Occupied Western Sahara possesses one of the world’s largest phosphate deposits and perhaps the coastline in Africa with the richest fishing grounds. In addition, chances are that there are considerable reserves of oil and gas along the coast. The valuable natural resources have always been a major driving force behind Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
Morocco’s illegal endeavours have received solid backing from international commerce. Even Norwegian companies are involved. It is very problematic, ethically, politically as well as legally, when commercial interests cooperate with Moroccan authorities in order to do business in the occupied territories. The companies involved, often claim that their contribution is intended to provide a positive economic development in Morocco. However, this is distorted truth. Most importantly, Western Sahara is not a part of Morocco. The “development” is therefore an active contribution in support of Morocco’s illegal claim to the neighbouring country.
A number of Norwegian and other international companies are today political actors that reap profits from the conflict. While Morocco finances the occupation by usurping the country’s resources, most of the Sahrawis are forced to live in refugee camps in the Algerian dessert, in poverty and miserable conditions and not being allowed any benefits resulting from the profitable commercial activities in their homeland.
Norwegian companies active in Western Sahara generate employment for illegal Moroccan settlers in the fishing industry, both through direct investment, and by exporting fishing products to countries such as Norway.
This type of activity undermines the wishes and interests of the majority of the Sahrawi population, and is therefore also in violation of international law. A large number of UN resolutions and international conventions define such activity as illegal. Please refer to an opinion from the UN Under-Secretary General for legal affairs here. In 2008, Mr. Corell gave a further explanation of his legal opinion. Download it here.
Since 2002, the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara (NSCWS) has actively worked to stop international companies from starting business in Western Sahara. In 2002, the Norwegian seismic company TGS-Nopec signed a contract with an American and a French oil company to carry out seismic surveys along the coast. An intensive information campaign conducted by the Support Committee convinced the company to leave Western Sahara. The decision was finally made when more than 30 shareholders decided to sell their stock, or announced their decision to do so.
Subsequently, NSCWS has been active in helping to coordinate international campaigns against companies like Fugro (Holland), Thor Offshore (Denmark),Wessex Exploration (UK), and Total (France). These companies have now left Western Sahara.
In June 2005, the Norwegian Governmental Pension Fund (also called The Petroleum Fund) for the first time sold all its stocks in a company, due to business ethics. At that point 337 millions NOK was divested from American multinational Kerr-McGee, due to its activities in Western Sahara. This decision was made after a formal complaint from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
When divestiture totalled nearly € 70 million, Kerr-McGee finally withdrew from Western Sahara.
At the moment, there is only one American oil company still operating offshore the occupied territories, as well as an oil company from Ireland onshore.
In 2005, the Norwegian phosphate company Yara announced that the company no longer intends to import goods from Western Sahara. During the same year, all Norwegian governmental financial aid to Norwegian businesses in the area were terminated. In addition, the Norwegian ship builder Selfa Arctic has left Western Sahara. And finally, also during 2005, a planned Norwegian-financed fish-oil manufacturing company was stopped in the last minute. In 2007, the Norwegian shipping company Arnesen Shipbrokers announced it would no longer transport phosphate from the occupied areas of Western Sahara.
Morocco, looking for new ventures in addition to fish, phosphate and oil/gas, is now investigating other minerals in the occupied territory, such as diamond-like zirconium, and uranium.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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