Total recently signed an oil reconnaissance agreement offshore occupied Western Sahara with Morocco, the country that illegally occupies three quarters of the territory. A number of concerns are attached to the involvement. Investors and the Saharawi people view such operations to be highly unethical, as they undermine the UN peace process by making Morocco less inclined to enter into serious peace talks.
Furthermore, Morocco’s oil programme is in violation of international law. As if that is not enough, the representatives of the people from the territory object to the oil deal, and leading activists denouncing such plunder have recently been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Moroccan military court.
However, there is a problem. Only one of the questions asked in WSRW’s letters to the company were covered in the mentioned statement. “It did not strike us that this statement on that website was a response letter from your company to us. Only one of the four questions WSRW asked to Total on 7 December 2012 had been thematically covered in the statement”, stated a fourth letter sent from WSRW to Total today, 11 April 2013.
On 7 December 2012, as WSRW first discovered Total’s licence offshore the occupied territory, the organisation sent a letter to the company, containing four questions regarding the company’s controversial operations. Since no answer had been sent to WSRW, a reminder of the letter was sent on 21 January 2013. On 15 March, a third letter was sent, requesting answers from the company. The latter request contained a fifth question, as to whether Total’s licence includes an option for future oil contracts.
WSRW has asked the following questions: a) Does Total agree that the Saharawi people, as the sole and original inhabitants of Western Sahara until the occupation in 1975, have the permanent right of sovereignty to their natural resources? b) Does Total agree that the 2002 UN legal opinion, which your company refers to, establishes that the Saharawi people need to consent prior to the signing of further oil related exploration agreements in Western Sahara? c) Has Total ever tried to seek the consent of the Saharawi people? If yes, how and when? If no, why not? d) Does Total agree with concerned investors that signing such oil agreements risks undermining the UN efforts to solve the conflict in the territory? e) Does the current reconnaissance licence include an option for future oil contracts?
Of these questions, only the topic in question b above was somewhat covered in the statement from Total in the statement to Business and Human Rights. The response to that question b seems to be negative, implying it is Total’s opinion that the Saharawi do not need to consent at this point regarding the operations on their land. The reason, Total argues, is that the company claims there is a distinction between oil reconnaissance and oil exploration under international law. WSRW does not agree with that interpretation, and we believe it is not supported by the UN 2002 legal opinion. Had there in fact been a distinction, it would in any case be irrelevant: Total's operations in occupied Western Sahara with the occupying power are in themselves obviously unethical.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
At COP22, beware of what you read about Morocco’s renewable energy efforts. An increasing part of the projects take place in the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is used for mineral plunder, new WSRW report documents.