Western Sahara

Ban voices concern at deadlock in UN-backed negotiations on Western Sahara

19 April 2011 – Neither party to the dispute over Western Sahara has taken steps to date that would suggest a readiness to move to an acceptable compromise, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report in which he recommends measures to help advance progress in the United Nations-backed negotiations.

When representatives of the parties, Morocco and the Frente Polisario, wrapped up their latest round of talks last month, both sides continued to reject each other’s proposal as a sole basis for future negotiations.

At the same time, the two sides confirmed their willingness to explore innovative approaches for negotiation and topics for discussion to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution of the conflict.

Despite their recent agreement, “the parties are likely to remain committed to the essence of their proposals,” Mr. Ban writes in his report to the Security Council.

The UN has been involved in efforts to find a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.

Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy while the position of the Frente Polisario is that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.

The UN-backed talks between the parties have been convened by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, who presented the Secretary-General’s report to Council members in a closed-door meeting today.

Mr. Ban says in the report that although the process remains “deadlocked,” current circumstances may suggest a way forward.

“At this time of protest and contestation throughout the Middle East/North Africa region, the sentiments of the population of Western Sahara, both inside and outside the Territory, with regard to its final status are more central than ever to the search for a settlement that will be just and lasting,” he states

“But these sentiments remain unknown,” he continues. “What is clear is that arrival at a final status on which this population has not clearly and convincingly expressed its view is likely to engender new tensions in Western Sahara and in the region.”

Therefore, he says, the Council may wish to recommend three initiatives to the parties. The first is for the parties to find a way to include representatives of a wide cross-section of the population of Western Sahara in the discussion of issues related to final status and the exercise of self-determination.

The second is for the parties to further deepen their examination of each other’s proposals and, in particular, seek common ground on the one major point of convergence in their two proposals, namely the need to obtain the approval of the population for any agreement.

“It is instructive in this regard that the proposals of both parties foresee, albeit in different form, a referendum that will constitute a free exercise of the right to self-determination,” notes Mr. Ban.

The third initiative is for the parties to devote additional energy to identifying and discussing a wide range of governance issues with a view to meeting the needs of the people of Western Sahara and with the understanding that many aspects of these issues can be discussed without reference to the nature of the final status of the Territory.

These issues include how to structure its executive, legislative and judicial branches, how to organize and conduct elections and how to design primary and secondary education.

In his report, the Secretary-General also recommends that the Council extend for another year the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire reached in September 1991 and organizing a referendum on self-determination. The mission’s current mandate expires at the end of this month.