Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Where can I read about Western Sahara?

Despite a lack of coverage in mainstream media, the occupation of Western Sahara is still being represented elsewhere, particularly on social media. Here is a quick guide on staying up-to-date on Western Sahara.

I have been thrilled to be able to learn more about the Sahrawi struggle through the people themselves, rather than from biased, under researched articles.


Sand Blast Arts, for example, a human rights and arts charity who work with the Sahrawis to enable them to tell their own story through the arts, have a wonderful Facebook page. The site promotes musicians and artists from Sahrawi descent, giving a platform to be heard from and allowing a broad spectrum of communication. I suggest looking on their page to find out about music nights all over the world and protests which you can attend.

Sahrawi Voice, which started as a blog from the Sahrawi refugee camps, now also has its own Facebook page. This page has a little more of a political feel, posting links to a range of articles covering topics such as phosphate exploitation, and media corruption. The blog and Facebook page both give an interesting and previously unheard perspective of the Saharwi youth, including videos and articles written and made by young people inside the camp. 

For updates on international political event effecting the region, I would visit the blog 'Western Sahara Update' which offers a master list of informative articles as well as offering email updates through their mailing list. 

Although this blog isn't updated often there are many ways to stay up to date on the Sahrawi struggle for freedom. If you need more help sourcing articles please contact me, always happy to help.



sandblast-arts.blogspot.com
saharwivoice.com
facebook.com/saharawivoice
http://tinyurl.com/nm27fkt (Western Sahara Update Blog)
http://www.sahara-update.org/

Monday, 9 March 2015

Canadian agriculture companies - their role in supporting the illegal occupation of Western Sahara, and what we can do to prevent it.

In October of 2010 a Canadian company imported possibly the first conflict materials into the country since the South African Apartheid. Even though the phosphate rock bought is from the Bou Craa mines in Western Sahara, the money has ended up in the hands on the Moroccan government. As purchases of this nature become commonplace in the international community, serious questions are raised concerning their legality and the impact they are having on progress to the region.

October 2010. A shipment of Phosphate arrived on the shore of North Vancouver.  The new owner of this shipment is Calgary based agricultural business ‘Agrium’, who have entered into an agreement with Morocco to buy 1 million tonnes a year until 2020, a deal worth over $100 million.

Mike Watson, president and CEO of Agrium, said:

“We believe this agreement signifies the start of a significant partnership between Agrium and Morocco, offering clear benefits to both parties”

Agrium confirmed to Canadian newspaper  ‘The Tyee’ that the resources were sourced in Western Sahara.

Western Sahara had been occupied by Morocco since 1975, when Spain, its former colonizer, rather than granting the state freedom, cut a deal with Morocco in return for resources. The International Court of Justice immediately condemned the takeover and the UN general assembly has declared Morocco’s ongoing presence an illegal occupation. No state in the world recognizes Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara. 


A map showing the occupied areas of Western Sahara.
Most resources lie in the green and are controlled by Morocco.

During the 1975/76 occupation over half of the Sahrawi population - around 150,000 people - were forced into refugee camps in Algeria, where they still remain 38 years later, separated from their homeland, friends and family by a 2,700 km wall, and the longest strip of landmines in the world. The displaced Sahrawis are now living in one of the most inhospitable places on the earth, completely reliant on foreign aid, with no safe drinking water, largely unable to grow food in the 50-degree desert.

Meanwhile the Moroccan government has been extracting resources from the resource-rich Western Sahara, of which the Sahrawi people see none of the profits.

The Sahrawi Government in exile (SADR) has written a letter to Agrium, saying:

“The Saharawi people emphatically do not consent the development and export of their natural resources from the occupied part of their territory. We do not have the benefit of those resources, the revenues from which go to sustain the occupation.

What is the legality of this practice?

So why are countries still permitted to buy ‘stolen’ resources from an illegally occupying government? Well, actually they’re not. A recent legal opinion from the New York City Bar Association to the UN found:

“….to the extent Morocco is using natural resources located within the territory of Western Sahara, unless such use is in consultation with and to the direct benefit of the people of Western Sahara, Morocco's use of the natural resources of the territory constitutes a violation of international law."

Agrium issued a response to SADR, defending their transaction. They said:

"On issues related to disputed territorial claims, Agrium looks to guidance from the Canadian and US governments before entering into any agreement which may be related to the territory. Agrium's agreement with Morocco complies with the respective trade and customs laws of these jurisdictions."

Furthermore, they claimed that:

"Agrium is committed to improving the quality of life in the communities where we do business, and we believe that our agreement will support the improvement of economic, environmental and social conditions in these communities."

Agrium’s statement is contradictory to both national and international law. The UN have stated that resource extraction from the area is illegal, unless the trade benefits the Sahrawis - which it doesn’t.  Additionally, the U.S have excluded Western Sahara from their free trade agreement, and Canada are currently in talks deciding whether or not to do the same, but as yet no decision had been made. 

The transaction they have made is illegal but the law, in this case, is not being enforced by national or international bodies.

Legitimising and extending the conflict?

Not only is Agrium’s statement contradictory to the UN law on resource extraction, but it also fails to see the full perspective of the impact that the deal will have for, in their words, “economic, environmental and social conditions in these communities”.

The deal has raised concerns that an injection of money such as this will only serve to prolong the conflict and encourage the occupation. Since 1991 the UN mission for resolution MINURSO has been trying to find a resolution to the conflict. However, even with an annual budget of $60million, the progress is painfully slow, and the UN has come under harsh criticism for being the only peacekeeping effort in 35 years to not have on the ground human rights monitoring, despite numerous reports of widespread abuse. Unfortunately, it has become evident that this is largely due to international powers purposefully blocking human rights monitoring in order to continue their trade relations with Morocco. In 2010, France used the threat of its veto power to block the establishment of human rights monitoring by the MINURSO in Western Sahara. France has been a major backer of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan and in the EU negotiated the concession of the advanced status to Morocco. Online newspaper 'Pravada' said:

"France has actively worked to protect Morocco from any international scrutiny of their serious and repeated human rights abuses in the occupied territory of Western Sahara."

It is often claimed that Morocco’s key interest in occupying Western Sahara is to enable them to have free resource extraction of the area (not only is the region the supplier of two thirds of the Worlds phosphate, making up a quarter of the countries exports, but it also has fish rich waters and plenty of oil). If this is the case then the continuation of resource trade will only serve to encourage Morocco that their occupation is economically beneficial. The SADR added in their earlier letter to Agrium that:

"The continuing, illegal occupation of Western Sahara is legitimized by individuals and corporations who deal with Morocco for the natural resources of the territory. The conflict over Western Sahara is prolonged, and the Saharawi people denied their economic future, by such engagement.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars in resources are extracted and sold from Western Sahara every year, and Agrium are just the latest in a long line of trades made against the will of the Sahrawi people. Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) estimates almost $300 million in phosphate has been exported from Western Sahara in 44 shiploads last year alone.  Many countries in the world partake in the illegal buying of resources from the area, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia. 


Agrium, a Canadian company, are partaking in illegal mineral trade.


However, some countries are choosing to take a stand against the illegal buying of conflict minerals. In 2010 The Swedish Government Pension fund – the repository for $700billion of the countries wealth - announced that it would be ending relations with companies that invested in mineral from Western Sahara because they considered such imports “grossly unethical”. The move followed a similar decision by Norwegian State Pension Fund earlier that year. The Swedish funds issued a statement, saying:

"This is not only due the fact that the local population is not receiving the benefits; the current manner of exploitation is also contributing to maintaining an unresolved situation and consequently, Morocco's presence in a territory over which it does not have rightful sovereignty. In the view of the Council, there is a concrete, mutually beneficial relationship between Morocco's violations of norms and the companies purchasing phosphate from Western Sahara."

This ‘mutually beneficial relationship’ that was also spoken of by the President of Agrium, certainly seems to be a prevalent theme. It is unquestionable that both Morocco -who are gaining free resources - and the buying party – who are gaining discounted minerals – are both benefiting. But there is, of course, a third party that is not benefiting, and these are the Sahrawi people.

Despite the legal and moral drawbacks of the Western Sahara mineral trade, there remains a genuine difficulty in persuading companies to withdraw.  As long as international law is not enforced and there is no expression of clear guidelines at the national level, it looks as if companies will continue to exploit this ‘mutually beneficial relationship’.

In a quote published last year in 'Think Africa Press', a representative from Western Sahara Resource Watch said:

“Responsible governments need to provide legal clarity by providing guidelines to all private companies that any exploration or exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources must respect international law. In failing to provide this clarity, governments will indirectly be allowing companies to violate the sovereign rights of Western Sahara's people to control their own resources."

So what can I do?

Although international law and national governments seem to be doing very little to curtail the practice of conflict trade, there are measures that we, the people, can take. Firstly, Canadians can stop buying mineral fertilizers for their garden. The fertilizers contain phosphate, and are most likely to be sourced in Western Sahara.

Secondly, check out www.wsrw.org where you can see the latest on illegal purchases leaving Western Sahara.

Additionally, you can write a letter to put pressure on the companies, governments and international powers that hold the ability to stop the practice of illegal conflict trade. For a list of addresses and letter outlines please visit http://tinyurl.com/n3fk3z2.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Where can I read about Western Sahara?

Despite a lack of coverage in mainstream media, the occupation of Western Sahara is still being represented elsewhere, particularly on social media. Here is a quick guide on staying up-to-date on Western Sahara.

I have been thrilled to be able to learn more about the Sahrawi struggle through the people themselves, rather than from biased, under researched articles.


Sand Blast Arts, for example, a human rights and arts charity who work with the Sahrawis to enable them to tell their own story through the arts, have a wonderful Facebook page. The site promotes musicians and artists from Sahrawi descent, giving a platform to be heard from and allowing a broad spectrum of communication. I suggest looking on their page to find out about music nights all over the world and protests which you can attend.

Sahrawi Voice, which started as a blog from the Sahrawi refugee camps, now also has its own Facebook page. This page has a little more of a political feel, posting links to a range of articles covering topics such as phosphate exploitation, and media corruption. The blog and Facebook page both give an interesting and previously unheard perspective of the Saharwi youth, including videos and articles written and made by young people inside the camp. 

For updates on international political event effecting the region, I would visit the blog 'Western Sahara Update' which offers a master list of informative articles as well as offering email updates through their mailing list. 

Although this blog isn't updated often there are many ways to stay up to date on the Sahrawi struggle for freedom. If you need more help sourcing articles please contact me holly_tarn@hotmail.com, always happy to help.



sandblast-arts.blogspot.com
saharwivoice.com
facebook.com/saharawivoice
http://tinyurl.com/nm27fkt (Western Sahara Update Blog)
http://www.sahara-update.org/


Thursday, 6 November 2014

The trouble with reporting a 'forgotten' state

Why don't we hear about Western Sahara in the media?
  

When I talk about Western Sahara, most people do not know where it is. In fact, most people do not know it’s a country. That’s because it is all but disappeared from the eyes of the international media.



The obvious solution to gaining publicity is for more pe
ople to start writing about it. Then more people would read about it, and then perhaps the international community might embark on some productive action towards granting the state the independence which it has been wrongfully denied for so many years.



But starting to write about it is not as easy as it may seem.



For starters, because most people don’t know about Western Sahara it’s hard to grab people's attention with a story. Many people already have a base knowledge of troubles in Iraq, or Israel, for example, because it is reported so widely in the western media. When a story about one of these countries is printed you are immediately drawn to it because it is familiar. This has a cyclical effect. The more people read stories about the more well known issues, the more the media prints them. The media creates a narrative, allowing the reader to become engrossed in the story line. It sells newspapers.



But Western Sahara is somewhat less commercially appealing. Because people have little knowledge of the background of the political situation, for an article to be contextualised it has to contain swathes of history, which puts readers off. Newspapers are less likely to buy stories that aren't snappy. 



But there are other, more sinister, barricades to the Western Sahara's publicity in the international media. Western Sahara has fallen victim to propaganda on many levels.
 
The most obvious of these propagandist forces is the Moroccan government who implement direct censorship to any coverage which they deem as critical to their government operation, including their occupation of Western Sahara. Reporters Without Borders – an international press freedom watchdog – claimed in their 2001 report:
 



“During the year no fewer than 9 newspapers, seven of them foreign, were censored for addressing topics such as the Western Sahara, corruption, and especially the King in person."


 Although the 2009 report detailed that there has been a slight rise in “broadcast liberalization”, the Moroccan government are still arresting people for “dissent with national interest”. This prevents national and foreign journalists reporting objectively on issues relating to Western Sahara without fear of imprisonment, having an obvious negative impact on the quality of news we receive from Morocco.

 

The Moroccan government are not the only ones trying to prevent the export of information from Western Sahara. The Polisario Front – who represent the Saharawi People in opposition to the Moroccan occupation – are not transparent about their operations either.


The majority of cover-ups that emerge from the Polisario are in relation to the refugee camps in Tindouf province, Algeria. The camps – which are home to some 100,000 displaced people – have been accused of human rights abuses, including torture of Moroccan prisoners of war and have recently faced accusations in regard to the operation of widespread slavery.



Because the Polisario are keen to project themselves as a capable ruling force, they are not always open about the intimacies of the camps. Although it is understandable that they want to portray a united front in opposition to Moroccan power, it is a huge hindrance to the ability to source accurate information, and produce accurate news from the region.



Several other forces also have an impact on the objectivity of news emerging from Western Sahara.



Firstly, Algeria has an interest in preventing the spread of the Moroccan ‘empire’. As a neighbor of both Morocco and Western Sahara, Algeria has always sided with the Polisario. Because of this, news from Algeria tends to have a subjective slant towards Western Sahara. 


Secondly, the tight-knit political relationship between Morocco and the superpowers of USA, France, and to a lesser extent Spain, greatly impacts the objectivity of the news-media. These countries have demonstrated their incompetence at supporting international law by supporting a referendum on freedom in Western Sahara, and instead chosen to support their politically ally in the Middle-East. The sheer amount of corrupt air that exists between the news media and government policy in these countries leads to a huge under-representation of stories where the narrative does not paint the government in a positive lights, just like in the case of Western Sahara. 


A lack of human rights monitoring on behalf of the UN is also a major barrier to objective reporting. A shortage of statistics and hard facts make it difficult for a journalist to add context to their stories. 



No-wonder the international media are reluctant to become engaged in a narrative with this country.



Never-the-less it is important that Western Sahara does not fall into the clutches of Moroccan power without giving the situation the publicity it is due. After all, the country is entitled by international law to a referendum on independence, and until that is granted, thousands of displaced people will continue to suffer, whether people read about it or not.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/readwave/africas-last-colony_b_4201749.html

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What's happening in Western Sahara?

The fact that there is so little representation of the occupation of Western Sahara leads to many of us never learning about it. So for those of you wondering here's a brief overview of what's happening in Western Sahara.
First, some history: In the mid 20th century states in Africa began to be granted independence from their colonial powers. Today, all African states are considered sovereign and face the long struggle to reinstate their position in the international hierarchy.
All but one.
Western Sahara is situated on the northwest coastline of Africa, bordering Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. Despite being mostly comprised of desert land and lacking sufficient rainfall for most agricultural activities, the country does have fish-rich waters and large amounts of phosphate. It also potentially possesses a large amount of oil.
Unlike most African states, which, upon withdrawal of their colonial powers were offered a referendum on independence, Western Sahara was immediately laid claim to by its neighboring countries of Morocco and Mauritania. Spain, its former colonizer, rather than handing independence to the Sahrawis cut a deal with Morocco and Mauritania by signing the "Madrid Agreement," in which Spain split the territory between the neighboring countries. In doing so, Spain both avoided a messy colonial war with their Moroccan neighbor, and gained access to the fish and phosphate in return for their favor.
In 1975 Morocco invaded and occupied Western Sahara.
A month earlier, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ruled that neither Morocco nor Mauritania had any legal claim to territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara. Morocco went ahead and occupied them anyway.
This was an illegal occupation.
The Moroccan occupation did not come without resistance from the Sahrawi people, who had developed a strong sense of nationalism in the 1960s, which gave birth to the Polisario Front, who are the sole representative of the Sahrawis. This Front had successfully rid itself of Spanish power through guerrilla warfare, and now faced the task of doing the same to its neighboring powers.
War between the Polisario Front and Morocco began soon after the 1975 invasion.
In 1979 Mauritania withdrew its right to Western Sahara and Morocco secured effective control of most of the territory.
There are an estimated 500,000 Sahrawi people, of which an estimated 100,000 have been forced into refugee camps in Algeria. They have been there for 38 years and are completely reliant on foreign aid. Morocco has built a 2,700-kilometer-long wall scattered with millions of landmines to prevent those in refugee camps from returning to their country. This is the longest strip of landmines in the world.
So why, now that Morocco has been illegally occupying this country for 38 years and considering that under UN law "freely expressed self-determination is an unalienable right," did the international powers not step in and demand a referendum on independence, akin to those that all other African states had been granted?
The answer is because other, more dominant world powers were at play. When Morocco first invaded Western Sahara, the Moroccan government had strong backing from Spain, France and the Reagan administration in the United States. All these countries saw Morocco as a key ally in the Middle East, and didn't want to disturb their relationship by giving support for a referendum on independence, even if it was backed by international law. The UN is weak to powers such as these, and often don't implement international law, if it contradicts an interest of a powerful country. This has been visible in the way the UN has failed to implement international law in the case of Western Sahara.
The UN has been attempting -- in the broadest sense of the term -- to find a solution to the question of sovereignty and self-determination since 1991. The worst failure of theirs is their refusal to implement human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, despite numerous amounts of reports of heinous abuse. Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said in their 2008 report on Western Sahara that:
"The government bans peaceful demonstrations and refuses legal recognition to human rights organizations; the security forces arbitrarily arrest demonstrators and suspected Sahrawi activists, beat them and subject them to torture, and force them to sign incriminating police statements, all with virtual impunity; and the courts convict and imprison them after unfair trials."
Many people have never heard of this conflict. It is hugely under-represented in the news media, both by a corrupt censored Moroccan media, and by an internationally corrupt media who are unwilling to publish stories outside of a familiar narrative and that pose super-powers in a negative light.
I believe the path to the freedom of the Sahrawi people is through telling more people the story. I will tell this story, the story of the people, over and over again. I hope that after reading this you will too.

For the original article please see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/readwave/africas-last-colony_b_4201749.html

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

New website launches: aims to remove the wall in Western Sahara

A first of its kind international campaign against the wall of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara has recently been launched.

The news of this new website is exciting for two reasons. First, it has been so thoughtfully and professionally put together in its news and resources that it leads me to think it could be a central, or the central web presence in the greater 'Free Sahara' movement. Secondly, the focus on removing the wall in Western Sahara could be just the right way to harbor international support and attention for the cause, as like so many walls have done historically, it represents the barrier of freedom and justice.

The website contains facts and information about the wall - which is the longest militarised wall in the world. It also has testimonials from landmine victims and forums for discussion. It contains links in several languages to a variety of well written resources and articles as well as maintaining a feed of current news events. I would redirect anyone that visits my website for current news to here, as I do not update regularly at the moment.

Please visit http://removethewall.org/ to learn more about this centralised campaign.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

British MP's urge the UN to implement human rights monitoring in Western Sahara

This February the British Parliament delegated two of its members and two other experts to visit Western Sahara to assess the human rights situation. The report, which has just recently been published, paints a bleak picture of systematic human rights abuse towards Saharawis, which leads to strong conclusions that human rights monitoring should be implemented in the region. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North and one of the delegates, said in the report: "The UN must immediately renew MINURSO and extend its mandate to monitor human rights throughout the territory."

The delegation, who met with both Sahrawi human rights supporters and pro-Moroccan civil society groups, additionally outlined the Moroccan use of stolen resources from the region as a major problem. John Hilary, Director of 'War on Want' and one of the delegates says: "Under international law Morocco has no right to trade away the resources of the Saharawi people."

Hilary also says that Morocco can only be described as a 'police state'. He says: "I was there recently with the first British parliamentary delegation to the occupied territory and everywhere we went we were closely shadowed by undercover agents. Wherever we were driven by our Saharawi hosts, we were tailed by Moroccan police."

The report also details first hand accounts of the delegates witnessing human rights abuses by the Moroccan forces towards Sahrawis partaking in a peaceful protest. 

To read the full report please visit http://tinyurl.com/o3pzrl6