Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Seizure of a cargo of phosphate rock destined for Australia from occupied Western Sahara

Media release – Communiqué
(For Immediate Release) 
Seizure of a cargo of phosphate rock destined for Australia
from occupied Western Sahara
Sydney, Australia and Bir Lehlu, Western Sahara – 2 May 2017.  The Frente Polisario and the government of the Saharawi Republic (the SADR) announced today that they have intercepted and detained a shipment of phosphate mineral rock recently exported from Western Sahara for the Melbourne-based Australian company, Incitec Pivot Limited (IPL). 
The cargo, at an estimated 50,000 tonnes of the commodity and used in the manufacturing of agricultural fertilizer, had been loaded aboard the Marshall Islands registered bulk carrier NM Cherry Blossom in 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 before continuing a month-long journey to Australia.  A court order resulted in the detention of the cargo aboard the ship on Monday this week.  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 that part of Western Sahara under armed occupation since 1975 by Morocco.  The trade has continued despite the commitment of the United Nations in 1991 to oversee a self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara, a place often called Africa’s last colony.  A handful of companies worldwide remain involved in the trade, although recent years have seen two Australian fertilizer manufacturers withdraw from it.  IPL remains Australia’s only importer, in 2016 bringing an estimated 105,000 tonnes into Geelong and Portland with a value of $15 million AUD.  
Kamal Fadel, the Saharawi representative for Australia and New Zealand, and member of the executive of the SADR Petroleum and Mining Authority stated: “The mining and export of what is a non-renewable resource from a place under armed 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 a war crime.   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 had attempted to engage IPL in recent years, warning of legal and business risks.  In a recent letter, the company claimed that a 2002 UN legal opinion, prepared for the UN Security Council by the UN’s then senior lawyer, Hans Corell, provided justification for the continuing trade.  This reasoning is wrong and overlooks the application of international humanitarian law as found in treaties such as the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which makes an unconsented taking of resources from a place under armed occupation a war crime.  And it sidesteps the need to respect a United Nations directed decolonization process, as in East Timor in 1999.   
Fadel added that: “This is a non-renewable resource, one which needs to stay in the ground until the Saharawi people are allowed the basic commitment of the international community to choose their future.  We usually call for natural resources removed from our sovereign territory to be returned, and our government is examining how this can be effectively done.”      
The seizure of the cargo under court order comes only months after Saharawi authorities successfully concluded a case against the European Union for extending a free trade agreement with Morocco into Western Sahara.  In the case, for which the Court of Justice of the European Union issued its appeal decision in December, the Court noted that Morocco did not have governing competency or any territorial claim to Western Sahara.  The territory, the Court concluded, 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 Fadel.  
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For additional information and media contact:
Kamal Fadel
Tel: 0416335197



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