Report of the Secretary - General on the situation concerning Western Sahara (S/2016/355)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Western Sahara
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Justice, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform
Security Council Agenda Geographical Topic: 
Western Sahara
Document PDF: 

Report of the Secretary - General on the situation concerning Western Sahara (S/2016/355)

Topic: This report covers developments since the last report submitted on 10 April 2015 (S/2015/246) and describes the situation on the ground, the status of political negotiations and the implementation of S/RES/2218 (2015).


Women, Peace and Security Introduction

The report of the Secretary-General (S/2016/355) provides an update on recent political developments, activities of MINURSO, and human rights and humanitarian issues. The report is submitted in the context of the ongoing dispute over MINURSO’s presence, which forced a withdrawal of the civilian and political components of the Mission in March 2016, resulting in a cessation of substantive activities.[1] Five references to the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda are contained in this report: four to protection[2] and one to participation.[3] Compared to the last report (S/2015/246), there has been no change in quantity or scope of references.[4] The reference to participation states that 11 of the 244 MINURSO military personnel were female as of 31 March 2016; a slight increase from the last reporting period, when 3 of 203 personnel were female.[5] Additionally, there are two female high-level United Nations representatives, the Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra,[6] and Kim Bolduc, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Western Sahara and head of MINURSO.[7]



Humanitarian and human rights activities

References to the women, peace and security agenda focus on services and protections for females in traditional contexts. In the refugee camps, a number of services were provided by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including anaemia and stunting prevention programmes that, among others, serviced 8,000 pregnant and lactating women (PLW) in 2015; 38,540 women and girls of reproductive age received hygiene kits; and UNHCR worked with basic service providers in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) to “ensure that quality referral and response services are available in terms of legal, medical and psychosocial support.”[8] Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General raised the cases of three young women being held against their will in the refugee camps to the Secretary-General of Frente Polisario, Mohammed Abdelaziz, who promised to resolve these cases, stating that appropriate processes have been initiated.[9]


These references could be improved by discussing the inclusion of women during the design and distribution processes of all forms of aid, including the health information system piloted by UNHCR facilitating services in refugee camps. Future reporting should include an analysis and of the outcome of the “quality referral and response services” in cases of SGBV, and outcomes of the situation of the three women held against their will. The principle that protection is participation should be seriously considered. When women participate in processes of protection such as service delivery, the result is empowerment and better control over their own lives.


Several opportunities to engage the WPS were missed. First and foremost, the reference to hygiene kits for females is misplaced, as the rest of the paragraph discusses vocational opportunities and schooling for refugee children between 6-17 years old, without detailing whether there are appropriate opportunities for girls. In a similar vein, income-generating activities for young people in refugee camps[10] makes no mention of gender considerations. Lack of awareness for the different skills, abilities and capacities of males and females can proliferate dependency structures to the detriment of females. Furthermore, the lengthy discussion of human rights is completely gender-blind. Assuming that UN bodies such as Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UNHCR are utilizing their internal gendered aspects, Secretary-General reporting should reflect the outcomes of those practices. In all consultations and meetings with civil society representatives and groups by MINURSO and OHCHR in conjunction with Frente Polisario in the refugee camps,[11] the report should have specified engagement of women’s groups, and included an analysis of circumstances surrounding the meetings. More pointedly, OHCHR and MINURSO gathered first-hand information about the human rights situation in the camps and reported on challenges contributing to dismal situations, but there is no discussion of women’s human rights, WPS advisors, gender-sensitivity training, or women staff members whatsoever.[12] Without this recognition, women may be overlooked and underrepresented.



International cooperation and coordination

The report discusses dangers emanating from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and related potential dangers of radicalization of youth. Secretary-General calls on the international and regional communities to intensify their efforts to address emerging and protracted threats, but misses what could have been a critical moment to be inclusive of females.[13] The report missed an opportunity to recognize that terrorism and violent extremism have a differential impact on the human rights of women and girls, including in the context of health, education and participation in public life, and that females are often targeted directly by terrorist groups.[14] This is extremely important because at the core of the UN’s strategy to prevent violent extremism, is empowering women through developing strategies and interventions to counter terrorism and violent extremism.[15]


Ideal Asks for WPS Transformation

Overall, this report is void of gender analysis, save for implied applications from UN agencies. To improve women’s participation, several contexts should be more inclusive. During the reporting period, Morocco adopted several measures regarding livelihood programs[16] as contained by a plan developed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),[17] one of which has included gender-sensitive budgeting since 2007. In light of this, all livelihood programs should by design be utilizing a gender-sensitive lens including statistical reporting and comprehensive analysis. Not only should the Secretary-General be reporting on this, but should actively call for immediate implementation of gendered activities and seriously consider collaborating with ECOSOC, UNHCR, OHCHR and other active UN bodies on the matter. Furthermore, considering the extreme gender-imbalance of MINURSO’s forces, the request for 11 additional paramedics and 3 additional doctors for the military medical unit,[18] should be reserved for females.


Women’s protection concerns should be more robustly addressed. Gender programming is extremely important in this regard and relevant actors should ensure women and women’s groups participate meaningfully in the programming and provision processes, and that aid for women be protected and funding be tracked, as urged in Resolutions 1889 (2009), 2122 (2013), and 2242 (2015).[19] Additionally, sex-disaggregated data should be systematically provided for all statistics, in particular, for individuals and groups expelled by Morocco, including MINURSO staff, foreigners, human rights defenders, organizations and the like,[20] in order to see if women were being targeted by Morocco and if these expulsions affect women.


[1] S/2016/355, paras. 48, 50

[2] S/2016/355, paras. 58, 59, 60, 82

[3] S/2016/355, para. 31

[4] S/2015/246, paras. 23, 43, 46, 47, 56

[5] S/2016/355, para. 31 and S/2015/246, para. 23, respectively

[6] S/2016/355, paras. 16, 17

[7] S/2016/355, para. 105

[8] S/2016/455, paras. 58, 59, 60

[9] S/2016/355, para. 82

[10] S/2016/355, paras. 59, 61

[11] S/2016/355, paras. 50, 66, 75, 76

[12] S/2016/355, para. 79

[13] S/2016/355, para. 17

[14] S/RES,1325 (2000), PP.4, S/RES/2242 (2015), PP. 14

[15] S/RES/2242 (2015), OP. 13

[16] S/2016/355, para. 72

[17] E/C.12/MAR/CO/4, para. 4. This document also includes substantial suggestions for Morocco regarding gender equality and LGBT rights, particularly in para.7. The Secretary-General should have called for Morocco to adhere to ECOSOC recommendations in this regard.

[18] S/2016/355, para. 37

[19] S/RES, 1889 (2009), OP. 1; S/RES/2122 (2013), PP. 8, 9; S/RES/2242 (2015), OP. 3, 16

[20] S/2016/355, paras. 51-53, 71