As the European Union (EU) is currently negotiating a new fisheries agreement with the government of Morocco, the exiled government of Western Sahara has voiced its concern over a possible inclusion of fisheries resources from the occupied territory in the deal. The Sahrawis call for "greater transparency and respect for international law" in the ongoing negotiations. Afrol News, 19 May 2005
Sahrawis concerned over EU-Morocco fisheries deal
19 May 2005
As the European Union (EU) is currently negotiating a new fisheries agreement with the government of Morocco, the exiled government of Western Sahara has voiced its concern over a possible inclusion of fisheries resources from the occupied territory in the deal. The Sahrawis call for "greater transparency and respect for international law" in the ongoing negotiations.
Mohamed Sidati, the Representative for Europe of Western Sahara's Polisario exiled government, in a letter to the EU Commissioner on Fisheries & Maritime Affairs has expressed Polisario's concern over the way the current EU-Moroccan talks are organised. Mr Sidati in particular calls for "greater transparency" in the talks, which also affect the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara.
The Sahrawi representative recalled the UN doctrine in the case, Western Sahara being a "Non-Self Governing territory, pending a decolonisation process." This also includes special implications on the exploitation of the territory's natural resources, which according to the UN only can be done in agreement with the population of the occupied territory.
The European Commission recently launched a new negotiations process with Morocco in the fisheries sector, aiming at revitalising earlier cancelled fisheries agreements with the Kingdom. Moroccan waters are relatively rich on fishery resources, but the most abundant fisheries are found off the cost of occupied Western Sahara.
In his letter, Mr Sidati claims that "Morocco's key tactic to illegally maintain its occupation of Western Sahara is to include the Western Sahara waters within its 'fishing areas under Moroccan control' in order to involve European interests in its military illegal occupation and the permanent violation of international law." Regarding European investments in the Moroccan fisheries industry in the occupied, the Kingdom already can point to some successes.
The Sahrawi representative in Brussels however doubts the legality of such exploitations of Western Sahara's fisheries resources. "Following the international paramount treaty in this matter, the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, of wich Morocco is Part), and the January 2002 Legal opinion of the UN Under-secretary for Legal Issues, on the status of Western Sahara natural resources, Morocco could not extend or claim since February 1976 any jurisdiction over the entire waters of the Western Sahara," Mr Sidati writes.
At earlier occasions, these considerations however had not stopped the EU from signing ample fisheries agreements with Morocco that included occupied Western Sahara. During the fisheries agreements of the 1980s and 1990s, EU vessels were given access to the rich waters off Western Sahara, paying the Rabat government for these quotas.
Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Moratinos, last week at a press conference in Tenerife confirmed that Spain expected the to-be-negotiated new deal with Morocco would rest on the precedents on the older EU agreements with Morocco. Asked about Sahrawi protests, Mr Moratinos held that there was no reason to change the basic conditions relative to the older agreements.
In his letter, however, Mr Sidati calls these precedents "illegal or 'technical'." The Sahrawi representative strongly urged the European Commission "to fully respect the internationally recognised border between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Sahara" - again pointing to the UN doctrine and practice - and "use all the European political leverage to preserve the Western Sahara waters and its 1000 kilometres coastline from any kind of agreement involving European fleets that would further deplete its critical fisheries biomass."
Mr Sidati, although not approving of the earlier EU-Moroccan fisheries agreements, emphasises that there has been further clarification on Western Sahara's status since the 1990s. Firstly, the UN has given a legal opinion criticising the exploitation of natural resources from the territory. Further, the US in its 2004 free trade agreement with Morocco explicitely stated that the agreement did not include the territory of Western Sahara, again recognising the international borders of Morocco and Western Sahara.
At the same time, the search for oil offshore Western Sahara has made it clear that such investments or exploitation of Sahrawi resources is dubious. Several Western companies engaged in Moroccan oil exploration contracts in Sahrawi waters have withdrawn from the territory after it became clear that such an activity was generally considered unethical. Pro-Sahrawi campaigners hold there is no difference between oil and fish - both being natural resources off Western Sahara's coast.
The former Legal Counsel to the UN Security Counsel, Mr. Hans Corell, comments on the EU's fisheries activities in Western Sahara.
Polisario has a case, but it should be pursued when the time is right, Court implies.
Notwithstanding four consecutive rulings of the EU's highest Court calling such a practice illegal, the European Parliament has just now voted in favour of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement that will be applied to the waters of occupied Western Sahara.