The statement from WSRW said that should Morocco, through Kosmos, discover oil offshore Western Sahara, it will undermine the UN peace process in the territory, and risk destabilizing the fragile ceasefire in the region.
The position of Western Sahara has been disputed for decades. After gaining independence from Spain, Western Sahara was divided between Morocco and Mauritania, but a group within the region, the Polisario Front, began a war for independence. Mauritania renounced its claims in 1979, and Morocco occupied the full territory. An International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision in 1975 and the 1991 UN Settlement Plan following a cease-fire upheld the right of the people of Western Sahara to hold an independence referendum.
Since then, talks and low-level disputes have continued, but the referendum has not occurred. Despite various settlement plans being put forward, certain sticking points remain that prevent any development on the region's fate. One of the central points is who would be allowed to vote in any referendum.
It has been reported that on the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's personal envoy Christopher Ross, representatives from Morocco, the Polisario, Mauritania and Algeria will meet from 16-18th December in Long Island, US, for the next round of talks. Talks were last held in early November 2010, when no agreement was reached.
While Mauritania renounced its territorial claims to the region in 1979 due to Polisario pressure, it did come to a maritime boundary agreement with Morocco which gave Mauritania control over some of the waters off of Western Sahara's shore, but hands the rest to Morocco.
WSRW said that according to the 2002 legal opinion from the UN Security Council Kosmos' actions offshore Western Sahara are illegal, yet despite this, Kosmos continues its exploration program.
While maintaining its program offshore Western Sahara, Kosmos is also the operator of a major oil find offshore Ghana. To develop the Ghana block, Kosmos earlier this year increased its project finance debt facilities by US$350 million, through agreements with Standard Chartered Bank, BNP Paribas SA, Société Generale, Crédit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank, Crédit Suisse International, Citibank, NA, Natixis, HSBC, and FirstRand Bank Ltd.
WSRW has now appealed to these banks, as well as to International Finance Corp and Africa Finance Corp, to suspend further funding to the company.
“We believe that your financial support to the company is highly unfortunate. It is our opinion that the firm shows no respect for the community in which it operates. We call on your firm to take measures as a responsible financial institution and avoid any further financial support to Kosmos, including in Ghana, until the firm has introduced and implemented a CSR policy, and started to respect the fundamental principles of human rights”, stated WSRW in a letter to the banks this week.
WSRW has for several years urged Kosmos to leave the territory, to no avail.
“This small group of international banks has a golden opportunity to contribute in stopping an escalation of the conflict in Western Sahara. When the drilling in the occupied territory begins, the banks do not wish to be associated with this unethical firm. They need to address this issue with Kosmos while they still have a chance to do so,” stated Maiju Kaipiainen, chair of WSRW.
Kosmos carried out seismic surveys offshore Western Sahara in 2009.
Sources: Petroleum Africa, People's Daily
For more information on the situation in Western Sahara, see a menas borders briefing from 2009.