NZ must stop imports from illegal occupier

New Zealand continues to import phosphate from illegally-occupied Western Sahara - a trade which is damaging our reputation and standing in the world, writes Kamal Fadel 

A ship named Amoy Dream carrying 55,000 tons of phosphate rock from Western Sahara arrived at Napier’s port this week and will shortly head south to deliver the rest of its cargo to Ravensdown factory in Dunedin on September 2.

Seventy percent of all New Zealand's phosphate comes from Western Sahara where an illegal occupation maintained by Morocco has been in place since 1975. It has, since then, been a shameful blot on the landscape of global justice and human rights.

Legal opinion is mounting that Morocco’s exploitation of Sahrawi resources, and the subsequent import of those resources, is illegal.

The Kingdom of Morocco has cadged and manoeuvred nimbly since a United Nations brokered ceasefire in 1991, to ensure that the awful status quo remains unchanged.

UN resolutions come and go, confirming the right of Saharwis to self-determination and countless official admonitions emerge and fade away like mirages in the harsh Sahara sun.

More then 80 countries recognise Western Sahara as an independent entity and it is a member of the African Union while no country recognises Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

Morocco’s deft lobbying has ensured Western Sahara remains mired in economic backwardness, and has ensured its people are continually, and often violently, deprived of their basic liberties and freedoms. Over 173,000 Sahrawis refugees remain stranded in the desert, victims of Morocco’s strong-arm tactics. Many haven’t been able to go home for about four decades.

Despite it all, the world, it seems, has learnt how to ignore Western Sahara. But not the super-phosphate industry. It has been busy pumping funds straight into the pockets of the fabulously wealthy Moroccan royal family and depriving impoverished Sahrawis of their rightful return on resources extracted from beneath their very feet.

Increased demand for fertilisers in an era of increased concerns about food security and with raising yields combined with no new capacity has ensured Western Saharan phosphate trades at a premium on the world stage. Phosphate is thus a major trade asset for Morocco and represents a form of theft from the Sahrawi, many of whom languish in refugee camps on the Algerian border while the rest live in poverty in the occupied areas.

New Zealand companies argue that their imports of phosphate rock to New Zealand are in full compliance with international law, including UN provisions for trade with non-self-governing territories. This is utterly wrong.

In 2002, the United Nations senior legal officer, Hans Corell, determined that the exploitation of Western Sahara natural resources in disregard of the interests of the people of Western Sahara would violate international legal principles related to Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) affirmed on three occasions (December 2016, February and July 2018) that Morocco has no sovereignty over Western Sahara and its maritime space.

In May 2017, the Saharawi authorities successfully applied to the South Africa High Court to detain a vessel carrying a cargo of phosphates en route to New Zealand. The court subsequently ruled that the Saharawi authorities (and people) were the rightful owners of the cargo and that Morocco was not entitled to trade in Western Sahara resources.

Another argument that is often advanced by New Zealand companies is that the local Moroccan company Phosbucraa is helping the local population with employment and investment. This is not true because despite the substantial income received from Western Sahara natural resources the overwhelming majority of Saharawis still live in dire poverty.

Phosbucraa is a Moroccan state-owned company and all the revenue earned by it is paid into the Moroccan treasury and is used at the regime’s discretion. The Moroccan phosphate mining and processing industry is captive to the Moroccan absolute monarch and his generals who benefit not the local Saharawi population.

After 44 years of occupation, Western Sahara still has no single university and Morocco has not built an adequate hospital in the Territory. All the infrastructure in Western Sahara is geared towards the exploitation of natural resources.

New Zealand has time and again expressed support to the UN peace process in Western Sahara including the holding of a genuine act of self-determination by the Saharawi people.

Yet, this is in contradiction with allowing New Zealand companies to trade directly with an illegal occupier in direct contravention of basic international law and convention in trading with an illegally occupied region under a UN self-determination mandate.

In Australia, Canada, US and Scandinavia, companies have already bailed on the sector, dumping shares in companies involved in the illegal trade. Shareholders in New Zealand might wonder about facing the same fate.

Ravensdown and Ballance should actively consider alternative sources and invest in equipment that enable them to broaden their supply options with a view to ending the illegal importation from Western Sahara. This is possible and not expensive but requires goodwill and leadership from the company’s management.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern displayed extraordinary leadership and courage during the Christchurch massacre. We are hopeful that the Prime Minister will show the same resolve to stop the illegal phosphate trade which is damaging New Zealand’s good reputation and standing in the world.

Many New Zealanders are not be aware of the nefarious trade in super-phosphate. All New Zealanders - shareholders, voters and consumers - have a role to play in ensuring that the illegal trade is ended, and New Zealand's good reputation is restored.

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