/ 30 April 2019

Matjila lashes out at UN over Western Sahara

South African ambassador Jerry Matjila.
South African ambassador Jerry Matjila. (Masi Losi/M&G)

South African ambassador to the United Nations Jerry Matjila on Tuesday chastised the United Nations Security Council after it adopted a resolution on Western Sahara that it said was unbalanced and ignored African concerns.

The United States-drafted resolution extending the observer mission in Western Sahara was adopted by a vote of 13 in favor in the 15-member council. South Africa abstained along with Russia.

South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila told the council his government had considered opposing the measure that renewed the MINURSO mission until October 31 and called for negotiations on ending the conflict to resume.

“The current text as it stands is not balanced,” said Matjila.

He appealed for support for Western Sahara’s people, drawing a parallel with his own country for which international solidarity “brought down the repressive system of apartheid”.

South Africa is a supporter of the Polisario Front, the movement seeking a referendum on independence from Morocco for the north African territory.

The African Union recognises the self-declared Sahrawi Arab republic, which claims authority over Western Sahara, but Morocco is also an African Union member.

South Africa complained that only a handful of European countries and the US had been involved in the first stages of the drafting of the text and that human rights concerns were not addressed.

“This is again an example of an African issue being decided by those that are not from the continent,” said Matjila. Russia also said it considered the resolution unbalanced.

Two rounds of talks

The resolution calls on parties to resume negotiations to achieve a “just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

It comes after the United Nations held two rounds of exploratory talks between Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania on ending the decades-old conflict.

The meetings in Switzerland in December and in March marked the first time in six years that the sides sat down at the negotiating table, but little concrete progress was achieved.

UN envoy Horst Koehler is planning to convene a third round of talks, but no date has been set.

The US hopes an extension of the 500-member MINURSO mission for six months instead of a year will put pressure on the sides to make progress toward a political solution.

The resolution was adopted just weeks after the resignation of long-serving Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose ruling party has supported the Polisario in their call for independence.

The United States dispatched Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale to Morocco, France and Belgium earlier this month for talks on the way forward.

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed and MINURSO was deployed to monitor the truce in the former Spanish colony.

The mission was to prepare a referendum on Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, but it never materialised.

Morocco, which annexed the territory after Spain withdrew in 1975, considers Western Sahara an integral part of the kingdom and has offered autonomy, but not an independence referendum.