What's In Blue

Posted Mon 29 Apr 2019

UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Mandate Renewal*

On Tuesday (30 April), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for an additional six months until 31 October.

The US, as penholder, discussed the zero draft for the mandate renewal with the Group of Friends —which consists of the P3, Russia and Spain— this past Tuesday (23 April). On 24 April, the US held the first round of negotiations with all Council members. Despite the late start to negotiations, the US sought to maintain Monday’s scheduled adoption date, but it was delayed until Tuesday (30 April), the day the current mandate expires. Going into the weekend, Council members had received a second draft. Silence was broken by two members Monday morning (29 April). The US put the draft in blue in the afternoon, although it does not appear that the concerns of these members were addressed.

The US held several bilateral rounds with Council members and the Group of Friends ahead of Council negotiations. Many in the Council have indicated the importance of speaking with one voice on Western Sahara, but in recent years, consensus has not been easy to achieve on MINURSO adoptions. Most recently, in October 2018 there were abstentions by Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Russia.

This will be the first mandate renewal of MINURSO with South Africa on the Council. South Africa, which joined the Council in January, has maintained its strong support for the Polisario Front position. It seems that during negotiations South Africa sought more language around confidence-building measures and efforts to engage partners.

The African Council members do not have a shared position on Western Sahara, with only South Africa having recognised an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, as proclaimed by Polisario in 1976. On 25-26 March, there was a Southern African Development Community (SADC) “Solidarity Conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic” in Pretoria, South Africa. At the conference, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the situation of the Sahrawi “is a blight on the human conscience, all the more so given that it was three decades ago that UN Resolution 621 called for a referendum.”

The draft resolution is expected to renew the mandate for six months, as has been the practice since April 2018. The US position on this duration was clear from the start. In the October 2018 negotiations, some Council members, particularly France, would have preferred a one-year mandate renewal. However, while some members spoke in favour of a 12-month renewal during the 10 April 2019 consultations on Western Sahara, it seems that most countries implicitly agree that the added pressure of a six-month renewal has helped the political process incrementally move forward. Some have suggested holding a substantive discussion on the pros and cons of the mandate duration.

The draft resolution includes references to the stepped-up momentum on the political process. While one member wanted to incorporate language calling for “gestures of good faith” from the parties, something Personal Envoy Horst Köhler had urged the Council to call for publicly, this was deemed too sensitive, and was not included in the draft. (Examples of such gestures could be family visits or efforts to demine the territory).

It appears that some members tried in the negotiations to include an additional reference to a “mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”. While two variations of this phrase are still in the resolution, it was removed from operative paragraph 2 in resolution 2440 from October 2018, to the consternation of some members. For example, in its explanation of vote at the time, Russia expressed concern that by omitting this phrase, the resolution weakened the previously agreed parameters for resolving the Western Sahara conflict.

During the 10 April consultations on MINURSO, there was praise for the second round of talks in Geneva and continued vocal support for Personal Envoy Horst Köhler. Köhler has said that he will continue tough bilateral discussions and wants the parties to reflect on the way ahead.  He gave no indication of when he plans to convene another roundtable, however.

On 24 April the Polisario Front sent a letter to the President of the Security Council pointing out what it considered “Morocco’s escalating violations of the ceasefire” and called on the Council to swiftly condemn these actions.

One member has apparently floated the idea of taking steps to close MINURSO in favour of a special political mission (SPM). No further details are known, but this concept may come into play during the next MINURSO mandate renewal in October.


  • Post-script (8 May 2019): On 30 April 2019, the Council adopted resolution 2468 renewing the mandate of MINURSO for six months.  While thirteen members voted in favour of the resolution, two members (Russia and South Africa) cast abstentions (S/PV.8518). 
Sign up for What's In Blue emails