Saharawi government responds to oil development in Western Sahara
The Saharawi government has today issued a press release on the plans of petroleum firms Cairn Energy PLC and Kosmos Energy LLC for exploratory drilling in the waters of occupied Western Sahara in 2014. Read their statement here.
Published 20 November 2013

Media release – Communiqué
Saharawi government responds to offshore petroleum development in Western Sahara

For immediate distribution

Bir Lehlou, Western Sahara– The government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (the SADR) today addressed the plans announced for petroleum exploration and development in in the territorial waters of Western Sahara by two multinational companies, Cairn Energy PLC and Kosmos Energy LLC. These companies participate in a joint venture pursuant to licences granted illegally by Morocco’s state petroleum agency, the Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM),

Cairn Energy and Kosmos Energy recently announced plans for exploratory drilling in the central offshore area of the Saharan coast, known as the “Boujdour Block”. According to news reports the companies intend to drill in 2014.

Emhamed Khadad, member of the Sahrawi leadership said “This is a matter of law, morality and investment risk. The investment risk is easiest to understand. The Saharawi Republic is open to ethical international business however exploiting the sovereign resources of the Saharawi people without their consent while we remain under an illegal occupation brings great uncertainty and the sure eventuality of future reparations [compensation] claims.”

Khadad added that, “The immorality of the proposed exploration drilling is also apparent. Companies that seek to benefit themselves and their investors – however misled or unknowing investors may be – do so in a way that perpetuates an illegal occupation and in a manner that enriches the occupying state while fully half our people eke out a challenging existence in refugee camps while awaiting the right to self-determination.”

“The law is also quite clear about such petroleum development activities. Western Sahara remains occupied as a matter of international law and so the taking of petroleum is clearly a war crime. Even if one agrees that Western Sahara is only, or narrowly, a question of the self-determination of its people, then in this and all other cases the Saharawi people have been clear that the legal test which requires the benefit to them of resource development and their prior consent is simply not met. Should anyone be unclear, it is the Saharawi Republic which has lodged a claim and has legislated for an exclusive economic zone off Western Sahara, and not Morocco.”

The SADR government recently warned both Cairn Energy and Kosmos Energy in private correspondence that their activities in the so-called “Cap Boujdour block” constitute a violation of international law. To date there has been no reply or acknowledgement of this correspondence from either party.

SADR officials note that the announced continuing program of the two companies was in clear disregard of United Nations requirements to address the ongoing problem of Western Sahara’s occupation. In 2002, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Legal Counsel, Hans Corell, issued a legal opinion on a request from the UN Security Council for advice about the legality of the exploration of mineral resources in Western Sahara. He concluded that:

“…if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories”. (UN Doc. S/2006/161)

Both Cairn Energy and Kosmos Energy were reminded by the SADR government that all means would be taken to end the development of natural resources in the occupied part of Western Sahara.

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Media inquiries:

Kamal Fadel
SADR Petroleum & Mines Authority


Western Sahara was first occupied in 1975 by Mauritania and Morocco after having been abandoned by Spain in the face of a longstanding obligation for the decolonization of the territory under international law and the direction of the United Nations. The International Court of Justice declared the same year that neither Mauritania nor Morocco had any territorial claim to the territory and that self-determination of the Saharawi people was required. Today, Morocco occupies more than half the territory and almost the entire length of its coastline, settling its nationals into the area while exporting fish and phosphate mineral rock over the protests of Saharawi including those in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. A sand wall or “berm” constructed by Morocco divides the territory, a heavily fortified structure with millions landmines and thousands of soldiers along its 2,400 kilometre length. Various initiatives to have the United Nations administer the territory’s resources until the Saharawi people have conducted a legitimate self-determination referendum have not yet been successful.

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