The Moroccan King is right to criticise Ban Ki-moon

The Moroccan King is right to criticise Ban Ki-moon
Comment: Ban Ki-Moon's biased and ill-informed assessment of the situation in Western Sahara has angered the monarch and shows he is no longer fit for the job, says Samir Bennis.
8 min read
28 Apr, 2016
The United Nations has showed itself unwilling to depart from its inflexibile attitude [Getty]

As is typical of the speeches he has delivered in recent years, King Mohammed VI delivered a strongly worded address at the first Morocco-GCC Summit held on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh. Despite this, most Moroccan and foreign observers were taken aback by the scathing tone of the Moroccan King's speech.

The monarch's message took on greater significance in light of its timing and location. The speech comes at a critical time for Morocco as it defends its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

While Rabat has long demonstrated its willingness to negotiate a face-saving solution that would bridge the aspirations of all parties involved - and adhere to the parameters set out in Security Council Resolution 1754 - the United Nations has showed itself unwilling to depart from its rigid and inflexibile attitude. Instead, it has stuck to the same modus operandi that has crippled its actions with respect to the many other conflicts on its agenda.

This was evident in the statements that Ban Ki-moon made in March in which he described Morocco's presence in the Western Sahara as an "occupation". Not only did the UN chief depart from the impartiality and neutrality inherent to his function as Secretary-General, but he also overlooked all the historical and legal facts that support Morocco's sovereignty over the disputed territory.

The UN chief's statement demonstrated his lack of knowledge regarding one of the major conflicts he is entrusted with resolving. This failing was also apparent in his description in the report of the facts on the ground in the Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps.

Ban Ki-moon's clear bias towards the Polisario

While the "observations and recommendations" section of his report may seem fairly balanced, in contrast the many paragraphs describing the status of human rights in the region demonstrate Ban Ki-moon's clear bias towards the Polisario.

Although many international NGOs, including the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, have denounced the status of human rights in the camps, the UN chief suggests in his report that the Sahrawis who live in the camps, in fact enjoy greater respect for their human rights than their counterparts in the Western Sahara.

The facts say otherwise. Former Polisario leaders have been banned from the camps for merely expressing views opposite to those of the separatist group's leaders. Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud for example, was first imprisoned and then expelled from the camps in late 2010, after merely suggesting that the Moroccan autonomy plan could offer the basis for a solution to the conflict.

In what can only be a deliberate omission, Ban Ki-moon's report makes no mention of these facts nor of the embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Tindouf camps

Surely, Ban Ki-moon has not read the Polisario's so-called constitution. A quick glance over that document debunks the claim that the Polisario represents all Sahrawis and that the latter enjoy their full human rights. Article 31 of the Polisario's "constitution" prohibits the establishment of associations and parties before secession — thus codifying the denial of what elsewhere is considered a basic human right.

In addition, while Sahrawis can move freely inside the camps, they are prohibited from going to other parts of the Algerian territory. When a Saharawi wishes to travel, he must obtain a paper called an "ordre de mission" from the Algerian military. This authorisation is valid for one month only, and when it is issued, it applies only to the specific town that the Saharawi intends to visit, not to the entire Algerian territory.

Contrary to popular belief, moving from the Tindouf camps to Morocco is strictly prohibited. Anybody daring to do so faces an accusation of treason referred to as "escaping to the territory of the enemy". This was the charge leveled against Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud when he dared to suggest that the Moroccan autonomy plan might help the parties end the conflict. The Sahrawis who seek to go to Morocco must do so in secrecy to avoid punishment. This is what drives many of them to take the winding roads through Mauritania, or, for those who can afford it, to get to Morocco through Europe. 

The crisis clearly shows that Moroccan authorities no longer believe the UN chief has the ability or the will to play the role of neutral and honest broker

In what can only be a deliberate omission, Ban Ki-moon's report makes no mention of these facts nor of the embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Tindouf camps, despite the report published by the European Union's anti-fraud committee in February 2015. This report documented the involvement of Polisario and Algerian officials in the systematic embezzlement of humanitarian aid provided by the European Union to the Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps.

These blatant omissions explain why King Mohammed VI leveled harsh criticism at the UN chief, calling into question his knowledge of the multiple aspects of the conflicts he is charged with resolving, and stressing that his actions are guided by his personal envoys.

This is not the first time the Moroccan monarch has expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the United Nations has been handling the conflict. In the speech he delivered on the 39th anniversary of the Green March on November 6 2014, King Mohammed VI warned the United Nations against any temptation to deviate from the core mandate of MINURSO, and stressed that any action in this direction would jeopardise the UN's role in the conflict.

"'No' to any attempt to reconsider the principles and criteria of the negotiation process, or any attempt to revise and expand MINURSO's mandate to include such matters as the supervision of the human rights situation," he emphasised.

Ban Ki-moon can no longer play the role of honest broker

The crisis that has developed between Morocco and Ban Ki-moon in recent weeks clearly shows that Moroccan authorities no longer believe the UN chief has the ability or the will to play the role of neutral and honest broker in helping the parties achieve a political solution.

The ongoing crisis should also open a debate within the United Nations as a whole on the role it should be playing on the world stage. Is the UN's role limited to establishing peacekeeping missions in all conflict zones without a clear vision of its goals or an exit strategy? Is the UN's role limited merely to keeping the conflicts on its agenda under control without proposing realistic solutions for ending them?

As was clearly stated by Anthony Banbury, who served as United Nations Assistance Secretary-General for Field Support until his resignation in March, the UN - especially the permanent members of the Security Council - must rethink what it is they want out of the United Nations. In a scathing article published in The New York Times in March, the former UN official documented the structural corruption that has been affecting the global organisation at all levels, especially in its department of peacekeeping operations. Banbury's article highlights that in most cases, the UN's decisions are based more on political considerations than they are on fact.

the UN must be more realistic and mindful of the geopolitical implications of all the conflicts it is mediating

"The second serious problem is that too many decisions are driven by political expediency instead of by the values of the United Nations or the facts on the ground. Peacekeeping forces often lumber along for years without clear goals or exit plans, crowding out governments, diverting attention from deeper socioeconomic problems and costing billions of dollars." Banbury said.

This, is the biggest issue affecting the UN mission in the Sahara. Despite the fact that it has been clear since 2004 that a solution based on a referendum leading to independence was unworkable due to the irreconcilable views of Morocco and the Polisario on voter eligibility, the UN focused on the same approach. This added to the fact that since the UN established MINURSO in 1991, it has never implemented an exit strategy or included any provision to enforce the outcome of a referendum in the event that the parties refuse to abide by its results.

In light of the stalemate hanging over the conflict for the past 10 years, the UN must be more realistic and mindful of the geopolitical implications of all the conflicts it is mediating. However, taking into account Ban Ki-moon's bias and inability to properly play his role as a neutral mediator and his decision to maintain his trust in his personal envoy - Christopher Ross, who has lost credibility with one side of the dispute - it would be delusional to believe Ban Ki-moon will be able to help the parties achieve any progress towards a political solution. A team that has failed for seven years to bring anything new to the table or to be realistic in dealing with conflict, has no chance of leaving any positive impact on the conflict.

The international community will have to wait for the election of a new Secretary-General next year and hope that she or he will have enough charisma, courage and vision to advance new innovative ideas that might help to end this territorial conflict in a way that will preserve stability in the region and the interests of all parties involved.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. 

He has published more than 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored
Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder of Morocco World News and lives in New York.

Follow him on Twitter: @SamirBennis

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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