Western Sahara: Mission Mandate Extended for 12 Months

This morning, the Council adopted a resolution on the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), with ten votes in favour, two against(Uruguay and Venezuela), and three abstentions (Angola, New Zealand and Russia). Twice before there has been a non-consensual renewal on MINURSO’s mandate. In 1999 with fourteen votes in favour and one abstention, and in 2000 with 12 in favour, one against and two abstentions. (The last Council resolution that was adopted with two or more votes against was resolution 688 of April 1991, which was used by France, the UK and the US to establish Iraqi no-fly zones to protect humanitarian operations in Iraq. Resolution 688 was adopted with ten votes in favour, three against, and two abstentions).

The lack of consensus on this resolution reflects the divisions over the developments and process leading up to this adoption. Following a dispute between the Secretary-General and Morocco, Morocco demanded the withdrawal of most of the civilian staff from MINURSO. (For background to these developments please see the What’s in Blue stories on 26 March and 26 April.) The resolution extends the mandate of MINURSO for 12 months, and requests the Secretary-General “to brief the Council within 90 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and expresses its intention, if it has not done so, to consider how best to facilitate this”.

Negotiations on the draft
The text was initially drafted by the penholder, the US, using as a basis last year’s resolution, and then discussed among the Group of Friends on Western Sahara (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US). It appears that several elements of the original US text were amended at this stage. Originally the text requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council “within 60 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and expresses its intention, if MINURSO has not achieved full functionality, to consider immediate steps to facilitate achievement of this goal”. This was replaced by softer language requesting a briefing within 120 days “on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and expresses its intention, if MINURSO has not achieved full functionality, to consider how best to facilitate achievement of this goal”.

Changes made in the preambular part at this stage included removing language on the expulsion of MINURSO civilian personnel in a sentence on how MINURSO’s ability to carry out its mandate has been affected by the majority of its civilian personnel not being able to carry out its duties. The draft that was circulated to the larger Council membership simply noted with concern that “MINURSO’s ability to fully carry out its mandate has been affected as the majority of its civilian component, including political personnel, cannot perform their duties within MINURSO’s area of operations”. A direct indication that the civilian staff had been expelled by Morocco was therefore removed.

Another change in preambular language is that the original text recognised the important role played by MINURSO in “monitoring the ceasefire, contributing to the Security Council’s awareness of the situation on the ground and promoting a mutually acceptable political solution”, but was replaced by recognising “the important role played by MINURSO on the ground and the need for it to fully implement its mandate”, omitting reference to elements of the mandate that are resisted by Morocco. It seems that in the Group of Friends, amendments were largely suggested by France.

The text was circulated to all Council members about twenty minutes before scheduled consultations on Wednesday (27 April). Following the consultations, members met at Permanent Representative-level to discuss the draft, which at that time was scheduled for adoption the following morning. It appears that New Zealand, Uruguay and Venezuela said that they could not support a resolution that they were not given time to negotiate. Several members also expressed disappointment at the weak language of the text and the lack of transparency in the drafting process. Following the meeting, the adoption was delayed to this morning, allowing one more day for deliberations.

Yesterday, members met at political coordinator level to discuss the draft text. The reporting period on MINURSO emerged as the main issue of contention, with Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, the UK, Uruguay and Venezuela arguing to have the request reduced from 120 days to a shorter period. Some members also wanted stronger language in this paragraph. It appears that Russia made a point of stating that, while the document had been discussed in the Group of Friends, it was not a consensual text of the group. Issues related to both the language and scope of the draft text were raised by several Council members. A number expressed the view that the draft text ought to have strong language calling for the resumption of direct talks and movement on the political process, instead of focusing largely on the current crisis. Some members also wanted the text to reflect the implications that the conflict has on peace and security in the region. It appears that throughout the meeting the US stressed that, while it valued the serious concerns of Council members, a balanced approach was needed as this was a very delicate text. As a result, there was a general sense that no substantive change would be possible. Members were also aware that Morocco was following the negotiations closely and that it had indicated to Council members that it would prefer not to have any changes to the text by the larger Council membership.

Last night, the US circulated and immediately put in blue a revised text, in which two changes were made. Firstly, it expressed regret, rather than “noting with concern”, that MINURSO’s ability to fully carry out its mandate is being affected by the civilian staff not being able to perform their duties; and secondly, the request to have the Secretary-General brief the Council in 120 days was reduced to 90 days, though the language of this paragraph was otherwise unchanged.

Explanation of Vote
Following this morning’s vote, Angola, France, New Zealand, Russia, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, the UK, the US, Uruguay and Venezuela provided an explanation of vote. Those who voted against or abstained cited numerous concerns, both substantive and in relation to the process. Venezuela described the drafting process as having a “total absence of transparency” with only one substantive discussion, and stated that the resulting document does not reflect the positions of several Council members. Similar views were voiced by Angola, Malaysia and New Zealand. . There was also unhappiness voiced over perceived double standards by Angola and Venezuela which said that without the backing of friends on the Council, measures would be imposed on Morocco, as they are on other African countries.

Another common refrain among dissenting members related to what they perceived to be weak, vague or misleading language. Uruguay raised concerns that the text is almost identical to that adopted in previous years as if it were “business as usual”, even in light of Morocco’s decision of 16 March to expel MINURSO’s civilian staff, which radically changed the ability of the Council-mandate mission to operate. Angola, New Zealand, Uruguay and Venezuela said that the resolution should have demanded the immediate return of the expelled staff. Russia noted that including reference to “the serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward” sent the wrong political message. Uruguay, together with Venezuela, said that 90 days was too long a review period. Uruguay also criticised the fact there was no indication in the text as to how MINURSO can return to full functionality, or who would be responsible for this. In addition, it pointed out the weak commitment conveyed by using “expressing its intention” in relation to the Council considering how to facilitate the return to full functionality if this has not happened by the 90 period.

Another common issue raised by the dissenting members was that the resolution did not address the wider political process. Venezuela criticised the Council for wanting to “arbitrarily” forget MINURSO’s original mandate of conducting a referendum for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, a sentiment that was echoed by Uruguay. New Zealand stressed that the Council should have taken up the advice of the Secretary-General that the time has come to engage in serious negotiations without preconditions and in good faith to reach “a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

Many of the countries that voted in favour of the resolution acknowledged the difficulties of the negotiation process, but also stressed that renewing the mandate is crucial for the continuation of the important work being done by MINURSO. The UK, US and Spain urged Morocco and the Secretary-General to work to overcome the current crisis. France, Senegal and the US all described Morocco’s autonomy plan as a serious and credible basis for a solution. Both the UK and the US noted that the Council has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the mandates that it authorises. The US also said that the Council had to ensure the effectiveness and safety of peacekeeping personnel worldwide, including those serving in MINURSO, stating that the Council must respond swiftly and proactively in any situation in which a government requires the staff from a UN peacekeeping mission immediately to depart.