The Bergen-owned shipping company Gearbulk is participating in the plunder of Western Sahara and is contributing to maintaining the occupation of “Africa's last colony”. Read op-ed in the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende, 29 June 2008,
by Marie Palm in the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, and Sidiahmed Salem of the Association of Sahrawis in Norway.
Op-ed in Bergens Tidende
29 June 2008
Original (in Norwegian): http://www.bt.no/meninger/kronikk/article590675.ece
On 30 June the Bergen-owned shipping company Gearbulk finished yet another phosphate transport. Whereas other Norwegian shipping companies have withdrawn, Gearbulk continues its phosphate fencing, at variance with the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The phosphate they transport belongs to a people who have lived under oppression or in exile for 32 years. Phosphate is the sought-after and very expensive mineral with which the Sahrawis could have built their future. But before they can attain their long-awaited independence, their country will probably have been looted of its most valuable resource.
Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975, and the majority of its population lives in refugee camps in Algeria. Gearbulk has participated in the unethical transports since 2002 and may have been involved in inflicting a loss of about NOK 125 million euros on the Sahrawis. The activity is contrary to international law and is strongly advised against by Norwegian authorities. The Kristian Gerhard Jebsen family in Bergen owns 60% of Gearbulk.
The ethical and political consequences of economic activity in Western Sahara are of great concern to Norwegian authorities. The Ministry of Finance and the Advisory Council on Ethics of the Government Pension Fund - Global issued a long statement in connection with oil exploration in Western Sahara in 2005: “Morocco has for a number of years occupied Western Sahara despite strong UN condemnation....The Council regarded this as a particularly serious violation of fundamental ethical norms e.g. because it may strengthen Moroccos sovereignty claims and thus contribute to undermining the UN peace process”. Whereas the Ethical Council condemned exploration for oil, the extraction and transportation of phosphate have been going on since 1975. This plunder has therefore, of course, the same negative effect that the Ethical Council condemns.
On 12 September 2007, the same day that the previous Gearbulk ship docked in New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an even clearer statement: Norway sees it as important to refrain from actions that can be seen as a legitimization of the situation in Western Sahara. In order to prevent trade, investments, resource exploitation and other forms of business that are not in accordance with the local populations interests and accordingly can be in violation of international law, the Norwegian authorities advises against such activities.
An Important Point
Nevertheless, Gearbulk has continued its transportation. Since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs normally does not contact companies directly to inform them about the advice, parliamentarians have had to play that part. On 20 June, 29 parliamentarians from Norway, New Zealand and Great Britain sent an appeal to Gearbulks Bergen-based chairman of the board. "The Gearbulk phosphate shipment is in the interest of Morocco, an illegal occupier, and clearly lends legitimacy to the illegal Moroccan occupation of the territory. This kind of support makes Morocco less inclined to contribute in finding a solution to the occupation, and makes delaying tactics and attempting to profit from the existing situation more attractive", says the appeal signed by Members of Parliament from the Norwegian Labour Party, the Centre Party, the Socialist Left Party, and the Liberal Party.
This is an important point. So long as Morocco makes money by occupying its neighbour, the occupation of Western Sahara will continue, together with the breaches of the Sahrawis' rights. Consequently, north-western Africa remains an unstable corner of the world, right on the threshold to Europe.
“Worse Than Darfur”
As a result of the clear appeals, several Norwegian shipping companies have terminated their activities in Western Sahara during the past 6 months. Another Bergen shipping company, R-Bulk, apologised for its participation in May and said that it would never carry out such transports again. But Gearbulk insists on continuing. The company's chairman, Kristian Jebsen, told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that "there are others who buy and sell phosphate. We just transport it."
Approximately 200,000 Sahrawis are refugees as a result of the occupation. According to Norwegian Church Aid, 19% of the children in the Sahrawi refugee camps suffer from malnutrition. The situation is worse than in Darfur, where 16% of the children are malnourished. The refugees are dependent on international aid to survive.
During the last few years, however, the economic support to the refugees has decreased, and the UN is imploring the international community for increased aid. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs donates around 300.000 euros in support to the refugee camps yearly. This is only "a drop in the ocean" when considering that companies like Gearbulk inflict economic losses of hundreds of millions of euros on the Sahrawis by plundering the countrys natural resources.
No state recognises Morocco's claim to Western Sahara. The International Court of Justice in The Hague rejected Moroccos claim in 1975, but this did not prevent Morocco from invading its neighbour. The Court confirmed what the UN has said since 1960: Western Sahara's future is to be decided by its local population. More than 100 UN resolutions have confirmed this. A large judicial review by the UN in 2002 also concluded that the occupied people's right of disposal of the countrys natural resources is constant and can not be transferred to the occupier.
So long as Gearbulk transports phosphate from Western Sahara without consulting the Sahrawi population, it contributes to breaches of international law and provides the occupier with extremely important support.
Stoned by the Police
Sahrawis living in the occupied areas are today exposed to grave breaches of human rights. "There is enormous pressure on human rights activists in Western Sahara. They are exposed to surveillance, constant arrests, harassment, and people lose their jobs merely for having received foreigners", Arne Lynngård, the leader of the Rafto Foundation, told Bergens Tidende recently.
The Sahrawi Sidi Mohammed Daddach was awarded the Rafto Prize in 2002 for his work for the Sahrawis' right to independence. He was in a Moroccan prison for more than 24 years and is one of the "lucky" prisoners of conscience who were released as a result of international pressure. On Tuesday, 17 June 2008, Bergens Tidende reported that he had been stoned and knocked unconscious by Moroccan security police.
Answer to the Appeals
It is as a result of companies like Gearbulk that Sahrawi refugees can not return to their country. If Gearbulk wants to be regarded as a socially responsible company, it must immediately answer the appeals from the Sahrawis and the Norwegian authorities. It must stop transporting phosphate from illegally occupied Western Sahara and apologise to the Sahrawi people for its unethical transport.
Translated to English by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
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