- The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2468 (2019), by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2019 and requested me to submit a report on the situation in Western Sahara before the end of the mandate period. The report covers developments that have occurred since the issuance of my previous report of 1 April 2019 (S/2019/282), and describes the situation on the ground, the status and progress of the political negotiations on Western Sahara, the implementation of resolution 2468 (2019) and the existing challenges to the Mission’s operations and steps taken to address them.
II. Recent developments
During the reporting period, the situation on the ground in Western Sahara remained relatively calm despite some uncertainty. Overall, both parties continued to abide by military agreement No. 1 and other related agreements, and the ceasefire between the parties was respected. MINURSO continued to implement its mandate to observe and report on the ceasefire, to act as an early warning mechanism and, by engaging the parties to resolve their violations and allegations, prevent conflict and maintain a conducive environment for the peace process led by my Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler.
Since my most recent report, as a result of cooperation from the Royal Moroccan Army, all four of the violations referred to in paragraphs 32 to 35 of that report, and a subsequent fifth violation of the same nature, have either been removed (three violations) or a mitigating solution was found that was satisfactory to both the Royal Moroccan Army and MINURSO (two violations). No further such violations have been registered on either side of the berm.
The crossing between Western Sahara and Mauritania at Guerguerat, at the southern extreme of the Territory, has been the source of increased tension among traders, protestors and Moroccan customs officials. Individuals and small groups claiming to be objecting to the lack of socioeconomic opportunities or to customs policies and actions have conducted temporary protests on the paved portion of the road inside the buffer strip on 54 occasions since my previous report – including 7 protests that did not include a roadblock, 18 with complete roadblocks and 29 with partial roadblocks – for periods varying from one hour to several days.
MINURSO continued to monitor the situation in Guerguerat closely with a day patrol of United Nations military observers assigned to the area. MINURSO has informally intervened on a number of occasions to reduce tensions and restore the flow of traffic, or to assist foreign tourists stranded in the buffer strip. On 23 July, the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations, Omar Hilale, wrote to my Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations asserting that the individuals who had been blocking the road were smugglers posing as demonstrators. The letter indicated that Morocco could no longer tolerate obstructions to the flow of civilian and commercial traffic and informed my Under-Secretary-General that Morocco might decide to intervene if the road blockages persisted. On 12 August, the Secretary-General of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) wrote to me denouncing the presence of “Moroccan agents” in the buffer strip in Guerguerat, describing it as a violation of the ceasefire and of military agreement No. 1. In the letter, Frente POLISARIO also called for the dismantling of structures in the area and added that it reserved the right to act in response to any act it deemed provocative.
Two conferences on Western Sahara were held in late March. On 25 March,
Morocco convened the African Ministerial Conference on the African Union’s support to the United Nations political process on the regional dispute over the Sahara in Marrakech, Morocco. The conference, which was attended by participants from African Union member States, adopted a declaration welcoming and reaffirming their support for “the exclusivity of the United Nations as the framework for seeking a mutually acceptable, realistic, pragmatic and lasting political solution to the Sahara issue” (S/2019/351, annex). On 26 March, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) convened the SADC Solidarity Conference with Western Sahara in Pretoria. SADC member States and other countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Timor Leste and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, participated, as did representatives of political parties and civil society organizations. The conference issued a final declaration expressing, inter alia, “solidarity with the people of Western Sahara” and support for United Nations efforts led by my Personal Envoy, and reiterated “the role of the African Union…in remaining seized with the question of Western Sahara”.
From April to June, small groups of Sahrawi civilians protested several times a month in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, against regulations adopted by Frente POLISARIO governing the border crossings from the Sahrawi refugee camps into Mauritanian territory and east of the berm. They also called for freedom of movement and general reforms. In Rabouni, Algeria, protests were also organized to demand that Frente POLISARIO obtain information from Algeria on the fate of Khalil Ahmed, a member of Frente POLISARIO who was reported missing in Algeria in 2009. On 15 July, Ahmed’s wife and children began a sit-in outside the United Nations multi-agency compound in Rabouni and on 29 July, approximately 60 protesters pushed their way into the compound. While there was no explicit threat to United Nations staff, the 13 United Nations staff members and 11 staff from international non-governmental organizations were relocated to nearby Tindouf as a precaution. On 4 August, following negotiations with Frente POLISARIO and tribal chiefs, Ahmed’s family left, and United Nations agencies resumed normal operations at the compound.
On 20 May, the Secretary-General of Frente POLISARIO, Brahim Ghali, gave a speech on the occasion of the forty-sixth anniversary of its founding. He called upon the Security Council “to shoulder its responsibility and to exert all the necessary pressure to put an end to Morocco’s intransigence and obstructive position”. Mr. Ghali also pleaded for an acceleration of the implementation of United Nations resolutions aimed at “the decolonization of Western Sahara”.
On 21 May, the Secretary-General of Frente POLISARIO wrote to me (S/2019/424, annex) to report on the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in Western Sahara, including with regard to “the proliferation” of ceasefire violations by Morocco and alleged human rights abuses. In the letter, Mr. Ghali stated that Moroccan authorities had prevented seven independent legal observers from entering Western Sahara, thereby preventing them from observing the trial of Sahrawi journalist Nazha El Khalidi, who had been arrested on 4 December 2018 for having live-streamed “State-sponsored harassment of peaceful Sahrawi protesters in the occupied territories”. He also stated that Morocco maintained its presence in Guerguerat and that hundreds of trucks and vehicles crossed into the buffer strip every day, in violation of military agreement No. 1. On 17 September, I received a letter from the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations stating that Ms. El Khalidi was arrested when filming a law enforcement operation with her mobile telephone without professional accreditation as a journalist, and that she left the police premises freely after being auditioned.
On 8 June, Frente POLISARIO wrote a letter to the Security Council, my UnderSecretaries-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and for Peace Operations and MINURSO condemning the alleged excessive use of force by Moroccan security forces against young Sahrawi people in Smara, who were reportedly celebrating the release of “political prisoner” Salah Labseer. The letter denounced the conduct of the Moroccan police and paramilitary agents and called for independent monitoring of human rights in the Territory. On 17 June, an estimated 70 people rallied peacefully in Rabouni to protest the alleged human rights abuses committed by Morocco in Smara, west of the berm.
On 26 June, Côte d’Ivoire opened an “honorary consulate” in Laayoune and Mohamed Imam Malainine was designated “Honorary Consul” of Côte d’Ivoire for Western Sahara. In a letter dated 3 July, Secretary-General Ghali wrote to me expressing concern over this action, which he stated constituted “a violation of international law and a serious breach of the international legal status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory”.
On 19 July, after the victory of Algeria i in the Africa Cup of Nations football championship, a public celebration in Laayoune led to clashes with Moroccan law enforcement agencies. A young woman was reportedly hit by an auxiliary force vehicle responding to the demonstrations and died from her injuries. Various media reported that approximately 21 people were injured, and more than 100 people were arrested. The wilaya (governorate) of the Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra region was quoted in the media saying that the city of Laayoune had witnessed “acts of sabotage” by a group of individuals who used the celebrations to loot public and private property, and security forces were compelled to intervene to protect the property. In a letter dated 9 September from the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations, Morocco reported that the celebration of the victory was “exploited by trouble-makers, who… perpetrated acts of violence and vandalism in the city of Laayoune”. In the letter, Morocco also stated that the Moroccan authorities had ordered the initiation of an investigation under the supervision of the “competent Prosecutor’s Office”. On 20 July, the Secretary-General of Frente POLISARIO wrote to me calling for an independent investigation to reveal the circumstances surrounding the events, and some Sahrawi people on social media called for a blockade in Guerguerat in reaction to the incident.
On 29 July, King Mohammed VI of Morocco delivered an address celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his ascension to the throne. He reiterated the commitment of Morocco to the political process on Western Sahara, under the exclusive aegis of the United Nations, and stressed that a settlement, in his view, could only be achieved “through full Moroccan sovereignty” and within the “framework of the autonomy initiative”.
Separately, on the same day, a video circulated online showing a speech by Mr. Ghali in which he stated that “the war of liberation” was “inevitable and a mandatory step”, and appealed for volunteers.
On 27 July, the “Prime Minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” Mohamed al-Wali Akeik, stated separately that since “the international community had not done anything”, they were “forced to prepare to enter into war”. Speaking at the closing ceremony of the tenth edition of the Summer University of Sahrawi in Boumerdes, Algeria, on 7 August, Mr. Ghali extended “the hand of peace, reconciliation, cooperation and good neighbourliness” to “brothers” in Morocco. This, he said, would “bring the two countries and two peoples, and the peoples and countries of the region, many more achievements” and would be “better than the consequences of following an unjust policy that violates legitimacy and history”. Frente POLISARIO leaders are preparing for internal elections later in 2019.
During the reporting period, Moroccan investments west of the berm continued as previously reported, in particular in the city of Laayoune. Morocco maintains that such investments directly benefit the people of Western Sahara and are implemented in consultation with them. Frente POLISARIO continues to protest that they are in violation of international law and of the status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self Governing Territory.
East of the Berm, there continues to be relatively little development by comparison. Since the ceasefire, six small civilian settlements have been established in Bir Lahlou, Tifariti, Mehaires, Mijek, Agwanit and Dougaj. MINURSO has observed an increase in civilian activities and presence, mainly in Bir Lahlou, Mehaires and Tifariti. Due to the local nomadic lifestyle, the populations of these villages fluctuate. There are rudimentary social structures in most of the locations, such as schools, hospitals, mosques and small local administrative units, and there are some commercial activities, in particular herding. Morocco considers those settlements to be illegal.