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Morocco continues to plunder and the World looks away

Morocco continues to plunder and the World looks away

By: Catherine Constantinides

The Western Sahara; also commonly referred to as the ‘Last Colony in Africa’, continues to be violated daily through the injustice taking place and being maintained by EU taxpayers and the corporate involvement of private business and multi-nationals around the world who continue to trade and do business ‘illegally’ with Morocco on the Sahrawi territory, turning a blind eye to an occupation and people forgotten by the world.

One of the most recent in the spotlight are New Zealand based fertilizer companies that continue to trade with Morocco, importing phosphate rock of Western Sahara, the only significant commercial source of the element phosphorus, and also termed as ‘blood phosphates’ by the Saharawi people themselves as the trade of this natural resource, amongst others as fisheries, continues to fuel and fund the illegal occupation, the oppression and violation of human rights of a people forgotten.

To date, more than a hundred United Nations resolutions have called for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination to be respected. However, their own call and efforts to resolve this conflict have become futile. In the past 18 months renewed efforts by the UN Special Envoy to Western Sahara, as appointed by the UN Security Council have tried to bring all stakeholders to the same table in order to find common ground to move forward and finally resolve a conflict and occupation spanning more than forty years, but still these remain unsuccessful.

Why occupation you may ask? And the answer is simple, natural resources of course, phosphates, agricultural trade opportunity, fisheries and more. Natural resources that should have been used by the Saharawi people of Western Sahara to build and develop their own economy allowing them to take ownership of their own development and future. They should manage and have the right to trade, invest, harness and develop as they see fit.

In 2016 the European Union Court of Justice ruled that Morocco and Western Sahara are ‘separate and distinct’ territories and that trade agreements with Morocco do not cover the territory of Western Sahara. Yet, over the past few years alone Morocco has earned around 200 Million dollars annually from the export of minerals from the territory alone. However, the exploitation of phosphates means that when the right to self-determination for the Saharawi people is realized there will be no more phosphate to mine as Morocco has already sold all of the high-quality phosphate.

According to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), ‘The Moroccan state earns massively from the mine it controls in the occupied territory (BouCraa Mine in Western Sahara). The maths is easy: multiply the volume exported by the international phosphate price. The value of exported phosphate has been stable at around 200 Million dollars a year, over a number of years. In comparison to the value of annual multilateral humanitarian aid to the Saharawi Refugee Camps, which sits at approximately 30 Million Euros.’

The WSRW tracks all shipping traffic in the waters off Western Sahara on a daily basis and by so doing routinely publishes reports on Moroccan exports from the occupied territory, and being able to identify all shipments of phosphates taking place. For the year 2017, the total exported volume of this precious rock was estimated at around 1.6 million tonnes. As of 2017 there have been only five main importers of the rock, including New Zealand.

At last months, during Human Rights Council in Geneva, I had the privilege to engage once again with Dr Mohamed Sidati, Minister for Europe of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic who again on a special panel on Western Sahara and the violations of the economic, social and cultural rights in Western Sahara, stated that the benefits of EU trade do not extend to the more than 174 000 Saharawi’s exiled in refugee camps and those living under occupation in their own land. He further reiterated, “Morocco has no right to negotiate agreements on behalf of the Saharawi people, just as Israel has no right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.”

He drove home once again that the EU too, does not recognise Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara, as not a single country in the world, recognizes the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The Saharawi, in the occupied territory, as well as those in the refugee camps, continue to be left out of all agreements signed and undertaken by Morocco, which exploits the people and the natural resources, which should be a blessing, but continue to serve as a curse as Morocco continues to use these resources to not only enrich themselves financially, but they are also using this economic gain to fund the occupation, they have managed to place themselves in a very important position geopolitically. With control over not only its own phosphorus reserves but also that of Western Sahara, the Moroccan government now controls an estimated 71% of global phosphate reserves.

In the book ‘Profit over Peace’, Erik Hagen talks about how the plunder of Western Sahara’s natural resources can be turned into a blessing for the Saharawi cause. In the book, he explains that it is clear that the topic of natural resources triggers a debate over international law, as Morocco has no legal claim to Western Sahara.

As a human rights defender and activist, it is documented with success, that voicing these facts, dirty dealings and illegal trade agreements, certainly puts pressure in the right place, as many of these dirty operations and deals have retracted from the territory with the right kind of media exposure, continued pressure by Saharawi’s on the ground who continuously protest despite the brutal repression and shame those multi-nationals, coming in to exploit and violate their land, including international pressure and a fight to save what is left of their image.

We now wait on New Zealand and those who continue to trade with an occupying power, that is exploiting the inalienable rights of a forgotten people; will they do the right thing, or will they continue business as usual?

Catherine Constantinides is a Human Rights Defender from South Africa

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