Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW)

5th May 2005


Campaigners from 20 countries denounce Kerr-McGee's decision to continue illegal oil exploration in occupied Western Sahara

US energy company Kerr-McGee's announced on 5th May the renewal of its contract with the government of Morocco to conduct oil exploration offshore the occupied territory of Western Sahara until 29th October 2005, coinciding with the next UN Security Council debate on Western Sahara.

An international coalition of human rights and justice campaigners from 20 organisations across four continents had urged the US company not to renew the contract, and to cease all its illegal and politically irresponsible activities in the territory. In spite of these warnings by international civil society groups and by the Sahrawi people, Kerr-McGee has ploughed on in full corporate irresponsibility.

The international coalition, "Western Sahara Resource Watch"(WSRW), denounces this decision and calls upon all shareholders in Kerr-McGee to immediately divest from this US corporation, which puts profits before principles and directly undermines the UN peace process in Western Sahara. Western Sahara Resource Watch also requests all ethical investment screening companies to re-evaluate the ratings of Kerr-McGee in the light of this decision.

4th May the Norwegian Petroleum Fund announced to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that it is considering to divest from KMG. The Fund holds shares estimated to be worth over $31 million. Already one major Norwegian investor - the Norwegian fund administrator Skagenfondene - has already divested, taking a two million dollar loss on their 100,000 shares. They regarded the shares as too high risk, given the negative attention Kerr-McGee was attracting.

Western Sahara is Africa's last colony, and is illegally occupied by Morocco (for more details see background notes below). WSRW has contacted hundreds of shareholders in Kerr-McGee, and 30 ethical investment screening companies, to explain why Kerr-McGee's actions are incompatible with corporate social responsibility and international law.

The coalition was formed to build on the success of its members with previous lobbying work, notably with regard to the seismic survey companies TGS-NOPEC of Norway and Fugro of Holland. These companies have now left Western Sahara (for more information see arso website). Last November, French oil major Total ceased its activities in Western Sahara, probably as a result of the international pressure campaign spearheaded out by the WSRW and Front Polisario. This left Kerr-McGee as the lone foreign oil company still prepared to work there.

Campaigners regret that Kerr-McGee refused to pull out of Western Sahara on Sunday 1st May. This demonstrates the determination of Kerr-McGee to profit from Morocco's illegal occupation and to flatly brush-off the UN peace process and the rights of the Saharawis.

WSRW international co-ordinator Erik Hagen says "This decision by Kerr-McGee to continue its activities in Western Sahara flies in the face of the most basic principles of international law and corporate social responsibility. We are in this for as long as it takes. Morocco's planned theft of Western Sahara's hydrocarbons is immoral and illegal. The contract has already contributed to raise the tension in the conflict. Since KMG signed the reconnaissance contract with Morocco in 2001, Morocco has turned from approving the UN-supported peace plans into refusing to consider them. There are definite possibilities of taking legal action against the company, and we strongly urge KMG to cease its activities in the area. Their decision to match their contract renewals to the UN Security Council debate schedule shows their awareness of the political storm they have created. We are very sure that our measures will make KMG withdraw, as the last company in the industry still operating in Western Sahara. The question is just how, and when."

For more information, contact:

Erik Hagen, WSRW International Coordinator & Norwegian Support
Committee for Western Sahara, tel (+47) 45 26 56 19,
Richard Knight (New York), tel (+1) 212-663-5989
Raphael Fisera (Brussels); tel (+32) 484714870,

Western Sahara, Africa's Last Colony
Morocco invaded Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony in November 1975, in defiance of a ruling by the International Court of Justice that the Western Saharan people (the Saharawis) should determine their own future, and now occupies 80% of the territory. A UN-sponsored peace process has ground to a halt due to Morocco's refusal to accept any solution that would not guarantee Moroccan rule in the territory. In autumn 2001, Morocco awarded oil reconnaissance contracts to Kerr Mc-Gee and French major Total. In February 2002, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, ruled that exploitation of oil without the consent of the Saharawis would be illegal. He also highlighted Western Sahara's status as a non-self-governing territory i.e. a colony, the last in Africa. No country recognizes Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara. The Saharawi's Polisario Front, which formed a government in exile and is a member of the African Union recognised by 70 countries including South Africa, has heavily condemned the Kerr-McGee contract. Saharawi activists living under Moroccan rule have also called on Kerr-McGee to pull out, despite the risk of reprisals from the Moroccan security forces for speaking out. Organisations including Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and the US State Dept have all strongly criticised the Moroccan government's human rights record in Western Sahara, and the current human rights situation there. In addition to oil exploration, Morocco is heavily engaged in the fish and phosphates industry in the occupied territory. Western Sahara Resource Watch is a newly founded coalition engaged in stopping the illegal and unethical plundering of the area, grouping 20 organizations in 20 countries across four continents.

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