggested these be held in public. However, these proposals did not gain traction.
Another area of disagreement was whether to address the issue of MINURSO’s functionality having been compromised for most of the last year after Morocco’s expulsion of civilian staff. The Secretary-General’s report notes that in early April Morocco agreed to receive 17 staff members who had been waiting to return to the mission. Uruguay proposed expressing regret at Morocco’s unilateral decision to expel the staff, emphasising the importance of ensuring full functionality, and requesting the Secretary-General to brief in 90 days on whether MINURSO was operating at full functionality. The US contended that if the issue of full functionality were to be raised, then the difficult question of whether it should welcomed would then need to be addressed. It appears that several members including Egypt, Italy, Kazakhstan, Senegal, and Sweden all concurred, and the issue of full functionality was not included in yesterday’s draft that went into blue.
Various proposals were made to other aspects of the resolution. On humanitarian issues, yesterday’s draft in blue contains preambular language proposed by Sweden that notes with deep concern continued hardships faced by Sahrawi refugees and their dependency on external humanitarian assistance. A further Senegalese proposal that was not incorporated was to include the Council’s concern with reports of embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Tindouf camps, with reference to the findings of the report of the European Anti-Fraud Office drafted in 2007 and published in 2015. Sweden suggested language noting insufficient funding for those living in Tindouf camps and the risk of potential reductions in food assistance. Pertaining to language stressing the importance of the parties committing to the process of UN-sponsored talks, Sweden also proposed a clause encouraging the meaningful participation of women in these, which was supported by many and added to the text. Among Uruguay’s extensive proposals was the addition of a new paragraph on including human rights monitoring tasks in MINURSO’s mandate. The US had tried to include this in the initial 2012 draft resolution without success, and the US, supported by others, did not want to reopen this discussion.
Postscript: The final text removed references to Al-Guergarat except regarding how the crisis raised questions about the ceasefire and other agreements. The resolution was adopted unanimously.