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Western Sahara: does Norway contribute to the occupation?

While the Sahrawi is fighting for independence in Western Sahara, the Oil Fund continues to have interests in the occupied areas. 


"No one can meet you in Marrakech. My friend agreed to meet you in secret, but withdrew because he was afraid of the consequences. ”The text message from my contact in the Moroccan capital Rabat ticks in during the first breakfast in a riad in Marrakech, not far from the well-known square of Djemaa El Fna, where tourists, sellers and visitors alike flock to each other. "He is afraid that the police are extra attentive to what happened to the Norwegian delegation," I read on the screen.
Djemaa El Fna Square is a magnet, both for foreign tourists and for locals. When darkness falls, they gather here, shoulder to shoulder on narrow benches. They eat and chatter in the scent of steaming mint tea mixed with us of tangine and couscous from the many food stalls that open as soon as it gets dark. The police are also stationed at Djemaa El Fna. This is where human rights activist Sultana Khayya, as one of several Sahrawi students at the University of Marrakech, is said to have been questioned and abused by the police – until she lost sight in one eye. This happened in 2007. In 2012, Ny Tid interviewed her when she visited Oslo to talk about the situation in Western Sahara.
The country has been occupied by Morocco for over 40 years, but little is heard about the situation in Norwegian media. Just before I left for Morocco in January, however, 68 Norwegians were stopped and deported from Western Sahara. All were participants in the campaign referendumnow – "referendum now" – for the purpose of getting a vote on independence for the country. Actually, a referendum was to be held after the ceasefire between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1991, but it never happened.
AUF politician Rikke With Bergseth, who was a member of the delegation, said that the visit had consequences not only for the Norwegians. “We were visiting two from Western Sahara studying in Marrakech. They invited us home to cook, but suddenly the landlord came in and started yelling. Shortly afterwards, they were told to find a new place to live, ”says Bergseth.
The American organization Freedom House ranks Western Sahara as one of the least politically free countries in the world, along with North Korea and Syria.

"Khalil" and "Mustafa" see themselves as Sahrawi ambassadors to Morocco. Mansour did not want to pose for the picture for fear of the consequences. PHOTO: New Time / CTH
"Khalil" and "Mustafa" see themselves as Sahrawi ambassadors to Morocco. Mansour did not want to pose for the picture for fear of the consequences. PHOTO: New Time / CTH

The forgotten conflict. Occupation of Western Sahara, which is the continent's oldest conflict, is reminiscent of the Israeli occupation of Palestine: settlements, the 2200-kilometer-long wall, and even parts of the flag have in common. Since the occupation in 1975, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Morocco has introduced tens of thousands of civilian settlers to the occupied territories. In the same year that the second intifada in the Middle East was considered to be over in 2005, an intifada in Western Sahara started. The situation is often referred to as "the forgotten conflict" and receives far less attention than the conflict between Israel and Palestine. A search of Retriever's media archive generates 10 hits on "Western Sahara", while the keyword "Palestine" gets 120 hits. According to the head of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara Erik Hagen, the commitment to Western Sahara is more clearly expressed in civil society than in the media.

Morocco dominates. When Spain withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, both Morocco and Mauritania claimed land. The two neighboring states joined in with their respective forces and occupied the territory. At the same time, the liberation movement declared Western Sahara Polisario independent and founded in February 1976 the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The international court in The Hague also rejected the claims for Mauritania and Morocco, and eventually Mauritania departed from the claim.
But Morocco would not give up and continued the occupation. A guerrilla war between Morocco and SADR ensued, which lasted from 1975 to 1991. Then a ceasefire was negotiated, and the two parties shared the area. The UN operation MINURSO was created to monitor the ceasefire and ensure the referendum – but so far the situation has stagnated. No referendum is held. As many as three quarters of the territory – the coast and the western areas – have since been controlled by Morocco, while SADR has partially controlled the remaining quarter, which consists of barren desert areas in the east. Today, MINURSO is the only UN operation that does not have the mandate to report human rights violations.

The role of Norway. Western Sahara has rich natural resources, and several international companies operate in and outside the occupied territories. However, Morocco has the economic control of the country, and the local population does not benefit from the natural resources. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has discouraged Norwegian companies from investing in companies operating in and off the coast of Western Sahara. Nevertheless, the Government Pension Fund (Oil Fund) has ownership in the oil companies Glencore, San Leon, Cairn Energy and Kosmos Energy, in the green energy companies Enel and Siemens, and in Agrium, the non-renewable substance buys phosphate from the state-owned Moroccan company OPC, which is extracted in the area.
In December last year, Norwegian investor Kommunal Landspensjonskasse (KLP) threw Glencore out of its portfolios. The Norwegian oil fund investments in companies The Ministry of Finance previously concluded that support during the occupation is today worth around NOK 9 billion after Total withdrew in December 2015. With more than eight billion invested, the Oil Fund is today the third largest shareholder in Glencore.
To Ny Tid, Johan H. Andresen, head of the Council on Ethics at the Petroleum Fund, says that they are familiar with the issues related to companies with operations in Western Sahara. He says that the Council on Ethics does not comment on individual cases, but that their starting point is that Western Sahara is a non-self-governing area without a recognized administrator. "There are no other areas with such a status, and there are no clear rules for the utilization of natural resources here," says Andresen. "The Council on Ethics has assumed that activities in the area can be acceptable if we can substantiate that it takes place in accordance with the wishes and interests of the local population, as required by international law," says Andresen.
However, Erik Hagen of the Western Sahara Support Committee says that the Sahrawis have explicitly asked that no natural resources be traded in Western Sahara. The Council on Ethics must be better at assessing whether the companies' current operations are in line with Western Sahara's people, Hagen believes. "It's a good thing they focus on this. The question is how long it will take before they conclude that the companies not is leading a good process now, ”he says. “They have been investing in Kosmos Energy for many years. The company has not sought the consent of Western Sahara people, neither in the occupied areas nor in the Polisario. They clearly said no, and organized several demonstrations when the plans became known. "

"I think states that are fighting for their freedom will eventually get it. If there's anything we've learned, be patient. "

Save. In Morocco, the search for the sources continues. The combination of winter vacation and the Norwegian delegation that was thrown out, makes it difficult to find someone who is willing to talk to Ny Tid. "The source you were talking to has withdrawn." Once again the same message comes, this time from one of the repatriated Norwegian activists. "He was fired from the hotel he worked on two days after we left, and is not available for any interview. The probability is high that he was fired because we talked for quite some time, "she tells me via Facebook.
A few days later, I take the bus to the Moroccan coastal town of Agadir, where several students of Saharan background study. Finally, three of the students agreed to interview, provided that we use fictitious names in the article.
It will be evening before the bus arrives in Agadir. On a bench by the beach, as agreed, I meet three hesitant men in their 20s. They seem surprised that I, with my Moroccan family background, am not afraid to write about the long-standing conflict. The three Sahrawi students say that many of their friends are Moroccans, and that many of them support the Sahrawi cause. It is not the population, but the practice of the Moroccan authorities that is the problem.
"Is it okay if we find a place that is not so public? We are scared because we met the Norwegian delegation that was thrown out, "says Mansour. "The police have guaranteed control of where we are, I know they are coming along. We are used to being arrested and questioned, but it is worse if we are expelled from the university. ”
"Mansour" is 23 years old, a student and volunteer as a journalist in the Media Team group, which monitors and documents human rights violations in Western Sahara. He has just finished the exam period at the University of Agadir, and in recent days has been working to find a safe way to leave the country so that he can return home to El Aaiun, the Moroccan-managed capital where both he and the other two have grown up.
"After the Norwegian activists visited, I was scared that my name was registered at the bus station," he says, looking for a video on the phone. The video shows Moroccan settlers attacking Saharawis in Western Sahara. The majority of those living in Western Sahara today are Moroccan settlers who are offered tax relief and subsidies to settle in the area.
"One of the biggest problems is that Morocco refuses international entry into the area. They do this because they do not want to show the outside world what they are doing, ”he says.

Comrade "Mustafa" (23), also a media team journalist, tells of his brother, who was imprisoned and tortured for his activist activities. "Still, fear can't stop us from fighting for human rights," he says.
But covering human rights violations in Western Sahara is not without problems. Recently, Sahrawi journalist and human rights activist Muhammed Bambari was sentenced to six years in prison.

Negative propaganda. All three students have been arrested and questioned by police, but none have been jailed for a long time. They take precautions, but still believe it is important to be Sahrawi ambassadors in Morocco. By May of last year, students felt that police came to the University of Agadir to interrogate students after a peaceful pro-Saharan demonstration on campus.
"We have many Moroccan friends, but experience a kind of general racism against Sahrawis," says Khalil (30). “Moroccan authorities are actively working to spread negative propaganda about Sahrawis in Morocco, and often Sahrawis are referred to as terrorists. But we are known for our peaceful fight for human rights, and that is who we are here to lead, ”he says. In addition to being a student, he is active in the Sahrawi Observatory on Women and Children.
As we start to round off the conversation, "Mansour" says:
"I think states that are fighting for their freedom will eventually get it. What we have learned is to be patient. We don't ask for that much. But it is disappointing to see how little the international community is doing to put pressure on Morocco. There are too many interests in the picture. So we really don't expect anything, ”he concludes.

Highly regrettable. On February 4th met around 50 protesters at the Moroccan embassy in Briskeby in Oslo. Many of them were members of the delegation sent out. Kristian Tonning Riise, leader of the Young Right, says that the situation in Western Sahara has now been taken up with Foreign Minister Børge Brende, and that he urged Brende to take up the matter with the Moroccan embassy in Norway. Riise is disappointed that the Oil Fund is part-owner of companies operating in the area.
"The Petroleum Fund should state very clearly that they do not want to invest in companies on occupied land. It is very unfortunate that they still invest in these companies, and thus help to maintain the occupation, "Riise told Ny Tid.
Ny Tid has tried to get in touch with the Moroccan embassy in Oslo, but did not receive a response until the newspaper went to press.

Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Former journalist for MODERN TIMES.

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