New York - The United Nations Security Council renewed on Tuesday the mandate of a peacekeeping force in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, but South Africa expressed disappointment that the 15-nation body did not ask UN troops to monitor alleged rights abuses.
After the council unanimously voted to approve the force - known as MINURSO - for another year, South Africa's UN Ambassador Baso Sangqu accused the council, of which it is a member, of ignoring the rights of the Western Sahara people.
“It is an anomaly that MINURSO is one of the few UN mandates that does not have a human rights mandate,” Sangqu said. “These double standards create an impression that the council does not give priority to the human rights of Western Sahara.”
“We see no reason why the people of Western Sahara should be treated any different. The selective approach to human rights by this council calls into question the motivation of those who have conveniently looked the other way while human rights abuses are committed in the territory of Western Sahara,” he said.
The renewal of the mandate of the peacekeeping force marks an annual battle in the council between Morocco, backed by France, and African nations supporting Polisario Front independence movement.
Rabat insists the territory should come under its sovereignty, but the Polisario contends it is a sovereign state.
Morocco and France, its former colonial master, have resisted the idea that the peacekeepers should report on rights abuses in Western Sahara, a sparsely populated tract of desert that has phosphates, fisheries and, potentially, oil and gas.
While the Security Council has never formally assigned the peacekeepers the role of human rights monitoring, Morocco, a temporary council member, has come under increasing pressure from the European Union and United States to allow language on human rights in the resolutions on Western Sahara.
A council resolution explicitly mentioned rights for the first time in 2011 and again mirrored that language this year, “stressing the importance of improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps, and encouraging full respect for human rights”.
Morocco's UN Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki praised the council for not strengthening that language and for being “mindful of our honesty and of the need to pursue efforts which have been given substance by the human rights council”, referring to efforts by King Mohammed improve human rights.
“The council was quite correct for the third year in a row in not entertaining possibilities of broadening the mandate to bring in questions which have nothing to do with the function of the mandate or the nature of the mission,” he said.
The Polisario, which represents the Sahrawi people, waged a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 with the understanding that a referendum would be held on the fate of the territory.
The referendum was never held and attempts to reach a lasting deal have floundered. Loulichki said a referendum could result in “disharmony and tension” and negotiations were the only way forward.
The Polisario's representative in New York, Ahmed Boukhari, said in a statement that the Security Council's resolution on Tuesday was not tough enough on the issue of human rights.
“It does not respond to the demands of international human rights organisations nor to the gravity of the situation on the ground, which reveals that there are dozens of Sahrawi political prisoners, hundreds of disappeared in addition to those who have died in detention in Moroccan secret prisons,” he said.
The resolution does not refer explicitly to the criticism of Morocco contained in a report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban said MINURSO is finding it hard to fulfil its mandate, partly due to insufficient personnel, but also due to Morocco's constant monitoring of the mission's work.
The council also did not respond to Ban's request in his report to the council that it increase by 15 the number of military observers in Western Sahara from 203 as of March 31.
The latest round of UN-mediated talks last month between Morocco, Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania on the future of Western Sahara failed to make any real progress. Previous rounds held during the past five years ended similarly. - Reuters