The United Nations Security Council adopted on Friday Resolution 2548, renewing the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, for one year.
MINURSO’s one-year renewed mandate was set to expire on October 31.
President of the Security Council, Russia’s Vasily Nebenzya read the results of the vote today after the UN body conducted a 24-hour written voting procedure due to COVID-19.
Thirteen voted for the resolution, while Russia and South Africa abstained.
South Africa shared its traditional position on the resolution, claiming that the document lacked balance.
South Africa is among the few African states that support Polisario’s independence claims over Western Sahara.
As penholder of the resolution, the US circulated the draft of the document on October 21.
The US was among the Security Council members to agree on the extension of the MINURSO mandate without urging any change in its stipulations or language.
Through Resolution 2548, the Security Council welcomed the UN’s efforts to contribute to finding a solution to the decades-long Western Sahara conflict and to preserving peace in the region.
The resolution repeats the same language of other recent resolutions on Western Sahara, urging all parties to work together to help the UN find a realistic and mutually acceptable political solution.
As was in the case in previous resolutions, the Security Council “welcomes” Morocco’s “serious and credible” efforts to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. With the exception of Resolution 2285 of 2016, all Security Council resolutions about Western Sahara adopted since 2007 have welcomed the Moroccan autonomy plan.
Meanwhile, the Security Council has merely “taken note” of Polisario’s counter proposal submitted in April 2007.
Stagnation in the Western Sahara conflict during MINURSO’s expiring mandate
The only substantive change in the resolution is the UN Security Council’s call on the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to appoint a new envoy to Western Sahara after the May 2019 resignation of Horst Kohler.
Kohler played a key role in convening all the parties to the conflict, including Algeria, Polisario, Morocco, and Mauritania, for two roundtables of discussion in December 2018 and March 2019.
Morocco and all other parties to the conflict regretted Kohler’s resignation, as he was key to the progress on the Western Sahara conflict.
Due to Kohler’s resignation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Polisario’s repeated provocations in the region, the Western Sahara dossier largely witnessed stagnation in mid-2019 and throughout 2020
The UN Secretary General pointed out several Military Agreement No. 1 violations by the Polisario Front — more than 50 — in his recent annual report on the situation of Western Sahara.
The document also listed Polisario’s defiances of MINURSO’s orders in the region. It warned against some of the separatist group’s actions, including the establishment of facilities in restricted areas.
Polisario recently again repeated some of these violations, including blocking traffic in Guerguerat, a town in the buffer zone along the Moroccan and Mauritanian border.
The UNSG condemned the acts, urging Polisario to refrain from any moves that challenge the status quo of the region.
Security Council Resolution 2548 echoes the UNSG’s statement, calling on Polisario to end its violations in Guerguerat.
The urgent need to appoint a new envoy
The continued vacancy in the envoy position has stirred frustration among the parties to the conflict, including Polisario and Algeria.
The Polisario Front has repeatedly condemned the continued absence of an envoy, with some pro-Polisario “news outlets” sharing fake stories about the appointment of a replacement.
The United Nations denied the news and Guterres said that the search for a new envoy is ongoing.
In January, the UN responded to concerns regarding the long wait for the appointment of a new personal envoy.
Spokesman of Guterres Stephane Dujjaric said there is no reason that “bars the UN from appointing a replacement for Kohler.”
He added: “The search is ongoing, and when we have someone to announce, we will do so.”
A solution also requires that Algeria acknowledge itself as a party to the conflict
The newly-adopted resolution stresses the need to reach a practical political solution, based on compromise, suggesting that the UN will not accept any proposal that cannot lead to an agreed upon and consensual resolution.
This aligns with Morocco’s determination to work within the UN-led process to find a mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict.
Resolution 2548 mentions Algeria five times — as many times as it names Morocco — thus underscoring the UN Security Council’s tacit acknowledgment that Algeria is a full-fledged party to the conflict.
Morocco has long called on the Security Council to include Algeria in the negotiating process, stressing that a solution to the conflict will only be possible through direct negotiation between Rabat and Algiers. Referencing Algeria in the text confirmed the importance of Algeria’s involvement in the political process.
The Algerian government, however, continues to claim that it is only an observer to the conflict, arguing that a solution merits discussion only between Morocco and Polisario.
During a press conference in June 2019, Morocco’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Omar Hilale, debunked Algeria’s claims. He stressed the disconnect between Algeria’s stated position as a mere observer and reality, exemplified by the country’s continuous desire to sabotage the settlement of the conflict through dialogue.
“If Algeria is only an observer, why does it arm, finance, shelter and diplomatically mobilize for the Polisario, an armed non-state separatist movement?” he wondered.
“If Algeria is not a party, why has it continued to turn a deaf ear for 40 years to the incessant and urgent calls of the international community, including the Security Council in its resolutions since 2011 for the census and registration of the populations of the Tindouf camps in Algeria?” he added.