On 31 January 2018, the German multinational Siemens held its Annual Meeting in the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
One of the individuals who addressed the company's management was Khadja Bedati, a refugee from Western Sahara currently residing in Germany. Ms. Bedati was born in the refugee camps in Algeria, where half the Saharawi people of the territory have lived since Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975.
Ms Bedati asked five questions, none of them were answered. The questions mainly addressed how come Siemens understood how it was operating in compliance with international humanitarian law in the occupied territory, in partnership with a company owned by the royal family of the occupying power of Morocco. It also addressed issues unanswered and poorly answered at the AGM one year before.
Bedati referred to the development in the EU Court of Justice, which on 21 December 2016 determined that the EU cannot enter into trade relations with Morocco covering the territory of Western Sahara unless the representatives of the people have given a green light. Without responding to any particular question, the Siemens CEO merely stated that "it is a judgment on international law and does not affect the effectiveness or legality of civilians or individuals and companies in Western Sahara".
Gilles Devers, a lawyer for the Western Sahara liberation movement, the Front Polisario, believes the answer from the Siemens’s CEO shows that he is ill advised.
“The principle is that UN law is not directly applicable in domestic law. But the decision of 21 December 2016 changed that for the question of Western Sahara, because it transfers the principles of international law into European law. In this way, these rules are enforceable against all European companies, and before all courts in Europe. The judgment is directly applicable to all EU companies operating in the occupied territory”, Devers told WSRW when confronted with Siemens's response.
Mr. Devers explained that a civil procedure is now starting in France against an importer of agricultural products from Western Sahara. This process is based on two elements: On one hand, the CJEU’s prerequisite of consent being necessary, and on the other, a clarification from Polisario that it had never given its consent to the French company’s imports.
Full response from Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG, 31 January 2018 “I would like to answer the questions about Western Sahara. First of all, I would like to thank you for your personal address; that you have been here and I would like to thank you for inviting me to visit you there. I can say in advance that countries and regions and geographies that house refugees and give them a chance to live are a great achievement, a remarkable accomplishment. Siemens is also involved in such refugee camps, in the field of health, in mobile hospitals. It is a very important topic for us. It is well known that there are five wind power projects - you have named them - which are located in an area whose international status is disputed or unclear. This is very important. There is a referendum demanded by the United Nations on the status of Western Sahara, you surely know that it is still outstanding. Concerning situation in Western Sahara, it is important that the territory is classified as a so-called "Non-Self-Governing Territory". We support this position. We also hope that there will soon be a peaceful and amicable solution. As far as we know, we are investigating that, but as far as we know today, neither Siemens-Gamesa nor Siemens have contracts with the state of Morocco, but with private-sector companies that are also involved in wind power. It is no question at all that we recognize the judgment of the European Court of Justice. But you also know that it is a judgment on international law and does not affect the effectiveness or legality of civilians or individuals and companies in Western Sahara. We cannot say more about that now. You should know: we are sensitized. You should know that we have no intention whatsoever to break the law in any way, or even come anywhere near a breach of law. But at the moment, that's all we can say to you right now in relation to Siemens.”
Presentation by Khadja Bedati (Sahrawi Youth) at the Annual General Meeting of Siemens AG on January 31, 2018, Munich Dear Sir or Madam, Dear Management and Supervisory Board, My name is Khadja Bedati. I speak for the Youth of Western Sahara and for the Association of Ethical Shareholders. I am here to express my concern that Siemens continues to refrain from respecting the rights of the people of occupied Western Sahara and has not asked for consent to operate in our country. Mr Kaeser, at the last Annual General Meeting, you made clear the position of Siemens: The projects in Western Sahara were "permitted under applicable law". I find this confusing. On 10 January 2018, the General-Advocate of the Court of Justice of the EU clarified that Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, that international humanitarian law applies, and that EUs agreement with Morocco are invalid as they include Western Sahara. Which country’s laws does Siemens believe apply to the occupied territory? My country is located in northwest Africa between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. "Sahara" in Arabic means "desert", but our land offers more than drought and sand: fish-rich waters off the coast, oil, iron and gold and the second largest phosphate deposit in the world. After the departure of the Spanish colonial masters in 1975, Western Sahara was occupied by neighboring Morocco. Many Sahrawis had to flee from the advancing army to Algeria. During the flight, the Sahrawis were bombarded with white phosphorus and napalm. The refugee camps are home to more than 200,000 people who are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. They suffer from the lack of economic opportunities and future prospects. With a mined and army-tracked sandwall, the "Wall," Morocco has separated the occupied from the liberated areas of Western Sahara. At 2700 km, this wall is 16 times longer than the Berlin Wall. It is called the "wall of shame" by the Sahrawis. Already in 1991, the UN peacekeeping force MINURSO was deployed to organize a referendum to decide on the future status of Western Sahara. The vote has been blocked by Morocco until today. For 27 years, neither war nor peace has prevailed. The Sahrawis are waiting for a peaceful solution and feel abandoned by the international community. In alliance with France, Rabat has even been able to prevent MINURSO being the only UN mission to have a mandate to oversee the human rights situation. Again and again, Sahrawi children, adolescents, women and elderly people in the occupied territories are abused. Torture is in the police stations and military barracks on the agenda. No country in the world has recognized the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara. The European Court of Justice addressed the issue of EU activities in Western Sahara in December 2016. The December ruling is clear: Western Sahara is a different territory from Morocco and must be treated separately. It was stated that Morocco has no right to conclude treaties with regard to Western Sahara without consent of Polisario, the recognized representation of the Sahrawi people For these reasons, the Federal Government has just made it clear that it does not support the economic activities of German companies in Western Sahara via export credit and investment guarantees. Siemens is cooperating with an energy company owned by the Moroccan king and is involved in setting up a wind farm in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. The 22 wind turbines built there supply the electricity for the extraction of phosphate and its transport from the mine to the coast, from where the raw material is exported to fertilizer producers abroad. The value of the phosphate of three shiploads is about the same as the humanitarian aid received by the Sahrawi refugees in one year. They are the rightful owners of the raw materials. Siemens makes it possible for Morocco to empty our land of its resources. We feel Siemens is partially responsible for our sufferings. It is very worrying that Siemens is so clearly distancing itself from supplies to occupied Crimea, while at the same time supporting Moroccan projects in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. This suggests that Siemens has no principled position on compliance with international law. In light of such plundering of natural resources, I call on Siemens to end projects in Western Sahara that are linked to the Moroccan government. The climate-friendly green energy must not override human rights. Clean energy must also be produced with clean methods!
Therefore, I have the following questions:
The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice found on 10 January 2018 that the EU’s fisheries agreement with Morocco is invalid since it includes the occupied Western Sahara. Considering this, to what extent has Siemens assessed its obligation to respect international humanitarian law?
Do the contracts with the Moroccan government covering Western Sahara make any reference to the legal status of the territory on which the infrastructure is built?
The EU Court of Justice in 2016 considered inclusion of Western Sahara in a Moroccan trade agreement to be in violation of international law if it did not obtain the consent of the representatives of my people. Did Siemens try to obtain such consent?
Considering that the CEO of Siemens last year stated that all applicable laws are followed, which country’s laws does Siemens believe are applicable in Western Sahara?
What financial risk are involved for Siemens if the UN succeeds to decolonize Western Sahara in line with international law and in line with my people’s wishes?
I have one more appeal and one request to you. The appeal: I ask you to please respond to all my questions in detail. My request: I kindly invite you to come and visit the refugee camps and the liberated territories of Western Sahara so that you get yourself a picture about the living conditions of the people. Despite we are the legitimate owners of these resources people in the refugee camps and liberated territories are living in poorest living conditions.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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