Peacekeeping mandate hits brick wall in Western Sahara

A Sahrawi refugee walks, on March 1, 2011 in the Western Sahara refugee camp called "27 February", near Tindouf. Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony which was annexed in 1975 by Morocco. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, wants independence for the territory on the west African coast. AFP Photo / Dominique Faget
Morocco opposes human rights monitoring by the UN Mission in the Western Sahara. AFP Photo / Dominique Faget

UNITED NATIONS, April 29, 2014 (AFP) – The UN Security Council yesterday approved a resolution calling for greater efforts to improve human rights in Western Sahara, but stopped short of widening the mandate of its peacekeeping mission.

The north African territory is controlled by Morocco and claimed by Polisario Front separatists backed by Algeria.

Rights groups had pressed the United Nations to task the peacekeepers of the UN Mission in the Western Sahara, MINURSO, with human rights monitoring – a move fiercely opposed by Morocco.

The Security Council extended the mission’s mandate, which began in 1991 and was due to expire at the end of the month, for a year without changes.

The resolution instead encourages the parties “to continue in their respective efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps”.

It also called on the parties to “cooperate fully” with MINURSO operations and to continue to negotiate on the region’s status without conditions.

Unlike last year, the measure did not involve diplomatic arm wrestling between Washington and Rabat.

But Morocco’s King Mohammed VII did intervene with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations was replaced during negotiations on the resolution.

In an early report, Ban had suggested that a “mechanism” be put in place to allow the US mission to monitor human rights in Western Sahara while the political process remains at a standstill.

But Morocco had warned it would order an end to the mission if it expanded its mission in this way.

The resolution welcomed recent initiatives by Rabat in favor of human rights, including the strengthening of a National Human Rights Commission and ending trials of civilians by military courts.

MINURSO is mainly charged with monitoring a ceasefire in the former Spanish colony.

Rabat has proposed autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the vast region, which has fewer than one million inhabitants.

The Polisario Front wants a referendum on the territory’s status. US mediation on the issue is mired in an impasse.

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