WSRW names and shames Total and major phosphate purchasers in UN

In its statement to the United Nations’ Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), Western Sahara Resource Watch drew attention to companies trading in phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara and Groupe Total's unethical seabed oil exploration in the adjacent waters.

Published 11 October 2013

Submission to the United Nations General Assembly
Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee)
New York, October 2013 

The Question of Western Sahara and its Natural Resources

Charles Liebling
Western Sahara Resource Watch

YOUR EXCELLENCIES, I have the privilege to appear before you today. Western Sahara Resource Watch is grateful for the opportunity to appear and we thank you for again considering the question of Western Sahara. 

I wish to address the matter of natural resources. Other than the Frente POLISARIO and the government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, it is Western Sahara Resource Watch that most studies the problem of the taking of natural resources from occupied Western Sahara. In the next few minutes, I will offer some recommendations to help in your assessment of how the Saharawi people can realize their right to self-determination.

We all know the consequences of taking natural resources from occupied Western Sahara. These consequences include the direct financial gain by the occupying power together with the perpetuation of an occupation which includes the ongoing settlement of the occupier’s nationals into the territory. 

The taking of natural resources from the occupied part of Western Sahara continues. Those resources are of four kinds. First, and most valuable, is phosphate mineral rock from the Bou Craa mine. Second is the fishery of the Atlantic Ocean just offshore the territory. Third, there are modest agricultural exports. And, fourth, there is some mineral production, mainly sand exported to the Canary Islands. 

Fortunately, no significant petroleum development is taking place. Of course, we express concern about the exploration for seabed petroleum off the territory, with the company Groupe Total SA present for several months earlier this year carrying out surveys that the Saharawi people themselves requested be stopped. 

The most serious taking of natural resources is phosphate. To date this year, 44 ships have carried away this resource with a value of almost $300 million. 

Phosphate is non-renewable. It will form the basis of a viable economy for a fully independent Saharawi people. We again note the Saharawi people do not consent to the development and export of this resource, and that they receive little benefit from it. The removal of phosphate rock from a territory under military occupation violates international law, as we know from cases such as Namibia and East Timor. It is also, in the present circumstances, a war crime. 

We particularly denounce those corporations which trade in phosphate from Western Sahara. Let us name them here. They include Canada’s Potash Corporation, Canada’s Agrium Incorporated, Lithuania’s Lifosa, and the United States based Innophos. Each knows its trade in Saharawi phosphate to be unethical and wrong. Yet each persists in it. 

Let me conclude by offering some recommendations. Western Sahara Resource Watch recalls the work done for the people of Namibia, in which the United Nations acted to protect the natural resources of that territory while its people awaited self-determination:

(1) We recommend that the Fourth Committee particularly address the matter of Western Sahara’s natural resources in its recommendations proposed for adoption this year by the General Assembly;

(2) We suggest the Fourth Committee recommend that the General Assembly refer the question of the legality of the development and export of Western Sahara’s natural resources for a definitive legal ruling to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion pursuant to Article 65 of the Statute of the Court; and

(3) We recommend that the Fourth Committee call for the appointment of a United Nations rapporteur for natural resources in Western Sahara, to work in conjunction with the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, His Excellency Ambassador Christopher Ross, and to consider United Nations administration of natural resources and revenues from such resources until the Saharawi people achieve their self-determination. 

I will be pleased to answer your questions.


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