Security Council countries took a turn at word interpretation yesterday, somewhat ambiguously invoking the need for “realism” in negotiations between Western Sahara and Morocco, which has occupied the desert territory since 1975. What this means in reality — no pun intended — is that outright independence is likely off the table for Western Sahara. The Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force that has maintained a ceasefire there since 1991, but the Council’s president in April, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, objected to what he perceived as powerful countries’ bias toward Morocco in the dispute.
“This council has made a mistake. They sent a wrong message to Morocco, thinking that they will always support Morocco,” Kumalo told reporters after the vote, adding that he nevertheless voted in favor because he still held out hopes for the negotiations.
In a statement to the council after the vote, he said the reference to realism could set a precedent in other conflicts, such as that between Israelis and Palestinians, that the principle “might is right” would hold sway.
Kumalo also complained that the resolution drafted by France, Russia, Spain, Britain and the United States omitted any reference to human rights, a sensitive subject for Morocco. He said such an omission was a case of double standards.
I can’t help but notice that Kumalo’s examples conspicuously did not include Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s faltering government has long benefited from South Africa’s protection. If it is “realistic” to downplay the prospect of Western Saharan independence, then surely it is equally so to acknowledge the electoral defeat that even Zimbabwe seems ready to admit. For South Africa to continue to shield Mugabe, then, would represent an entirely unambiguous “case of double standards.”