Saharawi delegates take part in the Extraordinary Congress of the Polisario Front (PF) at the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla. Picture: Farouk Batiche/AFP

The Western Sahara, also commonly referred to as the ‘Last Colony in Africa’, continues to be violated daily through the injustice taking place and being maintained by EU taxpayers, and the corporate involvement of multinationals who continue to trade and do business ‘illegally’ with Morocco on Sahrawi territory. These players are turning a blind eye to an occupation, and a people forgotten by the world. 

One of the most recent cases are New Zealand-based fertilizer companies that continue to trade with Morocco. They are importing the phosphate rock of Western Sahara, also dubbed ‘blood phosphates’ by the Saharawi people. The trade of this natural resource, as well as fisheries, continues to fuel and fund the illegal occupation and oppression of the Saharawi people. 

To date, more than 100 UN resolutions have called for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination to be respected. In the past 18 months, however, renewed efforts by the UN Special Envoy to Western Sahara to bring all stakeholders to the table in order to find common ground to finally resolve the conflict and occupation spanning more than forty years remain unsuccessful.

Why does Morocco maintain the occupation? The answer is simple: natural resources. The natural resources should have been used by the Saharawi people to build and develop their own economy, allowing them to take ownership of their own development and future. They should manage and have the right to trade, invest, harness and develop as they see fit.

In 2016 the European Union Court of Justice ruled that Morocco and Western Sahara are ‘separate and distinct’ territories, and that trade agreements with Morocco do not cover the territory of Western Sahara. Yet, over the past few years alone, Morocco has earned around US$200 million annually from the export of minerals from the territory. The exploitation of phosphates means that when the right to self-determination for the Saharawi people is realized there will be no more phosphate to mine, as Morocco will have already sold all of the high-quality phosphate.

According to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), "The Moroccan state earns massively from the mine it controls in the occupied territory. The maths is easy: multiply the volume exported by the international phosphate price. The value of exported phosphate has been stable at around US$200 million a year. This is in comparison to the value of annual humanitarian aid to the Saharawi Refugee Camps, which sits at approximately 30 million Euros."

The WSRW tracks all shipping traffic in the waters off Western Sahara on a daily basis, and routinely publishes reports on Moroccan exports from the occupied territory. For the year 2017, the total exported volume of this precious rock was estimated at around 1.6 million tonnes. 

Last month at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, I had the privilege to engage with Dr Mohamed Sidati, Minister for Europe of the Saharawi Arab Democratic

Republic. He stated that the benefits of EU trade do not extend to the more than 174,000 Saharawis exiled in refugee camps, and those living under occupation in their own land. He further reiterated, “Morocco has no right to negotiate agreements on behalf of the Saharawi people, just as Israel has no right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.” With control over its own phosphorus reserves and those of Western Sahara, the Moroccan government now controls an estimated 71% of global phosphate reserves.

We now wait to see whether New Zealand and those who continue to trade with an occupying power that is exploiting the inalienable rights of a forgotten people will do the right thing, or will they continue business as usual?

* Catherine Constantinides is a South African Human Rights Defender 

@ChangeAgentSA