United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara

United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara

MINURSO is the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara. The name is a French acronym for "Mission des Nations Unies pour l'Organisation d'un Référendum au Sahara Occidental" — United Nations Mission for the organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara.


Purpose of the mission

MINURSO was established in 1991 under Security Council Resolution 690,[1] as part of the Settlement Plan, which had paved way for a cease-fire in the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front (as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic), over the contested territory of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).

MINURSO's mission was to monitor the cease-fire and to organize and conduct a referendum, in accordance with the Settlement Plan, which would enable the Sahrawis of Western Sahara to choose between integration with Morocco and independence. This was intended to constitute the Sahrawi people's exercise of self-determination, and thus complete Western Sahara's still-unfinished process of decolonization (Western Sahara is the last major territory remaining on the UN's list of non-decolonized territories.)

To this end, MINURSO has been given the following mandates:

  • Monitor the ceasefire
  • Verify the reduction of Moroccan troops in the territory
  • Monitor the confinement of Moroccan and Polisario troops to designated locations
  • Take steps with the parties to ensure the release of all Western Saharan political prisoners or detainees
  • Oversee the exchange of prisoners of war (through the International Committee of the Red Cross)
  • Implement the repatriation programme (through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
  • Identify and register qualified voters
  • Organize and ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results


The independence referendum was originally scheduled for 1992, but conflicts over voter eligibility prevented it from being held. Both sides blamed each other for stalling the process. In 1997, the Houston Agreement was supposed to restart the process, but again failed. In 2003, the Baker Plan was launched to replace the Settlement Plan, but while accepted by the Polisario and unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, it was rejected by Morocco. Presently, there is no plan for holding the referendum, and the viability of the cease-fire is coming into question.


The MINURSO mandate has been extended 39 times since 1991.[2]

In October 2006 the Security Council passed a resolution extending the mandate of MINURSO to April 2007.[3] A provision decrying human rights abuses by Morocco in Western Sahara had the backing of 14 members of the Security Council, but was deleted due to French objections.[4]

The April 2007 the resolution extending the mandate to October took "note of the Moroccan proposal presented on 11 April 2007 to the Secretary-General and welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution" and also took "note of the Polisario Front proposal presented on 10 April 2007 to the Secretary-General".[5] The representative of South Africa took exception to the way that one proposal was held more worthy than the other as well as the lack of participation outside the Group of Friends in the drafting of the resolution.[6]

The October 2007 resolution extending the mandate to April 2008 contained the same preferential wording in its in its description of the two proposals.[7] The representative of South Africa commented on this again, and regretted the fact that the resolution "considered" rather than "welcomed" the report on the situation by the Secretary-General — "presumably because [it] dared to raise the issue of the human rights violations against the Saharawi people", and quoted the warning in the report[8] about there being no mandate to address the issue of human rights.[9]

The April 2008 resolution extended the mandate for a full year to April 2009.[10] Before the vote, the representative of Costa Rica expressed his "concern at the manner in which the draft resolution on which we are about to vote was negotiated" and a "difficulty in understanding the absolute refusal to include" references to human rights.[11]

MINURSO's budget is roughly 60 million dollars per year.[12]


There are two sets of teams, those in the Moroccan-controlled portion west of the berm and those in the Sahrawi-controlled region and refugee camps to the east and in Algeria. The camps west of the berm are located in Mahbes, Smara, Umm Dreiga and Auserd. The eastern camps include Bir Lehlou, Tifariti, Mehaires, Mijek, and Agwanit. There is also a liaison office in Tindouf which serves as a communication channel with POLISARIO leadership.

Current composition

As of April 6, 2010, MINURSO had a total of 233 uniformed personnel, including 27 troops, 6 police officers and 200 military observers, supported by 95 international civilian personnel, 145 local civilian staff and 23 UN Volunteers. Major troop contributors are Malaysia, Russia and Egypt. Armed contingents patrol the no man's land that borders the Moroccan Wall, to safeguard the cease-fire.

  • Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Mission: Hany Abdel-Aziz ( Egypt)
  • Force Commander: Major General Zhao Jingmin ( People's Republic of China)
  • Other personnel:
State Military Mil. observers Police Total
 Algeria 56 102 0 158
 Argentina 0 3 0 3
 Austria 0 2 0 2
 Bangladesh 0 8 0 8
 People's Republic of China 0 10 0 10
 Croatia 0 7 0 7
 Djibouti 0 2 0 2
 Egypt 0 20 2 22
 El Salvador 0 6 3 9
 France 0 13 0 13
 Ghana 7 10 0 17
 Greece 0 1 0 1
 Guinea 0 5 0 5
 Honduras 0 11 0 11
 Hungary 0 7 0 7
 Ireland 0 3 0 3
 Italy 0 5 0 5
 Jordan 0 2 1 3
 Malaysia 20 10 0 30
 Mongolia 0 4 0 4
 Nigeria 0 8 0 8
 Pakistan 0 11 0 11
 Poland 0 1 0 1
 Russia 0 20 0 20
 Sri Lanka 0 1 0 1
 South Korea 0 2 0 2
 Uruguay 0 3 0 3
 Yemen 0 10 0 10
 United Nations 27 200 6 233

There have been a total of 15 fatalities in MINURSO: five military personnel, a police officer, a military observer, three international civilian personnel, and five local civilian personnel.


In 1995, MINURSO's inability or unwillingness to act against perceived Moroccan manipulation of the process, and abuse of Sahrawi civilians, caused its former deputy chairman Frank Ruddy to deliver a strong attack on the organization;[13] he has since kept up his critique of what he argues is an economically costly and politically corrupt process.[14] Growing criticism has been voiced against the UN Security Council for not establishing a program of human rights (as MINURSO is the only UN mission in the world who has no mandate on them) monitoring for Western Sahara and the Sahrawi population,[15] despite serious reports of numerous abuses. .[16] This possibility has been denied by France with its veto power on the Security Council.[17]

From 1995 but mostly in 2006-2007 period, MINURSO personnel vandalized archeological deposits [18] in the Free Zone (POLISARIO-controlled parts of Western Sahara). There are also accusations of looting of prehistorical paintings by individuals from the UN on some of those sites.[19]

In May 2010, the Polisario Front suspended contacts with the MINURSO, because of the failure on implementing the self-determination referendum, and accused the force of "...turning into a protector shield of a colonial fact, the occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco".[20]

In September 2010, former MINURSO Force Commander, General Esegbuyota Okita stated about the Independence Intifada events:

"...it reminded me of the forced removals of black people by the Apartheid Regime in the 1950s. The Saharawi people’s protest was met by severe repression by the Moroccan forces, where they exposed to beaten and bulldozers for demolition their houses."

—Esegbuyota Okita.Algiers, 25-09-2010.[21]

. He also expressed his regret on the inability of MINURSO members to intervene, because their mandate does not monitor the protection of human rights, stressing the need to include them within the MINURSO mandates.

See also


  1. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 690 S-RES-690(1991) on 29 April 1991 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  2. ^ "United Nations Documents on MINURSO". Resolutions of the Security Council. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/minurso/resolutions.shtml. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  3. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 1720 S-RES-1720(2006) on 31 October 2006 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  4. ^ Reuters. "UN shuns W. Sahara rights plea after France objects". Reuters Alertnet. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N31281581.htm. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  5. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 1754 S-RES-1754(2007) on 31 April 2007 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  6. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5669 page 2, Mr. Kumalo South Africa on 30 April 2007 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  7. ^ United Nations Security Council Document 619 S-2007-619 in 2007 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  8. ^ United Nations Security Council Document 619 Report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara page 15 on 19 October 2007
  9. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5773 page 2, Mr. Kumalo South Africa on 31 October 2007 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  10. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 1813 S-RES-1813(2008) in 2008 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  11. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5884 page 2, Mr. Urbina Costa Rica on 30 April 2008 (retrieved 2008-05-02)
  12. ^ "Financial aspects". MINURSO Facts and Figures. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/minurso/facts.shtml. 
  13. ^ Ruddy, Frank (1995-01-25). "Review of United Nations Operations & Peacekeeping". Washington City, DC, USA: Congress of the United States. http://www.arso.org/06-3-1.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  14. ^ Catherine, Edwards (1999-10-04). "Saharawi Republic Waits to Be Born". B Net. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_37_15/ai_56184193. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  15. ^ Whitson, Sarah Leah (2009-04-17). "Letter to the UNSC urging for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara". Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/17/letter-unsc-urging-human-rights-monitoring-western-sahara. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  16. ^ http://www.afapredesa.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=233&Itemid=2 Campaña internacional ampliación D.D.H.H. mandato MINURSO
  17. ^ "Security Council under pressure over human rights in Western Sahara" Pravda, April 27, 2010
  18. ^ http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article3280058.ece The Times. UN vandals spray graffiti on Sahara’s prehistoric art. May 8, 2008.
  19. ^ http://www.cronaca.com/archives/005271.html UN peacekeepers: cultural crime, too.
  20. ^ "El Polisario rompe los contactos con la MINURSO". El País. 28-05-2010. http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/Polisario/rompe/contactos/MINURSO/elpepuint/20100528elpepuint_12/Tes. Retrieved 04-06-2010. (Spanish)
  21. ^ "Saharawi resistance exposed to brutal repression by Moroccan authorities (former MINURSO official)". Sahara Press Service. 25-09-2010. http://www.spsrasd.info/en/detail.php?id=13452. Retrieved 28-09-2010. 

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