MINURSO Mandate Renewal
Tomorrow (30 October), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The current mandate expires 31 October. It seems there could be one or more abstentions.
Horst Köhler resigned as Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara on 22 May. The Secretary-General has yet to announce a replacement, frustrating those who wanted to see a continuation of the political dialogue on Western Sahara, as Köhler had convened two roundtables since December 2018 with Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania. The Polisario Front has sent several letters to the President of the Security Council urging that a replacement be appointed as soon as possible.
Ahead of negotiations on a draft renewing MINURSO’s mandate, Council members met in consultations with the Special Representative and Head of MINURSO Colin Stewart on 16 October. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on Western Sahara, published on 2 October, characterised the current situation as “relatively calm despite some uncertainty”. Stewart highlighted his concerns about the humanitarian situation, which the report notes remains challenging due to a funding gap. Stewart described rising frustration among the youth population due to lack of opportunities or any final settlement of the issue. Additionally, he noted that malnutrition and anaemia are increasing among women in the refugee camps. According to the Secretary-General’s report, there have been 54 protests near the border town of Guerguerat since April 2019, focused in part on socio-economic grievances. The report also mentions protests against the Polisario Front by some Sahrawis in Tindouf, who were calling for enhanced freedom of movement.
The US, as the penholder on Western Sahara, circulated the draft resolution for renewing the mandate to the Group of Friends on 23 October. The Group of Friends includes France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US. The US opted not to make significant changes to the text, aside from a return to the 12-month mandate from the current six months. France and others have also been advocating a return to a yearlong mandate for several months. A 12-month mandate was the norm until 2018, when the US pushed for a six-month mandate to increase pressure on the parties to work towards a peaceful solution. It seems that the US is reflecting that with no change in the political process during this past six-month mandate and without a Personal Envoy, it may be time to return to the yearlong mandate.
The draft was circulated to the whole Council on 24 October. It seems that one Council member was worried that reverting to a 12-month mandate may lessen the pressure on one of the parties to engage meaningfully in the political process. This position was apparently voiced during negotiations, but the draft resolution was not changed.
While some members had wanted a stronger call for the Secretary-General to appoint a new Personal Envoy swiftly, some members felt that the resolution was not the right place for this, and it appears simply to refer to a new appointment. One Council member sought to reinforce language in the preambular part on the progress achieved during Köhler’s tenure. Some members remain concerned by what they consider arbitrary restrictions on the rights of Sahrawis to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Human rights monitoring has not been incorporated into the MINURSO mandate, however, although adding this task has been discussed many times. Some members may express their views on the appointment of a new Personal Envoy and the lack of human rights monitoring in MINURSO during explanations of the vote.
MINURSO negotiations have been difficult in recent years, and the last unanimous mandate renewal took place on 28 April 2017. Since then, elected members Bolivia (2017-2018), Ethiopia (2017-2018) and South Africa (2019-2020) and permanent members China and Russia have abstained on one or more MINURSO resolutions. During the explanations of vote on resolution 2468—the most recent renewal of MINURSO’s mandate—Russia said that they felt that the resolution was attempting to guide negotiations unfairly and to change previously-agreed parameters. Meanwhile South Africa felt that the text was not balanced, did not accurately reflect measures taken by the parties, and failed to recognise the need for human rights monitoring.
Developments in the next few months, such as the upcoming Polisario Front Congress, elections in Algeria, and the anticipated appointment of a new Personal Envoy could have an impact on the political process.