This afternoon (31 October), the Council is expected to adopt a resolution that extends for six months the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and expresses full support for the intention of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to initiate a renewed negotiations process before the end of the year. The US, as the penholder on Western Sahara, circulated a draft to the Group of Friends for Western Sahara on 23 October. Following a meeting on 25 October of the Group of Friends—which consists of the P3, Russia and Spain—the US shared the draft with the full Council membership on Friday (26 October), proposing negotiations for Monday afternoon (29 October). A revised version was circulated last night, and the draft resolution is now in blue.
Earlier this month (11 October), Colin Stewart, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MINURSO, briefed Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Western Sahara (S/2018/889). As the report documents, there has been recent progress towards resuming a political process, ten years after the last formal round of negotiations was held between Morocco and the Polisario Front to obtain a mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. Morocco and the Polisario Front, and immediate neighbours Algeria and Mauritania, responded positively to the invitations sent by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Horst Köhler to participate in a round-table meeting on 5 and 6 December in Geneva for preliminary talks on restarting negotiations.
In the consultations, several members expressed support for extending MINURSO’s mandate for one year, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his report. The Secretary-General says that this would give his Personal Envoy “the space and time for his efforts to create the conditions necessary for the political process to move ahead”. The US stated its intention to propose a six-month extension, however, explaining that it viewed recent positive developments as a result of the pressure placed on the parties by last April’s six-month renewal. Recognising that the forthcoming consultations in Geneva will be in difficult, the US suggested that such pressure was necessary until there is a reliable process.
During the negotiations, a number of countries, including France, advocated a one-year renewal, in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendation. A one-year extension was also preferred by Morocco. For the US, an extension beyond six months proved non-negotiable.
Perhaps the most difficult issue during the negotiations was over how to refer to the different invitees to the upcoming Geneva roundtable meeting. This has been a sensitive issue for Morocco and Algeria. Morocco views the Polisario Front as a proxy of Algeria and has insisted that it be considered a party in forthcoming talks. Algeria has insisted that it is not a party to the conflict and that it cannot take the place of the Polisario Front in negotiations, but is prepared to step up its role in the political process as a neighbouring state. The invitations to Geneva apparently were ambiguous regarding such distinctions, though the Secretary-General’s report distinguishes between the parties and neighbouring states in referring to the Personal Envoy’s invitations to Geneva. Calling the upcoming preliminary talks a roundtable meeting also appears to have been a way to avoid making this differentiation.
During negotiations, some Council members argued for the need to distinguish clearly the parties and the neighboring countries, which was not done in the proposed text. The US partially addressed this concern after the Group of Friends meeting by removing altogether a reference that listed the four invitees in an initial paragraph welcoming the Personal Envoy’s decision to hold a roundtable in Geneva. Still, this left three other references to the four invitees without distinguishing Algeria and Mauritania as neighbouring countries. The US countered that it had not made this distinction because the invitations had not done so. On the other hand, one Council member, arguing for retaining the distinction, claimed that the invitations did refer to Algeria as a neighbouring country.
The draft resolution in blue retains these three other enumerations, found in two paragraphs that welcome the positive response of Morocco, the Polisaro Front, Algeria and Mauritania to the invitations to participate at the roundtable meeting. The draft resolution would seem to be a rare occasion when the Council has identified Algeria and Mauritania by name. Resolutions on Western Sahara since 2002 have only referred to “neighbouring states/countries” or “States of the region”.
There were also different views on how to refer to developments on the ground. Some Council members felt that the draft resolution should refer more positively to actions by the Polisario Front that have reduced tensions since earlier this year. Instead the draft in blue only ‘takes note’ of Polisario assurances to the Personal Envoy to not move administrative structures to the territory as well as its commitment to fulfill its obligations with respect to the buffer strip at Guerguerat, in line with resolution 2414. The same members also felt that some of the language directed at the Polisario Front to fulfill these commitments was unnecessarily prescriptive and redundant. The draft resolution circulated last night has not been changed to incorporate these concerns. The one change to the two paragraphs in question was to add a reference to Tifariti among the areas where Polisario is called on to fully adhere to its commitments.
An additional issue raised by some members was that the draft resolution removes one iteration of the habitual Council descriptions of a solution to Western Sahara, namely that it be based on a “mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”. The draft still repeats this formula in two paragraphs, but has removed the third. It seems that the penholder argued that this was to streamline the text, while members objecting to its exclusion argued that this language was important to emphasise.
Language from previous resolutions that had not been included in the zero-draft was inserted following the Group of Friends meeting that encourages “the parties to demonstrate further political will towards a solution including by expanding upon their discussion of each other’s proposals and further encouraging the neighbouring countries to make contributions to the political process”. Given that most concerns were not addressed in the draft resolution now in blue, some members may abstain.
An independent review of MINURSO was conducted recently. During the consultations with Stewart, members highlighted its finding that the mission plays a decisive conflict prevention role. An indirect reference is made in the draft resolution to the review’s finding that MINURSO should modernise its approach to monitor the ceasefire, which it notes will require the consent of the parties. In this regard, the draft resolution urges the parties and neighboring states to engage productively with MINURSO, as it further considers how new technologies can be used to reduce risk, improve force protection, and better implement its mandate.
The draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to brief the Council at any time he deems appropriate during the mandate period. It also establishes that he should brief the Council within three months and again prior to MINURSO’s expiration, as well as provide a report on the situation well before the mandate’s expiration.