Tuesday, February 7

How the referendum on the Sahara has been diluted in the UN


This Monday, four days after Pedro Sánchez took a historic turn in Spain’s position on Western Sahara by first supporting Morocco’s autonomy plan for the former Spanish colony, the United Nations reiterated “the importance of maintaining full commitment to the political process facilitated by the UN in line with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council”.

“We feel that it is very important that all the parties involved continue to support the work of the personal envoy (Staffan de Mistura) and our approach based on these resolutions”, said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his daily press conference. .

The truth is that these UN resolutions have evolved over the decades in language and, therefore, and more importantly, in content. And with those changes, According to many experts, they have been tilting the UN’s position towards Moroccan interests.the initial focus on the organization of a referendum with which the Saharawis could decide their future has been diluted and practically disappeared.

It was in 1991 when the Security Council established Minurso, the French acronym for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, which provided for a transition period to prepare holding a choice between independence and integration with Morocco. And the consultation continues in the name of the mission, renewed for the last time last October, but the possibility that the Saharawis decide their future at the polls has remained a mere nominal issue in the resolutions, which no longer even speak of the referendum .

“no preconditions”

Resolution 2062, for example, the last one that Minurso renewed in October, used the language that has become common for at least two decades: call on “the parties” to resume negotiations “without preconditions and in good faith” in search of a “realistic, viable, lasting political solution, acceptable to the parties and based on compromise”.

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That language has long frustrated countries that defend the right to a self-determination referendum for all nations that were previously colonized. And that frustration was summed up in October by Kenyawhich held the rotating presidency of the Council, and whose diplomatic legation issued a statement in which, despite showing hope that the mission could end up organizing the referendum, it also urged “to be honest and admit that this objective is being obscured and frustrated ”.

That frustration and the political movements that have weighed down the UN come from afar. Already in 1991, when Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was the Secretary General of the UN and the first mission went to the Sahara to prepare the first provisional census, there were what have been denounced as movements under pressure from France, Rabat’s main ally and with the right to veto in the Security Council. In a article last octoberJoseph Alfred Grinblat, one of the members of the first Minurso, assured that Pérez de Cuellar modified a report they had prepared and changed a sentence that said that the UN would carry out the referendum “after consultations with the parties” for the phrase “after agreements with the parties”, giving Morocco the power to prevent the organization of the consultation.

Political movements also slowed down the progress of the consultation after the Houston Agreements in 1997 signed by Morocco and the Polisario. After the death of Hassan II and the accession to the throne of Mohamed VI, FFrance and the US encouraged Morocco to move away from those agreements. And in the UN, then with Kofi Annan at the helm, fear spread that the violence experienced after another referendum in East Timor could be repeated. That was when they began to ask for “a mutually acceptable political solution”, which called for negotiating a political solution before making the consultation.

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strongest mandate

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Then came the two plans of James BakerAnnan’s special envoy, and in 2003 the Security Council supported the second revision, which gave more authority to the Saharawis and proposed organizing a referendum four years later, in which those who had settled before 1999 would be given a vote. And although in 2004 it was proposed to give a stronger mandate to the Minursoended up simply reaffirming the will to implement a proposal “based on the agreement of both parties”. Baker was quick to resign, and the next resolution the UN passed had no mention of his proposals.

Negotiation attempts have continued, the last one in 2018 and 2019, and personal envoys have also followed one another, the last one, De Mistura, appointed last year after a two-year gap. And the truth is that in the UN texts there is no talk of a referendum but a “political solution” is called for that is “realistic, feasible, durable and acceptable to all parties”. The language of Morocco that Spain now supports.


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