Seizure of a cargo of phosphate rock destined for NZ
Media release – Communiqué
(For Immediate Release)
Seizure of a cargo of phosphate rock destined for New Zealand from occupied Western Sahara
Bir Lehlu, Western Sahara (4 May 2017). The government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (the SADR) and the Saharawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front, announced that they have secured through legal means in South Africa the interception and detention of a shipment of phosphate mineral rock exported from Western Sahara which had been destined for a New Zealand importer.
The cargo, at an estimated 54,000 tonnes and worth just over $5 million (US), is a commodity used in the manufacture of agricultural fertilizer. It had been loaded aboard the Marshall Islands flagged bulk carrier NM Cherry Blossom on the coast of occupied Western Sahara last month. Saharawi authorities initiated legal proceedings in South Africa when it became clear that the ship would call into Port Elizabeth to reprovision during a month-long journey. The ship remains at Port Elizabeth.
The Saharawi people and their representative organizations, including the democratically elected SADR government, have long protested the illegal mining and export of high quality phosphate rock from an area of Western Sahara which has been under armed occupation by Morocco since 1975. The trade has continued despite the commitment of the United Nations in 1991 to ensure for the people of Western Sahara a self-determination process, something otherwise achieved throughout Africa. A handful of companies worldwide remain involved in the trade, including two in New Zealand.
Emhamed Khadad, a member of the Polisario leadership remarked that “the mining and export of what is a non-renewable resource from a place under occupation where the UN has tried to pursue the peaceful assurance of a basic right to the Saharawi people is wrong on many levels. It is a violation of well-settled principles of international law. It is morally indefensible. And it’s bad business, in that the few companies involved face reputational risks, and – as we have seen in several European countries – investor withdrawal.”
Saharawi authorities have attempted to engage the companies involved, and did so in New Zealand along with the government because of that country’s historical support for self-determination in East Timor (Timor-Leste) and Western Sahara. In September 2015 and September 2016 position statements about Western Sahara, the Fertilizer Association of New Zealand – a representative agency of both New Zealand companies involved – claimed the purchasing of the phosphate rock had a legal basis. Despite this, the companies have never responded to Saharawi requests for dialogue, and would not disclose a purported legal opinion justifying the purchasing of the commodity.
Khadad went on to note: “This is a non-renewable resource, one which needs to stay in the ground until the Saharawi people are given what is the basic commitment of the international community to choose their future.”
The seizure of the cargo under court order comes after Saharawi authorities successfully concluded a case against the European Union for extending a free trade agreement with Morocco into Western Sahara. In that case, the Court of Justice of the European Union noted in its December 2016 decision that Morocco did not have governing competency or any territorial claim to Western Sahara. The territory, the Court found, is to be treated as a separate entity from Morocco and the consent of its people (the Saharawi people and not more recent settlers) required for development and export of resources.
“The interdiction of this shipment is a further use of peaceful means to apply the law, for a Saharawi people denied the most basic of rights in a nearly decolonized world, and who must endure a brutal occupation with widely documented human rights violations”, remarked Khadad. “We have tried to patiently engage with the companies involved, and with some we have prevailed. The New Zealand companies are responsible for a substantial share of the trade. It was right to pursue legal action to vindicate a clear legal right to this commodity, and important our people relied on a well-regarded justice system in an African country to do that.”
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