domingo, 22 de março de 2009

UN send mission to assess Sahrawi refugees situation

The United Nations has launched a mission to assess the Western Sahara refugees situation in Algeria following reports of malnutrition and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis, the UN refugees agency has announced.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees spokesperson, Ron Redmond, a three day mission resuming today aims to see first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees in the camps.

Mr Redmond said in the last survey conducted in 2008, 61 percent of the children and 66 percent of pregnant women in the camps were suffering from anaemia, a situation reported to be critical by the World Food Programme.

The mission which is comprising of the UNHCR, WFP and other international aid agencies is also expected decide on whether to include additional foodstuffs with high nutritional value in the food assistance, specifically targeted to children, pregnant and lactating mothers.

The UN said in the last five years the donor funding has been unreliable and in 2008, UNHCR only received 39 percent of its budget, and both the agency and WFP still need additional funding for 2009.

Sahrawi refugees started flocking in Algeria in the mid-seventies fleeing the rebellion between the Polisario Front and Moroccan government over the status of Western Sahara which has been dragging for decades since Morocco annexed Western Sahara in the 1970’s.

The mission is expected to visit two of four refugee camps and will meet with beneficiaries, refugee leaders and Algerian authorities.

The UNHCR said refugees have been living in four deserted camps in south-west Algeria since the mid-seventies, with aid declining every year.

Since 1991, the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two parties and organising a long-stalled referendum on self-determination.

WFP and UNHCR have been working very closely together to highlight the plight of the refugees through joint donor visits and joint assessment missions.

Shipping company introduces Western Sahara ban

The Norwegian Council for Africa wrote in February about the shipping company Atlantic RTI which transported fish from occupied Western Sahara. The company now says they will prevent their vessels from being used for such purposes in the future.

Norwegian Council for Africa
20 March 2009

Last Christmas, the Norwegian Council for Africa photographed Atlantic’s vessel ‘Remora 1’. The ship was docked in the harbour of Dakhla in occupied Western Sahara, on its way to transport fish in violation of the recommendations of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Trade in fish from Western Sahara supports the Moroccan occupation and settlement policy in Western Sahara. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asks Norwegian companies to stay out of the territory.

The chairman of Atlantic RTI, Mr. Johan Lønnmark Werner, told the Norwegian Council for Africa that they disliked that the vessel had been used for such purposes, and that they had not accepted it had they had been in control over the vessel when the transport took place.

Now, Atlantic RTI is going even a step further in order to prevent such episodes in the future.

Mr. Edvard B. Aaby in Atlantic’s partner Fearnley Finans Shipping, in correspondence with the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, confirms that the shipping company in future contracts will specify that their vessels are not going to carry out such shipments from Western Sahara.

This precision will be made in the contracts next time Atlantic RTI enters a charterparty, according to the company. Over the last years, several Norwegian shipping companies have stated that they do not want their vessels to visit ports in occupied Western Sahara, but none of the companies have taken such specific measures.

”Atlantic deserves to be praised for this”, said Ronny Hansen, chairman of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

Hansen said that the Support Committee has been in contact with several shipping companies that dislike that their vessels have been used in Western Sahara.

”The challenge has always been that the companies claim that they have limited possibilities to stop such transports, since the vessels are being chartered out. Atlantic now shows that it is fully possible for a shipping company to stop such involvement, even when their vessels are under charter. They really show that they are a responsible company standing on solid ethical grounds”, said Hansen.

When Remora 1 carried out the transport, she was chartered out to the Dutch bank HBU.

The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara and their Dutch sister organisation have today made contact with the bank asking them to follow Atlantic’s example.

The Support Committee and Atlantic have been in continuous contact since the Norwegian Council for Africa wrote about the Atlantic transport in February.

Island Oil fails in geography

The Irish oil company Island Oil and Gas, which illegally explores for oil in occupied Western Sahara, has produced new maps.

Island Oil and Gas, a company which explores for oil for an occupying power on occupied land, in violation of the United Nations opinion in 2002, has published new maps of Western Sahara on their homepages.

The new maps, define Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

No state in the world recognises Morocco's claims to Western Sahara. Those claims have even been rejected by the International Court of Justice.

The unethical company, based in Dublin, is financially and politically supporting the illegal occupation, in the disregard of the wishes of the Sahrawi people.

Western Sahara Resource Watch demands the company's immediate withdrawal from the occupied country.

Denounced plundering to UN Human Rights Council

France Libertés: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand - an NGO with special consultative status in the Human Rights Council - has submitted a written statement to the council denouncing the plundering of Western Sahara.

"These injustices, perpetrated against the will and interest of the Sahrawi people and to their detriment, continue amidst the total indifference of the international community", wrote France Libertés - Fondation Danielle Mitterrand to the UN Human Rights Council on 12 February 2009.

The organisation denounced that the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources by Morocco is continuing to this day. France Libertés visited the occupied territories of Western Sahara in 2002, and did a study on the number of phospahte workers who had been marginalised from the industry since the occupation began in 1975. They concluded that Sahrawis are marginalised from the industries in the occupied country.


Written statement* submitted by France Libertés: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status
The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.
[12 February 2009]

Natural Resource Pillage in Western Sahara

The issue of safeguarding natural resources is one of the central problems for non-autonomous peoples, since occupation involves land dispossession and therefore the exploitation of resources for the benefit of a third State is a corollary of dispossession.

Western Sahara since 1963 is included among the non self-governing territories, according to Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter. A flagrant example of failed decolonisation.
Several elements are at the root of this failure.

In 1975 the withdrawal of Spain from her last colony triggered a process of illegal partitioning of the territory by Morocco and Mauritania (Madrid Accords), followed by a war (the Green March) fought between the Sahrawi people and Morocco, which led to Morocco’s illegal occupation of the territory. Despite the cease-fire signed in 1991 under United Nations auspices, and the peace plan aimed at settling the dispute, as well as all the later initiatives, no definitive settlement has yet been reached.
In 1974 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3292, through which it requested the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the relations between Western Sahara, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity, on the other. The advisory opinion pronounced in October 1975 established clearly in paragraph 162 that the territory in question could not be considered a terra nullius , and further that the historical ties of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity with this territory and its population in no way granted those two countries any sovereignty rights over the land. The Court further stated that the historical ties that existed – ties of vassalage – could not be construed in any way as limiting the rights of the Sahrawi people over the territory. The Court recommended that the decolonisation of Western Sahara should continue pursuant to Resolution 1514 (XV). The Green March undoubtedly constituted a breach of Article 2 of the United Nations Charter (peaceful settlement of disputes).

Let us also mention the Madrid Accords, agreed upon by Spain, Morocco and Mauritania in November 1975, which established a tripartite administration without the agreement either of the Sahrawi people or of the United Nations. The Madrid Accords are manifestly null and void. As Hans Korrell, a legal expert and former UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, declared: Spain had no right to transfer the status of administrative power to anyone at all; and, in any case, these Accords had no power to affect the status of Western Sahara as a non-autonomous territory. As a result, Morocco’s occupation is a violation of international law. Further evidence is provided by the fact that Morocco does not appear as the administrative power of Western Sahara in the list of non self-governing territories recognized by the United Nations.

The Department of Legal Affairs has further stated that “exploitation and pillage of marine resources and other natural resources of colonial or non self-governing by foreign economic interests, in violation of the relevant UN resolutions, jeopardizes the integrity and prosperity of such territories.” And further: “any administrative power that deprives the colonised peoples of non self-governing of the exercise of their legitimate rights over natural resources ... violates the obligations incumbent upon them pursuant to the United Nations Charter.” In relation to the exploitation of the natural resources of a non-autonomous territory, Hans Korrell stressed that such exploitation is not allowed unless it is for the benefit of the people inhabiting the territory, and unless it is done on their behalf and in consultation with their representatives. Further, referring to existing contracts between Morocco and the US firm Kerr McGee and the French TotalFinaElf on prospecting in newly discovered oil reserves off the coast, Korrell declared: “Despite the fact that these contracts signed with foreign companies are not in themselves illegal, we must conclude that, if any prospecting or exploitation activities are to be undertaken against the interests and will of the Sahrawi people, then they would be clearly in violation of international law as applicable to activities pertaining to natural resource exploitation in non self-governing.”

As a result of the criticism and doubts raised as to the legitimacy of the operation, the Norwegian firm TGS-Nopec (which had been hired by Kerr-McGee and TotalFinaElf for the prospecting) withdrew from the project. But that did not stop the operation: when Kerr-McGee’s activities were banned by the Norwegian Government, the operation was taken over by its partner Kosmos Energy, based in Dallas and granted a prospecting licence by the Moroccan State oil company, ONHYM, which also hired the Norwegian company Fugro-Geoteam to carry out the prospecting. And this was done using the largest vessel of its kind, built last year, supported by several shuttle vessels delivering supplies.

The pillage of the Sahrawi people’s natural resources extends, however, to several other fields, such as fishing, phosphate exports, and even including the sale of its sand to construction firms in the Canary Islands or to be used in the creation of beaches in the volcanic areas of Madeira. The last shipment occurred on 31 May 2008 and consisted of 2800 tons of sand used for the reconstruction of Caheta beach which had been devastated by a hurricane.

The issue of fishing deserves a more in depth study, since it is an example of the involvement of foreign States in the pillage of Western Sahara’s natural resources. The European Union has signed an unfair agreement with Morocco for fishing activities in Sahrawi territorial waters: of the 1,200,000 tons of fish caught yearly by European Union industrial fishing off the African coasts, about 900,000 tons come from the coasts off Western Sahara. The volume of this market is worth more than 1,000 million Euros: these profits strengthen the occupier and benefit those who fish illegally off the Sahrawi coast.

This deplorable situation is further aggravated by the ambiguity that persists around the issue of the illegality of the presence of Morocco in Western Sahara, and Morocco’s domination over its territorial waters. The ambiguity is based on a crucial point: the definition of the limits of Morocco’s territorial waters. In its negotiations with Morocco on fishing in waters legally pertaining to Western Sahara, the European Union is co-responsible internationally for the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of a still non-autonomous territory. Thus, once the new State will finally have achieved independence, it will be able to claim compensation, just like Namibia claimed compensation from those who had negotiated illegally with the Pretoria regime.

In addition to the pillage, one must also consider the consequences of a massive use of drift gillnets which endanger the conservation of marine species.

Since they are vital products for agriculture, phosphates are a resource greatly in demand in most of the world’s countries. The production in the Bou Craa mines, the exploitation of which began under Spanish occupation in 1970, today amounts to about 3 million tons, i.e. 10% of Morocco’s total production. The total contribution to that country’s national revenue has been considerable, for all the years since its occupation began. A conveyor belt, which is one of the biggest in the world, transports phosphates for over 100 km, all the way to El Ayoun harbour. There, the infrastructure was designed specifically for the shipment of phosphates, and mineral-transport vessels as well as high seas cargo-ships export this mineral to several countries in Europe and Asia.

A number of Non-Governmental Organizations have denounced this situation, time and again, over a long period ; they have also released the names of firms involved in the import of the mineral. Some companies, demonstrating their honesty, have provisionally suspended all phosphate imports; others have stated that these activities are totally legal according to international law, in their opinion; others still have replied that these trade activities benefit the Sahrawi people as well, whereas the situation is in fact the opposite, as was clearly documented by a mission report released in 2003 by France Libertés. Additionally, quite apart from the pillage of this extremely important resource, it is worth recalling that the majority of mineworkers was fired over the past years: today, of the 200 or so who still work in the mines, most have reported violation of their economic and social rights, systematic exclusion and marginalisation within the phosphate industry, as well as marked treatment inequalities between their conditions and those of Moroccan workers, including demotions and lack of opportunities for promotion.

A number of United Nations resolutions point to the fact that any phosphate extraction and trade activity in Western Sahara, spoliation of fishing resources off the coast of Western Sahara, or oil extraction are in violation of international law. Despite this, the situation persists. We can only conclude by stressing once more that these injustices, perpetrated against the will and interest of the Sahrawi people and to their detriment, continue amidst the total indifference of the international community.

Coop Stops Import of Occupation Tomatoes

For a few days more you will still find tomatoes from occupied Western Sahara on the vegetable counters of the Norwegian grocery store Coop. On Wednesday they stopped the controversial import. Norwatch, 11 March 2009.

By Erik Hagen
Read the story on Norwatch
11 March 2009

When you go to the vegetable counter in Coop supermarkets, you find fresh, tempting, plastic-wrapped tomatoes. The tomatoes are labelled with the name “Azura”, and on the packages it says that the country of origin is “Morocco”. But the label is lying.

Some of the tomatoes that Coop for months has marketed and sold in Norway have actually been cultivated in occupied Western Sahara – by Moroccan settlers. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against such trade with Moroccan interests in Western Sahara.

All of this past autumn and winter Norwatch has been digging into the Norwegian import of vegetables from occupied Western Sahara. Coop first confirmed that they import from the area, and the trade has secretly been taking place all winter.

“Today we have informed our supplier that in the future we only want products that they can guarantee have been produced in Agadir,” Bjørn Kløvstad, communications director at Coop, wrote in an e-mail to Norwatch on Wednesday 11 March 2009.

Employs Settlers

The area where the tomato plantations are located, by the coastal town of Dakhla, covers an area of several square kilometres.

According to the Moroccan newspaper Le Matin, the new agricultural production employs all of 6000 people. The number of employees is expected to triple by 2020.

According to what Norwatch has learned, almost all of the employed are settlers who have moved into Western Sahara after the occupation. The new agricultural commitment is a part of Morocco’s strategy to settle the southern parts of Western Sahara. The Moroccan king is also supposed to have proprietary interest in the tomato industry in the occupied areas, according to the newspaper TelQuel.

Coop’s supplier of tomatoes, the French company Azura, is owned by a French-Moroccan family. The company has 36 greenhouse plantations in Agadir in Morocco and 2 in Dakhla in occupied Western Sahara. The company’s Dakhla plantations were started in 2006 and today cover an area of 76 hectares. According to Azura’s web pages, the city of Dakhla is located in “South Morocco”.

Azura’s French headquarters first confirmed to Norwatch that they export tomatoes to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark but became silent when we sent further queries as to the exact place of origin, labelling of the tomatoes and customers in Norway. Norwatch has sent four enquiries to Azura’s public relations officer during the past 4 months; so far none of them has been answered. Norwatch therefore got in touch with three of the biggest importers of fruit and vegetables in Norway: ICA, Bama and Coop. Only Coop confirmed that they purchase from Azura’s plantations – including those in Western Sahara. ICA and Bama do not import tomatoes from Morocco.

“We have, in the light of your queries, checked the “composition” of the products we have received from this supplier, and it turns out that they have also produced on a small scale in Dakhla, imported it to Agadir – for resale to us,” Kløvstad confirmed to Norwatch on Wednesday.

He believes that the attention to the Western Sahara issue in Norway makes it unlikely that such import will continue in the future.

Pleased Peace Prize Winner

The Sahrawi winner of the Students’ Peace Prize for 2009, Rabab Amidane (to the right), is pleased to hear the news about Coop’s import stop.

After she received the Peace Prize in Trondheim in February for her human rights work, she has been travelling around Norway on a lecture tour and spoken about, among other things, all those Norwegian companies that participate in the plunder of Western Sahara’s natural resources.

On Wednesday Amidane took part in a Western Sahara demonstration in front of the Parliament in Oslo, arranged by, among others, all the political youth parties.

Opening for Customs Cheating

Norwatch has previously reported that Norway, through its EFTA collaboration, has entered into free trade agreements with the occupation powers Morocco and Israel. The agreements apply to goods produced within the two countries’ internationally recognized borders.

But this, nevertheless, does not prevent Moroccan and Israeli producers from selling products from occupied territory to the European markets. The EU has especially cracked down on the practice of importing from occupied Israeli areas. A series of European importers were caught red-handed in cheating with regard to the country of origin. In the period from 1 February to 30 June 2008 British customs authorities refused to accept 529 Israeli certificates of origin.

Norway’s EFTA agreement with Morocco could entail that Norwegian importers cheat with regard to customs duty to the Norwegian national treasury. Norwatch has previously written that it is impossible to know to what extent the customs authorities check the certificates of origin from Morocco/Western Sahara.

Norway imports close to 1 tonne of tomatoes from Morocco yearly. The customs duties for tomatoes in Norway vary throughout the year and are especially high during the summer half of the year, when Norwegian farmers produce tomatoes themselves. During this period Norway normally does not import any tomatoes from Morocco. In the winter, however, the customs duty is zero, no matter what country one wishes to import from.

In the in-between period in October the customs duty is relatively low. During the last 2 weeks of October there are no customs on the import of Moroccan tomatoes, whereas the duty for all other countries is 0,2 euros for 1 kg. The difference makes it possible for companies that import tomatoes from Western Sahara – but falsely label them as Moroccan – to get away with a cheaper tariff.

It is not known whether Norwegian importers have utilised such loopholes by falsely labelling Western Saharan products as Moroccan.

Norwatch has earlier reported that it is impossible to ascertain if the Norwegian customs service checks whether Israeli and Moroccan products actually stem from where it is claimed or whether they come from occupied territories.


In 1975 Morocco and Mauretania entered into a secret agreement with the earlier colonial power Spain with regard to dividing Western Sahara in two. The northern part was to become the property of Morocco, and the southern part was to go to Mauretania. The agreement was in conflict with a series of UN resolutions that had demanded that the territory be decolonised. The International Court of Justice in The Hague had also concluded that the area belongs to the local inhabitants and not one of the neighbouring countries.

The area from which Coop has imported tomatoes was first occupied by Mauretania in 1975. The majority of the local inhabitants then fled from the area. When the Sahrawis in 1979 entered into a peace agreement with Mauretania, and Mauretania withdrew, Morocco promptly moved in.

“The General Assembly deplores greatly the deterioration of the situation after Western Sahara continues to be occupied by Morocco and that the occupation has been expanded to the territory that Mauretania has recently evacuated,” according to General Assembly Resolution 34/37 with regard to the area where the tomato plantations are located.

But international pressure never got much further than that. Especially France has supported Morocco’s occupation, both politically and militarily. And during the past few years the French-Moroccan tomato enterprise Azura has seen the possibilities in the occupied country.

Norwatch: Requested Military Help

Moroccan Navy was asked to support Fugro-Geoteam’s oil assignment outside occupied Western Sahara. This is shown by an internal Moroccan government document that Norwatch has obtained. Norwatch, 17 March 2009.

By Erik Hagen
17 March 2009

Fugro-Geoteam’s assignment in occupied Western Sahara is in all probability about to be concluded. The controversial assignment, which is being carried out for Moroccan authorities, was started at the beginning of January. If Morocco discovers the oil they are looking for, it is not very likely that Morocco will ever permit the Sahrawi people to go through with the referendum on the country’s future, as Morocco and the UN have previously promised.

Norwatch exposed the controversial assignment during the start-up at the beginning of January.

The Norwegian sailing was originally supposed to last 2 months but is now entering the 3rd month. The reason for the deferment could be technical problems on Fugro-Geoteam’s newly constructed seismic vessel.

In any case, there can not be much time left of the assignment. And as it approaches its end, Norwatch has obtained more information on the conditions for the project.

An internal document between the Moroccan Ministry of Fisheries and the Navy shows that the Navy in the coast city of Dakhla was asked to ensure that the Norwegian company’s operation would be carried out without problems.

“We count on your collaboration and assistance to make this operation successful,” it says in the letter sent to the colonel at the Navy base in Dakhla at the beginning of January this year.

The document refers to the name of the Norwegian company and a number of features of the vessel to be used in the occupied areas. Reference to the vessel sailing under Norwegian flag is not correct; the ship has since December sailed under a Caribbean flag. See the document below.

But there are other interesting facts in the document. Among other things it reveals the kind of seismic being carried out by the Norwegian company – that is, so-called 3D. In addition, it mentions the size of the area is to be explored: “an area of about 2000 sq. km. in the so-called Boujdour offshore block”.

This implies that Fugro-Geoteam’s employer, the privately owned oil company Kosmos Energy, has gotten a clearer idea as to where in the occupied country the oil may be found. Kosmos Energy’s huge block off Western Sahara is all of 43,998 sq. km. Fugro-Geoteam is now surveying a small twentieth part of the block.

The document says furthermore that the exploration is to start in January and last 60 days. The activities have been met by protests from the Sahrawis. The accompanying video shows Sahrawi demonstrations against Fugro-Geoteam both at the University in Agadir and at a small town in south Morocco.


But Fugro-Geoteam has met problems in carrying out the assignment within the planned 60 days.
As early as 11 February the harbour register in Las Palmas showed that Geo Caribbean was there for reparations. The ship was in port for a short 15 hours before leaving. In addition, they have now gone far beyond the time span originally planned for the assignment.

Today Geo Caribbean’s Faroese escort ship, Thor Omega, is on its way back to Las Palmas.
For some unknown reason, Thor Omega has during the past 24 hours sailed together with another ship, Island Senior.

Island Senior previously was a Thor Offshore vessel sailing under the name Thor Fish and was last year sold by Thor Offshore to a company on the Shetland Islands, Island Innovations Ltd. Thor Fish is still referred to on Thor Offshore’s web pages as if it were a part of its fleet.

The manager of Thor Offshore, Hans Andrias Joensen, told Norwatch today that he does not wish to either confirm or deny that Island Senior has worked as a part of Fugro-Geoteam’s assignment.

Sahrawis on Canaries demonstrating against oil search

Sahrawi refugees on the Canary Islands yesterday protested against the Norwegian oil search in occupied Western Sahara. They demanded that the project be stopped.

The Sahrawi group protested in front of Thor Omega, a Faroe Islands owned supply vessel that works for the Norwegian seismic survey company Fugro-Geoteam in Western Sahara. The vessel had docked at the harbour only few hours earlier, and visited the port briefly to load cargo, as the Sahrawis rushed down to the harbour to protest.

“Don’t steal our natural resources” shouted the protestors to the employees on board the vessel. They also demanded that Canary ports are not used as base for plundering of Western Sahara.

The companies involved in the Moroccan oil search in occupied Western Sahara have to this day refused to answer any question from Sahrawis, from the Western Sahara liberation movement or from Western Sahara Resource Watch.

The Norwegian-Faroese companies can make it impossible for the Sahrawis to have their legitimate independence. If Morocco finds oil in Western Sahara, they will probably never accept liberation of the neighbouring country that they occupied in 1975, to the protest of the UN.

“These are crucial days for the Sahrawi people. The entire UN peace process can be jeopardized due to this oil industry. The Sahrawis are extremely frustrated over the lack of response from the international community in the Moroccan oil search in Western Sahara”, said Sergio Ramirez, of Western Sahara Resource Watch.

Ramirez attended the demonstration in Las Palmas, which made the headlines on Faroese national TV last night.

”It is an absolute scandal that the international oil industry is cooperating with an occupying powers military forces in carrying out illegal oil hunt on occupied land. We demand that this project be immediately stopped, and the intervention from Norwegian, Danish and American governments”, said Ramirez.

The company with the exploration licence is Kosmos Energy from Texas. The Norwegian and Faroese companies Fugro-Geoteam and Thor Offshore carry out the seismic surveys.

Thousands of Sahrawi refugees are living on the Canary Islands. There have also been demonstrations in Sahrawi communities in Morocco.

Yesterday the Norwegian news service Norwatch discovered that Fugro-Geoteam might have received support from the Moroccan navy during the explorations, that are expected to probably finish later this month.