Petition to UN 4th Committee By Erik Hagen for Western Sahara Resource Watch

Hearings of October 6-7, 2005


Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates.

First of all, on behalf of the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), I would like to thank you for letting me speak here today. My name is Erik Hagen, and WSRW is an international network organisation consisting of organisations and individuals from 25 countries worldwide. WSRW researches and campaigns the international commercial interests in Western Sahara, with the belief that the commercialisation of the area contributes in impeding the UN efforts for self-determination.

I'll try to say something about the role of natural resources in the Western Sahara conflict, and the scope of the international participation in these activities.

Morocco's success in the commercialisation of Western Sahara has clearly increased its determination to block the UN peace process. Many of the investments contribute in severely changing the demographic facts on the ground, providing secure employment opportunities for tens of thousands of Moroccan settlers, and give an impression of a legitimisation of the Moroccan presence.

Perhaps the most important sector for Morocco's plans is oil. The Moroccan state oil company, for instance, is crystal clear that it intends to speed up the exploration for oil. In their strategy for 2005-2009, they state that the areas offshore Western Sahara will be, I quote, "object of an intensive exploration programme with the goal to prove the petroleum potentials". The US oil company Kerr-McGee confirms this by claiming that it has plans to drill in Western Sahara despite of the 2002 UN legal opinion that defines further exploration as illegal.

The activities of companies such as Kerr-McGee are in violation of international law. The illegality of natural resource exploitation and plundering of Non-Self-Governing Territories is clearly established through several UN resolutions and international treaties, and the General Assembly has repeatedly condemned this. But most importantly, the activities are highly unethical and the companies become key players in the conflict itself.

Through our research, our organisation has discovered the huge scope of the foreign involvement in Western Sahara, both in terms of direct investments, as well as through purchasing of products from the area. Let me mention some examples of states that remain important trading partners in this regard:

So we have companies from a wide spectre of countries involved in this. Ironically, most of these countries say to support the Saharawis' right to self-determination.

We in WSRW have been campaigning many of the companies involved. So far, we have succeeded in making a handful of them, both in the oil, phosphate and fishing sector, leave Western Sahara. But our activities strongly need the support of national governments. And this brings us to another problem &endash; that is perhaps even bigger.

The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, of 1974, Art. 16, Nr. 2, states that "No State has the right to promote or encourage investments that may constitute an obstacle to the liberation of a territory occupied by force". But several states turn the blind eye to this part of legality.

The worst example is probably a new fisheries agreement with Morocco, that the states of the European Union that will soon, perhaps, ratify. And despite of all what the UN has said on the issue since 1975, the EU chief negotiator strangely enough confirms that the agreement covers the waters off Western Sahara because they are "under Moroccan administration", according to the agreement with Spain from 1975.

Mr. Chairman

No state today is currently taking a really proactive role in prohibiting commercial activities in Western Sahara. A few states have officially discouraged investments there, or discouraged trading with products of Saharan origin, such as the Norwegian and the US government. But it is far from sufficient.

WSRW strongly urges the UN to look into what can be done to prevent international companies from operating in Western Sahara. As it is today, they contribute to prolong the occupation.

Thank you

More about WS natural ressources in the special dossier.

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