Fortescue urged not to exploit Western Sahara

May 31, 2024
Sahrawi people of Western Sahara celebrate the EU's decision to uphold their right to consent on resource extraction. Photo: Kamal Fadel/X

Polisario Front’s Australian representative Kamal Fadel has urged Fortescue not to undermine United Nations decolonisation efforts by making a deal with the occupation government in Western Sahara.

Fadel said on May 29 the people of Western Sahara are concerned that Fortescue’s boss Andrew Forrest, who is visiting Morocco, will help the illegal occupiers.

He appealed to Forrest to consider the plight of the Western Saharan people, who have endured occupation and exile over more than 50 years.

“We hope Fotescue will stay clear of the illegally occupied territory of Western Sahara and not get involved in the plunder of its resources.

“We don’t want Fortescue’s funds to be feeding the Moroccan army, which is persecuting and killing our people”.

The Sahrawi people of Western Sahara fear that Fortescue’s involvement with the Moroccan regime would not only provide it with funds to continue waging its war of occupation in Western Sahara, it would embolden it to defy United Nations efforts to finalise the decolonisation process.

Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1976 and is known as Africa’s last colony. It is recognised by the UN as a non-self-governing territory.

Despite a 1975 International Court of Justice ruling denying Morocco sovereignty, the occupation continues, driven by the territory’s rich reserves in phosphates and potential oil reserves.

A UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991 collapsed in 2020. Widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, torture and restricted freedom of expression, have been reported across the occupied regions. Activists and journalists also face severe repression.

International bodies, including the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision in March, insist that corporations need to obtain the Sahrawi people’s consent before proceeding with resource exploitation.

The United Nations has also emphasised that companies need to obtain the Sahrawi people’s consent before proceeding with resource exploitation, meaning that corporations have significant legal and ethical challenges ahead of them.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs even warns on its website: “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade notes that given the status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, there are international law considerations with importing natural resources sourced from Western Sahara. We recommend that companies seek legal advice before importing such material.”

[Ron Guy is a unionist and member of the Australian Western Sahara Association.]

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