UN under fire for hypocrisy

In developing United Nations Security Council resolutions for Libya and Côte d’Ivoire this year, council members appeared unanimous in their concern for the civilians of these countries.

That unanimity seemed distant history when council members met to finalise and pass the renewal of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) mandate on Tuesday this week.

All Security Council members voted for resolution 1979 on deadline day, but this belies a major disagreement. Before the vote African council members Nigeria and South Africa pushed to have Minurso accorded a human rights monitoring mechanism. Their efforts came to naught, prompting grumbling about double standards.

According to New York-based investigative journalist Matthew Lee, when South Africa made this point in closed sessions, France’s permanent representative raised the subject of Zimbabwe to indicate that human rights were not always at the forefront of South Africa’s own foreign policy.

Western Sahara is known to those who recognise its independence as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). It has been the subject of six limp-wristed UN resolutions since 2007 and several more going back to 1975, when Spain parcelled the territory out to Mauritania and Morocco, precipitating an armed struggle between Sahrawi liberation movement Polisario Front and the two would-be African colonisers.

Mauritania abandoned its claim in 1979 and Morocco has controlled most of the territory since, although 81 states formally recognise the SADR, including all the African Union members.

Terms of renewal
The UN does not recognise it, however, and each year in April, when the Minurso mandate expires, Security Council members fight over the terms of its renewal. This year the flashpoint was human rights, following an alleged November 2010 attack by Moroccan security forces on a Sahrawi camp outside the city of Laayoune.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights suggested to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon that “alleged violations of the spectrum of rights — demonstrate the critical need for the establishment of an effective international mechanism for regular, independent, impartial and sustained human rights monitoring and reporting”, and that this could be achieved “by providing for regular human rights reporting through a component within Minurso”.

The submission, leaked to non-profit organisation Inner City Press, appeared almost verbatim in a leaked draft of the UN secretary general’s report on Western Sahara, with the final sentence changed to: “I welcome the commitment of Morocco to allow unimpeded access to special rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council.”

When it became clear that the muting of the report was the result of Moroccan and French lobbying Baso Sangqu, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN Security Council, took to the media to express his disapproval. “Minurso is the only UN mission that does not have a human rights monitoring mechanism,” he said. “We were very disappointed that the secretary general could not make this clear recommendation [for a human rights monitoring mechanism] in the report.”

The anger of Polisario and its supporters mounted on April 18, when the “group of friends” (of Western Sahara) convened a meeting of their ambassadors to draft a resolution based on the secretary general’s findings.

“The group of friends was established before we came to the Security Council in 2007 and includes the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia and Spain,” said Sangqu. “There isn’t a single African country. I’m not sure if Western Sahara has any say in who its friends should be. This is exactly why the UN and the Security Council needs urgent reform,” he said.

The “friends’” draft resolution praised the Moroccan government for establishing a National Council for Human Rights in Morocco and agreeing to allow special UN rapporteurs to enter all areas of the Western Sahara.

Objected Sangqu: “We welcome the advances in human rights monitoring made by Morocco for Morocco, but these do not apply to the occupied territories. The SADR is a sovereign territory as far as we are concerned, which lies outside Morocco’s jurisdiction. The resolution — implies that Morocco has ­sovereignty over this territory.”

The spokesperson for the French mission, Stephane Crouzat, said: “France has encouraged Morocco to engage on the issue of human rights throughout this process. France welcomes the significant steps taken by Morocco in this respect. “This is reflected in the resolution which addresses the issue of human rights. What Morocco needs is encouragement from the international community to carry out these reforms.”

This article was supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation. All views are those of the author and the Mail & Guardian

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