What's In Blue

Posted Wed 26 Oct 2022

Western Sahara: Vote on Resolution to Renew the Mandate of MINURSO*

Tomorrow morning (27 October), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2023. The US, the penholder on Western Sahara, circulated the initial draft text to Council members on 19 October. This followed Council members’ bi-annual consultations with Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura and Special Representative and head of MINURSO Alexander Ivanko on 17 October. Members held one expert-level meeting on the text on 21 October. On 24 October, the US circulated a revised draft, which it placed under silence procedure until noon yesterday (25 October). Kenya and Russia broke silence; however, the US placed the draft resolution in blue without making further changes to the text.

Several updates to this year’s draft resolution renewing MINURSO’s mandate were made with the apparent objective of providing de Mistura, who was appointed in October 2021, with space and flexibility to advance the political process. As described in the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Western Sahara, dated 3 October, Morocco favours reconvening the roundtable talks that de Mistura’s predecessor, Horst Köhler, had initiated in 2018 and 2019, involving Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania. Morocco has said that this process should be based on its autonomy proposal for Western Sahara. (Morocco’s autonomy plan, which it submitted to the UN in 2007, calls for integrating the territory into Morocco, with the Sahrawi people managing their internal affairs while being represented externally by Morocco.) Conversely, Algeria has objected to the roundtable format, which it sees as potentially reframing the situation as a “regional conflict”, instead of one between Morocco and the Polisario Front, with Algeria and Mauritania viewed as “concerned neighbours”.

The draft resolution in blue introduces new language stressing the importance of “all concerned expanding on their positions in order to advance a solution”. It seems that the term “all concerned” was inserted as more ambiguous language to accommodate actors’ different views regarding who are considered the parties to the conflict, while giving de Mistura space to determine how to move forward with the political process. The draft text further expresses support for “building on the progress and framework of the former Personal Envoy”, and strongly encourages Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania to engage with the Personal Envoy.

Among other updates, the US added new language in this year’s draft calling for the resumption of the safe and regular resupply of MINURSO team sites. This is an issue raised in the Secretary-General’s report, as the Polisario Front has imposed movement restrictions on MINURSO since the breakdown of the ceasefire in November 2020, which have significantly limited the mission’s ability to re-supply its team sites east of the berm. According to the report, these restrictions have negatively affected the serviceability and lifecycle of equipment, as well as the morale and health of MINURSO personnel at the sites, and, if not removed, risk making these sites unsustainable.

The US also introduced new language to this year’s mandate renewal that strongly encourages donors to provide additional funds and for aid agencies to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This reflects concerns about severe food insecurity and malnutrition in the Tindouf refugee camps due to funding gaps, which have forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in the camps by 80 percent.

Kenya and Russia considered the draft text unbalanced—a position that they have expressed in previous mandate renewals for MINURSO—and they proposed several revisions. One of their main concerns was to have the draft resolution more clearly distinguish Morocco and the Polisario Front from the concerned neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania. It seems that both Kenya and Russia also requested making a broader reference to the contributions of all previous Personal Envoys, instead of singling out Personal Envoy Köhler, which appears to lend greater weight to his roundtable format.

Kenya and Russia also apparently reiterated concerns about the resolution’s reference to “realistic” approaches to a political settlement, among other issues. This was an issue they raised during last year’s mandate negotiations, as they consider the term ambiguous: it is often also used by countries expressing support for Morocco’s autonomy proposal. More broadly, it appears that they have maintained their concerns about the dilution of references in MINURSO resolutions to the referendum and to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. During last week’s closed consultations on Western Sahara, Kenya apparently underscored that the original purpose of MINURSO when it was established in 1991 through resolution 690 was to implement a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, but that its mandate has subsequently deviated from this.

The revised text that the US circulated earlier this week contained three changes from the original draft. Ireland, supported by several Council members—including Kenya, Mexico, and Norway—had requested to update the language in a preambular paragraph on women’s participation in the UN-sponsored talks. The draft was revised to encourage women’s “full, equal and meaningful” participation as opposed to “full, effective and meaningful”. Ireland also apparently proposed including in the draft resolution’s operative section a paragraph from its preambular section on enhancing cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). While the penholder did not make this change, it strengthened the language in the preambular paragraph by replacing “strongly encouraging” with “urging” the enhancing of cooperation with OHCHR. It seems that a third and similar edit to the text was made “urging” aid agencies to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, instead of “strongly encouraging”.

Besides these edits, Kenya and Russia’s concerns and proposals were not accommodated, which led them to break silence. On the other hand, it seems that several Council members yesterday reiterated their support for keeping the draft resolution as is. With the US placing an unchanged text in blue, it is unclear if Kenya and Russia will support the resolution at tomorrow’s vote. Despite expressing some similar concerns during last year’s negotiations, Kenya voted in favour of resolution 2602 of 29 October 2021 that renewed MINURSO’s mandate. Russia has abstained on the adoption of all MINURSO mandate renewals since 2018 (six times).

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*Post-script: On 27 October, the Security Council adopted resolution 2654, renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 31 October 2023. Thirteen members voted in favor and two abstained (Kenya and Russia).

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