Western Sahara: Vote on a Draft Resolution Renewing MINURSO’s Mandate*
On Monday afternoon (30 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) for another year, until 31 October 2024.
Ahead of the negotiations on MINURSO’s mandate renewal, Council members held their bi-annual consultations with Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara and head of MINURSO Alexander Ivanko on 16 October.
It seems that the negotiations on the draft resolution were generally smooth. The US, the penholder on Western Sahara, circulated an initial draft of the resolution on 20 October and convened one round of negotiations on Tuesday (24 October). Mozambique and Russia subsequently proposed some amendments. The penholder then placed the unchanged draft under silence procedure on Wednesday (25 October) until the next day. Russia broke silence, maintaining that the draft text was unbalanced and did not incorporate the changes it had proposed. Nevertheless, yesterday (26 October), the US proceeded to put an unchanged draft text in blue.
It seems that the penholder sought a straightforward renewal of MINURSO’s mandate, without making substantive changes to the provisions contained in resolution 2654 of 27 October 2022, which most recently extended the mission’s mandate. The draft resolution in blue emphasises the need to achieve a realistic, practicable, enduring, and mutually acceptable political solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise. It further emphasises the importance of a renewed commitment by the parties to advancing the political process in preparation for further negotiations. The resolution also stresses the importance of “all concerned expanding on their positions in order to advance a solution”.
The penholder incorporated some new elements in the draft resolution reflecting recent developments. The draft text in blue welcomes the convening by de Mistura of informal consultations with Morocco, the Polisario Front (the entity representing the inhabitants of the Western Sahara region, known as Sahrawis), Algeria, and Mauritania, as well as with members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara—France, Russia, Spain, the UK, and the US—from 27 to 31 March in New York. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on MINURSO, dated 3 October, noted that these informal bilateral consultations aimed at discussing lessons learned in the political process, deepening examination of the positions, and at continuing to seek “mutually agreeable formulas” to advance the political process.
According to the Secretary-General’s report, during the informal bilateral consultations Morocco reiterated its position that its autonomy proposal was the only viable outcome of a political process. (The plan, which Morocco 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.) On the other hand, the Polisario Front reaffirmed that self-determination remains the only basis of any political process.
The Secretary-General’s report also outlined several challenges to the mission’s ability to sustain its field presence, including constraints on MINURSO’s logistical supply and maintenance chain to team sites east of the berm. (The berm refers to an approximately 1,700-mile-long earthen wall that divides the Moroccan-administered portion of Western Sahara from that held by the Polisario Front.) Following high-level engagement that took place between April and June, MINURSO was able to conduct five separate ground convoy movements to resupply its team sites east of the berm at Agwanit, Mehaires, Mijek, and Tifariti with urgently needed fuel, other maintenance supplies, and engineering equipment. Against this backdrop, the US introduced new language in the draft resolution welcoming the progress made by MINURSO for the resupply of its team sites in order to sustain these crucial operations.
During the only round of negotiations, it appears that several Council members—including France, Gabon, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—supported the penholder’s approach and called for keeping the draft resolution as is. Mozambique and Russia, however, apparently considered the draft text unbalanced and 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, namely Algeria and Mauritania. It seems that both Mozambique and Russia also proposed adding new language emphasising the need to allow the Sahrawi people to exercise the right to self-determination through the organisation of a referendum. Russia also apparently proposed language calling on MINURSO to fully implement its mandate to hold a referendum. It appears that Russia has maintained its concern, which it had also voiced in previous years, about the dilution of references in MINURSO resolutions to the referendum and to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
Furthermore, Mozambique and Russia apparently wanted the draft resolution to include a broader reference to the contributions of all previous Personal Envoys, instead of singling out former Personal Envoy Horst Köhler, which appeared to lend greater weight to the roundtable format he initiated in 2018 and 2019. (The format brought together Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and the Polisario Front.) Algeria has long 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. (For background, see our 26 October 2022 What’s in Blue story.)
It appears that Mozambique proposed new language stressing the urgent need to include a human rights monitoring component for a close follow-up of the situation of human rights in the territory of Western Sahara within the mandate of MINURSO. The issue of the human rights situation in Western Sahara has been raised regularly in the Secretary-General’s reports. According to his most recent report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was unable to conduct any visits to Western Sahara for the eighth consecutive year, despite multiple requests and the Security Council’s call for enhanced cooperation with OHCHR in resolution 2654. The report added that OHCHR continued to receive allegations pointing to an increased shrinking of civic space, including through obstruction, intimidation, and restrictions against Saharawi activists, human rights defenders, and student movements.
However, it appears that the draft resolution in blue did not include any of the changes proposed by Mozambique and Russia. With the US placing an unchanged text in blue, it is unclear if Mozambique and Russia will support the resolution at Monday’s vote. 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), South Africa (2019-2020), Tunisia (2020-2021), and Kenya (2021-2022) have abstained on one or more MINURSO resolutions.
*Post-script: On 30 October, the Security Council adopted resolution 2703, renewing the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 31 October 2024. Thirteen members voted in favour and two abstained (Mozambique and Russia).