Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Ross's Brienfing to the SC November 2012
Briefing to the Security Council Personal Envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara November 28, 2012 --As delivered---- Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council, It is with more than my customary sense of honor and pleasure that I join you to brief on developments in the search for a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, since passage of the Council’s latest resolution on April 24, 2012. After a period of reflection, I embarked on a long-delayed trip to North Africa from October 25 to November 11 and held consultations in Madrid and Paris from November 12 to 15 on my way home. I had three objectives in the region: first, to evaluate the past five years of negotiating efforts and identify the reasons for the stalemate; second, to look ahead at how the process might be modified to enhance the prospects of progress; and, third, to gauge the impact of events in the Sahel on the Western Sahara dossier. Beyond these objectives, I introduced two innovations: first, I met with political leaders and representatives of civil society in addition to meeting with officials; second, I paid my first visit to Western Sahara itself. The governments of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and France, as well as the Polisario and MINURSO, extended full cooperation, and I thank them. Special thanks are due as well to the government of Spain, which generously provided an aircraft to facilitate my travel. Without going into a detailed account of each stop, let me present my overall findings and impressions. First, everywhere, the highest authorities confirmed their commitment to working with the UN to pursue a political solution for the final status of Western Sahara, while at the same time reiterating their attachment to their own proposals. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI reaffirmed his country’s willingness to continue to work with me within the framework of its proposal for autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. In Tindouf, Polisario Secretary-General Abdelaziz reiterated the readiness of the Polisario Front to intensify its engagement in the expectation that the solution would include a genuine referendum of self-determination. In Algeria, President Bouteflika again stated that, while Algeria is not and will never be a party to the conflict, it remains willing to accompany the parties in their search for a solution. That said, he added, any settlement that does not include a genuine referendum is not a settlement at all. In Mauritania, Prime Minister Laghdaf reaffirmed his country’s desire to be helpful on the basis of “positive neutrality.” Second, in looking back at the reasons for the continuing stalemate, it was evident that, as the parties’ frustration has grown, each has attributed the failure to make progress not only to the other party’s refusal to negotiate on the basis of its proposal, but more pointedly to the absence of decisive action by the international community, the Council, the Secretary-General, and his Personal Envoy. The parties do not accept that the principal responsibility for making progress rests with the parties themselves, although others can provide encouragement and ideas. I stressed this point repeatedly in my contacts with political parties and representatives of civil society, as well as with officials, pointing out that, since the UN is dealing with the conflict under Chapter VI of the Charter, and in the absence of an international consensus, no one can impose anything on the parties and that it is up to them first and foremost to find a way forward within the framework provided by UN mediation. Nonetheless, over and over, at every stop, I was told that the UN should take this action or that action – always in the direction of bringing one side to accept the proposal of the other. In my role as mediator, I cannot be an advocate for a specific proposal. I advocate for the negotiating process. Third, in looking ahead at how best to proceed, senior officials agreed with my judgment that it is futile to convene more meetings of the parties any time soon in the absence of a change in the equation. After four rounds of official negotiations and nine rounds of informal talks, to hold yet another meeting would highlight the stalemate, further weakening the credibility of the process. In preparation for further meetings, formal or informal, I proposed to engage in further consultations with key international stakeholders followed by a period of quiet shuttle diplomacy with the parties and neighboring states. My interlocutors accepted this approach, but some cautioned that periodic meetings remain important in maintaining contact, minimizing miscalculation, and giving visible evidence that the process continues. Fourth, in examining the impact of the rising tension in the Sahel and the dangers this presents to all parties, I found that, while all agree that these factors argue for an early solution to the Western Sahara conflict, no one seems ready to take the first step. Instead, I found that the common reaction to events in the Sahel has been to bolster local defenses against any possible spillover. On another aspect of the issue, it was confirmed to me that, in the absence of a settlement, individuals from all over the region have been enticed into joining one or another of the groups in northern Mali. In Morocco, the media continued to speak of a connection between the Polisario and these groups, but senior officials in Rabat and in Nouakchott were clear in saying that no such linkage exists. Fifth, my visit to Western Sahara merits special mention. As promised, Morocco, as the de facto administering power, provided full facilitation, and I will make additional visits in due course. I had meetings with a wide range of pro-independence and pro-autonomy Sahrawis, as well as with the local authorities. There was clearly a hunger to speak with me, since the list of those I did not have time to meet greatly exceeded the list of those I did meet. All spoke with evident sincerity, but it should come as no surprise that I was unable to determine where the balance of opinion lies. All I can say for sure is that there are articulate spokespersons on both sides of the political divide. The pro-autonomy Sahrawis emphasized the development of Laayoune and other localities under Moroccan administration, as well as the numerous other benefits that they see in this administration. The pro-independence Sahrawis highlighted what they described as the tense relations between the indigenous Sahrawi population and the residents from Morocco, the violations of human rights that they see in police repression and in conditions of arrest, detention, trial, and incarceration, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, and the absence of jobs. Pro-independence demonstrations and attendant police responses did in fact occur at some distance from me during and after my visit. In this regard, I was struck by the fact that almost none of the security forces in Laayoune and presumably elsewhere in Western Sahara are Sahrawis from the territory, but are instead from Morocco proper, and I used my meetings with Moroccan officials during a second visit to Rabat to argue for a shift in the balance and for better training in managing demonstrations. Sixth, during my visit to the refugee camps, I had occasion to meet with members of the Polisario’s women’s, student, and youth organizations. Those present underscored the frustration that the Polisario leadership itself has reported in the past. Some in attendance argued that, after 25 years of unsuccessful UN efforts, it is time to return to armed struggle. Others suggested that, having failed to broker a settlement, the UN should simply give up and withdraw. Meanwhile, in Nouakchott, I met with some critics of the Polisario who had left the organization and were anxious to air their grievances with me. Seventh, I was dismayed at the degree to which the parties used my visit to score points. My public statements were too often shortened or lengthened to serve the agenda of one or another of the parties. In Rabat, Moroccan television edited my remarks to remove my citation of the Council text calling for “a political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” In Tifariti, where I visited a MINURSO team site on the east side of the berm, the Polisario’s military chief unexpectedly appeared and sought to have me review an honor guard. In the refugee camps, my remarks to a women’s group were edited to add praise for the role of women in quote “the struggle to liberate Western Sahara” unquote. I made no such statement. Eighth, while SRSG Weisbrod-Weber will be briefing you on MINURSO operations shortly, I must applaud the high degree of professionalism and commitment that I observed during my visit to MINURSO headquarters and to the team sites in Mahbes and Tifariti and in my meeting with the UN Mine Action Service team. Both MINURSO and UNMAS are in need of more resources if they are to discharge their duties more fully. MINURSO patrols an area larger than the United Kingdom, while UNMAS is working in what has recently been called one of the most mine-infested regions of the world. Beyond this, I want to highlight the respect in which the SRSG is held both within MINURSO and by his Moroccan and Sahrawi contacts. His is not an easy task. In addition to supervising MINURSO, he is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara. As such, he is expected to provide the Secretary-General and this Council with independent information on MINURSO’s working environment in Western Sahara. This territory remains a non-self-governing territory in the well-being of whose population the UN must, in accordance with Article 73 of the Charter, show an interest, while recognizing that Morocco is the de facto administering power west of the berm and that the Polisario plays a similar role east of the berm. It was precisely because of the SRSG’s role in this regard that I invited him to attend all of my meetings in Western Sahara. Ninth, on UNHCR’S program of humanitarian assistance, I heard concern that both governmental and private contributions to refugee aid have decreased significantly because of the ongoing economic crisis, and I was reminded that additional contributions are sorely needed. On the individual registration of refugees, which was raised again in Rabat, Polisario and Algerian officials told me that UNHCR is satisfied with the refugee estimates that they have provided and that those who argue for individual registration are motivated by political considerations. At a donors’ meeting in Algiers, I found no eagerness to pursue the issue. Tenth, on confidence-building measures, there was universal praise for UNHCR’s superb work in expanding family visits and organizing inter-Sahrawi seminars, the second of which, on the role of women in Sahrawi society, took place in the Azores with the generous help of the government of Portugal in July. Shortly thereafter, a session on CBMs was held in Geneva at which the parties, neighboring states, and UNHCR reviewed their implementation in a very cordial atmosphere. The only advice I give when asked is to think creatively about expanding CBMs, particularly more seminars, family visits on special occasions, and youth exchanges. Sahrawis of all political persuasions, both in Western Sahara and in the camps, told me over and over that they are eager for more contact across the berm, and ways must be found to encourage this, because over time it has the potential to change perceptions even in the absence of movement in the negotiating process. One impediment is the lack of funding, and I once again urge past and potential donors to contribute to UNHCR to make more such activities possible. Eleventh, on human rights, each side used my visit to register complaints about the practices of the other. There have been many visits related to human rights in the past year, including two special rapporteurs, who visited Western Sahara but not the refugee camps, and at least one non-governmental organization. In addition, the Laayoune branch of Morocco’s National Council for Human Rights told me that it has received large numbers of complaints and conducted numerous investigations, but is still awaiting responses from the administering authorities. Human rights are not part of my mandate, but my advice, when sought, has been to state that it is up to this Council and to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to decide whether the information that is developed warrants attention and, if so, how best to do so, bearing in mind that any approach to this issue must look at the human rights situation not only in Western Sahara, but also in the refugee camps. Finally, let me say a word about my informal mandate of promoting more normal relations between Algeria and Morocco. In Rabat, King Mohammed VI authorized me to carry a message to President Bouteflika, who then authorized me to carry back a message in response. Both messages confirmed the desire of the two heads of state to continue the process of improving relations by expanding the bilateral ministerial visits that had previously been agreed. Each identified priority issues that should be addressed at an early stage, and I will be following up to encourage engagement on these issues. With regard to the Maghreb Arab Union and Tunisia’s call for an early summit, I explored the advancement of regional integration with UMA Secretary-General Ben Yahia and with the three member states that I visited. All agreed in principle that a summit should be held, but Algeria cautioned that, to ensure success, it should be well prepared through the series of sectoral meetings that are underway but not yet complete. In Algeria’s view, to hold a summit without adequate preparation would lead to certain failure. These, then, are my main findings and impressions as I return from my latest trip to the region and my first visit to Western Sahara and as I look ahead to a period of consultation with key international stakeholders, quiet diplomacy with the parties and neighboring states, and further visits to the region, including Western Sahara, in preparation for the resumption of face-to-face meetings of the parties. As I stated in Madrid, the conflict over the final status of Western Sahara has gone on for far too long. While some may believe that the status quo is stable and that it is risky to take chances for peace, I believe that this is a serious miscalculation now that the region is threatened by extremist, terrorist, and criminal elements operating in the Sahel. In these new circumstances, this conflict could, if left to fester, spark renewed violence or hostilities that would be tragic for the peoples of the region. It must be resolved, and I ask the members of the Council and of the wider international community to encourage the parties to enter into serious negotiations to bring it to an end. Thank you.