Danish shipping company disregards ICJ ruling on Western Sahara

A ship from a Danish shipping company, D/S Norden, is involved in the transporting of phosphate from occupied Western Sahara – in violation of a International Court of Justice ruling.

The phosphates were loaded onto D/S Norden’s 623 foot ship, Northern Leader, in the port of El Aaiun, in the occupied territories of Western Sahara in November 2010. The phosphates were bound for New Zealand, where they arrived just before New Year’s Eve, and local company Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

The company has a long-term contract for the acquisition of phosphate from occupied Western Sahara. All extraction of phosphates in occupied Western Sahara is controlled by a Moroccan state-owned company.

Morocco has occupied Western Sahara illegally since 1975; an occupation which no state or international body recognizes as being legitimate. Morocco subsequently has no right to sell the natural resources of Western Sahara. The illegality of Morocco’s occupation has been reaffirmed by the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice in both reports and in over 100 resolutions.

D/S Norden’s shipping of phosphates from occupied Western Sahara therefore appears to be in breach of international law.

“D/S Norden’s transportation of phosphates from Western Sahara helps prolong the conflict in Western Sahara. The shipping company is directly responsible for Morocco continuing to make a healthy profit from its occupation of Western Sahara, and that Morocco is consequently not interested in finding an acceptable solution to the conflict. The continued violations of the fundamental human rights of the Saharawis are directly related to Morocco’s resource plundering. D/S Norden must immediately stop these unethical shipments,” says Danish NGO Africa Contact’s Morten Nielsen.

D/S Norden claims on their website that they act in a social and civically responsible manner by being part of the UN’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative (CSR). The company has also joined the UN’s Global Compact policy initiative, a set of guidelines that amongst other things requires participating companies to comply with international ethical and legal standards and law.

According to D/S Norden’s latest CSR Report 2009, it must therefore observe the following two principles: To “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights” and to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

On Monday January 3rd, Africa Contact and Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) sent a letter to D/S Norden’s financial director, Michael Tønnes Jørgensen, demanding an answer to how the company believed that the transport of natural resources from occupied Western Sahara is in accordance with international law and the CSR principles.

In an answer to this letter from January 7, Michael Tønnes Jørgensen claims that Nord Leader has been “chartered by another shipping company” between November 2010 and January 2011, “and Norden has thus had nothing to do with the transport from Laayoune in Western Sahara”. He also rejects that his company is in any way responsible for, or indeed has an independent opinion on, the situation in Western Sahara. “There are no sanctions or trade restrictions regarding Western Sahara,” he says, adding that “Norden does not have an independent foreign policy”.

Even though D/S Norden was possibly not directly responsible for the ship at the time the phosphor was transported from Western Sahara, something that is difficult to determine for those not involved in the matter, the shipping company clearly sees no problem in shipping plundered resources from Western Sahara even though doing so is clearly in breach of the legal opinion of the International Court of Justice (IJC) from 1975 and international law in general. The verdict of the ICJ clearly states that Morocco has no territorial claims to Western Sahara. According to international law, Morocco subsequently has no right to trade with or dispose of the resources of Western Sahara. And any countries or companies that transport these resources are in effect accomplices to an illegal plundering.

Michael Tønnes Jørgensen also says in the letter that D/S Norden has contacted the Danish Foreign Ministry after having received the letter from Africa Contact, “and they have confirmed that there are no legal restrictions in shipping from Western Sahara”. Perhaps Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lene Espersen, who in an letter to Africa Contact on December 15 2010 claimed to be “highly concerned” about the situation in Western Sahara, should use her concerns more constructively. Perhaps by demanding that international law must also be upheld by Danish shipping companies, perhaps by being more clear in her warning against trading with occupied Western Sahara. Danish foreign policy should after all not only be based on UN Security Council resolutions but also on the practical interpretation and implementation of human rights, international law in general and common decency.


Dansk skib sejler med stjålet fosfat, Arbejderen, 20 January 2011

International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Western Sahara

Summary of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Western Sahara

Hans Corell’s 2002 UN Opinion on Western Sahara’s natural resources

The European Parliament’s 2009 legal opinion on Western Sahara’s natural resources

2 Responses to Danish shipping company disregards ICJ ruling on Western Sahara

  1. Pingback: Denmark’s hypocritical stance on Western Sahara « Stiff Kitten's Blog – development & socio-political issues

  2. Pingback: Danish ship sails from occupied Western Sahara – with illegal cargo? « Stiff Kitten's Blog – development & socio-political issues

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