AWSA press release: Shipment of Conflict Zone Phosphate arriving in Geelong Wednesday

4 September 2012: Australia Western Sahara Association  PRESS RELEASE  – for immediate release

As the Margiris super trawler arrives in Australian amid controversy, another ship, the bulk carrier, Maple Crystal is due at Lascelles wharf in North Shore Geelong on Wednesday 5 September, bringing a stolen cargo of phosphate rock from Western Sahara for the Australian Fertiliser company, Incitec Pivot (IPL).

The cargo is bought by IPL from the autocratic regime of Morocco which has no ownership of these phosphates.

“We do not see how IPL can have legal title to import this mineral”, says Cate Lewis of the Australia Western Sahara Association.

The trade is illegal because the phosphate is being sold by Morocco, which invaded and has been occupying Western Sahara since 1975. The International Court Justice declared Morocco has no claim to this territory and no country – including Australia – recognises its claim. The phosphate is not Morocco’s to sell and so it cannot pass legal title to Incitec Pivot.”

Furthermore, it is unethical because the trade gives support to a brutal regime and it is unjust because the indigenous people of Western Sahara, the Saharawi people, neither consent to nor benefit from the trade in their own natural resources. The plunder denies Saharawi future generations of a vital resource that would enable them to rebuild their nation and sustain a dignified life in their homeland after great sufferings due to the long conflict.

Saharawis living in occupied Western Sahara hold regular protests about the plunder of their land. In October-November 2010 tens of thousands of Saharawis held a mass protest camp at Gdeim Izik, which has been called the beginning of the Arab Spring.  They complained that they were being treated as second-class citizens in their own country, while Morocco exploited their natural resources for its profit. Twenty-three Saharawis arrested at that time have still to come to trial.

On 3 September 2012, following a human rights delegation to Western Sahara, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) issued a statement saying that it “observed grave human rights violations in Western Sahara” and that “In Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, the delegation witnessed the overwhelming presence of security forces and violations of the rights to life, liberty, personal integrity, freedom of expression, assembly, and association. More generally, the delegation observed intimidation and state sponsored violence against critics of the regime that violates the rule of law and respect for human rights and provides impunity for perpetrators. Human rights defenders are targeted in particular.:

Annexe: Background and useful information

Morocco (and Mauritania) invaded Western Sahara in 1975 as Spain was abandoning its colony there. The people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis opposed that invasion with force, defeating the Mauritanians and preventing the Moroccans from taking over all of their country. There has been a ceasefire in place since 1991, brokered by the United Nations and the organisation now called the African Union. The UN has in place a mission, MINURSO, charged with the responsibility of organizing the referendum on self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara.

In the middle of the 20th century substantial deposits of phosphate were found. Most of these are very high grade and one of them is spread over an area of 90 square miles! Substantial deposits of iron ore have been found and exploration for oil and gas has brought some success and is continuing, particularly in the off-shore areas of Western Sahara.

It is worth noting that these resources belong to the Saharawi people. They are not Morocco’s resources to exploit. The Saharawi people have not yet had the opportunity to determine their future as an independent nation although their state – the Saharawi republic (SADR), is recognised by over 80 countries worldwide and has been admitted to the African Union (AU).

Western Sahara is a non-self-governing territory in the language of the United Nations. Articles 1.1 and 1.2 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide:

1.      All people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

2.      All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

In 1975, just before King Hassan II ordered the invasion of Western Sahara, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion stating that Morocco (and Mauritania) had never had sovereignty over Western Sahara.

On 29 January 2002, , Mr. Hans Corell, Legal Counsel and UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, stated in an opinion regarding arrangements between Morocco and oil companies to prospect for oil offshore Western Sahara that:

If further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The ethical reasons why Australia should not import phosphates from Western Sahara through Morocco are obvious. Australia should not trade with those who invade territories which is not theirs and who abuse the rights of, assault, imprison and kill the occupants of those territories. Nor should Australia trade where the material they are buying is the property of others.

OCP is a Moroccan state-owned company, exploiting phosphates in Western Sahara. For some arguments on the illegality of these activities, please see the opinion elaborated by the UN Under-Secretary General of the UN, Hans Corell:

By dealing with the Moroccan OCP, the importers are participating in the pillage of Western Sahara, the financing of the occupation, and giving legitimacy to it.

All the phosphate shipments appear under the label “Laayoune, Morocco”. By doing that, the transporters are hiding the fact that it comes from occupied Western Sahara. Claiming that the city of Laayoune is situated in Morocco, is like claiming that Dili is in Indonesia.

Morocco has also tried to develop an oil industry in Western Sahara. This has been more or less paralysed due to the international campaigning against it. Almost all the oil companies who have worked in the area, have later withdrawn (American oil company Kerr McGee, Norwegian TGS-Nopec, Danish Thor Offshore, French Total and Dutch Fugro).

Norway and the US have already made good policies regarding trade with and investments in Western Sahara. Norway discourages investments and trade. The US has excluded the area from their free trade agreement. In July 2004 Robert Zoellick the United States Trade Representative, stated in reference to the recent Free Trade Agreement between the USA and Morocco that:

“The (USA) Administration’s position on Western Sahara is clear: sovereignty of Western Sahara is in dispute, and the United States fully supports the United Nations efforts to resolve this issue. The United States and many other countries do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and have consistently urged the parties to work with the United Nations to resolve the conflict by peaceful means.

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will cover trade and investment in the territory of Morocco as recognised internationally and will not include Western Sahara.”

Scandinavian governments and companies have divested from many companies that deal with the natural resources of Western Sahara such as Wesfarmers and Incitec Pivot.

The value of the cargo being delivered to IPL on Wednesday, together with a similar one delivered in April this year aboard the Maple Fortitude would provide enough humanitarian aid for the 160,000 Saharawi refugees in Algeria for a whole year, according to Western Sahara Resource Watch.

The refugees have been surviving on international emergency aid since fleeing Morocco’s invasion 36 years ago. They see absolutely no benefit from the pillage of their country by Morocco and its international partners, such as Incitec Pivot.

AWSA has recently learned that there are other fertiliser companies in Australia selling superphosphate products which are not sourced in Western Sahara. Wengfu is a case in point.

Following blacklisting by ethical investors, Wesfarmers’ fertilizer subsidiary, CSBP announced in 2009 that is researching how to use phosphate from sources other than the Western Sahara to reduce their dependence on the controversial material.

This new bulk carrier, Maple Crystal, built in 2012, (IMO: 9640413, MMSI: 538004637) sails under a Marshall Islands flag and is handled locally by agent, Inchcape Shipping.