UN council set to adopt W. Sahara resolution

French soldiers of MINURSO walk at the Oum Dreyga observation site, May 9, 2004.  By Abdelhak Senna (AFP/File)

French soldiers of MINURSO walk at the Oum Dreyga observation site, May 9, 2004. By Abdelhak Senna (AFP/File)

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The UN Security Council is poised to adopt a resolution Thursday that prolongs a peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara but doesn’t task it with rights monitoring as sought by Washington, diplomats said.

Morocco started occupying former Spanish colony Western Sahara in 1975 in a move that was not accepted by the international community. UN efforts to seek a peace deal between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which wants an independent state, are deadlocked.

A draft of the resolution obtained by AFP extends the mandate of the mission, known as MINURSO, until April 30, 2014. It also includes language “encouraging the parties to continue in their respective efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps.”

The United States had proposed a resolution calling for the mission to carry out “monitoring and reporting on human rights” in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps run by the Polisario — a move that triggered a furious lobbying campaign by Morocco.

In a clear sign of Rabat’s displeasure, Morocco initially called off annual US-Morocco war games and lobbied intensely in Washington and with Britain, Spain and France — members of the friends of Western Sahara group along with the United States and Russia — to get the resolution altered.

In the end, Washington dropped its demand that rights monitoring be included in the mandate of the mission and the war games resumed on a smaller scale.

Giving the force a rights monitoring role is something human rights groups and the pro-independence Polisario Front have been advocating for years in the face of repeated allegations of torture of Sahrawi activists by Moroccan forces.

The UN mission in Western Sahara is virtually the only one in the world with no human rights monitoring mandate. UN experts have also said that detainees in the territory have been regularly tortured.

The draft resolution “calls upon all parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO including its free interactions with all interlocutors.”

It also affirms support for the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy, Christopher Ross, who was disavowed by Morocco for some time last year has just completed a regional tour that took him to Ravab and El Aaiun, the largest city in Western Sahara.

For several years, resolutions renewing Minurso’s mandate have sparked debate about human rights questions. Last year’s resolution merely said it was important to improve the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in the 1970s in a move never recognized by the international community, and proposes broad autonomy for the phosphate-rich region under its sovereignty.

But this is rejected by the Polisario, which insists on the right of Sahrawis to decide in a UN-monitored referendum whether or not they want independence.