Western Sahara Resource Watch appeared before the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, 9 September 2012. Known as the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, it holds annual hearings under the mandate of the UN’s 1960 decolonization resolution with the goal of ensuring the self-determination of non-self-governing peoples.
WSRW’s staff lawyer, Jeffrey Smith, appeared before the Committee, presenting details about how the taking of natural resources from occupied Western Sahara continues to delay self-determination for the Saharawi people. Find his full presentation below.
Smith explained that the export of resources from the territory – phosphate rock, fish, agricultural products and sand – helped finance the continuing illegal occupation of the territory and denied such resources to the Saharawi people in the future. He noted that in recent days Saharawi youth had protested in the UN’s offices in Smara over the continuing taking of resources from the territory.
WSRW offered several recommendations to the Committee, consistent with its presentation made in 2011, and following the call of the Saharawi government that November for the United Nations to administer Western Sahara’s resources until self-determination occurs or a complete Saharawi independence is realized. WSRW’s recommendations were:
- the Committee should address the matter of Western Sahara’s natural resources in its recommendations this year to the General Assembly; - the Committee should study the problem of the development and export of natural resources from Western Sahara; - the Committee should request the General Assembly to 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 through an advisory opinion; and - the Committee should 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, Ambassador Christopher Ross.
Interviewed at UN headquarters following the day’s session about Western Sahara, Smith remarked that, “The continued taking of natural resources from Western Sahara is a significant problem, one that reveals the corruption and criminal nature of an illegal occupation which the organized international community has tolerated for too long. Saharawi people are increasingly and courageously speaking on about the taking of their country’s abundant natural wealth. WSRW stands in solidarity with them in their struggle.”
SUBMISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL POLITICAL AND DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE (FOURTH COMMITTEE) NEW YORK, OCTOBER 9 – 11, 2012
THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA AND ITS NATURAL RESOURCES
Jeffrey Smith Western Sahara Resource Watch Brussels
YOUR EXCELLENCIES, I have the privilege to appear before you today. We in the non-governmental organization Western Sahara Resource Watch are grateful for the opportunity to speak and thank you for again considering the question of Western Sahara.
I wish to address the matter of natural resources. Outside of the Frente POLISARIO and the government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, it is Western Sahara Resource Watch which has the greatest appreciation of the problem of the taking of natural resources from occupied Western Sahara. My goal is to leave you with a few recommendations to help in your assessment of how the Saharawi people can realize their right to self-determination.
Last week, in the city of Smara, a number of Saharawi youth occupied offices in the United Nations mission. They did so to protest the continued taking of natural resources from the territory. That they chose to bring their protest to the United Nations, to the organization’s MINURSO staff, should concern us. Why is it that the people of the territory are concerned about natural resources? What does the issue of natural resources mean for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination?
In our detailed paper, which has been provided to you, we explore the connection between the apparently unimportant matter of natural resources in occupied Western Sahara and the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. Please note the choice of words here. It is the Saharawi people who concern us when it comes to self-
determination, and not a population of settlers introduced by the occupying power – something we know to be illegal and in previous cases a war crime contrary to the Geneva Conventions. And so it is the Saharawi people themselves who have the right to sovereignty over the natural resources of their territory. The young people in Smara know this, and we do too, with the help of jurists such as Hans Corell, who reminded the United Nations in 2002 that exploration and development of the territory’s resources would be contrary to international law without the consent of the Saharawi people and their benefitting from the development of their resources.
There are four natural resources currently exported from occupied Western Sahara: agricultural products, sand for construction and tourist beaches in the Canary Islands, fish from the Atlantic Ocean, and phosphate rock from the Bou Craa mine. In 2011 the value of these resources, most substantially fish and phosphate rock, exceeded $400 million. The vast part of this comes from continuing high prices in the global market for phosphate, which traded at $200 / tonne during much of the year. We know that long term contracts provide for the phosphate rock to be carried to producers in places as widely varied as Australia, Lithuania and India.
There are five consequences of this taking of natural resources from occupied Western Sahara. They are: (i) the direct financial gain by the occupying power; (ii) the corresponding denial of revenue from the resources to the Saharawi people - recalling that half the Saharawi population lives in poverty in refugee camps; (iii) the perpetuation of an occupation which includes the ongoing settlement of the occupier’s nationals into the territory; (iv) the perpetuation of an appearance of legitimacy for the occupation through the “credibility mechanism” of trade in resources, and, finally (v) the damage to international law which, under the United Nations Charter, is clear that it should apply in every case to ensure territorial sovereignty and the protection of peoples (and their resources) under occupation.
These consequences are not isolated from each other, being connected in their causes and all having a common point in delayed self-determination for the Saharawi people. To understand them is to ask how the exploitation of natural resources perpetuates the occupation of Western Sahara.
In this regard, we respectfully offer the following recommendations. We have in mind the particular role of the Committee and the General Assembly a generation ago in Namibia, in which the United Nations legislated 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 recommend the Fourth Committee itself study the problem of the development and export of natural resources from Western Sahara, and that it recommend support and the participation of the General Assembly in such work;
(3) We recommend the Fourth Committee call upon the General Assembly to 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 through an advisory opinion pursuant to Article 65 of the Statute of the Court; and
(4) 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 pending the self- determination of the Saharawi people.
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