Western Sahara: MINURSO Mandate Renewal*
This morning (29 October), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 31 October 2022.
The US, the penholder on Western Sahara, convened one round of negotiations on an initial draft on 19 October, prior to conducting bilateral negotiations with several Council members. The US then placed a revised draft text under silence on 26 October until the following morning. Kenya and Russia broke silence and proposed some changes. Nevertheless, on 27 October, the US proceeded to put an unchanged draft in blue. As a result, it is unclear if Kenya and Russia will be able to support the resolution.
The situation in Western Sahara has been especially precarious since November 2020, when Polisario protesters blocked traffic between the Moroccan-controlled side of Western Sahara and Mauritania at the border town of Guerguerat, following which Morocco deployed armed forces in the buffer zone. The Polisario Front (the entity representing the inhabitants of the Western Sahara region, known as Sahrawis) subsequently announced that it would no longer respect the ceasefire agreement of 1991. Another important recent development is the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the new Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, ending an over two year-long vacancy and renewing the prospects of reinvigorating peace talks initiated by former Personal Envoy Horst Köhler.
Whereas some Council members apparently held the view that these factors—the challenges to the ceasefire agreement and the appointment of the new Personal Envoy—should inform an adjustment of MINURSO’s mandate, others apparently believed that this was not the time for substantive changes as the new envoy should be allowed to commence his work before the mandate was changed.
Some new elements were incorporated in the text this year reflecting changes to the situation in the Western Sahara since the last renewal of the mission’s mandate. The draft welcomed de Mistura’s appointment and urged “the constructive resumption of the political process, building on the progress of the former Personal Envoy”. Additionally, it noted “with deep concern the breakdown of the ceasefire”.
Shortly before the start of the negotiations, Algeria apparently wrote to the Council stating that it would no longer participate in the roundtable talks, initiated by Köhler. The format brought together Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and the Polisario Front, but has been dormant since Köhler resigned in May 2019. On 22 October, Algeria’s Western Sahara envoy, Amar Belani, confirmed Algeria’s “formal and irreversible rejection of the so-called roundtable format” in a media statement. It appears that the draft text in blue does not take a position on Algeria’s withdrawal and maintains language from previous resolutions referring to Algeria’s past participation in the talks, including noting “the intention of the former Personal Envoy to invite Morocco, the [Polisario Front], Algeria, and Mauritania to meet again in the same format”.
During the only round of negotiations, several Council members suggested changes to the draft; many of these do not seem to have been included in the draft in blue. It seems that France—supported by several Council members, apparently including Ireland and Norway—requested that “equal” be added to references to the “full, effective, and meaningful participation of women” in the text. In the final draft, “equal” was added but “effective” removed.
Kenya apparently requested stronger human rights language, and a strategic review of MINURSO due to the changed circumstances on the ground. The request for a strategic review was not accommodated, but there is slightly stronger human rights language in the text in blue. Following the negotiations, language was added and retained in the draft in blue encouraging the parties to also “prioritise” their respective efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps. Language already existed in the text encouraging parties to sustain their efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights.
Mexico—reportedly supported by Ireland, Norway and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—apparently requested the Secretary-General to issue a report on Western Sahara before the Council convenes on the matter in March, but this request is not included in the draft in blue. (Currently, the Council meets twice a year on Western Sahara, usually every six months. The Secretary-General traditionally issues one report covering Western Sahara in October shortly before the mandate renewal date).
Russia seemingly advocated the deletion of the word “realistic”—a term first introduced to MINURSO’s mandate in resolution 2414 of 27 April 2018—in reference to finding a political solution, arguing that the term was not based on international law. The term “realistic” has been retained in the text in blue. Russia seemingly also reiterated the view it expressed during previous mandate renewal negotiations that the text was biased and unbalanced.
MINURSO mandate adoptions have not been unanimous since 28 April 2017. Since then, permanent members China and Russia and elected members Bolivia (2017-2018), Ethiopia (2017-2018) and South Africa (2019-2020) 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. On 27 October, Ambassador Martin Kimani (Kenya) stated during a press encounter that Kenya wanted to see the right of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara clearly indicated in the draft.
*Post-script: On 29 October, the Security Council adopted resolution 2602, which renewed the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 31 October 2022. The resolution received 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (Russia and Tunisia).