Monday, September 04, 2006

'A more substantial Security Council resolution on Western Sahara'

There was an interesting exchange of letters between UN Secretary-General Annan and the President of the Security Council at the end of June.

In a June 26 letter to the Security Council, lame-duck Annan noted that its last resolution on Western Sahara, extending the mandate to the end of October, the Council "did not refer to my recommendations, except the one concerning the extension of the mandate of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for a further period of six months."

Annan then noted, "The [April] resolution was adopted unanimously, but most of the members of the Council who made a statement after the vote expressed the hope ... that at the next mandate renewal in October the Council would not need to content itself again with a purely technical rollover" of the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Following the April 2004 "technical rollover" of MINURSO, US representative to the United Nations John Bolton issued a statement that said, "The United States has voted in favor of this resolution in the hope that all parties will use the next six months to make real progress toward reaching a mutually acceptable solution [...] in a manner consistent with the principle of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara." He then added, "We recognize MINURSO's important role in these efforts, yet must continually monitor the ability of the mission to carry out its mandated tasks, taking into account limited peacekeeping resources."

Since 1991, MINURSO has been on the ground, first and foremost, to organize a referendum on self-determination for the native Sahrawi people of Western Sahara. The Mission's official name in English is the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. For non-self-governing territories like Western Sahara, self-determination -- defined by sixty years of decolonization, the General Assembly, the Security Council and even the Secretary-General -- means affording the native people a chance to vote on whether or not they wanted to be independent.

The problem is that Morocco has rejected any attempt or proposal that would offer Western Sahara a vote on independence. Or in the words of their Foreign Minister, Mohammed Benaissa, a referendum is “obsolete” and “inapplicable.”

The UN can not force the people of Western Sahara to give up that right, but the Security Council (i.e., France and the United States) has made it clear that they will not force Morocco to participate in -- or accept the outcome of -- a vote on independence.

So what's the UN to do? Its mission in Western Sahara exists to hold a vote on independence that Morocco won't allow. The Security Council is the only body that can force Morocco to do anything, but they will not even press Rabat verbally -- not even when Morocco welcomed former lead negotiator James Baker's resignation in 2004. Thus the Mission in Western Sahara can not carry out its mandate. Therefore, Bolton's statement -- "[the US government] must continually monitor the ability of the mission to carry out its mandated tasks, taking into account limited peacekeeping resources" -- seems more ominous.

Now what can Bolton really do? Well, a lot actually. He can veto MINURSO, and he doesn't need French approval for that.

Responding to Annan's letter, the President of the Security Council said they had taken note of Annan's "suggestion that the members of the Security Council use the next four months to prepare for a more substantial resolution on the situation concerning Western Sahara."

The shape of that resolution will depend greatly on the result of the Secretary-General's personal envoy, Peter Van Walsum, who is currently visiting the parties.

It is highly unlikely that Morocco will acquiesce to self-determination, so Bolton's cost-cutting credentials will be put to the test in October, when MINURSO's mandate expires for, perhaps, the last time.


Will said...

I'm confused as to why vetoing MINURSO would be good. Isn't some UN presence better than none?

sahara-watch said...

I think most people would agree that some UN presence is better than none. But from Polisario's perspective, MINURSO's peacekeepers now acts as a kind of buffer between them and Morocco. The presence of the UN also creates the false impression that there is at least something going on diplomatically, when in reality the parties haven't met face to face since 2000. With that kind of political 'cover', Morocco is able to fortify its occupation, right under the nose of the UN. This is why Morocco supports MINURSO and Polisario doesn't. The UN hasn't been able to anything for Polisairo in fifteen years, and diplomatic progress has been negative since 2004. The UN doesn't need a mission to maintain diplomatic contact with the parties. -SW