Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Closed Security Council VTC Meeting on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), 9 April 2020

Mr. President,

Thank you for convening this timely briefing on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). We also wish to thank the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Colin Stewart and the representative of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) for their detailed and informative briefings.

Let me begin by expressing South Africa’s sadness at the passing of Mohammed Khaddad, a leading POLISARIO leader, who actively participated in the UN-facilitated negotiation process.  Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and his people who continue to strive for their right to self-determination.

Mr. President,

South Africa has always and will always support efforts to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. As Council members are aware, the primary mandate of MINURSO and its raison d’être, as established in Security Council resolution 690 (1991) and subsequent resolutions, is the holding of a free and fair referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

It is in this context that South Africa has urged and will consistently urge the UN Security Council to take up its responsibility and ensure that through a neutral and balanced approach it assists the parties in moving towards a mutually acceptable negotiated settlement.

To this end, South Africa would like to propose a Council visit to the occupied territory, as it did in 1995, to assess the situation on the ground and resuscitate the current political impasse amongst the parties.

Mr. President,

I wish to reiterate my country’s unequivocal and strong support for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). We call upon the Council in this regard to ensure that MINURSO executes its core mandate, which was created twenty-nine years ago, pursuant to Security Council resolution 690 (1991), to facilitate the holding of a referendum in Western Sahara to enable its people to realise their right to self-determination.

I wish to impress on the Council that in the 45 years that the Council has been seized with the Question of Western Sahara there has been little progress in the negotiation process to seek a final solution to the conflict. We urge that the next Personal Envoy should move quickly to advance the political process and move it to its next stage where there are direct, substantive negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, the Frente POLISARIO and the Kingdom of Morocco.

As Council members are aware, May 2020 will mark one year without a Personal Envoy on Western Sahara. This situation is unprecedented and has had a profoundly damaging impact on the political process. However, although it is pivotal that the Secretary-General appoints a Personal Envoy, the Council should not tie progress on the political process to the appointment of a Personal Envoy.

In the meantime, we call on all parties to put in place confidence-building measures in order to build much needed trust in the negotiations and the political process.

South Africa supports the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. We therefore urge both the Kingdom of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO to strictly abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreements, such as Military Agreement No 1, to avoid violence that could lead to a rise in hostilities in the territory.

To this end, South Africa calls on the parties to uphold international law and respective Council resolutions, as consistent violations by the parties do not assist in reducing the current tensions between the two sides.

Mr President,

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and with many countries under lockdown, self-isolation or quarantine, South Africa calls on the international community to support efforts in the occupied territories and refugee camps, where the health care system is poor and medical supplies and equipment are limited.

In this regard, South Africa calls on the Kingdom of Morocco, to fulfil its responsibility as the occupying power by ensuring the necessary access, and unhindered passage of humanitarian and medical supplies, to the territories.

I also wish to express my country’s deep concern regarding the on-going human rights abuses, such as the limited access to Western Sahara by human rights defenders, researchers, lawyers and NGOs. We also urge that all current efforts should be strengthened to ensure the continuity of humanitarian aid to the Sahrawi refugees and other vulnerable groups who may be at grave risk due to COVID-19. We further urge support for the Solidarity Fund launched by the Secretary-General, and we hope that the Saharawi’s will be considered for support in the context of the fight against COVID19.

Let me conclude Mr. President, by stating that in the lead-up to the MINURSO mandate renewal in October 2020, the Council should review its working methods on this file in order to seek consensus on the mandate renewal amongst all Council members, in a transparent manner.


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