The Moroccan government continues to illegally exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources, which include large phosphate deposits in the north, potential oil and gas reserves, and some of Africa’s richest fishing grounds off the Atlantic coast to the west. Morocco’s long record of exploitation includes entering into fisheries agreements with the European Union that have enabled foreign vessels to gain access to fish in the territorial waters of Western Sahara. Instead of demanding that Morocco adhere to international law, the EU is complicit in this exploitation.
As a recognized Non-Self-Governing Territory, the people of Western Sahara have the sovereign rights to control their natural resources, including as affirmed by the UN legal opinion of the UN Legal Counsel, Hans Corell dated 20 January 2002, given at the request of the UN Security Council, which states that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interest and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self Governing Territories,” (S/2002/161. Para.25).
The Frente POLISARIO, as a liberation movement is recognized by the international community as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people and an officially recognized party on the agenda of the UNSC. Neither Morocco nor the complicit foreign companies, including the European Union who plunder the natural resources of Western Sahara have consulted the Frente POLISARIO, or otherwise sought the consent of the Saharawi people regarding their natural resources. And no steps have been taken to demonstrate that the revenue from the natural resources benefit the local Saharawi people. In addition, the Frente POLISARIO on 23 June 2015 became party to the Geneva Conventions that establish the international standards for the humanitarian treatment of war. This in essence means that the conflict over Western Sahara is also governed by international humanitarian law, and also means that complicit foreign companies who have been exploiting the natural resources of Western Sahara via contracts signed with Morocco are obliged to respect international humanitarian law, which prohibits the exploitation of natural resources without the agreement of the Frente POLISARIO as representative of the Saharawi people.
In an effort to challenge any complicity in the occupation of Western Sahara, the Frente POLISARIO has managed to raise significantly the profile of the Western Sahara dispute within EU policy circles. This included provision of the 2010 legal opinion by the European Parliament’s Legal Service on the legality of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) under international law, itself triggered by the SADR’s declaration of its maritime zones in early 2009. The fisheries issue forced greater discussion of the dispute within the European Commission, amid evidence of internal push back against intransigent French and Spanish positions. The high point of this work came in December 2011 when the Frente POLISARIO scored a significant legal victory as the European Parliament voted to reject a protocol extending the operation of the FPA between the European Union and Morocco. This decision affirmed a basic requirement of international law -- any use of Western Sahara’s natural resources had to be with the consent of the Saharawi people. As a result, EU boats fishing off Western Sahara were withdrawn with immediate effect. The EU immediately lodged an appeals process, particularly advanced by France, Belgium, German, Spain and Portugal.
The second is the case of the UK Western Sahara Campaign who has taken the British Government to court asserting that the UK Government is acting illegally by facilitating trade in goods from the Western Sahara. Their application for a judicial review was successful and the Court reviewed the treatment of products originating in Western Sahara being imported into the UK as Moroccan for the purposes of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, and reviewed the granting of licenses to fish in the territories of Western Sahara under the Fisheries Partnership Agreement of 2010 between the EU and Morocco. The Court decided to send the case to the European Court for further consideration.
The Frente POLISARIO in March 2016 lodged with the Secretary-General and publicly conveyed to all States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) the relevant coordinates and map declaring a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) within which all States and other parties should refrain from any exploration or exploitation of the natural resources of the seabed, subsoil and superjacent water column in that zone, other than for the benefit of the Saharawi people as consulted with and determined by their legitimate representatives, the Frente POLISARIO, who are singularly authorized to speak or act on their behalf and are best placed to define and protect their interests.
Click here for more information on the SADR Petroleum Authority.