Western Sahara Consultations
Tomorrow (29 January), Security Council members will receive a briefing in consultations from the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General to Western Sahara, Horst Köhler. The session is being held in accordance with resolution 2440 that renewed the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for six months this past October, requesting the Secretary-General to brief the Council within three months of MINURSO’s renewal and again prior to the expiration of its mandate. Council members may issue press elements to express support for recent positive developments to restart a political process.
Köhler is expected to brief on the 5 to 6 December 2018 roundtable meeting in Geneva that brought together Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania, and to update members on his plans to advance a political process intended to find a mutually acceptable solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The December roundtable meeting came over ten years after the last formal round of negotiations were held between Morocco and the Polisario in March 2008 at Greentree in New York, and six years since the last informal talks were held in 2012, also at Greentree.
Discussion in Geneva focused on stocktaking of recent developments, challenges and opportunities for regional integration, and next steps in the political process. An 8 January letter from the Polisario to the Council (S/2019/23) said that the Polisario delegation also provided proposals for confidence-building measures—including access by international human rights monitors to the territories of Western Sahara, the release of Sahrawi political prisoners, demining activities and family visits—though these were not substantively discussed. A short communiqué noted that “all delegations recognized that cooperation and regional integration, not confrontation, were the best way to address the many important challenges the region is facing”; Köhler said in press remarks at the roundtable’s conclusion that it is “in the interest of all to resolve this conflict in order to create an environment in the region that is conducive to strong growth, job creation and better security”. The roundtable was generally seen as a constructive start in bringing the sides together. The four delegations committed to a second roundtable meeting in the first quarter of 2019. Köhler is likely to inform members of plans and preparations for the next roundtable, which it seems he is aiming to organise in March.
For Council members, this will be the first time hearing from Köhler since the Geneva roundtable and thus they are likely to look forward to the update on his efforts to restart a political process. Members may welcome the fact that the parties have resumed a dialogue process and encourage them to remain fully engaged. They are likely to reiterate support for the Personal Envoy’s approach.
An issue likely to be raised is the ratification by the European Parliament on 16 January of the EU-Morocco agricultural agreement, that includes the territories of Western Sahara. An 18 January letter from the Polisario to the Council described the trade agreement as “a major obstacle to the UN-led process”, which it said removed leverage and incentives for Morocco to engage constructively in the political process (S/2019/63). The Polisario noted that it was preparing to challenge the agreement in the European Court of Justice, asserting that it violates international and European law, and urged Council members to encourage EU countries to reconsider the decision. European members of the Council may note that they consider issues of trade as separate from the political status of the territory, and that the two matters should not be conflated.
Morocco and the Polisario have also recently traded accusations of provocations on the ground. The Polisario’s 8 January letter referred to “mounting tensions” in Guergerat and incursions by elements of the Moroccan military into the buffer strip. A 10 January letter from Morocco to the Council (S/2019/35) accused the Polisario of several provocations that it said violated commitments to the Personal Envoy not to return to the Guerguerat buffer strip or transfer any structures to areas east of the berm. Morocco said that the actions showed Polisario as “aiming to sabotage” the UN efforts to relaunch the political process. Members may be interested in Köhler’s assessment of these developments.
Tomorrow’s meeting will include new Council members, whose views may alter Council dynamics. South Africa has historically been a strong ally of the Polisario, and Council members may be interested to see how active South Africa is on the file. Members have seemed very supportive of the Personal Envoy’s efforts since he assumed the position in August 2017. His efforts gained further momentum with the Council’s decision, pushed by the US as penholder, to renew MINURSO’s mandate for only six-month periods, starting in April last year and following a long lull in talks between the parties.