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Exclusive: Ban Ki-moon Releases His Annual Report on Western Sahara

New York – United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has released his much-anticipated annual report entitled “The Situation Concerning Western Sahara.”The report will submitted to the members of the Security Council pursuant to Resolution 2218 (2015) by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) through April 30, 2016.Morocco World News received an advance copy of the report ahead of its scheduled public release date on Wednesday. The report appears fairly balanced and neutral and expressly states that Ban Ki-moon has not adopted a position hostile to the Kingdom of Morocco. The report Calls for Extension of MINURSO Mandate. As with last year’s report, Ban Ki-moon calls on the Security Council to renew MINURSO’s mandate for an additional period of one year until April 30, 2017.In light of Morocco’s decision to expel the civilian component of MINURSO in March, the report expresses concern at the prospect of MINURSO’s departure from the Western Sahara, and urges the UN executive body to renew the agency’s mandate. “The risk of a rupture of the ceasefire and a resumption of hostilities, with its attendant danger of escalation into full-scale war, will grow significantly in the event that MINURSO is forced to depart or finds itself unable to execute the mandate that the Security Council has set,” Ban Ki-moon states in paragraph 96.“In this context, and in light of the continuing efforts of my Personal Envoy, and the continuing importance of MINURSO, I recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of MINURSO for a further 12 months, until 30 April 2017,” he adds.The Secretary General seems to have chosen his words very carefully. In the second paragraph of his report, Ban Ki-moon says that he regrets the misunderstanding caused by his use of the term “occupation” to describe Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara.He emphasizes that his controversial statement was not meant to take the side of the Polisario or to express hostility towards Morocco.“I have repeatedly made it clear that nothing I had said or done had been meant to take sides, express hostility to the Kingdom of Morocco, or signal any change in the approach of the United Nations to the Western Sahara issue. The results of my trip and subsequent developments are further detailed in the sections on political activities and MINURSO below,” the UN chief states in paragraph 2.Need to Reach an Agreement on Nature and Form of Self-determination Perhaps one of the most important highlights of this year’s report is its paragraph 91. The language used by the Secretary General seems to indicate that the UN is backing away from its previous insistence on the concept of self-determination as necessarily leading to independence. While the Secretary General repeats the same language he used in his previous report regarding the need for the parties to engage in serious negotiations without pre-conditions and in good faith in order to reach “a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara,” he stresses that this solution should be reached through an agreement on what “self-determination” will look like.“The time has come to engage in serious negotiations without preconditions and in good faith to reach “a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara,” Ban Ki-moon says.“This political solution must include resolution of the dispute over the status of Western Sahara, including through agreement on the nature and form of the exercise of self-determination.”Engaging Algeria and Mauritania in the Political ProcessAdditionally, and unlike previous reports, the UN chief calls on Algeria and Mauritania to make important contributions to this process. “Algeria and Mauritania, as neighboring countries, can and should make important contributions to this process,” he says.While in last year’s report, Ban Ki-moon emphasized that “The members of the international community can, collectively and individually, play a critical role in this regard by encouraging the parties and the neighboring States to remain engaged with my Personal Envoy,” in this year’s report, he clearly calls for the need to engage Algeria and Mauritania.Morocco has long called on the UN to consider Algeria a fully-fledged party in the political process, and Ban Ki-moon’s language might signal a new shift in the UN approach towards the issue.Significantly, Ban Ki-moon makes no mention of the necessity to establish a human rights monitoring mechanism in the Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps. He retains substantially the same language he used in his last report, highlighting the need for Morocco and the Polisario to enhance their cooperation with United Nations’ human rights mechanisms and OHCHR and allow unrestricted access to all relevant stakeholders.“Given ongoing reports of human rights violations, it is necessary to sustain an independent and impartial understanding of the human rights situation in both Western Sahara and the camps, through regular cooperation with OHCHR and other human rights bodies with the objective of ensuring protection of all,” he says in paragraph 102 of his report.The report has also taken into account Morocco’s calls on the UN to conduct a census of the Saharawis in the Tindouf camps in southern Algeria. While stressing that the international community must continue to provide humanitarian support to the Saharawis in the camps, he calls for the registration of Saharawis.“I also reiterate my call for continued consideration of registration in the refugee camps near Tindouf and invite efforts in this regard,” he says in paragraph 98.Ban Ki-moon stops short, however, of mentioning the embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Saharawis in the Tindouf camps. A report published by the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office in February 2015, documented the involvement of Algeria and the Polisario in this large-scale criminal activity.Apparent Recognition that Autonomy is the Most Morocco Can OfferWhile describing the recent developments on the ground, Ban Ki-moon also referenced the speech of King Mohammed VI on the 40th anniversary of the Green March last November. During the speech delivered from Laayoune on November 6, 2015, the Moroccan monarch stressed that the autonomy proposal was “the most Morocco can offer” in to order to put an end to the conflict.To debunk the allegations of those who accuse Morocco of exploiting the territory’s natural resources, in his speech the King had pointed out that the Moroccan government would continue its large scale investments in the south in order to transform the Sahara into a link between the rest of the Morocco’s territory and Sub-Saharan Africa.Paragraph 10 of the report acknowledges that “The King stated that the autonomy initiative “is the most Morocco can offer” and that “[i]ts implementation hinges on achieving a final political settlement within the framework of the United Nations Organization.”The report recognizes that King Mohamed VI “stressed that revenues from natural resources would continue to be invested for the benefit of the local population in consultation and coordination with them and promised that they would benefit from an important number of infrastructure projects. He further added that the legislators elected by the citizens were the “true representatives of the inhabitants.” read more

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