In a landmark initiative, the liberation movement of Western Sahara has referred an EU-Morocco free trade agreement to the European Court of Justice. The news was three days ago discreetly published in the official EU journal.
“The EU cannot continue to ignore international law and antagonize the people of Western Sahara. By including the territory of occupied Western Sahara in its trade agreements with Morocco, the EU is directly undermining the rights of the Saharawis and obstructing the efforts of the UN to resolve of the conflict”, stated Frente Polisario official Emhammed Khadad to Western Sahara Resource Watch today.
Polisario’s initiative was taken last year, and was published by the Official Journal of the European Union on 23 February 2013. See the reference to the issue in the Journal here. The Court is called on to annul a controversial agreement for liberalisation of agricultural and fisheries products from Morocco - an agreement that Western Sahara Resource Watch covered in its report "Label and Liability" last summer. Large agri- and fish production takes place in occupied Western Sahara and risk being given tarrif reduction upon entering EU market as "Moroccan" products.
Polisario is representing the people of Western Sahara in the UN sponsored peace talks over the territory, which remains partially occupied by Morocco.
"International law is crystal clear on the issue of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The EU has no right to enter into trade agreements with Morocco for resources that belong to the Saharawis. We hope that through this effort, justice will finally prevail”, Mr. Khadad stated.
Mr. Khadad, who is in charge of the peace negotiations on behalf of Polisario, recalled that governments such as the US, Norway and Switzerland specifically mention that their trade agreements with Morocco of course do not include the territory of Western Sahara. This is also demanded by some EU Member States. But the Union takes a different approach.
This is the first time that Polisario takes such legal measures to stop the illegal plundering of the territory, more such processes are said to be in the pipeline.
The information was coincidentally made public by the journal the same week as the EU is starting negotiations on a so-called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Morocco. The negotiations start today, 27 February 2013. All Saharawi civil society groups have protested the upcoming DCFTA process, but their voice is not taken into account.
This month, the EU is also to conclude negotiations over a fisheries agreement with Morocco. No consultation have been made with the people of Western Sahara, even though the UN has stated that no such activity can take place unless it is according to the wishes of the people of the territory.
Leading international law scholars have repeatedly stated that the EU is violating international law in Western Sahara.
The former UN under-secretary general for Legal Affairs has said the following on the EU-Morocco fish accord: "It is obvious that an agreement of this kind that does not make a distinction between the waters adjacent to Western Sahara and the waters adjacent to the territory of Morocco violates international law". An opinion that is shared by the European Parliament's legal service and several EU Member States.
The EU Commission and Council are 2 and 3 March being questioned by the Court of Justice regarding the EU's trade and fisheries agreements in occupied Western Sahara.
What is EU's position on labelling of products from occupied Western Sahara? The EU Commission has now for the third time published a response to a parliamentary question on the matter, but the latest version fails to address the question.
A clarification by the EU Commission on labelling of products from Western Sahara was published, then removed, then published again and has now been removed again from EU websites.
Two weeks ago, the EU Commission announced that products from Western Sahara should be labelled accordingly, only to withdraw that statement the very next day. Today, the Commission reaffirms its original position.