While Morocco is lobbying hard against a proposal to have the UN monitor human rights in Western Sahara, the EU Commissioner for Fisheries states that she is still awaiting Rabat's response to the proposal for including human rights safeguards for the Western Sahara territory in a new EU-Morocco fisheries protocol.
In her report to the Council yesterday, 22 April, European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki allegedly stated that both the technical issues and the financial discord between the parties had practically been resolved, but that problems "of a political nature" persisted. That last remaining hurdle is Western Sahara, and the Commission's insistence with Rabat that there should be guarantees regarding respect for human rights in the territory.Europa Press
writes that sources close to the Commissioner have confirmed that Damanaki is waiting for a reply from Rabat on the EU's proposed human rights safeguards. Furthermore, the parties have still not set a date for their next round of talks to address the matter.
It was Spain that had asked to be briefed on the Commission's progress in the fish negotiations with Morocco. Spain has tremendous interest in the fish stocks off Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, and in the absense of fisheries agreements covering those waters, the Spanish fishing sector is barnstorming its government like never before. Moreover, the European Parliament is taking its time to discuss the proposed fish deal with Mauritania and the Parliament's Rapporteur has advised to reject the accord
The vessels that benefitted from the EU-Morocco fishing arrangements were predominantly Spanish. The fleet had to leave the area when the European Parliament in December 2011 objected to the deal, questioning its economic profitability, environmental sustainability and legality for including the occupied waters of Western Sahara.
Unsurprisingly, Spanish Minister for Fisheries Arias Cañete has requested Maria Damanaki to "urgently" close the deal. The minister, who avoided naming the former Spanish colony, stated to the press that the political matters referred to by the Commissioner concern "the benefits to the people" and "issues related to human rights that some delegations, especially the Nordic ones, have put on the table".
The mandate of the UN mission MINURSO ends on 30 April. In his report on the situation in Western Sahara, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for the mandate to be renewed, and stated that “given ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the camps becomes ever more pressing”. Ban Ki-Moon also expressed concern of sentencing of Saharawi civilians in Moroccan military courts. Some of these activists have been outspoken opponents of the EU fisheries in Western Sahara, and were in February convicted to life sentences in jail.
Soon after Ban Ki-Moon’s report, the United States announced it would propose for MINURSO to monitor human rights in the entire conflict area; in the three quarters of Western Sahara that are occupied by Morocco, in the Polisario controlled areas and in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria.
Morocco - with the support of Spain - is lobbying to prevent the Security Council to introduce human rights monitoring into the mandate of the UN peace operation in the territory.
The last formal contacts between Brussels and Rabat date back to early February.