The Right to Self-Determination and Natural Resources: The Case of Western Sahara

Hans Morten Haugen
Associate Professor,
Diakonhjemmet University College,
P.O. Box 184 Vindern,
N-0319 Oslo, Norway


Phosphate, fish and possibly oil and gas all constitute important natural resources found on the territory and in the waters of Western Sahara. The importance of these natural resources must be recognised in order to understand the stalemate in the attempted process of decolonisation from Morocco which has been going on for more than 30 years. The article analyses the ‘resource dimension’ of the right to self-determination, as recognised in human rights treaties and in Resolution III of the UN Conference on the Law of the Seas, as well as several resolutions from the United Nations General Assembly. If the resources are exploited in a manner which does not benefit the peoples seeking to enjoy the right to self-determination, such exploitation is illegal. The article shows that the current exploitation takes place in a manner contrary to the interests of the local population, the Saharawis. The article also demonstrates that recent license agreements with Saharawi authorities in the field of oil and gas, signal a potentially new and constructive approach by international corporations.


Conference on the Law of the Seas, European Union, Fisheries Partnership Agreement, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Morocco, oil exploration, phosphates, self-determination, United Nations, Western Sahara.             LEAD Journal - ISSN 1746-5893