Kosmos cites political arguments to operate in Western Sahara
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Kosmos gives geopolitical arguments to operate in occupied Western Sahara, while Cairn Energy refuses to answer why it operates in what they call "Morocco". WSRW has sought clarifications from the duo.
Published 18 July 2016


On 28 June 2016, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund blacklisted Kosmos Energy and Cairn Energy for operating in the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara without first seeking the proper consent from representatives of the people of the territory. The exclusion was announvced together with a thorough analysis on the international law in the matter, documenting that Kosmos has failed to seek the right permissions.

Kosmos shortly after posted a series of letters and statements, expressing its disappointment. The letters are summarized on Kosmos's website westernsaharaoil.com.

Among the arguments used, is the statement that the geopolitical constellation has changed. This is in contrast with the "apolitical" position that the company claims having taken since 2011, when they after 7 years of presence stopped calling the territory "Southern Provinces" of "Morocco". No State in the world recognises the territory as being part of "Morocco", and a UN Legal Opinion from 2002 concludes that any further oil exploration will be in violation of international law.

On 12 July 2016, WSRW sent Kosmos Energy a letter with a number of questions to clarify what they mean in its argumentation of geopolitics:

  • According to Kosmos Energy, which are the geopolitical developments that have taken place since 2005 which alter the understanding of the ethics or legality of such operation on behalf of the Moroccan government in the coastal waters of Western Sahara?
  • In what ways, if any, does Kosmos believe that geopolitical developments are relevant for the understanding of international law applicable to the case of Western Sahara?
  • In what ways, if any, does Kosmos believe such a change in geopolitics has altered the fundamental rights of the Saharawi people to self-determination, including in respect of their land and resources?
  • In what ways, if any (and providing Kosmos agrees to the premise that the Saharawis have a right to self-determination), does Kosmos believe such a change in geopolitics has changed the necessity of Kosmos first seeking the consent of the people prior to signing any petroleum agreements in the territory?
  • The comment on Kosmos Energy’s view on geopolitics reminds of a statement of William Hayes, Kosmos Energy’s senior vice president of government affairs to Foreign Policy on 25 June 2014 where it is noted that “We feel good about the knowledge base we’ve got, we understand the other side of the position, and we honest to God feel like we are doing the right thing in partnering with Morocco. [..] We encourage the peace process to go on, and may the best party win». What does Kosmos Energy mean by “the best party”, and how does such a view fit with the UN approach that a solution to the conflict has to provide for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination?

    WSRW on 28 June 2016 sent a letter to Cairn Energy. In the letter, WSRW asked five questions to Cairn Energy. In its reply to WSRW, on 5 July 2016, none of the questions were responded to. The questions were:

  • In the light of Cairn's references to the 2002 UN Legal Opinion, WSRW asked how that Cairn sees that this opinion justifies or extends to allowing petroleum exploration in occupied Western Sahara in the face of sustained Saharawi individual, civil society and government protest.
  • In the light of Cairn's mentions of the "developing” of Western Sahara, and in need for “job creation” and “private sector investment”, WSRW asked how Cairn believes these Moroccan strategies and needs are in line with the wishes of the Saharawis and how Saharawi civil society groups which seek or advocate self-determination have been involved in the shaping of the strategies.
  • In the light of Cairn's mention that "The partners are committed to transparency and benefits sharing should exploration be successful”, WSRW asked how Cairn and its investors can be assured that the Saharawi people presently under occupation in coastal Western Sahara together with those Saharawi in refugee exile will derive benefits. How, in other words, will they as sovereigns “share” in the resource development and how would Cairn know whether the Saharawis are willing to share the resources that you are exploring.
  • WSRW wishes to receive clarifications as to why Cairn systematically refers to Western Sahara as part of Morocco on its website, in press releases and in annual reports.

    Cairn's reply to WSRW fails to respond to all these questions. Instead, arguments from previous correspondence is repeated. The only thing new in the mail is that Cairn states to be "a signatory to the UN Global Company" (sic).

    See also previous correspondence between WSRW and Cairn:
    Cairn to WSRW, 20 April 2016.
    WSRW to Cairn, 13 April 2016.
    Cairn to WSRW, dated 21 Apr 2014, received 26 Apr 2016
    WSRW to Cairn, 19 Feb 2014.


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