Australia Western Sahara Association (Victoria)



AWSA calls on fertiliser company Incitec Pivot to stop importing Western Sahara phosphate

The Santa Isabella docks in Geelong on 15 June 2006 carrying phosphate from Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, in violation of UN regulations.

Most of Australian phosphate now comes from Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory which both the International Court of Justice and the United Nations say has the right to self-determination under the UN Charter. The UN also has made clear that the natural resources of a non-self-governing territory cannot be taken without the consent of its local population, in this case, the Saharawi people.

In 1976 Morocco invaded Western Sahara just as the former colonial power, Spain, was pulling out. Since then Morocco, who has been selling huge amounts of Western Sahara's phosphate and other natural resources (such as fish and even sand) not for the benefit of the Saharawis, but for the profit of the Moroccan Government.

The Saharawis fought the Moroccans from 1975 until they agreed to a ceasefire in 1991 so that the UN could run a referendum on self-determination. Since then the Moroccans have refused to allow the referendum to be held, despite the efforts of the UN. The Moroccans have bashed, tortured, imprisoned and even killed the Saharawis in the occupied parts of Western Sahara who have demonstrated in support of the referendum. Many other Saharawis have had to endure up to 30 years of living in exile in refugee camps near Tindouf in south west Algeria.

Not only has the senior legal advisor stated that it is a breach of international law to exploit the natural resources of Western Sahara, but also the UN General Assembly has consistently condemned the exploitation and plundering of natural resources and any economic activities which are detrimental to the interests of the peoples of territories like Western Sahara and deprive them of their legitimate rights over their natural resources.

The Australian government has recently warned Australian companies about the risks of taking part in this trade. On 27 May 2006 DFAT issued the following statement:

"Morocco - Economic and Trade information * The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade notes that given the status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, there are international law considerations with importing natural resources sourced from the Western Sahara. We recommend that companies seek legal advice before importing such material. "

The Australia Western Sahara Association is calling upon Australian fertiliser companies to consider their position in relation to international law. "If they wait until the vote of self-determination in Western Sahara has taken place, then they will know with whom they can deal over the purchase of phosphate and other natural resources", said Cate Lewis, secretary of the Victorian branch of AWSA.

This doesn't mean that Australian companies need to give up all trade with Morocco: "We are not seeking to dissuade in any way legitimate trade with Morocco", insists national president of AWSA, Nick O'Neill, but "the issue of Western Saharan phosphate has ethical, legal and political dimensions as it is not Morocco's to dispose of."

"The best way to resolve this issue is for Australia and other members of the UN to insist that Morocco allow the referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara to take place as soon as possible. This will allow Australian companies to carry out legal trade in the natural resouces of Western Sahara to the benefit of the Saharawis, Australian farmers and Australians generally. It will also allow for the development of the proposed greater Maghreb economic union in north-west Africa which will also be to the benefit of Australia's trading interests" Nick O'Neill said.

Further information

Cate Lewis
Australia Western Sahara Association (Victoria)
inc no A0047692T
email: awsamel[at]

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