In his speech in El Aaiun on 7 November this year, glorifying the Moroccan presence in the parts of Western Sahara that it holds under military occupation since November 1975, king Mohammed VI announced major projects for the further 'development' of the 'southern provinces' - coincidentally, all projects that allow for easier and less-costly exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources.
The king mentioned energy projects, investment opportunities for Moroccans and foreigners, and improved transport infrastructure, including airports, railways and harbours, and a rail line from Tangiers in the north of Morocco, all the way to Lagouira in the south of Western Sahara, which, interestingly, is not controlled by Morocco.
The Moroccan official news agency MAP today reports that several agreements relating to the envisioned projects were signed in a ceremony presided by the Moroccan king. MAP mentions projects to restructure the phosphate sector, and promotion of agriculture and fisheries. Overall, Mohammed VI is said to plan to invest about 6.674 million US dollars in Western Sahara.
But Morocco is not in a position carry all of the envisioned proposals. Just days prior to Morocco's invasion in 1975, the International Court of Justice had ruled that Morocco's claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara was unfounded, and that the people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis, have a right to self-determination - the right to decide the future status of their homeland.
The United Nations to date consider Western Sahara as a Non-Self Governing Territory, or a territory that has yet to complete the process of decolonisation. While the UN has appointed an administering power to the other 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories in the world, Western Sahara is the exception to that rule. As such, the sovereign rights to the territory and its resources lie with its people; the Saharawis. This is echoed in a UN Legal Opinion os 2002, which concluded that any exploration or exploitation of Western Sahara's resources was in violation of international law if it did not take into account the wishes and the interests of the people of the territory.
The Moroccan king, obviously aware of the legal problems pertaining to Morocco's plunder of Western Sahara, stated that “I should like to stress, in this connection, that revenue from natural resources will continue to be invested in the region, for the benefit of the local populations and in consultation and coordination with them.”
Western Sahara's local population today consists largely of Moroccan settlers. From the point of view of international law, these are not the people who ought to be consulted. It's the Saharawis who ought to be heard and who have the right to consent or reject to any economic activity in Western Sahara.
However, the king takes issue with all who point out that Morocco's taking of Western Sahara's resources in unlawful.
“Morocco will also confront hostile campaigns against Moroccan products, building on the same spirit of sacrifice and commitment demonstrated in the political and security sectors to defend its unity and immutable values. As for those who want to boycott our products, in blatant violation of international law, let them do so. However, they will have to assume the responsibilities for their decisions” he stated in his speech.
'With the same resolve and steadfastness, Morocco will also face up to all attempts that seek to cast doubts on the legal status of the Moroccan Sahara or question our country's right to exercise its powers and prerogatives fully on its land, in the southern provinces, just as it does in the northern part of the country. This means we must all step up efforts and remain vigilant and fully mobilized to make our just cause better known, to shine a spotlight on the progress our country is making and to confront our enemies' schemes.'
The full text of king Mohamed VI of Morocco is available here.
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