States urge Spain to respect Saharawi rights in Human Rights Council
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Namibia and East-Timor have today recommended Spain to respect the Saharawi people's right to free, prior and informed consent with regard to the exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources.
Published: 22.01 - 2020 11:02Printer version    
Spain today went through its third Universal Periodic Review; a peer review by other UN Member States of the country's human rights slate.

Namibia and East Timor took the opportunity to raise their concerns on Spain's involvement in the taking of Western Sahara's natural resources, and recommended Spain to respect the international framework on Business and Human Rights, and as such, to respect the right to free, prior and informed consent of the Saharawi people to the taking of their homeland's resources. Read their full statements below.

During Spain's two previous UPR reviews in 2010 and 2015, not a single State addressed Spain's continued responsibility vis-à-vis Western Sahara.

Spain has a duty to decolonize the territory of Western Sahara and continues to bear responsibilities for the indigenous Saharawi people. This was confirmed in two decisions by Spain’s own National Court in 2014 and 2015 which state that Spain remains the administering power over Western Sahara, echoing the UN Charter and the 2002 UN Legal Opinion on Western Sahara’s mineral resources.

Yet, throughout Spain’s UPR reviews of the past decade, no progress has been made to advance the right to self-determination in Western Sahara, nor has Spain reported on its obligations to decolonize and to ensure the well-being of the people of the territory.

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) in collaboration with Spanish NGO Novact had submitted a stakeholder report for this particular UPR cycle, stressing that Spain should be held accountable for its human rights track-record inside of the territory it has never lawfully and responsibly decolonized: Western Sahara. The report recommended Spain to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights obligations vis-à-vis the people of Western Sahara, in particular the right to self-determination and the right to their natural resources. Find our submission here.

Instead of working for the exercise of self-determination, Spain manifestly fails its duties under the UN Charter in order to satisfy its own hard-nosed economic interests, rather than the interests of the Saharawi people. While blatantly ignoring the Saharawis, Spain works with Morocco to have access to Western Sahara’s resources, or engages in projects that cement Morocco’s occupation.

States can either reject or accept recommendations issued during its UPR session. WSRW will publish Spain's response to the recommendations issued by Namibia and East Timor later this month.

Read the full statements of Namibia and East Timor (Timor-Leste) below. Please not that these are transcripts made by WSRW, and not official UN transcripts. The video of Spain's UPR session can be accessed here.

Statement of Namibia

Namibia remains deeply concerned about the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Western Sahara, and wishes to make the following two recommendations.
1. Enact a proper national legislation to ensure that Spanish individuals and corporations do not unlawfully participate in the taking of resources of Western Sahara
2. Refrain from engaging in any economic activities relating to the territory of Western Sahara that do not have the free, prior and informed consent of the people of Western Sahara.
We urge Spain to assume its administrative responsibility and ensure that the right of the people of Western Sahara are respected and protected as required by article 1 of the international convention on civil and political rights. We wish the delegation of Spain a successful review. Thank you.


Statement of Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste extends its warm welcome to the delegation of Spain, and commends them for the presentation of their report. Timor-Leste appreciates the effort made by Spain to promote and protect women’s rights and we welcome the increase in the representation of women in Parliament. Welcoming the adoption of the national plan on business and human rights by Spain, Timor-Leste wishes to make the following recommendations: that Spain ensure the full implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights in the context of the exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources; that Spain refrains from engaging in any economic activity in or relating to the territory of Western Sahara that do not receive the free, prior and informed consent of the people of the territory. Timor-Leste further takes this opportunity to wish Spain all the success for this UPR session. I thank you.


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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.
EU Court cases on Western Sahara for dummies

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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.
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