Saharawi Government condemns resumption of phosphate rock shipments to AB “Lifosa” in Lithuania

Bir Lehlu, Western Sahara, October 05, 2016 (SPS) - The Government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic condemned the resumption of phosphate rock shipments from occupied Western Sahara to Lithuania.  A cargo of 75,000 tonnes is due to be received by the Lithuanian fertilizer company AB “Lifosa” in Klaipeda later this week.

Western Sahara is routinely referred to as Africa’s last colony.  Abandoned by Spain in 1975, some two-thirds of its territory is under the armed control of Morocco, which has built a separation wall known as the “berm”, dividing the original Saharawi population into those under occupation and those residing in desert refugee camps.  The berm is the most heavily fortified infrastructure in the world, with an estimated five million land mines placed along its 2,400 kilometre length and 60,000 Moroccan soldiers stationed there.  Phosphate mineral rock is mined by state-owned Moroccan companies at Bu Craa in the occupied part of Western Sahara, and exported by sea to purchasers in developed countries. 

For several years AB “Lifosa” had been part of this trade.  It was the last European company to withdraw from it, doing so in 2015.  AB “Lifosa” is wholly owned by Eurochem Group AG.  In a February 2016 letter to the Brussels-based NGO Western Sahara Resource Watch, Eurochem noted that:

“Likely to be of particular interest to Western Sahara Resource Watch, we can inform you that … the Group does not intend to purchase phosphate rock from Western Sahara in 2016 or at any time over the foreseeable future.” 

(Letter of Andrey Ilyin, Chief Financial Officer, to Sara Eyckmans, Coordinator, Western Sahara Resource Watch, 12 February 2016)

In a letter to AB “Lifosa” and Eurochem, the SADR government observed that:

“As we have in the past, it is helpful to underscore the reasons why the Saharawi government protests the purchase of phosphate rock from Western Sahara.  The reasons have distinct moral, reputational and risk aspects.  The nature of a trade conducted by an occupying power with a judicially determined absence of any right, title or claim to the territory of Western Sahara is a starting point. The Saharawi people have, through their government and civil society organizations, asserted their rights to what is a sovereign resource, protesting its taking at every opportunity. 

Moreover, international law prohibits the removal of such resource from a territory under armed occupation and by which the facts are clear has been attempted to be annexed illegally by the Kingdom of Morocco.”

(Letter of Emhamed Khadad, Member of the Frente POLISARIO leadership

to Mr. Jonas Dastikas, Chief Executive Officer AB “Lifosa” 4 October 2016)       

Mr. Khadad explained that “the Moroccan government companies which purport to be able to sell phosphate rock from Western Sahara – OCP SA and Phosphates de Boucraa SA – have no right or title to the commodity.  The trade is illegal, whether viewed in terms of the law of pillage under the Fourth Geneva Convention or the right of the Saharawi people under UN General Assembly Resolution 1803 to permanent sovereignty over their resources.”

In its October 4 letter to AB “Lifosa”, the SADR government also explained the particular legal risk of European companies being involved in the export trade of Western Sahara’s phosphate rock, in light of the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union which quashed a 2012 decision of the European Council to extend the operation of a free trade agreement to Western Sahara:

“The Advocate-General’s opinion [issued on 13 September 2016 in the appeal of the case by the European Council] concludes what would be expected on a fundamental issue of international law: Morocco has no legal presence in Western Sahara when it comes to trade with the European Union.  Therefore, for the purchase and import to EU countries of goods and resources from occupied Western Sahara, there can be no effective or merchantable ownership that passes in them.”           

Mr. Khadad noted that September 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of the process for the Saharawi people to have the benefit of a United Nations-administered self-determination referendum.  “The export of Western Sahara’s resources by companies such as OCP SA is intended to deepen an illegal annexation.  It should be a real concern that, 25 years after a promised self-determination referendum to be administered by the United Nations, gave human rights abuses continue, abuses which are given some legitimacy by companies and countries that would trade in the resources of the territory for their own gain.”SPS