The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday to extend the UN peacekeeping force in Western Sahara for another year, expanding its mandate to include a humanitarian dimension.
The 15-member council reaffirmed its "commitment to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara," the statement, Resolution 1871, said.
In reiterating its call for "all parties involved to cooperate fully with the UN and with each other to achieve progress towards a political solution," Resolution 1871 goes one step further than its predecessors to include a "humanitarian dimension" to the UN peacekeeping mission, UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
The council stressed the "importance of making progress on the humanitarian dimension of the conflict as a means to promote transparency and mutual confidence though the constructive dialogue and humanitarian confidence-building measures," the statement said.
Morocco, which annexed most of Western Sahara in the 1970s as Spain ended its colonial administration, has proposed that the region has a measure of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
But the Polisario (formally known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) has insisted that the people of the region be allowed to vote on a referendum that would include the option of independence.
MINURSO was established in 1991 through UN Security Council Resolution 690. Its mandate is to monitor the cease-fire agreement between the two parties to the conflict over the Western Sahara --the government of Morocco and Polisario. The UN classifies Western Sahara as a "non-self-governing territory."
Speaking in his capacity as Mexican Ambassador to the UN, Claude Heller, who is also the rotating council president for April, said he was pleased Resolution 1871 included a humanitarian dimension to the MINURSO mission.
However, both Ugandan Ambassador to the UN Ruhakana Rugunda and Costa Rican Ambassador to the UN Jorge Urbina said the Security Council fell short of expanding MINURSO's mandate to include human rights, and had failed to endorse Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call to "uphold international human rights standards."
Rugunda added that MINURSO is the only current UN peacekeeping force without the mandate to enforce human rights.
In Resolution 1871, the Security Council did welcome the secretary-general's recommendation to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to reunite Western Saharan families by land, who have been divided for nearly three decades since the outbreak of war on Spain's withdrawal from the area. Since 2004, the United Nations has sponsored family visits via an air shuttle program.
The Security Council also welcomed the appointment of the secretary-general's personal envoy for Western Sahara Ambassador Christopher Ross and affirmed their commitment to support his future role in negotiations.