On April 29, the United Nations Security Council renewed the UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, until April 2015. The Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressed support for human rights monitoring to be added to the resolution renewing the mission. However, Morocco has long rejected the idea of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the North African region and for this resolution, Morocco got what they wanted.
The UN has been involved in the Western Sahara since 1991 when MINURSO was instituted, and Morocco has remained in control of much of the region since Spain ended its occupation. The resolution that renewed the mission included support for contributions to fund “confidence-building measures agreed upon between the parties” including visits between separated family members. Over 20,000 Western Saharan refugees have taken part in family visits through UN coordination since MINURSO’s beginning.
The resolution calls for the Polisario and Morocco to remain vigilant and wary of human rights in coordinating with the international community and the UN. Before its passing, Ban Ki-Moon commended both parties for their willingness to participate with UN human rights bodies. The Secretary General concluded, “The end goal nevertheless remains a sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism, covering both the Territory and the camps.”
The Secretary General, earlier in April, renewed his appeals for “sustained human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and warned against unfair exploitation of the region’s natural resources.” His concern with establishing stronger human rights monitoring mechanisms is in light of previous reports of human rights abuses and poverty in the country.
However, after a phone conversation with Morocco’s king, the word “mechanism” was removed from this sentence of the final report due to Morocco’s concern with a monitoring program that implied a foreign presence. King Mohammed stressed to the Secretary General Morocco’s willingness to uphold human rights, but within Morocco’s sovereignty and without the control of outside forces and occupations.
The U.S. was one of the first to promote increasing human rights monitoring, but backed down after Morocco expressed opposition. Hence, the U.S.-initiated resolution became largely Morocco-drafted before it was passed, excluding Ban Ki-Moon’s appeal.
As a compromise, however, Morocco allowed a few UN rights investigators to visit the area, and this year, the U.S. did not renew the proposal that they had for the previous resolution.
Whereas Morocco’s UN Ambassador, Omar Hilale, expressed concern over appeals of human rights mechanisms regarding the success of MINURSO, the Polisario’s UN Representative, Ahmed Boukhari, expressed regret that MINURSO is the “only UN Peacekeeping Mission established since 1978 that has no mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation on the ground.”
This argument over human rights monitoring is significant because it marks a continuation of the conflict between Morocco, who wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco, and the Polisario, who is backed by countries such as Algeria. The conflict has affected the Western Saharan people and refugees in Algeria poorly and contributed to poverty.
Western Sahara has also expressed concern over the exploitation of natural resources. The region is rich in phosphates, which are used in fertilizer, and Polisario has complained in the past about Western firms, in conjunction with Morocco, searching for natural resources.
Hence, the lack of a strong human rights mechanism worries the Western Saharan people about Moroccan control and natural resources extraction. Time will tell if this decision regarding the UN Resolution will affect Western Saharan’s poor, but citizens are concerned that it undoubtedly will.
– Cambria Arvizo