Hillary Clinton2

Hillary Clinton, phosphates, and the Western Sahara – Stephen Zunes

For more than a half-century, a series of United Nations resolutions and rulings by the International Court of Justice have underscored the rights of inhabitants of countries under colonial rule or foreign military occupation. Among these is the right to “freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources,” which “must be based on the principles of equality and of the right of peoples and nations to self-determination.”

As far back as 1962, the United Nations determined [1] that “the right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be exercised in the interest of their national development and of the well-being of the people of the State concerned,” and “violation of the rights of peoples and nations to sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources is contrary to the spirit and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” This reflects the longstanding legal principle, reiterated subsequently by the General Assembly, that “the right of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories … to enjoyment of their natural resources and their right to dispose of those resources in their best interest.”

Similarly, a series of decisions by the International Court of Justice regarding Namibia, Nauru, East Timor and Palestine has further codified the rights of non-self-governing people to control over their own natural resources.

Perhaps the most serious contemporary violation of this longstanding international legal principle involves the nation of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony invaded, occupied, and annexed by Morocco in 1975. Morocco has ignored a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a landmark World Court decision [2] underscoring the right of the Western Saharan people — who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from most Moroccans — to self-determination. However, France and the United States, veto-wielding permanent members of that body and longstanding allies of Morocco, have blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolutions.

The Moroccan government and its supporters point to the kingdom’s ambitious large-scale development projects in Western Sahara, particularly in urban areas. More than $2.5 billion has been poured into the territory’s infrastructure, significantly more than Morocco has procured from Western Sahara’s natural resources and more than they would likely obtain in the foreseeable future. For this reason, the regime’s supporters argue that they have fulfilled the requirements regarding interests, well-being, and development needs of the indigenous population.

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