Gesto Energy, headquartered in Algés, Portugal, is an international company focused on energy consulting and renewable energy project development. In April last year, the firm announced on its website that it had been selected to "identify and study areas with geothermal potential in the provinces of south of Morocco in an area of more than 140,000 km2, corresponding to Moroccan Sahara".
Western Sahara Resource Watch and the International Platform of Jurists for East-Timor on 12 July 2019 asked the company to recant. A response was not received, and a new request was sent to the company on 8 April 2020.
In the letter, the two NGOs recommend Gesto to hand over any data collected from occupied Western Sahara’s geothermal potential to the Saharawi authorities and to the United Nations.
The controversial company holds interests in countries like East Timor, Angola and South Africa. The company has not changed its erroneous claim on its website after receiving the letter in 2019, and still continues to refer to the territory of Western Sahara as part of Morocco.
Maps included on the webpage leave little doubt: the area corresponding to the study spans practically the entire part of Western Sahara that is presently under Moroccan military control. See a screenshot of the map, as depicted on Gesto's webpage, to the right.
In December 2019, Gesto reported on that its team has collected samples of water and gas during November, still referring to the area as southern Morocco. [or download]
Gesto's project, according to its website, carries the working title “Realisation d’une Etude des Potentiatites Geothermiques dans les Provinces du Sud”. Gesto signed a contract for the project with ONHYM, Morocco's National Office for Petroleum and Mines.
Already in 2012, ONHYM had launched a research program to identify interesting sites for geothermal energy production, revealing two areas with high potential: the northeast of Morocco proper, and the “Tarfaya-Laayoune-Dakhla basins in southern Morocco” – the latter in reality corresponding to the area of Western Sahara that is under Morocco’s occupation. Gesto was contracted in 2017 to evaluate the potential in the northeast of Morocco. That study was concluded in 2018.
In 1975, Morocco invaded its southern neighbouring country, and went on to annex ever larger areas during the years of war with the Saharawis - the original inhabitants of the territory. In 1991, the UN brokered a ceasefire and deployed a UN mission to the territory to organise a self-determination referendum for the Saharawis. Though the Mission is still present in the territory, the referendum never took place due to Morocco's obstinacy. But the Saharawis' right to self-determination remains the cornerstone principle guiding the UN's attempts to settle the conflict.
The Saharawi people's right to self-determination is also the foundation of consecutive rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
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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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.