SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS WESTERN SAHARA MISSION UNTIL 31 JULY TO ALLOW TIME FOR CONSIDERATION OF LATEST PEACE PLAN

30 May 2003
SC/7773

SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS WESTERN SAHARA MISSION UNTIL 31 JULY TO ALLOW TIME FOR CONSIDERATION OF LATEST PEACE PLAN

30/05/2003
Press ReleaseSC/7773

Security Council

4765th Meeting (AM)

SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS WESTERN SAHARA MISSION UNTIL 31 JULY

TO ALLOW TIME FOR CONSIDERATION OF LATEST PEACE PLAN

Resolution 1485 (2003) Adopted Unanimously;

Secretary-General Recommends Council Endorsement

The Security Council this morning extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which was to expire today at midnight, until 31 July to allow time for consideration of the Secretary-General’s report and the latest peace plan for self-determination.

The proposed plan (document S/2003/565, annex II) provides for a United Nations-conducted referendum on the final status of Western Sahara and for an interim authority until results of the referendum are implemented.

The plan was drafted by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy and presented in January of this year to the parties, the Government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), and the neighbouring countries of Algeria and Mauritania, whose responses are contained in the report.  The Secretary-General, describing the plan as a compromise offering “an optimum political solution” to the conflict, recommends Council endorsement.

The meeting, during which resolution 1485 (2003) was unanimously adopted, started at 10:30 a.m. and was adjourned at 10:33 a.m.

The full text of resolution 1485 (2003) reads as follows:

The Security Council,

Recalling all its previous resolutions on Western Sahara, in particular resolution 1429 (2002) of 31 July 2002,

Taking note of the report of the Secretary-General of 23 May 2003 (S/2003/565),

Commending the work of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara, including his efforts to resolve the pending humanitarian issues related to the conflict and to implement UNHCR confidence-building measures,

“1.   Decides to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 July 2003 in order to consider further the report of the Secretary-General of 23 May 2003 (S/2003/565);

“2.   Decides to remain seized of the matter.”

Background

The latest report of the Secretary-General, dated 23 May  (document S/2003/565), was submitted pursuant to resolution 1469 (2002) of 25 March, by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 May. 

In the report, the Secretary-General recommends that the Council endorse “the peace plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”, which was developed by the Personal Envoy pursuant to resolution 1429 (2002) and is contained in the report as annex II.  If the parties cannot agree on an approach for a political solution and if the Council is not in a position to ask them to take steps that they do not perceive to be in their own interest, despite the fact that it may clearly be in the interest of the population of Western Sahara, the Council may wish to consider whether it wishes to remain actively seized of this political process. 

The Secretary-General proposes that, in order to give the Council sufficient time to reflect on its decision, that the mandate of MINURSO be extended for two months, until 31 July.

The report includes the views of the parties to the proposal that was presented to them by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III, in January, and it covers developments since his previous report to the Council on the situation, dated 16 January.  The peace plan, annexed to the report, is described as an agreement by and between the interested parties, Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO, or POLISARIO Front), joined by Algeria and Mauritania (neighbouring countries), and the United Nations. 

After many years of exemplary efforts by his Personal Envoy, the Secretary-General says, the proposed peace plan offers what could be an “optimum political solution” to the conflict, providing the bona fide residents of Western Sahara, following an appropriate transitional period, the opportunity to determine their own future, which, in turn, would promote peace and stability in the region and would open the way to enhanced exchanges and cooperation between the countries of the Arab Maghreb Union. 

By combining elements of the framework agreement, favoured by Morocco, and the settlement plan, favoured by the Frente POLISARIO, the proposed peace plan represents a “fair and balanced” approach, providing each side some, but perhaps not all, of what it wants, he states further.  The peace plan, therefore, represents a compromise.  And, unlike the settlement plan, it does not require the consent of both parties at each and every stage of implementation. 

The report finds that the main objection of Morocco to the peace plan seems to be that in the referendum to determine the final status of Western Sahara, one of the ballot choices is independence.  However, independence is also one of the two ballot choices under the settlement plan, which Morocco had accepted.

It is difficult to envision a political solution that provides for self-determination, but that nevertheless precludes the possibility of independence as one of several ballot questions.  This is particularly difficult to envision given: a) the stated commitment of Morocco to the settlement plan (wherein independence is one of two ballot choices, the other being integration with Morocco) over so many years; and b) the inclusion in the electorate for the referendum foreseen under the peace plan of all those who have resided continuously in Western Sahara since 30 December 1999, as opposed to only those who would be included in the voter list.

The report notes that there is one amendment to the peace plan that might assuage the concern of Morocco over the ballot for the referendum.  This would provide a third ballot choice providing for “`continuation of the division of authority set forth in article III of the peace plan’”, in other words, self-government or autonomy.  Morocco has for some time supported the concept of self-government or autonomy as the solution to the conflict over Western Sahara. 

The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy propose that this third ballot question be included on the ballot for the referendum on the peace plan.  If none of the three ballot questions obtained a majority of votes, the one receiving the fewest votes would be eliminated and a run-off referendum would be held to allow voters to choose between the two remaining questions.  If the third option, self-government or autonomy, prevailed, the electorate for future elections of the executive and legislative bodies of the Western Sahara Authority would be the bona fide residents of Western Sahara over the age of 18.

The chief objection of the Frente POLISARIO to the peace plan seems to be that it is not the settlement plan, the report states.  The Frente POLISARIO suggests that the parties revert to implementation of the settlement plan, with two new elements:  a) that the Identification Commission would process all 130,000 appeals, with no requirement that sheikhs participate, with the Commission’s decisions to be accepted as final; and b) that a mechanism would be added to provide for enforcement of the results of the referendum under Chapter VII of the Charter.  Even with these two elements, however, the settlement plan would still require the parties’ consent at every stage of its implementation.

The report says that it is difficult to envision Morocco consenting to the proposal of the Frente POLISARIO as a way of implementing the settlement plan.  As far as adding a Chapter VII mechanism to enforce the results of the referendum, it should be recalled that, following the Secretary-General’s report of February 2002 (document S/2002/178), the Security Council would not choose any of the four options proposed by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, because both parties would not consent or agree to one of them.  It is quite unlikely, therefore, that the Council would decide to enforce the result of the referendum under Chapter VII.

The responses of the parties also contain a number of ostensibly technical objections to the peace plan, the report continues.  However, when taken together, these objections suggest that the parties “still lack the genuine will required to achieve a political solution to the conflict”.

The Council should not exclude the possibility that it may be asked by one or both parties to support a process in which objections and/or changes to the peace plan would be negotiated between them, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations, the report further states.  However, the Secretary-General does not believe that such an approach would be conducive to moving forward.  Rather, his Personal Envoy and he believe that the parties should accept the plan as proposed. 

The reports states that, after more than 11 years and an amount of assessed contributions close to $500 million, it should be acknowledged that the Council is not going to solve the problem of Western Sahara without asking that one or both of the parties do something they are not otherwise prepared to do. 

In recommending that the Council endorse the peace plan -– the “fifth option” -- the Secretary-General says it combines elements of the draft framework agreement and agreed elements of the settlement plan.  It is fair and balanced, and, following a transitional period of self-government, offers the bona fide residents of Western Sahara an opportunity to determine their future for themselves.  The four earlier options could, of course, still be considered, but if the Council is not prepared to revisit them with a view to making a choice, he recommends that the parties be asked by the Council to agree to the peace plan and to work with the United Nations to implement it.

The Secretary-General says, “I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that unless and until the parties demonstrate their readiness to assume their own responsibilities and make the compromises necessary to reach a successful outcome to the conflict, a fresh initiative to find a solution to the question of Western Sahara is likely to suffer the same fate as the earlier ones.”

Accordingly, he urges the Council to seize this opportunity to address effectively the long-outstanding issue of Western Sahara by requesting the parties to agree to the peace plan as amended and to work with the United Nations in its implementation. 

Peace Plan for Self-Determination of People of Western Sahara

The purpose of the peace plan, an agreement between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO, joined by Algeria, Mauritania and the United Nations, is to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Western Sahara that provides for self-determination –- the status of which is to be determined by a referendum to be conducted by the United Nations -- with a governmental authority in Western Sahara described by the plan until implementation of referendum results.

According to the plan, the referendum shall be held no earlier than four and no later than five years after signing of the plan by the interested parties, the neighbouring countries and the Organization.  A referendum option or ballot question shall be deemed adopted if it receives more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.  In case of more than two option or ballot questions where none receives that majority, a second round shall be held in which the two options or ballot questions that received the most votes shall be presented.

Those eligible to vote in the referendum are persons at least 18 years old who:  have been identified as qualified by MINURSO in its provisional voter list of 30 December 1999 (without giving effect to any appeals or other objections); have been included in the repatriation list of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as at 31 October 2000; or have resided continuously in Western Sahara since 30 December 1999.  Those eligible to vote shall be determined by the United Nations, whose decision shall be final and without appeal.

The aforementioned Western Sahara Authority shall be responsible for and have exclusive competence over local government, including territorial budget, internal security, law enforcement, economic development, social welfare and education.  Morocco shall be responsible for foreign relations, national security and external defence.  Morocco shall also be responsible for the preservation of territorial integrity against secessionist attempts.  That right, however, does not include actions that would prevent, suppress or stifle peaceful public debate, discourse or campaign activity.

The plan stipulates that executive authority of the Western Sahara Authority shall be exercised by an elected Chief Executive, legislative authority by an elected Legislative Assembly, and judicial authority by a Supreme Court and lower courts, members of which shall be appointed by the Chief Executive with the consent of the Legislative Assembly.  All laws, regulations and acts of the Western Sahara Authority shall be consistent with internationally recognized human rights standards.  Existing laws and regulations shall remain in force until amended or repealed by the Legislative Assembly and Chief Executive.

The election for the Legislative Assembly and Chief Executive shall be held within one year of signing of the plan.  The Chief Executive and members of the Legislative Assembly shall hold office for a period of four years or until governmental authority is changed pursuant to the final status referendum.  Sole and exclusive authority over all matters relating to any and all elections and referendums shall be vested in the United Nations.  Those eligible to vote in the elections are persons at least 18 years old whose names appear either on the provisions list of 30 December 1999 (without giving effect to any appeals or other objections), or on the repatriation list drawn up by UNHCR as at 31 October 2000.  Those eligible to vote shall be determined by the United Nations, whose decision shall be final and without appeal.

The plan further stipulates that, immediately after its effective date, all political prisoners and prisoners of war shall be released.  The obligation of each party in this regard is not dependent upon performance by the other.

Finally, within 90 days after the effective date of the plan, the armed forces of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO will be reduced, confined, contained and thereafter maintained in all respects strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Houston accords.  [The Houston accords are the results of the fourth round of direct talks in Houston, Texas, 14-16 September 1997, which set a code of conduct for the parties for the referendum campaign in Western Sahara]. 

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For information media. Not an official record.