Rabat - United Nations Security Council resolution 2351 on Western Sahara, which was unanimously adopted April 28, marks an important shift in the way the UN has been dealing with the issue in the last ten years.
Rabat – United Nations Security Council resolution 2351 on Western Sahara, which was unanimously adopted April 28, marks an important shift in the way the UN has been dealing with the issue in the last ten years.
Negotiations over the territory had stood at a stalemate throughout UN Secretary General Special Envoy to Western Sahara Christopher Ross’s mandate from 2009 to 2017, with Morocco accusing Ross of bias towards the Algeria-backed Polisario Front.
Nearing the end of his tenure, tensions nearly boiled over between Rabat and the UN over the monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara after then-Secretary General Ban Ki Moon referred in March 2016 to the territory as “occupied.” Protests erupted against his use of the term, and Morocco subsequently kicked out the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
However, things seem to have changed with the recent UNSC resolution.
Moroccan diplomatic officials believe the resolution signals an alignment with the kingdom’s standpoint on several key issues, recognizing initiatives made towards reaching a comprehensive and permanent solution to the dispute.
Welcoming Morocco’s efforts
The UNSC resolution praised Morocco’s actions in two paragraphs, recognizing “serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution.”
Specifically, the text mentioned Morocco’s Autonomy Plan presented on April 2007 to the Secretary General of the United Nations. While the same paragraph mentioned the proposal delivered by the Polisario Front in the same period, only Morocco’s efforts were deemed “serious and credible.”
According to observers, this distinction is significant, giving preeminence to the Moroccan approach. This recognition is important, as the resolution called for both parties to resume negotiations to reach a mutually-acceptable solution.
The UNSC reaffirmed its “commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and noting the role and responsibilities of the parties in this respect.”
It stressed a similar point in another paragraph, recognizing that “achieving a political solution to this long-standing dispute and enhanced cooperation between the Member States of the Maghreb Arab Union would contribute to stability and security in the Sahel region.”
In this regard, the new language of the resolution and its insistence on the fact that any resolution should be “context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” is good news for Morocco.
According to Samir Bennis, co-founder and senior political analyst at Morocco World News, what is makes this mention significant is that it is the first time since 2007 that the UNSC resolution has used this sentence in four paragraphs – once in the preamble and three times in the operative section – whereas in all resolutions since 2007 this sentence was used just twice.
“The language contained in the new resolution reestablishes the preeminence of the Moroccan approach and shows that the new Secretary General is more determined that his predecessor to breathe new life into the stalled political process,” said Bennis.
Human Rights in Tindouf
Morocco has long drawn the international community’s attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tindouf camps , urging the Security Council to compel Algeria and the Polisario to conduct a census of the Saharawis in the camps.
A request was made for “for consideration of a refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps and emphasizing efforts be made in this regard.”
The tone of the UNSC’s request for the registration of refugees is a new precedent. Compared to last year’s resolution 2285, where the Security Council only invited “efforts in this regard,” the emphasis on “efforts to be made” for the registration of refugees marks a turnaround.
Guerguerat, the case against Polisario
The UNSC’s resolution pointed out that the recent crisis in the buffer strip in Guerguerat “raises fundamental questions related to the ceasefire and related agreements.”
Morocco troops withdrew from Guerguerat in late February, but Polisario’s armed militias remained in the area for two more months. The group’s leadership used its presence in the buffer strip for domestic propaganda, referring to the region as “liberated land.”
Yet, the day before the adoption of the resolution, the separatist group started pulling out, presenting it as “redeployment” of its gunmen.
According to Bennis, the Polisario chose to withdraw to avoid being exposed to potential sanctions from the Security Council.
“The dynamics of negotiations that preceded the adoption of the resolution were against the wishes of the Polisario, which found itself under heavy pressure and obliged to bow the Security Council,” said Bennis, who followed the negotiations closely.
Fearing to be further isolated and put in very complicated situation, Polisario withdrew ahead of the UNSC vote on Friday, April 28. Morocco objected the use of the word “redeployment,” insisting any continuity of Polisario’s presence in the buffer strip is a threat to stability.
“Polisario withdrew at the last minute, humiliated. It was forced to pull out. The UNSC resolution put an end to the myth of liberated land,” said Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.
Détente over MINURSO
Unlike the 2016 resolution text, which referred to MINURSO’s full functionality, no similar mentioning was made in the recent resolution.
Disagreement had been growing between Morocco and the UN and other permanent Security Council states over MINURSO in regard to monitoring human rights, especially after the kingdom expelled the mission’s staff.
Not wanting the tension to last, Morocco sought a détente, and the kingdom eventually allowed MINURSO staff to return in July 2016. Ban Ki Moon himself took part in the Marrakech Climate Change Conference as a sign of normalized relations with Morocco.
“The return of 27 MINURSO staff members closed the issue,” explained Bourita.