The Security Council has once again been the scene of a consultation meeting on the question of Western Sahara, without reaching any conclusion

Western Sahara: history of a failure in the Security Council

photo_camera PHOTO/RICK BAJORNAS/THE UNITED NATIONS via AP - The Security Council was once again the scene of a consultation meeting on the question of Western Sahara, without reaching any conclusion

The members of the Security Council held another meeting to discuss the sovereignty of Western Sahara, as well as the latest developments on the ground, strongly marked by the ceasefire violations, the Polisario Front and the difficulty of the free movement of peace missions. However, the Council has not been able to reach any conclusions on this issue.

Recently, Morocco has received much support for its proposal for a Western Sahara as a territory under Moroccan sovereignty. Meanwhile, in the international arena, the referendum option advocated by the Polisario Front, with almost no international support, has been discarded.

On the other hand, the members of the Council unanimously reiterated their support for the UN-led peace mission in the Sahara, which aims to "establish a transitional period to hold a referendum in which the Western people choose between independence and integration with Morocco".  In this line, the members underlined the importance and the necessity of appointing a new personal envoy to facilitate the way to this end. In this regard, Algeria and the Polisario have rejected the figures proposed by António Guterres, these being former Romanian Prime Minister Petre Roman and later former Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, while Morocco accepted the proposals without delay.

However, the Foreign Minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, has taken a further step towards opening a peace process, since, according to the minister, the Sahrawi authorities would be willing to begin "direct talks" with Morocco with the aim of achieving "a peaceful, just and definitive solution" to the conflict.

Atalayar_Sáhara Consejo de Seguridad

Salek urged the Security Council to speed up the peace process "in the face of the obstruction" of the referendum. For Salek, the referendum is "the only way to put an end to the Saharawi-Moroccan conflict", for which he pointed out the "legal, political and moral" responsibility of the UN in this situation.

These declarations came in a context marked by Morocco's demands to the UN to determine "who violates the cease-fire on a daily basis and who demands its end" as well as to investigate "who clings to this cease-fire and who announced it at the highest level".

The latest attack in the "Guerguerat Gap" was the trigger that led Western Sahara to declare a state of war, in violation of the UN-sponsored ceasefire. The Guerguerat crossing was obstructed on 21 October last by Saharawi civilians whose aim was "to denounce and demand the closure of the illegal breach and to call for the holding of the referendum agreed in 1991". This blockade was a way of putting pressure on the UN, whose Security Council decided on the 29th of the same month to renew MINURSO's mandate.

The renewal was written by the United States, with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions, from Russia and South Africa, which described the content as "insufficient". The Polisario Front warned that the renewal was "disappointing" and decided to maintain the blockade.

Following this, Morocco decided to deploy new military units in the vicinity and a group of military advisors, a move which led to the Saharawi army issuing a statement assuring that an incursion by the Moroccan army would mean "a violation of the ceasefire", as well as having placed military troops in the vicinity of civilians, an operation which Morocco has described as a "method of guaranteeing security". In this regard, tensions between the two sides escalated, leading to the opening of three new breaches in the wall by the Moroccan armed forces and the eviction of Sahrawi civilians. On 13 November 2020, both armies fired in the air and the civilians were evacuated without casualties. Even so, the Moroccan incursion was denounced by SADR and considered a definitive breach of the ceasefire. 

Atalayar_Sáhara Consejo de Seguridad

However, the Guerguerat crisis is yet another episode in a wider conflict that has been paralysed for more than two decades and is a direct victim of the international community's inaction. SADR continues to be recognised by more than 80 countries, including Latin American countries such as Mexico and Ecuador, as well as being a member of the African Union. On the other hand, the UN continues to label the territory as non-self-governing, but recognises its right to hold a referendum on self-determination.

On the other hand, many countries such as the United States recognise Morocco's sovereignty over the Sahara following the decision of former President Donald Trump in which he affirmed his decision on Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as "Morocco's serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal is the only basis for a just and lasting solution, for lasting peace and prosperity".

Guerguerat remains under Moroccan control and continues to pose a threat to Mauritania through its border post. In addition, Rabat continues to consider the area between the post and the border as "no man's land", while the Polisario Front continues to consider it as its own, referring to the ceasefire agreement signed by both parties in 1991.