... and finds the ongoing exploration and exploitation of the territory's resources in violation of international law.
A legal opinion that has been circulating the last weeks has been published on the AU website on 14 October 2015 [download]. The Opinion contains strong language and unambiguous conclusions with regard to the legality of Morocco's exploration and exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources.
"Morocco has no legal right under the UN charter and international law to occupy or govern the Territory of Western Sahara', says the Opinion. It grants Morocco the status of "occupying power", as it is not an administering power in accordance with the UN Charter. The Opinion goes on to state that "Only the people of Western Sahara have the right to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources."
"Accordingly, the people of Western Sahara and their legitimate representatives must not only be consulted but they must consent and effectively participate in reaching any agreement that involves the exploitation of natural resources in the Territory of Western Sahara", the Opinion concludes.
Thus, the Opinion concludes that "any exploration and exploitation of renewable or non-renewable natural resources by Morocco, any other State, group of States or foreign companies in Western Sahara is contrary to the UN Charter, customary international law and therefore illegal as it violations international law."
The Opinion calls upon UN Member States and their companies to adhere to their international obligations and refrain from investing or exploring and/or exploiting Western Sahara's resources through deals with Morocco as "the occupying power", which only helps to "perpetuation or legitimization of the colonial situation in Western Sahara".
"Morocco and any other entity should be held accountable for agreements/contracts entered into for exploration and/or exploitation of renewable or non-renewable natural resources in the Territory of Western Sahara and to ensure that all benefits accrue to the people of Western Sahara, in accordance with international law."
The African Union's Legal Opinion contains a strong appeal to the UN: "The UN should assume its political and legal responsibilities and protect the Sahrawi's renewable and non-renewable natural resources as it did in East Timor and Namibia till the people of the territory express their will and chose their destiny through a free and fair referendum", the Opinion states.
"The UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council should exercise their responsibilities and put pressure on Morocco to ensure that the illegal exploration and exploitation of Western Sahara natural resources should cease until a just, lasting solution is achieved by the parties through a referendum for self-determination."
Just last week, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a set of strong recommendations to Morocco, calling for respect of the Saharawi people's right to be consulted, consent to and benefit from the resource activities in their land. Morocco rejected these recommendations.
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