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Phosboucraa and phosphate production in Western Sahara

The conflict currently playing out between the Moroccan state and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) also involves resource extraction such as phosphates that fuel industrial agriculture


The former Spanish colony Western Sahara, listed as a United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963, is a profitable source of phosphorous (situated at Boucra), which despite international and local protest is being exploited by Morocco and sold to markets around the world. The following describes the current and historical context for the conflict currently playing out between the Moroccan state and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), led by the Algerian-backed independence movement, the Polisario Front (group considered by the United Nations to be the legitimate representatives of the Saharawi people who are  fighting for self-government and determination over a 270,000 square kilometer  territory that has been annexed illegally by Morocco since the close of Spanish colonial period).

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Phosboucraa and phosphate production in Western Sahara
State or province:Western Sahara
Location of conflict:Boucra
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Land acquisition conflicts
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Phosphorus, phosphates
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Despite the illegality of the annexation of Western Saharan land and natural resources, the Moroccan phosphate industry is flourishing, concentrated in the area of Boucra and under the control of two industries owned and operated by the Moroccan state OCP SA and Phosphates de Boucraa SA. A large conveyor belt, 97 kilometers long, transports nearly 2 million tons per year of phosphates from the deposits in Boucra, out to the harbor where the phosphate rock is washed, dried, stockpiled, and shipped over to vessels waiting to be loaded at El Aaiun port.

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Project area:672,600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project2,450,000,000 (2012-2030 Investment in PhosBoucraa)
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/11/1975
Company names or state enterprises:Phosphates de Boucraa SA (PhosBoucraa) from Morocco - Main actor
Office Chérifien des Phosphates SA (OCP) from Morocco - Main player
Potash Corporation from Canada - Importer
Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd. from New Zealand - Importing phosphorus from conflict zone
Agrium Inc. from Canada - Importer of Phosphorus from Western Sahara
Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-op Ltd. from New Zealand - Importer of Phosphorus from Western Sahara
Lifosa AB from Lithuania - Importer of phosphate from Western Sahara
Incitec Pivot Ltd. from Australia - Importer of Phosphorus from Western Sahara
Monomeros S.A. from Venezuela - Importers of Western Sahara Phosphorus
EuroChem from Russian Federation - Importer of Western Sahara phosphorus
Paradeep Phosphates Limited from India - Importer of Western Sahara Phosphates
Adventz from India - Importer of Western Sahara phosphorus
Zuari Phosphates from Morocco
Relevant government actors:Sahrawi Board of Petroleum and Mining (partially recognized State of Sahrawi Republic, Government of Morocco, Government of Mauritania, Government of Algeria
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) - Key actor in establishing a referendum to end the conflict
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:l'Association sahraouie des victimes des violations graves des droits de l’Homme commises par l’État du Maroc (ASVDH), The Polisario Front, Western Sahara Resources Watch (WSRW), Sahrawi Centre for Media and Communication
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Air pollution, Other Environmental impacts, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsPotential for radioactive contamination
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Polisario is fighting for self-determination over Western Sahara, which they consider to be their historical territory. Thus, they are demanding that all resource extraction end immediately until the land dispute is solved (possibly through a fair referendum administered by the UN). As stated by a member of the Polisario leadership Emhamed Khadad, ¨the Moroccan government companies which purport to be able to sell phosphate rock from Western Sahara – OCP SA and Phosphates de Boucraa SA – have no right or title to the commodity. The trade is illegal, whether viewed in terms of the law of pillage under the Fourth Geneva Convention of the right of the Saharawi people under the UN General Assembly Resolution 1803 to permanent sovereignty over their resources.¨ The Moroccan government adopts the view that Western Sahara is an integral part of the Moroccan territory, a view which has been reinforced by the stalled referendum process and weak international response to the dispute.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The ongoing conflict and European Union resolutions forbidding trading in Western Sahara has prevented prolonged partnership with European trading partners, on most cases. Legislation creating a moratorium on trade with Western Sahara includes: a Sept 13 2016 legal decision declared by the lawyers of the European Union´s Tribunal that stipulated that Morocco has no sovereignty on Western Sahara and in consequence the commercial agreements between the European Union and Morocco are not applicable in Western Sahara. However, despite this legislation, as the price of phosphorus fluctuates, companies continue to purchase from the OCP. October 2016, the Authority of Petroleum and Mining of the SADR denounced Lithuanian company Lifosa´s continued exploitation of phosphorus in the country. The exiled government of SADR issued a complaint from its exiled capital in Algeria protesting Lifosa´s continuing exploitation of phosphorous, which included a shipment of 75,000 tons of phosphate rock delivered to Lithuania from a port in Western Sahara. Furthermore, violence continues between Moroccan and Polisario forces. In August of 2016, Moroccan military forces invaded Gar-Garat, an important commercial center in southern Polisario-controlled region of Western Sahara where Mauritanian, Sahrawi, and Moroccan traders exchange goods. Bulldozers have begun construction of fortifications, evidence that the military units plan to stay for an extended period in the zone. Most recently, in September 2016, the Polisario demanded that the UN Security Council prevent the occupying powers of the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara from building a paved road through Saharawi territory to merge with the border of Mauritania.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel,

inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,

Juan E. Méndez
[click to view]

Letter dated 29 January 2002 from the Under-Secretary-General

for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, addressed to the President of

the Security Council
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Zoubir (1990) The Western Sahara Conflict: Regional and International Dimensions
[click to view]

[2] Zunes and Mundy (2010) Western Sahara

War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution
[click to view]

[3] Haklai and Loizides (2015) Settlers in Contested Lands: Territorial Disputes and Ethnic Conflicts
[click to view]

The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral resources
[click to view]

P for Plunder: Morocco’s exports

of phosphates from

occupied Western Sahara (April 2016)
[click to view]

Environmental Aspects of

Phosphate and Potash Mining
[click to view]

Si riche Sahara occidental
[click to view]

Western Sahara Human Rights Watch
[click to view]

Le Maroc légalise une ONG pour les droits de l'Homme au Sahara occidental
[click to view]

In remote Western Sahara, prized phosphate drives controversial investments
[click to view]

Tensions flare in Western Sahara dispute
[click to view]

L’instance minière de la RASD dénonce les importations de la société lituanienne ‘Lifosa’ du phosphate du Sahara occidental occupé
[click to view]

Maroc/Sahara occidental : Une organisation de droits humains légalisée
[click to view]

Maps annoyed MEPs, Moroccan propaganda taken down
[click to view]

Lifosa lied about having stopped controversial imports
[click to view]

Why Sahrawis see more hope in war than in peace
[click to view]

The ‘New Colonialism’ – the case of Western Sahara
[click to view]

Desert Storm: Why Canadian fertilizer firms’ phosphate from Western Sahara is causing controversy
[click to view]

Le comité tanzanien de soutien au peuple sahraoui appelle le gouvernement à poursuivre son soutien à la lutte de Sahraouis pour l'autodétermination et à l'indépendance
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video of 2010 SADR Protest Camp
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Julie Snorek, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2461
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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