Denmark’s hypocritical stance on Western Sahara

Denmark has promised that exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources should not take place and that it will encourage its companies not to partake in it. So how do the recent cases of Danish ship companies transporting phosphate with the apparent blessing of the Danish Foreign Ministry and Danish diplomats allegedly praising development in the occupied territories of Western Sahara reflect on Denmark’s policies?

“It is very problematic, ethically, politically as well as legally, when commercial interests cooperate with Moroccan authorities in order to do business in the occupied territories of Western Sahara in disregard of the wishes and interests of the peoples of the territories. Especially given that Western Sahara is not a part of Morocco,” says Polisario’s representative in Denmark, Abba Malainin. “By claiming that the Western Sahara is part of its territory, Morocco ignores the 1975 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion, the UN Charter and numerous UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Resolutions, which have all stressed the current international status of the Western Sahara as a Non Self-Governing Territory and the right of the Saharawi people to a self-determination referendum.”

The Danish government claims that it upholds international law in its dealings with Morocco and Western Sahara. In a request from DanWatch in 2008, a journalistic Watchdog instigated by the Danish Consumer Council, for an official Danish position on trade linked to Western Sahara, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the following reply:

“Taking the principles of international law regarding non-renewable resources from Non-self Governing Territories [such as Western Sahara] as a point of reference, it is the opinion of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs that such exploitation should not take place, unless the profits of the exploitation can be said to be of the benefit of the local population. Denmark supports that the status for Western Sahara should be settled in a peaceful process under the auspices of the UN, and that until the time when a final status is found, actions should not take place that are in violation of the local populations’ interests relating to the resource basis of the territory. Even though the principles of international law and human rights are in general not directly binding for Danish companies, the Ministry will at all times encourage Danish companies to be aware of their international responsibility.”

Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Henrik Høegh, also promised recently that Denmark would not to renew the fisheries agreement with Morocco unless it can be documented that the population of Western Sahara benefit from it, and that countries that Denmark cooperate with must respect human rights. And Danish Foreign Minister, Lene Espersen, recently stated that she was “very concerned” about the situation in Western Sahara.

So why has the Deputy Manager and Councillor at Denmark’s Embassy to Rabat, Michael Bennett Jensen, allegedly praised the development in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and held talks with a royalist Moroccan party? And why has Michael Tønnes Jørgensen, financial director of Danish shipping company D/S Norden, claimed that the Danish Foreign Ministry “have confirmed that there are no legal restrictions in shipping from Western Sahara” in a letter to him? Either he is insincere or the ministry is being hypocritical.

But while the Danish governments position seems dubious to say the least, Danish companies also have a duty not to undermine international law and a sustainable solution to Western Sahara’s predicament, concludes Abba Malainin. “Danish Companies are contributing to the plunder and theft of the natural resource of Western Sahara.  Doing business in stolen goods is theft itself and they should know that by doing so they give funds to prolong the Moroccan illegal occupation to Western Sahara; support the occupiers in escalating their grave human rights violations, plunder the natural resources of the territory, add more suffering to the Saharawi refugees and undermines the UN finding a peaceful end to the conflict through the respect of the right of the Saharawi people to Self-determination.”

Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. As an occupying force, Morocco has no right to sell Western Sahara’s natural resources or violate the human rights of its citizens, but must instead work towards the self-determination of Western Sahara. The Charter of the United Nations (article 73) clearly states that those nations who are “responsible” for non-self-governing states such as Western Sahara must ensure “ensure … their just treatment, and their protection against abuses,” “take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples,” “promote constructive measures of development,” and “transmit regularly to the Secretary-General for information purposes,” none of which Morocco can be said to be doing presently. The International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara when they occupied the country in 1975, and the illegality of Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara has been maintained by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly in over 100 resolutions. Additionally, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell’s UN Opinion from 2002 concluded that the selling of Western Saharan resources was only legal if the population of Western Sahara agrees to and benefits from it, something a European Parliament Legal Opinion from 2009 concluded they do not. Corell recently reiterated this point, in an interview with Swedish radio, saying that he believed that the European Commission had misinterpreted his opinion. Corell also restated his argument from the Legal Opinion in saying that “if the agreement is not signed with the interest of the people of Western Sahara, or after consultation with them, and the benefits do not go to the people of the territory, then it would be in violation of international law. I am afraid we have this situation in this case now.”

Links:

Danish organisation criticizes government’s hypocritical stance on Western Sahara, Sahara Press Service, 26 January 2011

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