“Why do you operate in Western Sahara without asking for permission?”: Khadja Bedati

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
dear Management Board and Supervisory Board,

my name is Khadja Bedati and I speak for the Saharawi Youth and Ethical Shareholders Germany.

I am here to express my concern that Continental continues to fail to respect the rights of the people of occupied Western Sahara and does not to seek consent to operate in our country.

On 10 January 2018, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice made it clear that Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, that international humanitarian law applies to Western Sahara and that the agreement between the EU and Morocco is invalid because it includes Western Sahara.

In order to preserve legal peace and security, should not all projects in areas where questions remain about the legal ownership of land and resources be stopped until they are resolved peacefully and democratically?

For these reasons, the German Government has made it clear that it does not support any economic activities of German enterprises in Western Sahara and that it does not secure any business through export credit and investment guarantees.

The responsible UN Special Representative and former Federal President Horst Köhler is sincerely endeavouring to resolve the conflict through dialogue. However, Germany disqualifies itself as a neutral mediator if companies in majority German ownership consolidate the status quo of the conflict.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
my country is located in Northwest Africa between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. “Sahara” means “desert” in Arabic, but our country offers more than drought and sand: waters rich in fish off the coast, oil, iron, gold and the world’s second largest phosphate deposit.

After the withdrawal of the Spanish colonial rulers in 1975, Western Sahara was occupied by its neighbour Morocco. Many Saharauis had to flee from the advancing army to Algeria. More than 160,000 people still live in refugee camps there today. They are completely dependent on humanitarian aid and suffer from a lack of future prospects and economic opportunities.

Morocco has separated the occupied from the liberated areas of Western Sahara with a mined sand wall, the “Wall”, monitored by army posts. With a length of 2700 km, this wall is 16 times longer than the Berlin Wall and one of the longest walls in the world. The Saharauis call it the “Wall of Shame”.

As early as 1991, the UN peacekeeping force MINURSO was commissioned to hold a referendum on the future status of Western Sahara. The referendum is still blocked by Morocco, France and other influential countries.

For 27 years now there has been neither war nor peace. The Saharauis are waiting for a peaceful solution, but they feel abandoned by the international community.

In an alliance with France, the Moroccan government has so far even succeeded in preventing MINURSO, like all other UN missions, from receiving a mandate to monitor the human rights situation.

Saharawi children, young people, women and elderly people are repeatedly maltreated in the occupied territories. Torture is on the agenda in the police stations and military barracks.

No country in the world has recognised the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara.

In December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union dealt with EU activities in Western Sahara. The ruling is clear: Western Sahara must be distinguished from Morocco and treated separately. It has been stated that Morocco has no right to conclude treaties with regard to Western Sahara without the agreement of Polisario, the recognised representative of the Saharawi people.

A subsidiary of the German manufacturer Continental AG, ContiTech, signed a five-year contract in 2015 for the maintenance of the conveyor belt with which Morocco transports phosphate rock from the Bou Craa mine in Western Sahara for export.

The mine is being mined by OCP, the Moroccan government’s state-owned phosphate company. The Saharawi representation contradicts this trade. The controversies over the controversial mining of raw materials have led to fewer and fewer customers buying the conflict mineral. 

The company has previously stated that it has supplied systems that allow “a throughput on the belt of 2000 metric tons per hour and a belt speed of over four meters per second”.

In earlier versions of the website, ContiTech stated that the Bou Craa phosphate mine was located in Morocco. In a letter to Western Sahara Resource Watch in 2017, the company admitted that it regretted this accidental mistake: You had assumed that Western Sahara was part of the Kingdom of Morocco.

According to Continental letters, the company first supplied a conveyor belt to the Bou Craa mine in 1971, during the Spanish colonial rule over Western Sahara by General Franco’s regime. After the Western Sahara had been militarily annexed by Morocco in 1975 and the Moroccan authorities had administered the mines in the occupied territory by the state-owned OCP SA, “Continental concluded a framework agreement with OCP SA to guarantee replacement deliveries (for the conveyor belt) if necessary”.

Despite Continental’s repeated commitment to “human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption principles”, the company refuses to comment on whether it agrees with the EU’s Advocate General that the Saharawi right to self-determination is a human right. If your company, which is so committed to human rights, were to agree with you, you would have to recognise that you too would make it impossible to guarantee this human right. If you really care about human rights, you should start to question your entrepreneurial activity and make changes.

That is why I ask you:

– Do you recognise the Saharawi right to self-determination, as does the European Court of Justice?

– If so, why do you operate in Western Sahara without respecting this right and asking for permission?

– Would you already be reviewing your activities in Western Sahara with regard to respect for human rights?

Thank you for your attention.

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