UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow (29 October), the Security Council is expected to commence the 24-hour written voting procedure on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Russia, the Council president this month, is expected to read out the results of the vote on Friday (30 October). It seems there could be one or more abstentions. The current mandate of MINURSO expires on 31 October.
Ahead of negotiations on the MINURSO draft resolution, Council members met in consultations with the Special Representative and Head of MINURSO Colin Stewart and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita on 14 October. Stewart reportedly cited an increase in violations by both Morocco and the Polisario Front of Military Agreement No. 1, which regulates ceasefire-monitoring tasks. Stewart did not seem to indicate that the threat of armed conflict is high, although the political process is currently at a standstill. All Council members apparently expressed the importance of appointing a Personal Envoy soon, as the Envoy could help to establish an environment for cooperation between the parties at a time of deteriorating relations.
The US, the penholder on Western Sahara, circulated the initial draft resolution to Council members on 21 October. The US proposed extending the mandate contained in resolution 2494, adopted on 30 October 2019, without substantive changes. However South Africa, with support from at least three other members, called for negotiations. These were held virtually on 22 October. South Africa reportedly believes that the stagnant political situation warranted stronger language in this year’s resolution instead of adopting a text very similar to last year’s resolution. They apparently pointed specifically to the vacant Personal Envoy position, the increase in violations by the parties, and stronger human rights language as issues to be considered.
Several other members also felt that it was time to include a stronger call for the Secretary-General to appoint someone to the Special Envoy post, given that this position has been vacant for 17 months. There had been an attempt last year to put such language in resolution 2494. While most felt it was premature to do so last year, there was no such apprehension this year. In this regard, the draft resolution in blue includes new language reflecting the need to appoint a Personal Envoy as soon as possible. Additionally, many members wanted to add language emphasising the worrisome situation on the ground, as described in the recent Secretary-General’s report. Members incorporated text calling on all sides to cooperate with MINURSO and the UN, especially in light of concerns expressed by Special Representative about violations by the parties.
After the virtual negotiations, the US put a draft resolution under silence until 1 pm on Friday. The silence was broken by South Africa. Nevertheless, later that day, the US put the draft resolution in blue. While the draft calls for the Special Envoy position to be filled as soon as possible and provides examples of the challenging situation on the ground, the final text does not appear to address concerns raised by South Africa regarding strengthened human rights language. Due to the cancellation of in-person meetings at the UN following news Monday of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the mission of one Council member, the draft resolution will be voted on through the provisional written process used by the Council during much of 2020.
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. Russia has said in the past that it felt that the resolution was attempting to guide negotiations between the parties unfairly and to change previously agreed parameters, including a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict and the self-determination of Western Sahara’s people. Meanwhile South Africa has 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. These positions may be reiterated this year in any explanations of vote.
*Post-script: On 30 October 2020, the Security Council adopted resolution 2548, renewing the mandate of MINURSO for one year. Thirteen members voted in favour of the resolution, while two members (Russia and South Africa) abstained.