WSRW demands oil research stopped

Western Sahara Resource Watch demanded in a letter on 19 March 2009 to the scientific journal Tectonophysics, that research done by a PhD student at the Norwegian Geological Survey should not be published. The geological research in occupied Western Sahara is done in cooperation with Moroccan oil authorities, but without the consent of the Sahrawi people.
Published: 21.05 - 2009 09:28Printer version    
The letter below was sent to the editorial board of Tectonophysics. As of 18 May 2009, the letter remains unanswered.

Dear Editors of Tectonophysics,

Oslo/Melbourne, 18 March 2009

Regarding the publication of Western Sahara geological research in your journal

Western Sahara Resource Watch and the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara have recently been made aware of the repeated articles of the geology in Western Sahara in your journal Tectonophysics, particularly two articles named “Crustal structure of the SW Moroccan margin from wide-angle and reflection seismic data (the Dakhla experiment)” (2008).

The research is carried out partially by a Norway-based French researcher at the Geological Survey of Norway.

We would like to point you to a few dilemmas regarding such research, as well as the references that are made in your journal. We urge Tectoniphysics to stop any further publication of such research until appropriate measures have been taken.

Exploration and exploitation of natural resources in occupied Western Sahara is linked to several ethical, political and legal dilemmas. As you might know, Morocco is an illegal occupying power in Western Sahara . The International Court of Justice in 1975 established that Morocco has no legal claim to Western Sahara. The same court affirmed that the Sahrawi population has a right to self-determination, which includes, inter alia, the right of permanent sovereignty over its natural resources. Permanent sovereignty over natural resources is a customary principle of international law. Numerous resolutions of The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and a legal opinion by the former UN Under-Secretary General of Legal Affairs, Mr. Hans Corell on 29 January 2002 affirm this position ( Because the Sahrawis have not yet been able to exercise their right to self-determination, and because they have not been properly consulted, exploration or exploitation by Morocco of natural resources from Western Sahara is a violation of the Sahrawis’ right to permanent sovereignty over their resources.

In addition to the legal issues, the political and ethical implications are of serious concern.

See the Norwegian Ministry of Finance for an elaborate opinion ( and press release ( on these matters. The Ministry states that searching for oil in Western Sahara constitutes a “particularly serious violation of fundamental ethical norms e.g. because it may strengthen Morocco’s sovereignty claims and thus contribute to undermining the UN peace process”.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, urges Norwegian companies to not get involved in such trade. See the advice at
. For this same reason, it puts Norwegian scientific environment in an awkward position when Norway- based academics participate in such research, in violation of the position of the Norwegian government.

The Sahrawi population remaining in areas under Moroccan occupation is subjected to grave human rights violations, such as torture, forced disappearances and arbitrary detention. Most importantly, however, they have not been allowed to freely exercise their right to self- determination through a free, fair and transparent referendum. This right was established through UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) (1960), and has since been supported by more than 100 UN resolutions. For human rights violations committed by Morocco in Western Sahara , please see this report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2006:

Moreover, Morocco ’s control and exploitation of the Western Sahara are also detrimental to the Sahrawis’ labour rights and their economic development. We are glad to forward you more information on this subject, if needed.

The French company Total, which has been funding the mentioned Ifremer research, stated very erroneously to the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara that “Western Sahara is part of Morocco . The UN gave Western Sahara to Morocco a long time ago”. The Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario Front in 2001 labelled Total’s involvement a violation of the cease fire. The very unwise involvement of Total and their partners, with their lack of political and ethical considerations in Western Sahara, has clearly contributed to strengthen Morocco ’s resolve to undermine and violate the UN peace process in the territory.

Considering the suffering that the Moroccan army has inflicted on the Sahrawi people during the decades after the illegal occupation, in which more than 500 Sahrawis have “disappeared”, it is regrettable that the authors of the articles in your publication Tectonophysics thank that same army for their contribution in the collection of data. A similar gratitude was showed to ONAREP (now ONHYM), the Moroccan state oil company which in violation of international law is responsible for issuing exploration and petroleum licenses onshore and offshore Western Sahara.

At this point in time, any further research of Western Sahara’s natural resources is purely in the interest of one side in the conflict: Morocco. The Sahrawi people, who according to international law has the right to these resources, will not in any way benefit from Tectonophysics’ research in today’s political reality.

Based solely on ethical arguments, we call on your journal to temporarily stop any further publication of such research, until you have made contact with the representatives of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to request their permission. While Total never did so, one can expect more from a respected academic environment as yours.

Shall you need assistance to get in contact with the relevant responsibles for petroleum or foreign affairs in Polisario Front, please do not hesitate to make contact. We are more than happy to assist.

Looking forward to hear from you.


Ronny Hansen
Oslo, Norway
Chairman, Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara    
Cate Lewis
Melbourne, Australia
International Coordinator, Western Sahara Resource Watch  




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