Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Could war come back to Western Sahara? Some of Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees think so.

To watch the video : Could war come back to Western Sahara? Some of Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees think so. By Whitney Shefte December 31 at 10:45 AM Refugees from Western Sahara have been living in camps in Algeria since 1975. Now, faced with a reduction in international aid, some Sahrawis are calling for a return to war. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) Tumana Ahmed is tired of dreaming of a homeland she has never seen. The 28-year-old was born in the desolate desert of western Algeria, in a refugee camp that was supposed to be temporary. Only there has been nothing temporary about her situation, or that of about 150,000 of her current neighbors. Ahmed’s family and thousands of others fled their homeland of Western Sahara, a territory bordering Algeria that is about the size of New Zealand, after Morocco annexed the territory in 1975. Nearly 40 years later, the families still have not returned. Morocco and Western Sahara engaged in armed conflict until 1991, when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire. As part of the deal, Morocco was supposed to conduct a referendum for Sahrawis to decide whether they wanted to be part of an independent nation or remain under Moroccan rule. But that referendum still hasn’t happened. Many Sahrawis worry that without a return to armed conflict, the referendum may never happen. “For me, I think there is only two solutions,” Ahmed said. “We go to the borders, fight, make war, which is not the best solution. And the other solution, which is self-determination, this is the best one. Just let us vote. Is Morocco afraid of something?” Tumana Ahmed, right, a Sahrawi refugee living in camps in Algeria, speaks with a fellow refugee after prayers on Oct. 8, 2013. Ahmed was born in the camps, which are in the western part of the country near the city of Tindouf, and she has never traveled to Western Sahara. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) Leaders of the Sahrawi resistance movement who govern the camps encourage Sahrawi youths to be patient. “We’re still believing in peace, and we’re still believing that United Nations is able to do something,” said M’hamed Khadad, the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) coordinator for the Polisario Front, the resistance movement. “But they are in need really to push this thing hard because you cannot really control the feeling and the sentiment of people." He noted that 60 percent of the people in the camp are youths, many of them born after the cease-fire. MINURSO workers in Western Sahara spend their time monitoring the cease-fire. There have been efforts from time to time to hold a referendum, but the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front cannot agree on who should be considered eligible to vote. And some Sahrawis want to remain under Moroccan rule. “It’s problematic,” said Hajbouha Zoubir, a Sahrawi who works for the Moroccan Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs. In October 2013, Sahrawis in the Dakhla refugee camp reenacted the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest that took place outside Laayoune, Western Sahara. During the Gdeim Izik protest, thousands of Sahrawis erected tents in the desert in protest of Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and a lack of jobs and limited freedom of speech in the territory. The camp was violently dismantled, with Moroccan police and protesters clashing. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) After Morocco invaded Western Sahara, the kingdom offered thousands of Moroccans tax breaks to move into the territory. It’s thought that Moroccans now outnumber Sahrawis by at least 2 to 1 in Western Sahara, which has a population of about 500,000. And Morocco argues that Algerians have populated the Polisario-run refugee camps. Representatives of the Polisario — which is backed by Algeria — deny this. Morocco also claims that Western Sahara, which is rich in fisheries and phosphate mines, was part of Morocco long before the Spanish ruled the territory from 1884 until 1975 and that Morocco thus has a right to the land. In fact, Berber tribes mostly populated the region before Spanish rule, at one point forming the Almoravid dynasty, whose rule included both Morocco and Western Sahara. The International Court of Justice ruled that indigenous Sahrawis have sovereignty over Western Sahara – not Morocco. “Mainly it’s become part of the national ideology in Morocco that Western Sahara is part of the territory,” said Jacob Mundy, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies at Colgate University. “It’s viewed as being historically part of Morocco, and today the nation obviously benefits from the occupation in terms of certain mineral wealth and other sorts of things." For the current Moroccan government, he said, "one of the pillars of its legitimacy is the continued control over Western Sahara and the hope for the eventual legal annexation in the international community’s eyes.” Most nations, including the United States, do not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. But France — a member of the U.N. Security Council — has defended Morocco. “Conflicts like this where the big boys are involved — the big boys being the permanent five members of the Security Council — can be incredibly difficult to resolve,” Mundy said. “So while there is overwhelming international consensus that Western Sahara is owed some act of self-determination … there’s no will from the Security Council to really push this conflict in any direction that would otherwise upset what is a real, kind of delicate balance of interest.” This reality is something that Ahmed has come to understand, which is why she says a return to war may be the only way she’ll ever see her family's homeland. Learn more about the conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco by watching this video. This story was made possible with support from the International Women's Media Foundation. Whitney Shefte is a Peabody, Emmy and Pictures of the Year International (POYi) Award-winning senior video journalist at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2006. Whitney is also the visuals editor for Story

Monday, December 15, 2014

Resistance in Occupied Western Sahara: women defining a society

Resistance in Occupied Western Sahara: women defining a society ERICA VASQUEZ 14 December 2014 Although men and women both actively participate in resistance projects, Sahrawi women facilitate most of the communication between non-violent activists from one city to another in this under-reported struggle. Rally for Western Sahara’s freedom: Madrid, November, 2014. Rally for Western Sahara’s freedom: Madrid, November, 2014. Jose_Hinojosa/Demotix. All rights reserved. On June 15, 2014 I witnessed groups of peaceful demonstrators beaten to the ground and forcefully moved off of the streets and followed to their homes. Most shockingly, a woman was punched in the face and moved off of the sidewalk into the path of oncoming traffic. Every 15th of the month there is an organized nonviolent demonstration throughout the major cities of the occupied territories of Western Sahara: El Aaiún, Smara, Dakhla, and Boujdour. The largest demonstration is in El Aaiún on Smara Street, which is the most heavily populated city in the territories. This city is also where the most prominent and vocal activists live, notably Aminatou Haidar and Muhammad Dadash. In preparation for the monthly demonstration, the Moroccan security forces line the length of Smara Street. Police officers keep one hand on their weapons, riot police are fully dressed in riot gear from head to toe, and multiple armored vehicles crowd the street corners of connecting streets and alleyways. Although unarmed civilians lead the monthly demonstrations, the Moroccan security forces use excessive force to prevent many protesters from gathering on the street. The response of the security forces this time was not an isolated event. According to numerous Sahrawi activists, this is the result of engaging in resistance and attempting to express themselves in public. Sahrawi women as activists and leaders At the start of the military occupation in 1976, many Sahrawi men joined the liberation army and fought against the Moroccan state for several years. In their absence, Sahrawi women were primarily responsible for their household, children, and finances. At the same time, many women reported to the Frente Polisario about the internal dynamics of the occupation. Those who worked as informants for the opposition were arrested and unlawfully imprisoned by the Moroccan state. Many women, forcefully, were unexpectedly separated from their families and children and locked away for up to 11 years. They were tortured, interrogated, and abused all throughout their prison term in secret prisons located throughout the occupied territories and Morocco-proper. During a field-study conducted in the summer of 2014, I interviewed dozens of women who had been tortured and imprisoned in the 1980s. They were released in 1991 by the Moroccan government due to the pressure imposed by the United Nations. All of the activists interviewed are still actively involved in the resistance movement and have been since their release. Even after years of torture, injustice, and mass human rights violations they were not deterred from participating in the fight for self-determination. Today, the majority of the protesters on the street are Sahrawi women. This is representative of the greater composition of Sahrawi activists throughout the occupied territories. Although men and women both actively participate in resistance projects, Sahrawi women facilitate most of the communication between activists from one city to another. They organize protests, mediate activist press conferences, work in clandestine journalism, and collaborate with international human rights organizations on a consistent basis. While the primary objective of the resistance projects is the achievement of self-determination, the primary method of resistance is nonviolent. Both men and women activists emphasize the importance of pacifism and draw on international law to support their cause. Since the brokering of the ceasefire by the United Nations, Sahrawi activists have been fully dedicated to peaceful methods of protest and resistance in the face of violent state suppression. Long-term political resistance defining Sahrawi society The means of resisting the occupation and organizing resistance projects form a significant part of social life in this part of Western Sahara. Families gather around a television set at home that is constantly turned on to RASD TV, which is the national television station run by the Frente Polisario. Images of the Sahrawi liberation army and female soldiers appear in every other commercial break, as well as the martyr and founder of the opposition: al-Wali Mustafa As-Sayyid. Politics and political resistance is a matter for daily discussion, consistently visible in daily life. Outside the family, activists visit one another on a regular basis. Sahrawi women often facilitate these gatherings by inviting friends and colleagues over to their homes. They share stories of injustice and human rights abuses from other cities in the territories. They keep each other informed about resistance activities led by other activists. Why is this so under-reported? While discussion of the conflict dominates social life here, the Western Sahara question receives very little international media attention. In recent years there have been a handful of articles that focus on the prominent role of Sahrawi women in political resistance. However, this focus has been systematically prevented from entering the occupied territories. Instead the coverage has focused on the leadership of Sahrawi women in the refugee camps located in Tindouf, Algeria. So how does a conflict that began in 1976 and a nonviolent resistance movement that has existed for decades go into relative anonymity? This is largely due to the efficiency of the Moroccan military occupation. The Moroccan state has established a level of surveillance that tightly regulates the flow of foreign visitors into the Occupied Territories. Because of the surveillance, few journalists have successfully entered the region and reported from within. In July 2014, a German journalist and his British colleague entered the territories to report on the monthly demonstration. Within hours they were searched, questioned, and sent out of the Occupied Territories and back into Morocco-proper. This is one small example of the efficiency of the Moroccan occupation to track foreign visitors, expel them from the territories, and effectively prevent any coverage of human rights violations and violence.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Makhzen Wikileaks: A new Moroccan Snowdan?

Chris Coleman: un Wikileaks marocain dont personne ne parle De gauche à doite : Yassine Mansouri, patron de la DGED, le diplomate américain Christopher Ross, Salaheddine Mezzouar , ministre des Affaires étrangères. Chris Coleman: un Wikileaks marocain dont personne ne parle 1 décembre 2014 Par Ignacio Cembrero La masse de documents publiés par le compte anonyme Chris Coleman depuis le 3 octobre est une mine d’informations sur la diplomatie marocaine. Pourtant, tous les regards se détournent de leur contenu, aussi bien les officiels que la presse. Explications d’un mystère bien marocain. Lorsque, fin novembre 2010, les premiers câbles du Département d’Etat ont commencé à être publiés par le New York Times aux États-Unis et d’autres journaux en Europe, ce fut le branle-bas de combat à Washington. D’abord la Maison Blanche puis, à tour de rôle, le chef du Pentagone Robert Gates, celui du Département d’Etat Hillary Clinton, et bien d’autres se mobilisèrent pour dénoncer l’ « irresponsabilité » de Julien Assange et de ses acolytes journalistes. Tous se sont alors efforcés d’atténuer les critiques envers tel ou tel homme politique étranger qui apparaissait dans les dépêches ; de rassurer les partenaires sur l’invulnérabilité des communications américaines en accélérant l’enquête sur l’origine de la fuite. Le Congrès a, quant à lui, promulgué une législation interdisant, entre autres, de rendre publics les noms des confidents des différents services secrets américains. Du coté de la presse et de la société civile, en revanche, d’autres journaux américains ont tenté de concurrencer le New York Times. Parallèlement, universités et fondations organisèrent des débats sur les répercussions de ces révélations sur la politique étrangère des Etats-Unis, son image dans le monde ou le droit de la presse de tout dire. Depuis le début du mois d’octobre dernier, le Maroc vit, à son échelle, son propre Wikileaks. Sous le faux profil de Chris Coleman, un compte anonyme distille sur Twitter des centaines de documents de la diplomatie marocaine et aussi des courriels où apparaissent des think-tanks, des sociétés de relations publiques, des journalistes, marocains et étrangers, et des collaborateurs de la DGED, les services secrets tournés vers l’extérieur. Certains remontent à 2008 mais la plupart sont récents. Les derniers remontent au 2 octobre. Un désintérêt surprenant Mais une chape de plomb couvre, au Maroc, cette masse de documents accessibles pourtant à tous sur Internet. A part quelques rares déclarations officielles, comme celle de la ministre déléguée aux Affaires Étrangères, Mbarka Bouaida, qui a accusé des « éléments pro Polisario » d’avoir agi avec l’appui de l’Algérie, aucun membre du gouvernement, aucun sécuritaire, aucun parti politique ne s’est prononcé sur un sujet aussi majeur. Il n’y a eu, par ailleurs, aucun démenti de l’authenticité des câbles. Même prudence pour ce qui est de la presse. Certes il y a eu quelques « papiers » mais, en général, c’était pour s’en prendre à l’Algérie ou reprendre les propos, de cet été, de Christopher Ross, l’Envoyé personnel de Ban Ki-moon pour le Sahara, sur le mauvaise passe que traverse le Front Polisario. Les journaux n’ont pas épluché en détail les télégrammes, les politologues marocains n’ont pas analysé cette manne d’information riche d’enseignements sur la politique étrangère du Maroc, sur la façon dont travaille la diplomatique marocaine ou la DGED sur le Sahara etc. Personne ne se demande publiquement quelles seront les conséquences de ce déballage sur les conversations entre le Maroc et le Polisario sous l’égide de l’ONU. Les dessous de la diplomatie marocaine Pourtant il y a matière à débat. D’abord sur cette énorme brèche dans les communications confidentielles du Maroc qu’un service étranger ou un simple hacker pro Polisario, – les paris sont ouverts – , a réussi à ouvrir. Ensuite et surtout sur ce que ces documents nous apprennent. Ils nous renseignent avec précision sur l’hostilité de la diplomatie marocaine envers Ross, qui est même décrit comme un alcoolique, malgré son discret appui à la proposition d’autonomie marocaine ; sur le veto marocain (depuis mai 2014) à ce que Kim Bulduc prenne ses fonctions à Laayoune comme Représentante de Ban Ki-moon ; sur les tensions que tout cela entraîne avec le Secrétariat général de l’ONU et même avec le Département d’État américain; sur les raisons de fond qui incitent Rabat à refuser que le mandat de la MINURSO soit élargi et que ce contingent de « casques bleus » puisse s’occuper des droits de l’homme. Lire aussi : Des documents confidentiels de responsables marocains fuitent sur le web Au sein du Haut Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme et à celui aux Réfugiés à Genève, la diplomatie marocaine a su, en revanche, se faire des amis qui la renseignent en sous-main sur les initiatives de ses adversaires et l’aident même à saboter leurs projets. Malgré la crise qui sévit entre Rabat et Paris depuis février dernier, les diplomates français prennent encore la peine de raconter par le menu à leurs homologues marocains ce qui s’est dit dans certaines réunions (Groupe des Amis du Sahara Occidental) auxquelles ils n’ont pas accès. La perle dans ce flot de tweets est, pour le moment, l’accord verbal conclu il y a un an à la Maison Blanche entre le président Barack Obama et son hôte, le Roi Mohamed VI. Washington renonçait à modifier le mandat de la MINURSO mais, en échange, les autorités marocaines faisaient trois concessions : établir un programme de visites du Haut Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme au Sahara ; en finir avec les tribunaux militaires jugeant les civils ; et légaliser les ONG sahraouies indépendantistes comme Codesa d’Aminetou Haidar. Rabat a tenu promesse sur les deux premier points, mais pas sur le troisième. La monoculture saharienne La sélection de câbles offerte pas Chris Coleman n’est sans doute pas tout à fait représentative de ce que produit la diplomatie marocaine. Le Sahara y occupe une large place. Mais il est vrai que le ministre Salaheddine Mezzouar et le palais pratiquent la monoculture saharienne. Les relations avec bon nombre de pays, depuis les plus lointains comme le Paraguay jusqu’aux plus proches, comme l’Espagne ou le Royaume Uni, sont perçues sous le prisme de ce que les diplomates marocains appellent la « question nationale », c’est-à-dire le Sahara. Ce qui laisse très peu de place aux grands débats qui traversent aujourd’hui la planète. Les centaines de câbles déversés sur la place publique par Chris Coleman montrent, en définitive, un État marocain vulnérable de par ses failles sécuritaires dans son système de communications. Il l’est peut-être plus encore parce-ce qu’il n’ose affronter et débattre sur ce déluge de câbles exposés au grand jour comme l’avaient fait les Américains fin 2010. Les télégrammes laissent aussi entrevoir un pouvoir rendu nerveux par ce qu’il croit être des échecs dans le contentieux du Sahara alors que ce ne sont que des petits revers. Les poids lourds de la communauté internationale souhaitent, en effet, que le Maroc conserve à tout jamais ce territoire désertique. Mais pour cela il faut y mettre les formes et ne pas trop matraquer ceux qui revendiquent l’indépendance. C’est, en gros, le message que transmettent régulièrement Ross et le Département d’Etat à leurs interlocuteurs marocains. C’est ce que reconnaît aussi, à demi mot, Driss Yazami, président du Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme, dans une réunion tenue à Rabat en janvier 2014 pour étudier la mise en œuvre de l’accord conclu à Washington. Il ne semble pas avoir été écouté. Malgré cette déconvenue diplomatique que suppose l’étalage des dépêches sur la place publique, le Maroc a aussi démontré sa force. A part quelques très rares sites spécialisés en France (Arrêt sur Images) et aux États-Unis (Inner City Press), ainsi que le quotidien espagnol El Mundo, personne ne parle du Wikileaks marocain. Il y a sans doute plusieurs raisons à ce black-out informatif : la méconnaissance du pays, surtout par les médias anglo saxons ; la déliquescence de la presse de l’Europe du sud frappée par la crise ; la présentation confuse des câbles sur Twitter ; la marge de manœuvre réduite des correspondants étrangers à Rabat etc. Mais il y a aussi la volonté de ne pas nuire à la bonne image d’un pays ami. Lire aussi : Chris Coleman : « Mon objectif ? fragiliser le Maroc »

Friday, October 03, 2014

Torture and death: a political prisoner's story in Western Sahara

Torture and death: a political prisoner's story in Western Sahara

Torture and death: a political prisoner's story in Western Sahara

Middle East Eye investigates the death of Hassana al-Wali, a political prisoner in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara
Spanish actors sit in support of a Western Sahara activist on hunger strike, Aminatou Haidar in 2007 (AFP)
Tom Stevenson's picture
Last update: 
Friday 3 October 2014 15:51 BST
Amnesty International on Wednesday broke news that seven Sahrawi hunger strikers had ended their fast, reportedly after being promised better prison conditions, but the victory is a small one and only helps to illustrate the wider abuses going on behind the scenes in the Western Sahara. 
Last Sunday, Moroccan security forces arrested six Sahrawi demonstrators in the occupied territory of Western Sahara after protests broke out in response to the death of a hunger striking Sahrawi prisoner, Hassana al-Wali.
Veteran activist Wali died in a military hospital in Western Sahara’s second city, Dakhla, on 27 September. He was said to be seriously ill as a result of the hunger strike, and slipped into a fatal coma while in custody. Wali was an active member of the pro-independence indigenous Sahrawi movement and was also known for his human rights work on torture and police brutality.
Western Sahara is a United Nations designated non-self-governing territory that has been subject to an occupation by Morocco since it invaded in 1975. Morocco, however, claims the territory forms its “southern provinces” and is part of a historic “greater Morocco” with Rabat maintaining near full control of the area.
The Sahrawi government in exile, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), opposes the occupation and claims that 30 Sahrawi political prisoners have gone on hunger strike this year alone.

Mistreatment and abuse

The story of Wali’s death begins with his arrest during demonstrations linked to the Arab Spring uprisings. He was detained and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for his involvement in pro-independence, anti-government protests in Dakhla in November 2011.
According to one Sahrawi who had contact with Wali and his close friends and who requested anonymity for security reasons, Wali suffered mistreatment by the security forces that arrested him. The Moroccan forces broke his arm and inflicted other injuries, with the individual obtaining images that show the extent of the abuse.
After being sentenced to jail for “participation in an illegal demonstration” and “forming a gang”, Wali was taken to a detention facility in Western Sahara’s would-be capital city Laayoune. It was there, in a facility known as the Carcel Negra (Black Prison), that Sahrawi sources say that Wali first began a hunger strike to protest his torture at the hands of security forces.
Wali was moved from the Carcel Negra to Dakhla prison in June 2013 where his health began to deteriorate. His broken arm had never fully healed, due to a lack of access to medical care, and the general conditions of the prison in Laayoune were extremely poor. In September of this year, his health again seriously worsened under the strain of a renewed hunger strike over prison conditions.
But according to Sahrawi activists from Dakhla, it was only after persistent pressure from friends and family that Wali was eventually taken, in custody, to a civilian hospital and then a military hospital in the city. He died shortly after arriving at the military facility.
“I knew Hassana for decades, he was a brave campaigner, especially on the issue of removing the landmines laid by the Moroccan army in Western Sahara because his father was killed by a landmine,” said Mohammed al-Baikam, the secretary-general of the fishing associations of Dakhla and a friend of the deceased.
Wali’s activism saw him meet with international delegations that visited Western Sahara. He received a European parliament delegation in 2009, and met with an independent UN expert on cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, months before his incarceration in 2011.
“The Moroccan government wanted him in prison for years because of his stand against torture and police violence, they wanted him silenced and now they have finally succeeded,” Baikam told Middle East Eye.
According to Baikam, Wali was subjected to serious torture in Moroccan detention facilities. His account details how Wali was hung from the ceiling by his feet and beaten with a stick, forced into a humiliating stress position known as the “chicken position”, and given electric shocks.
Sahrawi friends of Wali also claimed he was treated with negligence in the runup to his death, and that he wasn't given access to proper medical treatment. They claimed that only cursory checks were performed despite his bad health, and that the only treatment he received was a dose of glucose administered by injection, which resulted in him lapsing into the coma that killed him.
The authorities have denied this and the Moroccan Délégation Générale de l'Administration Pénitentiaire (General Delegation of the Prison Administration) in Dakhla insisted that Wali was treated appropriately.
“The deceased had received throughout the period of his detention necessary care, with a number of medical examinations and treatments... he enjoyed good health and had not complained of any chronic disease,” the organisation said in a statement.
“He underwent an endoscopy in l'hopital Hassan II last Thursday before entering suddenly into coma,” the statement added.
But Baikam continued to assert that the prison authority’s statement is incorrect. “The next day the family asked the wali [governor] of Dakhla for an autopsy and were met with complete refusal, then the wali offered them money to have the body buried without one,” Baikam said. “Why would they do that if he was properly treated?”
The Moroccan government told Middle East Eye that the attorney general’s office has been informed of Wali’s death in custody and is awaiting an autopsy.
Juan Mendez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, visited Morocco and Western Sahara in September 2012 to assess claims that the conditions in Moroccan prisons were unacceptable and that Moroccan authorities were using torture.

Unacceptable conditions

“In Western Sahara we documented cases of serious torture by combining credible accounts with forensic evidence,” Mendez told Middle East Eye.
“The prisons were overcrowded and living conditions were precarious, but much of the serious torture was in fact happening before detainees got to prison.”
Before his incarceration, Wali was a senior member of the Sahrawi Association Against Torture, and while in prison in Laayoune, his family said he was interviewed by Mendez.
“I don't remember meeting Hassana specifically, but I met with many prisoners in Western Sahara and it is very likely I met him,” Mendez said.
Mendez also said that Sahrawi activists in favour of independence and separation from Morocco were being treated like detainees held on terrorism charges.
“Torture was not for everyone, it was being used in the high-profile cases: against terrorism suspects, and against members of the separatist movement [pro-independence Sahrawi]. It was consistent and could be very severe,” he said.
“I will be writing to the Moroccan government to make an enquiry about what happened here,” he added.
Amnesty International has also documented the use of torture by Moroccan security forces. On 19 September they reported that seven more Sahrawi men who were “severely beaten” in the courtyard of a Moroccan jail in Western Sahara had started a hunger strike. The men ended the strike this week after being promised better conditions by the authorities, but their cases is just one of many.
The organisation has detailed numerous instances of Sahrawi prisoners going on hunger strike to protest police brutality and ask for better conditions. However, mistreatment and torture continue.
The methods of torture documented by Amnesty Intentional include stripping detainees naked and beating the genitals and soles of the feet. They also found evidence that the police were suspending detainees by the wrists while beating them; gagging prisoners with urine-soaked materials; using prolonged solitary confinement; and using sexual violence, including rape with bottles.
Eyewitnesses in Dakhla have said that there is currently a heavy police, military, and auxiliary forces presence in the city, designed to stop demonstrations in front of the military hospital where Wali died. They also stated that there have been large clashes between police and Sahrawi residents, and that protests that have been held despite government efforts to keep people off the streets.
“Hassana Wali was treated terribly in prison, like an animal. His condition was getting worse, and he was left without any mercy in his cell despite his requests,” said Mohamed Sidati, the Sahrawi representative to the EU from the SADR government in exile.
In light of Wali’s death, Sidati has decided to call on the European Union for support in investigating the treatment of Sahrawi prisoners in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
“Given the European Union’s close relationship with Morocco they cannot continue to stand idly by. The European Union must use its influence and all the tools it has available to put an end to the Moroccan authorities exacting flagrant abuses on the Sahrawi prisoners’ human rights,” he wrote in a 29 September letter addressed to the European parliament and the European commission.
Sidati added in the letter that Wali was subject to cruel treatment because of his political views and human right advocacy after a politically motivated sentence, and that there should be no impunity for those responsible.
“We are calling for an international investigation to be opened because we believe the EU has the influence to push to determine and punish those who were involved in the death of Hassana Wali,” he said.
The Conseil Royal Consultatif pour les Affaires Sahariennes (CORCAS), an advisory committee set up by the Moroccan palace, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on either Wali’s death, or the use of torture by Moroccan security forces.
The Moroccan government's official spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on torture in detention facilities in Western Sahara.
There are currently believed to be more than 70 political prisoners held by the Moroccan government in detention facilities in Western Sahara and Morocco.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sahrawi Slam US Oil Exploration in Western Sahara

Activists warn Kosmos Energy's plans to explore for oil in Western Saharan waters will “put the final nail in the coffin of the Sahrawi people.” Sahrawi activists have clammed Texas oil company Kosmos Energy for plans to explore for oil off the coast of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. “By starting oil drilling operations off Cape Bojador, your company would damage world peace, and hurt the Saharwis and their just cause,” the Sahrawi Center for Media and Communication (SCMC) said in a letter to the company. A copy of the letter was obtained by teleSUR on Wednesday. Kosmos is expected to begin drilling off the Western Saharan coast later this year, according to Reuters. The company claims its exploration is legal under international law. “Kosmos' activities are focused on exploration and do not involve the removal of resources; and have yet to provide conclusive evidence as to whether hydrocarbon resources, sufficient to justify development, are present,” the company has stated. On its website, Kosmos states it is “working with the Kingdom of Morocco” to “ensure that if commercial deposits were to be discovered offshore Western Sahara, they could be developed in a manner that both reflects international best practices on resource management and transparency as well as complies with international law.” However, according to the SCMC, Kosmos' dealings with Morocco are at the heart of the problem. “All your negotiations and deals were conducted with the Moroccan authorities and not the Sahrawis. This can only mean lack of respect for the rights of the people,” the activist group told the company. Kosmos was granted exploration rights by Morocco's natural resources and mines ministry, while the Sahrawi say they have been left in the cold. “It is illegal for international companies to operate in the land and coastal waters of Western Sahara without the consent of its people and without them being consulted and benefiting from these business operations,” the letter asserted. "The Sahrawi people, living under the brutal yoke of the Moroccan occupation and their exiled relatives living in Algerian refugee camps, oppose Kosmos' plans. They fear that if oil is found in their occupied homeland, Morocco will never abandon its unfounded claim on their country." However, according to an article from the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), the company appears to be pressing ahead with drilling. The WSRW reported on Tuesday the oil rig commissioned by Kosmos to drill off Western Sahara's coast is “now slowly making its way to the occupied waters.” “In a few weeks time, the rig may permanently damage the Saharawi people's aspirations to freedom and independence, as it commences unethical and illegal oil drilling in Africa's last colony,” WSRW warned. Kosmos is the first company to drill for oil in Western Sahara. "The Sahrawi people, living under the brutal yoke of the Moroccan occupation and their exiled relatives living in Algerian refugee camps, oppose Kosmos' plans. They fear that if oil is found in their occupied homeland, Morocco will never abandon its unfounded claim on their country," WSRW has warned. The term “colony” refers to Western Sahara's legal status as the last non-self-governing territory in Africa. Most of Western Sahara has been subject to a Moroccan occupation since 1975, when Rabat launched a military invasion. Morocco claims Western Sahara is an integral part of its own territory – though this is disputed by the Sahrawi independence movement, the Polisario. Although the Polisario has historically enjoyed overwhelming support of the indigenous inhabitants of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi – it only controls a thin strip of the country's eastern desert. Morocco holds the coast, and all of the territory's major settlements. Moroccan security forces in Western Sahara have been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including repressing Sahrawi culture and freedom of speech. Activist groups including the SCMC say international investment in the occupied west provide Morocco with an economic incentive to resist Sahrawi calls for a referendum of self-determination. “By joining hands with Morocco, you are consolidating its sovereignty over Western Sahara,” the SCMC told Kosmos. “This is exactly what Morocco needs to put the final nail in the coffin of the Sahrawi people,” they warned.

Saharawi Center for Media and Communication sends a Complaint letter to Kosmos Energy about Oil Drilling in Western Sahara.

Saharawi Center for Media and Communication Elaaiun, Western Sahara Email: Date: September 19th, 2014 Mr. William Hayes Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Kosmos Energy Ltd.
 c/o Kosmos Energy LLC
 8176 Park Lane
, Suite 500
 Dallas, Texas 75231 USA RE: Complaint Letter about the illegal upcoming Oil Drilling in Western Sahara. Dear Sir, We are writing to you to let you know that we are Sahrawis from the Moroccan controlled side of the occupied territory of Western Sahara, and we strongly denounce your company’s decision to start oil drilling in the coastal waters off Western Sahara, namely in the Cape Bojador, Boujdour block zone. It is our conclusion that your company’s decision will bring great damage to the Saharawi cause and it is thus rejected by all Sahrawis. Kosmos Energy has no right to conduct business in Western Sahara. Formally, it is illegal for international companies to operate in the land and coastal waters of Western Sahara without the consent of its people and without them being consulted and benefiting from these business operations. Such illegal business is also a direct threat to the whole peace settlement as it puts at stake the right of self-determination by ignoring international law and legality. On February 5th, 2002 in a letter made public at UN Headquarters in New York, the senior UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell responded to a Security Council request for an opinion on the legality of certain contracts signed by Morocco with foreign companies to explore for mineral resources in Western Sahara. Mr. Corell determined that oil prospecting by foreign companies in disregard of the interests of the people of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi people – would violate international legal principles dealing with territories administered by another country. The Legal Counsel also concluded that as such the specific contracts of the time dealt with in the Security Council’s request were not in themselves illegal. If, however, further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed without respect to the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, the contracts would be in violation of the international legal principles dealing with non-self-governing territories. We are now at that point. The Sahrawis believe strongly that your company has neglected then and you did not count them as stakeholders. This is a terrible mistake and very bad for business. In the joint declaration with the Moroccan agency involved, posted on your company’s web site, there are many misleading declarations and statements that will only stir problems and political and social unrest in the territory. Your company’s action will only bring instability to the region and will surely affect neighboring countries. All your negotiations and deals were conducted with the Moroccan authorities and not the Sahrawis. This can only mean lack of respect for the rights of the people. Most Sahrawis interpret your action as an incitement for violence and hatred as you only care about how much you will make at the expense of the Sahrawis and their long lasting misery and suffering. The whole affair is unethical and calls for immediate action from your side to put things back on track to prevent yet another human tragedy in Northwest Africa. By starting oil drilling operations off Cape Bojador, your company would damage world peace, and hurt the Saharwis and their just cause. By signing an exploration agreement with Morocco, you are going against international efforts to find a just and a mutually accepted solution for the conflict. Also, by joining hands with Morocco, you are consolidating its sovereignty over Western Sahara. This is exactly what Morocco needs to put the final nail in the coffin of the Sahrawi people. You once spoke about "substantial recent progress in resolving the political situation" in Western Sahara to ease things and to present your company as a fortune stimulator, but this is untrue given that the UN led negotiations and peace plan remain a deadlock and things are not very promising as far as a near future solution. If no further action is taken, Sahrawis might consider resorting to international law to assert their rights and to stop your company’s unethical business in occupied Western Sahara. We think that it is time your company considered the matter afresh, and whether unethical potential revenues can ever be balanced against the obvious risks to the Sahrawi people. Please accept the assurances of our highest consideration and the hope of the Sahrawi people that your company will reconsider its decision. We look forward to your early reply in this crucial matter. Signature, Saharawi Center for Media and Communication Elaaiun, Western Sahara

Monday, July 28, 2014

No End in Sight for Morocco's Media Blackout in Western Sahara

No End in Sight for Morocco's Media Blackout in Western Sahara Activists say Morocco is systematically targeting journalists who speak out against the brutal occupation of Western Sahara. Moroccan authorities have been accused of silencing journalists in the disputed territory of Western Sahara in order to cover up human rights abuses. A sparsely inhabited stretch of desert between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, Western Sahara has been administered by the Moroccan government for decades, despite a fervent independence movement led by the indigenous Sahrawi people. However, the political crisis in Western Sahara rarely hits international headlines, largely due to a media blackout in the disputed territory by Morocco's occupation forces, which control around 80 percent of the territory. Sahrawi journalist Mahmud Al-Haissan is the latest media worker to be targeted by Moroccan authorities. According to sources in the Moroccan occupied city of El Aaiun, Haissan was arrested on July 2, after reporting on a Sahrawi demonstration for the pro-independence television channel, RASDTV. Moroccan authorities have alleged Haissan was involved in a violent protest that left several police officers injured – a claim disputed by activists who spoke with teleSUR. Footage posted on Youtube by the Sahrawi media group Equipe Sahara purportedly shows security forces moving in to disperse the gathering. In the footage, riot police can be seen marching through a neighborhood throwing stones. The Sahrawi group isn't visible, but activists have alleged Moroccan security forces violently dispersed the gathering. A spokesperson for the El Aaiun-based Sahrawi Center For Media and Communication (SCMC) has told teleSUR that the Sahrawi gathering was “peaceful” until the police arrived and shut down the gathering with force. The SCMC has stated that one of their correspondents saw Haissan near a group of Sahrawi that had gathered on the street to “cheerfully celebrate the sport performance of the Algerian team in Brazil, in the football World Cup”. Haissan was allegedly arrested merely for reporting on the violent dispersal of the celebration. The SCMC spokesperson cannot be identified by teleSUR due to fears of reprisals by Moroccan authorities. According to the spokesperson, Haissan wasn't part of the demonstration, but did appear in the RASDTV report. “According to his family, the Sahrawi journalist Haissan was taken to the Police Prefecture for interrogation, and then he was brought before the public prosecutor the next day on the charges [of] obstruction of traffic, and attacking law enforcement officers,” the SCMC spokesperson stated. According to the SCMC, when Haissan's lawyers met with him three days later, they “reported seeing visible signs of torture on the prisoner’s [Haissans] body. El Haissan told them, on the other hand, that he had been intimidated and threatened by the public prosecutor who ordered his transfer to the Black Prison”. The Black Prison is Western Sahara's Bastille. The site became infamous throughout Western Sahara during the years of war between Morocco and the Sahrawi independence movement, the Polisario Front. Scores of Moroccans and Sahrawi alike were tortured on an industrial scale in the secretive prison. Even though the war is effectively over, the Black Prison still exists. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Moroccan government to drop charges against Haissan. In a statement issued earlier this month, the CPJ stated Haissan was “charged with protesting illegally, obstructing traffic, and attacking police officers, according to news reports”. “[Haissan's] family said the journalist had been arrested in retaliation [to] his criticism of police abuse during the demonstrations, according to media reports posted on YouTube,” the CPJ stated. Following Haissan's arrest during the morning after the demonstration, activists reported that Moroccan police surrounded Haissan's house “to discourage his colleagues from expressing solidarity with him,” the CPJ stated. Unfortunately, Haissan's case isn't an isolated incident, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour told teleSUR. “Haissan's case is not unusual. As we mention in the alert, coverage of Western Sahara is one of the most sensitive issues in Morocco, according to CPJ research,” Mansour stated. Is Morocco Covering Up Human Rights Violations? Morocco has ruled most of Western Sahara with an iron fist since it invaded the territory in late 1975 – just months after the International Court of Justice advised that Western Sahara should be an independent state. Moroccan forces pushed the indigenous Polisario government into the territory's eastern fringe. The Polisario claims it has the support of most Sahrawi living under the Moroccan occupation, though Rabat denies this. A ceasefire has been in effect for over two decades, but the Sahrawi population living under the Moroccan occupation in the west of the territory regularly complains of repression and abuse. In May, Amnesty International warned that despite Moroccan pledges to stamp out human rights violations, security forces continue to commit abuses. In a report, Amnesty stated that “supporters of self-determination for Western Sahara” and other activists have reported “torture and other ill-treatment … particularly during pre-arraignment detention and interrogation following arrest by the police or gendarmerie”. Sahrawi activists have claimed Morocco is targeting journalists to cover up massive human rights abuses, and suppress independence advocates. In a recent letter to the United Nation's free speech rapporteur, the SCMC accused Moroccan forces of systematically targeting Sahrawi journalists responsible for the "exposure of the human rights violations committed by the Moroccan police against Sahrawi civilians".​ According to the CPJ, the current media blackout on Sahrawi protests dates back to 2004. The SCMC estimates that around 30 Sahrawi journalists have been “beaten and severely injured” by Moroccan security forces, and 13 have had equipment “confiscated or damaged” over the past four years. Scores of Sahrawi journalists have already been arrested this year, according to activists in El Aaiun. Four Sahrawi journalists – Sidi Sbai, Bouamoud Bachir, Jamour Mohamed and Tobali Hafed – were arrested in southern Morocco in February 11, according to the SCMC. “They were sentenced to four to six months in prison,” the SCMC spokesperson stated. These were small sentences compared to those handed down to Bachir Khadda and Hassan Dah. Khadda and Dah both worked for Equipe Media – the organization that secretly filmed Moroccan security forces moving in on the protest that led to Haissan's arrest. The two journalists have since been sentenced to 30 and 20 years. Haissan's fate is set to be decided in a Moroccan court next week. On the ground, activists are demanding an end to the curtain of silence hanging over the disputed territory. “Arbitrary arrests, intimidation, assaults against Sahrawi journalists by the Moroccan occupying authorities are attacks on freedom of expression and on freedom of the press,” SCMC warned.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Desert Storm: Why Canadian fertilizer firms’ phosphate from Western Sahara is causing controversy

Desert Storm: Why Canadian fertilizer firms’ phosphate from Western Sahara is causing controversy Republish Reprint Armina Ligaya | February 11, 2014 | Last Updated: Feb 11 1:25 PM ET More from Armina Ligaya | @arminaligaya On the streets of Laayoune, Western Sahara in May, a boy waves a flag representing the Polisario Front, a separatist group that opposes Morocco’s claim to the territory. Holding up a Polisario flag is an act banned in Western Sahara, the last remaining colony in Africa. Armina Ligaya/National PostOn the streets of Laayoune, Western Sahara in May, a boy waves a flag representing the Polisario Front, a separatist group that opposes Morocco’s claim to the territory. Holding up a Polisario flag is an act banned in Western Sahara, the last remaining colony in Africa. Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Email Comments More This article appears in the February 2014 edition of the Financial Post Magazine. Visit the iTunes store to download the iPad edition of this month’s issue. LAAYOUNE, WESTERN SAHARA • A lumbering four-storey-high dragline excavator rumbles and clanks as it digs its teeth into the gritty taupe layers of phosphate rock in the pit below. The machine swivels the excavator’s arm to the right, and hoists the dragline’s scoop, now spilling over, towards the sky. Its dusty haul is dumped on a growing pile in the mine, located in the heart of Western Sahara, a territory on the northwest coast of Africa. From here, the world’s longest conveyor belt transports the phosphate rock — prized for its phosphorus, a key ingredient in fertilizer — more than 100 kilometres across Western Sahara and offshore to a marine port in the Atlantic Ocean. This phosphate from this isolated region has a global footprint. Shipping vessels then load up with the rock and head to customers in many corners of the globe, including Canadian fertilizer companies PotashCorp of Saskatchewan Inc. and Agrium Inc. Exporting natural resources would be routine business in most places, but in Western Sahara — the last remaining colony in Africa — it is a political landmine, and some argue, against international law. The Phosboucraa mine — home to an estimated 1.1 billion cubic metres of phosphate rock — is front and centre in a bitter 30-plus-year battle between Morocco, which took control of Western Sahara in 1976, and the Saharawi people of this region. Much is at stake, financially as well as politically, given that Morocco and Western Sahara are home to 75% of the world’s phosphate reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s a battle little discussed on the other side of the world, even by investors looking to cash in on PotashCorp and Agrium’s steady profits in recent years (although both have hit a rough patch in recent months on falling fertilizer nutrient prices). Concerns over the legality of removing natural resources from the non-self-governing territory — via the Moroccan owned and operated mining company Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP) — has already pushed some investors in PotashCorp and Agrium to either divest their stakes, or press the companies to clarify their involvement. Most recently, four pension funds from Sweden last September announced they were divesting their holdings in PotashCorp over its involvement in the contested region. The international reach of Phosboucraa’s phosphate is a sore point for many Saharawis. Local groups say Morocco is slowly draining their lucrative natural resources, and that when — or if — their political situation is resolved, there may be little remaining for the people of Western Sahara. Among those with a rightful claim include thousands who were displaced by the decades-long conflict, and are now languishing in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania. “I always feel bitterness when I do the math, and see how much money is being plundered,” says Salmani Mohamed, a Saharawi man who lives in Laâyoune. He says his people face discrimination and unemployment, since just 30% of the employees at the Phosboucraa mine are from the territory. Many Moroccans have moved into Western Sahara, enticed by tax breaks and other incentives from the Moroccan government over the years, leaving Saharawis as a minority in their own land. Mohamed is part of a local group pushing for the protection of Western Sahara’s natural resources, and is calling on international firms to stop their involvement. “This is not right because this is disputed territory,” he says. “And, as long as these foreign companies are accomplices with Morocco plundering the natural resources, this is against the international law.” Related Agrium continues potash expansion, sees no change at Canpotex Potash Corp slashes 18% of its workforce because of weak demand Cultural barriers, perceptions keeping Canadians from exploring hot global markets Western Sahara is one of 17 remaining non-self governing territories worldwide, according to the United Nations. At 266,000 square kilometres — slightly smaller than New Zealand — it is the largest of these remaining territories, left behind after a decades-long global decolonization process that has seen 80 former colonies gain independence. Western Sahara, now with a population of more than 500,000, has been under Moroccan rule since 1976 after Spain, its previous colonial power, vacated the region. After a long and violent war ensued between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a separatist group that opposed Morocco’s claim to the territory, the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991. But not before thousands of Saharawis fled into nearby countries such as Algeria, where many still languish in refugee camps. The Algerian government currently estimates the number of refugees in its country at 165,000, but the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pegs the number closer to 90,000 across four camps and one settlement. A UN plan brokered in 1991 to hold a referendum to allow the people of Western Sahara to decide the fate of their land has been stymied by problems — such as identifying exactly who is Saharawi and eligible to vote after years of migration — and has yet to come to fruition. In late 2010, thousands of indigenous Saharawis organized a massive protest 12 kilometres east of Laâyoune to oppose the Moroccan authorities, gathering at a camp, called Gdeim Izik, says El Idrissi Mohamed Lamine, one of the protesters. The figures cited vary widely, ranging between a few thousand to as many as 38,000 people who set up in tents on the desert sand. The crackdown by the Moroccan authorities was swift, dismantling the camp and dispersing the crowd using light ammunition and arresting hundreds, Lamine says. Armina Ligaya/National Post Armina Ligaya/National PostProtesters flash the peace sign during a peaceful demonstration on the streets of Laayoune, Western Sahara, in May. This symbol signals their support for the Polisario Front, a separatist group opposing Morocco's claim to the territory. It was the first spark of unrest in the North Africa and Middle East region that would go on to be referred to as the Arab Spring (and, ultimately, one little talked about, and with little to no success.) Ongoing frustration in the region over the lack of progress spurred thousands of people to protest in recent months on the streets of Laâyoune. In May, thousands of men and women, of all ages, marched peacefully along the city’s main road, brandishing the red, white, green and black flags of the Polisario Front (an act banned in Morocco). They also chanted “Viva Polisario” and flashed peace signs to signal their support for the separatist group. The protests ended after nightfall, and after rocks were thrown and a car was smashed. Both the government and Saharawi protesters accused each other of violence. Beyond the protests, human rights groups say Saharawis have been the victims of forced disappearances, torture and abuse. Many Saharawis argue that foreign companies that continue doing business with Morocco in Western Sahara lend a legitimacy to their limbo, and leave little financial incentive for their occupiers to change the status quo. Neither PotashCorp nor Agrium would disclose annual figures or the specific amounts of phosphate rock they source from Western Sahara, and figures are hard to obtain. But PotashCorp said in an April statement that the amount it imports from the mine in Western Sahara represents 6% of the total phosphate processed company-wide. Armina Ligaya/National Post Armina Ligaya/National PostThe Moroccan flag flutters in the sun at the port in Laayoune, Western Sahara, on the northwest coast of Africa. From here, phosphate rock from the Phosboucraa mine is deposited onto tankers for export to countries around the world, including Canada. A Norwegian activist group says PotashCorp is the biggest recipient of the mine’s phosphate with an estimated 720,000 to 840,000 tonnes of phosphate rock per year delivered to its U.S. subsidiary in Geismar, La. At roughly US$108 per tonne in January, it represents a large amount of money and resources out of the hands of the indigenous population, says Erik Hagen, of Norway-based Western Sahara Resource Watch. “It’s kind of a paradox that in one of the world’s richest territories — rich on phosphates, rich on fish — you find at the same time unemployment, marginalization, refugees,” he says. Advertisement PotashCorp says it is mindful of the dispute between Morocco and parties claiming to represent the interests of the inhabitants of Western Sahara. “PotashCorp — and its U.S. subsidiary — has consistently adhered to applicable trade and customs laws regarding the importation of phosphate rock,” it said in a four-page statement issued in April. (The fertilizer company declined to comment further for this article.) “Neither the UN nor any other competent legal authority has concluded that the production and use of phosphate rock from Western Sahara is in violation of international law.” PotashCorp cites a UN legal opinion that concluded such activities would be illegal “only if conducted in disregard of the needs and interests of the people of that Territory.” Given the amount that OCP has invested in Western Sahara, in terms of employment, social services and infrastructure, its involvement is beneficial for the region, PotashCorp said. A team from the Saskatoon-based company visited Western Sahara in January 2013 to observe this first hand, it added. But Hagen argues that exports of natural resources, according to the UN, even if beneficial to the people of the territory, must also be done according to their wishes — and many continue to object. Agrium started importing phosphate rock from OCP, including from the Phosboucraa mine, last June, says Todd Coakwell, Agrium’s director of investor relations. Agrium, too, says its involvement in Western Sahara helps bring jobs and funds into the region. The phosphate rock is destined for Agrium’s Redwater facility in Alberta, which consumes one million tonnes of phosphate rock annually. This plant used to source phosphate rock from Agrium’s mine in Kapuskasing, Ont., but that mine has reached its end life, he says. “Agrium’s agreement with OCP does comply with the respective trade and custom laws of these jurisdictions,” Coakwell says. “And we certainly sought and received third-party legal advice under international Canadian and U.S. laws to make sure we are in compliance.” Armina Ligaya/National Post Armina Ligaya/National PostThe Phosboucraa mine — home to an estimated 1.1 billion cubic metres of phosphate rock — is front and centre in a bitter 30-plus-year battle between Morocco, which took control of Western Sahara in 1976, and the Saharawi people of this region. But some investors aren’t so sure. In September, four Swedish pension funds known as the AP funds announced they were divesting their holdings in PotashCorp and Australian fertilizer company Incitec Pivot Ltd. for “being purchasers of phosphate from a Moroccan supplier that mines its product in Western Sahara,” said the Ethical Council, which coordinates the funds’ work on environmental and ethical issues. The Ethical Council in a statement said it has engaged both fertilizer companies since 2010, aiming to persuade them to either stop the practice or prove that the extraction of phosphates complies with the interests and wishes of the local population. “The Ethical Council concludes that further dialogue with Potash and Incitec Pivot would be to no avail as neither company has indicated an intention to cease procurement of phosphate from Western Sahara in the near future or been able to demonstrate that the extractive process accords with the interests and wishes of the Western Saharan people,” it said. It’s kind of a paradox that in one of the world’s richest territories you find unemployment, marginalization, refugees Norway’s state pension fund — one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world with about US$818 billion in assets — blacklisted investment in PotashCorp over ethics concerns in 2011. Within the last year, Meritas SRI funds, a Canadian manager of socially responsible equitable funds, has been in dialogue with both Agrium and PotashCorp to clarify their involvement. Generally, though not all agree, the removal of resources from a non-self governing territory by an occupying power is considered contrary to international law, says Gary Hawton, president of Vancouver-based OceanRock Investments, which owns Meritas. “Given that Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara is not internationally recognized, but Potash[Corp] is sourcing the phosphate from OCP, which is a Moroccan state-owned enterprise, Potash[Corp] then could be seen complicit in being both offside international law and generally international human rights accords and agreements as well.” The intent of Meritas’ ongoing dialogue with both PotashCorp and Agrium is to assess whether they understand the full spectrum of the conflict and the potential pitfalls. “As an investor, we want to understand if they acknowledge the risk,” Hawton says. “We need to make sure that they know that at least one of their investors is raising a yellow or red flag on this issue.” Executives from OCP, which transformed into a private corporation in 2008 with Morocco owning a 97% stake, say they have heavily invested in the Phosboucraa mine with about US$2 billion in infrastructure and other projects. OCP also says it has made a concerted effort to provide jobs to local Saharawis and invest in social programs, including US$7.5 million in training programs between 2011 and 2013, and US$7 million in social, environmental and health projects between 2007 and 2011. “All the profits which the company is making remain here,” says Mohamed Belhoussain, marketing director of OCP. As well, between 2001 and 2011, 78% of the more than 1,000 people who were hired were from the region, OCP says. It adds that it has programs for locals to get the skills required to take on jobs at the mine and other facilities, but not everyone is qualified for the roles they need to fill. Armina Ligaya/National Post Armina Ligaya/National PostLaâyoune, the largest city of Western Sahara. “As a private company, we have to manage the operations properly,” says Maoulainine Maoulainine, the mine’s director, through a translator. “Our duty is merely to invest in the region, and contribute to its development. Obviously, there are people who may not be satisfied by the outcome… Sometimes there are just certain needs that cannot be satisfied, [due to] business economics.” Until just four years ago, the Phosboucraa mine was a losing operation, Belhoussain says. Infrastructure for the phosphate mine was costly, and the market price for phosphate was below US$50 until 2007, according to Index Mundi. But an upswing in phosphate prices in 2008 has put OCP in the black at Phosboucraa. By September 2008, the price skyrocketed to US$430 per tonne. In 2009, the price slipped back down to US$90, but climbed back up to US$165 in June 2013. It has since slipped to about US$108 per tonne. (Overall prices for phosphate and fertilizer nutrients potash and nitrogen have fallen steeply since the start of 2012.) Meanwhile, global demand for phosphate — key for crops to thrive, and to help feed the world’s growing population — is mounting. The world’s phosphate fertilizer demand increased 2.4% to 41.5 million tonnes in 2012 from 40.6 million tonnes in 2011, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It is expected to touch 45 million tonnes by 2016, amid worries of dwindling global supply. Morocco earned money from the company, from Canada, for goods on occupied land PotashCorp and Agrium both say they have no plans to stop sourcing from Western Sahara in the future. PotashCorp’s U.S. subsidiary requires “very high-quality phosphate rock” to meet the specifications required under a long-term agreement with a customer that produces food-grade phosphoric acid, it says. Other sources, including from its own mines in the U.S., are “not a viable option,” it says. “We recognize the issue is both politically-charged and complicated. Like many interested parties to the dispute, we are looking forward to a peaceful United Nations-sponsored resolution and are encouraged that they continue to work towards this outcome.” But Norwegian activist Hagen argues that their involvement hampers efforts to reach that goal. “In that difficult negotiation process, Morocco earned money from the company, from Canada, for goods on occupied land,” Hagen says. “Now, why would Morocco enter into any serious peace talks if they earn money from that territory?” Meanwhile, the Moroccan government is pushing ahead with economic plans for Western Sahara, which includes foreign direct investment and potentially exploring mining and offshore oil reserves, according to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, a Moroccan government advisory board. The council’s general secretary Driss Guerraoui says this is aimed at alleviating unemployment problems in Western Sahara, where the rate is between 15.8% and 17%, compared with 9% nationally. Development in the territory has historically been driven by government-led investment, and this model must be changed, he says. “We can’t continue to support public subsistence and finance this development, we need to create a big private sector in order to create more jobs.” Although Western Sahara’s political status is still in flux, Morocco cannot pause its plans for the region, Guerraoui says. “We are constructing the future and we know there will be a solution,” he told journalists in May. “It’s becoming very urgent, we cannot wait until we reach a resolution… we can’t wait, independent of the political question.” Armina Ligaya travelled to Western Sahara and Morocco with the support of the International Women’s Media Foundation.