For the attention of:
Sir Adrian White,
Chief Executive and Chairman, Biwater
London, 14 May 2019
Re: Biwater’s presence in Western Sahara
Dear Sir Adrian,
I am writing on behalf of Adala UK, a British NGO focused on documenting human rights violations in the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, with regard to Biwater’s activities there.
We became aware of your company’s involvement in Western Sahara through a tweet on 29 March this year:
“#Biwater was honoured to host Hamdi Ould Errachid, Mayor of Laayoune, at the wastewater treatment facility in Laayoune for the Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (ONEE). This plant will play a key role in improving sanitation for this region of Southern Morocco.”
This in turn led us to find an article on your website about this work when it began in 2017:
“Biwater were awarded a contract to deliver vital wastewater infrastructure for the city of Laayoune. The city is home to around 40 percent of the regional population in Southern Morocco, which is otherwise sparsely populated.”
While we respect the work you are doing in the region to bring wastewater infrastructure to the people living there, we think it is important to highlight that this project is in fact not in Southern Morocco but in the area of Western Sahara that Morocco has illegally occupied since 1975. Western Sahara is regarded by the United Nations as a Non-Self GoverningTerritory, which still awaits decolonisation, and one without a legally accepted administering power in place. Its people, the Saharawi, have the right to self-determination – a right restated in now more than 100 UN resolutions – but this right has been continuously blocked by Morocco. The war between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front has resulted in a military division of the territory and a ceasefire that is being monitored by the UN.
Meanwhile, Morocco continues to extract natural resources from the territory, whilst simultaneously violating the most basic human rights of Saharawi that live under its occupation. The 160,000 plus Saharawi refugees that fled after Morocco’s invasion continue to live in difficult conditions in Algerian refugee camps, located in the most inhospitable part of the Sahara desert.
The United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Justice all state that Morocco does not have any legal basis, sovereignty or international mandate to administer the territory. Legal opinions from the United Nations, as well as separate court rulings from the European Court of Justice and the High Court of South Africa also state that economic activities in Western Sahara have a paramount legal prerequisite to be fulfilled in order for trade activities inside or affecting occupied Western Sahara to be permissible under international law: consent must be sought from the Saharawi people. This means that the Saharawi people (through their internationally recognised representative, the Polisario Front) must consent to any commercial and development activity taking place on their occupied homeland.
Given all of the above, we would be pleased if your company could answer the following questions:
1. In line with the internationally recognised right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and given the legal requirement of obtaining the prior, free and informed consent of the people of Western Sahara with regard to activities or businesses in their land – as put forth by several UN Treaty bodies and the European Court of Justice – what steps has Biwater taken to obtain the consent of the people of Western Sahara through their political representative, the Polisario Front, to build wastewater infrastructure in the occupied territories of Western Sahara?
2. On Biwater’s website, Layounne is described as being a city in Southern Morocco in contradiction of internationally recognised borders that show that Layounne is in Western Sahara. Could you explain why this is the case?
3. Does Biwater agree that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco, and that Western Sahara is a separate and distinct territory, under an ongoing peace and decolonisation process?
4. How has Biwater assessed the ethical and legal risks involved in developing and maintaining a business presence on occupied land?
We believe that it is not in Biwater’s interests to be associated with the continued colonisation and occupation of Western Sahara, by running initiatives that help to legitimise the Moroccan military occupation of the territory, and thus hinder the peace process.
We look forward to hearing from you in response to our questions.
Trustee, Adala UK