Western Sahara
UN considers Moroccan oil exploitation off Sahara illegal

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afrol News, 4 February - The UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) has confirmed that the Moroccan attempts to exploit the assumed oil resources off Western Sahara are contrary to international law. Morocco did not have sovereignty over the territory and neither was it on the UN list of administrative powers.

The legal office, department subordinated the UN Secretary-General's office, was appointed to investigate the legality of two technical reconnaissance agreements signed in Rabat between the Moroccan government and the US explorer Kerr-McGee and the French oil company Total-FinaElf. The two companies were to start prospecting for oil in Sahrawi waters. The Sahrawi government (POLISARIO) and international organisations however protested the Rabat agreements and had demanded the UN took a stance. 

The Under-Secretary General of the UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA), Hans Corell, on 29 January had briefed the Security Council on the matter, according to a release by POLISARIO. The UN has, however, not released this information. 

According to the UN office's conclusion, the Madrid Agreement of 1975 (where the Spanish colonial power backed out of Sahara) "did not transfer sovereignty over the territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administering Power, a status which Spain alone could not have unilaterally transferred." Only the UN could, at this stage of history, have transferred the "status of an administering Power," according to international law.

Hans Corell told the Security Council he considered that "the transfer of administrative authority over the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, did not affect the international status of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory." Referring to several resolutions approved by the UN General Assembly regarding the right of independence for colonial countries and peoples, Corell confirmed; "Morocco is not listed as the administering Power of the territory in the United Nations list of Non-Self- Governing Territories".

The Legal Office considered "the exploitation and plundering of the marine and other natural resources of colonial and Non-Self-Governing Territories by Foreign economic interests, in violation of the relevant resolution of the United Nations, is a threat to the integrity and prosperity of these territories."

Therefore, although the Moroccan occupying power could sign contracts with the foreign companies exclusively for exploration in Western Sahara, it remained clear that any "further exploration and exploitation activities would be in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories".

The POLISARIO welcomed the UN assessment, perceiving it as a needed affirmation of their claims to the Sahrawi territory. A POLISARIO statement noted the UN ruling had once again reaffirmed the Western Sahara issue was a decolonisation question; Morocco had "no sovereignty over Western Sahara;" Morocco was "not an Administering power, but an Occupying Power;" Morocco must "stop plundering the natural resources of Western Sahara;" and only the Sahrawi people were entitled to permanent sovereignty over the natural resources of Western Sahara.

POLISARIO representative Fadel Ismail noted is was now "the responsibility of UN and the international community to defend the political and economic rights and interests of the people of Western Sahara, as they did in comparable cases, such as Namibia and East Timor.".

Sources: Based on POLISARIO, Sahrawi media and afrol archives.


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