UN deals blow to AU’s approach on Western Sahara

Friday 08/05/2015

Casablanca - The UN Security Council has dealt a heavy blow to African Union recom­mendations for changes to the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the dis­puted North African territory of Western Sahara.
The Security Council unani­mously extended the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sa­hara (MINURSO) — a peacekeeping force — in mineral-rich Western Sa­hara through April 30, 2016.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, prompting the Polisario Front independence movement to wage a guerrilla war for a separate state. That lasted un­til 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in MINURSO.
Moroccan Ambassador to the United Nations Omar Hilale wel­comed Resolution 2218, saying that it “confirms for the ninth con­secutive year the pre-eminence of the Moroccan autonomy initiative and Morocco’s credible and serious efforts to settle this regional con­flict which has lasted too long”.
Polisario has complained about Western firms prospecting for natural resources based on permits issued by Morocco but Hilale de­fended the North African country against accusations of exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural re­sources. The disputed territory is rich in phosphates and potentially offshore oil and natural gas.
“The exploitation is legal,” Hilale said April 28th at a news confer­ence following the adoption of the UN resolution.
“When Morocco recovered its southern provinces, there were only two small villages of Laay­oune and Dakhla. There was no electricity, no water, no schools, let alone hospitals and a little pop­ulation because of its nomadic na­ture, “he added.
“Today, Sahara is made up of large cities, many ports and indus­tries and Dakhla is an unavoidable international tourist destination,” said Hilale, highlighting Morocco’s multi-billion-dollar investments in the southern provinces during the last 40 years.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that Western Sahara continued to benefit from consid­erable public investment.
Hilale dismissed a call by the Af­rican Union for MINURSO to moni­tor human rights in Western Sa­hara, calling its position “biased”.
Morocco withdrew from the Af­rican Union in 1984 when the bloc recognised the Sahrawi Arab Dem­ocratic Republic proclaimed by the Polisario Front.
The African Union wanted the resolution to explicitly state that MINURSO’s job is to organise a ref­erendum. However, Rabat rejected calls for MINURSO to conduct hu­man rights monitoring, saying the African Union has no right to inter­fere in the long-standing issue.
The Moroccan kingdom insists that the disputed territory should have autonomy, not independ­ence, a position rejected by Polisa­rio.
Meanwhile, the Security Coun­cil welcomed Morocco’s efforts and achievements in human rights development and renewed its con­fidence in national institutions, particularly the National Council on Human Rights, known by its French initials CNDH, and its role in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Elhannouchi Abderrazzak, a top CNDH official, told The Arab Week­ly that the resolution consolidated the efforts of national human rights organisations in defending Sahrawis’ rights in the region and Morocco’s openness to UN human rights bodies.
A political solution to the long­standing issue is needed more than ever due to the growing threat by extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in the Sa­hara and the Sahel regions.
“Forty years after the start of this conflict, it is clear that the sta­tus quo is simply not sustainable,” British Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Wilson told the Security Council.
Wilson repeated Ban’s recent warning that the lack of a political solution on Western Sahara could have regional repercussions amid a growing extremist threat in the region.
“The United Nations is now linking a solution to the Western Sahara issue with the geopolitical landscape in the region which is witnessing a fragile security situ­ation because of a growing terror­ist threat, especially in the Sahel,” said Abderrazzak.