The shifting sands of Tauro Beach – investigation for alleged breach of UN International Law

– A bather passes through a hole in the fence to go for a swim with the pristine new beach all to herself – © .:. Timon 2017

The controversial new beach at Tauro is now in de facto daily use, more than a year after being fenced off, despite the refusal of Spanish Central Government authorities in Madrid to allow it to open officially while court cases continue to investigate how work was allowed to begin on the project when the tender requirements have still not yet been fulfilled.  Security guards can only report and watch on as lucky locals and tourists pass freely through the fences.  Surely its time that they officially #RemoveTheFences!  The Spanish Constitution is clear on such issues, all coasts belong to the people of Spain, so why has access been denied for so long? Well, its complicated…

Part of the untold story of this debacle, and there is plenty more to be told, revolves around the manner in which the sands for this project were sourced and transported and then dumped on Gran Canaria’s southern shoreline along the popular Costa Mogán.  A project that carried celebrity endorsements and the full support of the Mayor has stalled spectacularly.  Could it be that the import of sands for the project have broken EU and UN laws?

The head of Seprona, the Guardia Civil’s environment division, in Las Palmas, Lt Germán García seems to think so and has now reportedly denounced the removal of sand from Western Sahara, by the Anfi Group, in order to rejuvenate beaches, and build the controversial, newly constructed, artificial Tauro Beach on the south of Gran Canaria.  One report in a prominent British daily newspaper also points to the fact that sands extracted from Western Sahara are used to supply many other sectors such as construction and glassware, but that trade with the disputed territory is heavily controlled and legislated against under European law and the UN’s International Court of Justice.

There are at least two investigations ongoing, and work has been halted on the beach project for about a year, following flooding and discrepancies that were uncovered with the authorisations to start work, while entry to the public coastline has been restricted and fenced off since April 2016.

Bathers enjoying Tauro beach sands © .:. Timon 2017

The Spanish authorities are reportedly investigating the actions of multinational Anfi Group who they suspect of allegedly having purchased sand illegally taken from the coast of Western Sahara, and placed without any controls on Gran Canaria’s shoreline. In particular the subtraction of 70,000 tons of sand from Western Sahara last year, which was used in a somewhat hurried project to establish a new frame of reference for the company’s operations in the wake of seismic shifts in the way that the Spanish Supreme Courts have treated the company’s various practices in the sale of TimeShare properties over the last 18 years or so.

Anfi Group, once more, insist that they have done nothing wrong, however human rights experts have told reporters, writing for UK daily The Guardian, that if sand comes from the occupied territory, through Canarian waters, then it would be a clear violation of international law and the published resolutions of the UN Security Council via the International Courts of Justice.

“The ICJ rulings were quite clear: you cannot exploit natural resources in occupied territories unless the proceeds go to the benefit of the local people,” said Prof Stephen Zunes, an expert on the more than 40-year old stand-off in Western Sahara.

Understanding Western Sahara

Our nearest African neighbour is the disputed and occupied territory of Western Sahara.

The native Berber population were almost certainly of the same people to have first colonised these islands more than 2000 years before the Spanish arrived to take it from them.

41 years after Spain withdrew its colonial control of the territory previously known as Spanish Sahara, and the International Court of Justice along with the UN recognised the native people’s right to self-determination, with the need for a referendum on the subject having been agreed internationally, the Sahwari people are still waiting to get their country back and decide their own future.

North Africa’s Forgotten War – Meanwhile assets and resources continue to be stripped from the disputed territory, by their neighbours dispute no-one else ever having been formally recognised, by any other country, as having sovereignty in the region. With tens of thousands of refugees having had to live in exile, in camps for more than 40 years, isn’t it time that Morocco withdrew and finally allowed these people to have their territory back?

The complex situation of the disputed territory of Western Sahara explained.

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Western Sahara Resource Watch, Greening the Sahara, Western Sahara, Western Sahara Resource Watch, Stop the EU fisheries in occupied Western Sahara!, Friends of Western Sahara, International Petition : Western Sahara : Referendum NOW, Friends Western Sahara Forum منتدى اصدقاء الصحراء الغربية, UWC Western Sahara, Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra, Life is Waiting – Referendum and Resistance in Western Sahara, Dakhlah, Western Sahara, Laayoune, Western Sahara, مدينة العيون Laayoune, بوليساريو – Polisario, Polisario Front, Polisario, Delegacion Saharaui España 45photos – Real Estate Photography – Gran Canaria Western Sahara Resource Watch,

More infor on the Sahrawi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahrawi_people

Posted by The Canary News on Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trade with Western Sahara has been highly controversial, ever since Morocco occupied it in 1975 following the withdrawal of Spanish Colonial forces, and a subsequent 16 year armed struggle launched by the territory’s self-declared government-in-exile, the Polisari Front, after Morocco sent thousands of citizens on what came to be known as The Green March to occupy the territory and lay claim to a huge swathe of desert lands to which they had no discernible historical rights.

In December of last year, the highest court in Europe ruled that trade in agricultural and fishery products from Western Sahara is illegal.

#RemoveTheFences Tauro Beach – © .:. Timon 2017

The long touted Anfi beach project envisaged, more than 20 years ago, a purpose crafted landscape, a “new Eden” to compliment and grow their various tourism projects on the south of the island and particularly, the resort located in the Tauro Valley, not far from the popular resort town of Puerto Rico. The project consisted of creating a landscaped beach, in the naturally pebbled coastal zone, using thousands of tons of imported sand.

Although the trade in sand is brisk worldwide, sand itself is becoming more noticeably in high demand from sectors such as construction, stained glass, electronics, and even for land reclamation throughout Asia and the middle east.  Sand as a commodity is being seen as in limited supply, with ironic reports appearing throughout mainstream press that the world, and the deserts, are running out of the stuff.  It is becoming a more and more important resource, particularly for arid countries and desert territories, such as Western Sahara.

The sand, it seems, for this project could well have been brought illegally, according to Seprona’s Germán García.

The Anfi Group was not allowed to make use of local sands, despite their original plans to extract coastal sands from Las Palmas, for their 300 meter beach project and so had to look further afield. The group’s spokesman and director of communications, Rubén Reja, has defended the company’s actions, ambiguiously only referring to “Saharan sand”, saying “We could not buy any here in Canary Islands…The sand has been brought from the Sahara by a local company which specialises in this business,” adding that the company had “all the permissions and have complied with all legal requirements”.

Without confirming any specifics, Anfi appears to be implying that the sands could have come from anywhere in the Sahara, and particularly Morocco, insisting that this is “a normal practice” for the Canary Islands.

Seprona in Las Palmas however disagree, with Garcia reporting that the Guardia Civil intercepted a Dutch ship, operated by the Eemswerken shipping company, transporting sand from Western Sahara.

“The sand was brought illegally, and was discharged without any control at all” Garcia told The Guardian.

The shipping company have so far declined to comment however proud boasts from their own website last year clearly stated:

Beach project DC Eems

May 20, 2016. DC Eems will carry 100.000 tonnes of Sahara sand from Morocco, Laayoune to Las Palmas. This beach project will take approx. 4 months.

using the French colonial name for the Maghrebi city of El-Aaiún, founded in 1938 by the Spanish colonisers as the capital of “Spanish Sahara” and the de facto capital of the Western Sahara territories illegally occupied by Morocco.

There can be little doubt where the sand came from.

Conversely visits by scientists, journalists or other research specialists to the occupied territories are heavily controlled by the Moroccan authorities, with one investigating journalist for this piece, last April, having been subjected to constant checkpoints and intensive surveillance, and prevented from collecting sand samples from the port area with claims that it is forbidden.

Nevertheless, a sample was smuggled out, and subsequently analysed by Sweden’s Uppsala University Professor of Geology, Valentin R. Troll, who is a specialist in the geology of the Canary Islands, and who has confirmed that the sand on Tauro beach is indeed mineralogical “very similar” to the samples sourced from Western Sahara, as is sand from other artificial beaches in the Canaries. The authors point out, however, that this in itself is not conclusive evidence, as Canary Islands’ sand could well have many distinct similarities with sands from morocco

Local sources in El-Aaiún say that the sand is simply collected from their beaches, while others told reporters that it is acquired from river beds outside the city.

This story goes far beyond the negligence of local operators, it is much bigger than the  Anfi Group’s haste to get their new beach built, all the evidence suggests that cheap sand is being frequently supplied from Western Sahara in contravention of international laws and in many cases the practice is ignored in the erroneous belief that this is a victimless crime.

“In the absence of an embargo, the companies feel they can do whatever they want,” said Erik Hagen of Western Sahara Resource Watch, which tracks trade from the occupied territory. “The principles of international law apply, but there are no legal consequences for the companies involved.”

Various Spanish regions and municipalities, including very recently the capital of Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, have approved declarations demanding the cessation of trade in natural resources from Western Sahara.

Domino of Spanish regions urge for no Western Sahara trade

A series of Spanish regions and municipalities have over the course of the last weeks adopted statements demanding respect of the Court of Justice of the EU judgement from 21 December 2016.

The judgment put a halt to the inclusion of Western Sahara in EU-Morocco trade deals, as the territory is separate and distinct from Morocco. The latest Spanish regional assembly to pass such a statement was the one in Galicia on 25 April 2017.

Western Sahara Resource Watch had written earlier about a similar case, in which the parliament of the Basque Country adopted the same statement on 3 March 2017.

There have since then been many more:

The autonomous regions of Extremadura 23 March 2017, the Balearic Islands 28 March, Aragón 30 March, Catalunya 5 April, Cantabria 2 May, the municipalities of Ortuella 30 March, Etxebarri 3 April, Rota 20 April, Alcazar de San Juan 26 April, El Trabuca 31 March.

The cities of Bilbao and Las Palmas, and the town of Villanueva del Trabuco, near Malaga,  have adopted a similar statement.

It is to be noted that these statements are reported to have been adopted by consensus, with the full support of all political parties, including the ruling party at national level, Partido Popular. The many statements come as an initiative of the Spanish Greens/Equo.

The combined population in the regions and municipalities that have endorsed such declarations is 24,3 million people – more than half the total Spanish population.

The passed texts are variations of this below:

Institutional Declaration for the Respect of International and European Law in relation to Western Sahara

Considering the ruling of the European Court of Justice of the 21st of December 2016, which states that Western Sahara is not part of the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco, implying that no trade agreement between the European Union and Morocco can be applied to Western Sahara and that the consent of the Saharawi people is needed in order to pursue any commercial activity of any kind or the exportation of their natural resources;

Underlining the obligatory nature of this ruling for all European and national authorities and thus, also for city councils whose duty is not only to observe it, but also to make citizens and economic actors aware of its content so that they can apply it correctly;

Taking note of the Resolution 2285 of the UN Security Council adopted in April 2016, according to which achieving a political solution to this long-standing dispute and enhanced cooperation between the Member States of the Maghreb Arab Union would contribute to stability and security in the Sahel region;

Acknowledging that as a result of the invasion of the territory by Morocco in 1976 a large part of the population left in exile for Algeria, where they still live today in refugee camps in the south of Tindouf;

Considering that Spain put an end to its presence in Western Sahara on the 26th of February 1976, violating its international duties toward the Sahrawi people, preventing the conclusion of the ongoing decolonization process in the framework of the United Nations, and that Spain has a moral, historic, and legal responsibility towards the Sahrawi people;

The City Council of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in its plenary session approved the following institutional declaration, which;

1. Underlines the absolute necessity to fully respect and comply with the European Court of Justice ruling of 21st December 2016, which states that the association and trade liberalization agreements between Morocco and the European Union must not be applied to the territory of Western Sahara.

2. Expresses its concern about the exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara, including by European companies, in contradiction with international and European law; insists on the fact that any commercial activity with Western Sahara must have the approval of the Saharawi people in order for it to be legal;

3. Calls on all European, Spanish and Canarian companies to act according to international and European law, ending all activities that may favour the perpetuation of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and the exploitation of the natural resources therein (such as fishery, agriculture, extracting of phosphates and sands, or renewable energy activities); and urges Spanish local, regional and national authorities to implement current legislation in accordance to the recent ruling of the ECJ.

4. Joins its voice to the solidarity movement in Spain that has been calling for a fair and long-lasting solution that would be acceptable for both sides, based on a referendum that would put an end to the conflict of Western Sahara.

5. Reiterates the importance of strong, plural relations with our Moroccan neighbours and that a fair solution to the conflict of the conflict of Western Sahara would allow for the enhancement of relations with Morocco.