March 18, 2024

The role of natural resources in the continuing ‘question’ of Western Sahara is not fully understood. In recent years, the development of the territory’s resources has been at issue in efforts to arrive at self-determination for the Saharawi people. Misconceptions about the effect of such development persist, however, because of a lack of credible information and limited analysis of the connection of resources to the stalled process of self-determination and the territory’s occupation. The present analysis surveys the history, problems resulting from and consequences of the exploitation of resources in a Western Sahara that has for 40 years been under armed occupation.

It begins with Spain’s colonizing of Western Sahara and involvement with its resources before turning to the territory’s abandonment to Morocco and Mauritania following which Spain retained some resource rights. Revenue from extraction of the two primary resources since 1975 is then assessed and compared to the costs to occupy Western Sahara. The relevant international law is considered, including the right of non-self-governing peoples to sovereignty over natural resources, and the application of international humanitarian law. Rationales for Morocco’s extraction of resources are examined, the evidence revealing that the activity is pursued as a basis for the settlement of Moroccan nationals in the territory to better serve an ostensible annexation project, and generate acceptance for territorial acquisition in the organized international community. The prospects for application of the law and the place of natural resources in the resolution of the question of Western Sahara are finally contemplated.

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Source: Taylor & Francis Online

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