Morocco drafts legislation to incorporate Western Sahara waters

The Moroccan government has today initiated draft regulations aimed at incorporating the waters of Western Sahara into its own territorial waters.

Published 06 July 2017

"A sovereign political decision". That is how Mustafa Khalfi, spokesperson for the Moroccan government, referred to the two legal initiatives instigated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that are geared at “incorporating the maritime spaces of the Sahara provinces and consolidating Morocco’s legal mandate over these waters”. As such, the texts aim to “put an end to the arguments that question Morocco’s sovereignty over its territorial waters”, Khalfi said.

The draft legislation of the Moroccan government comes at a time when Morocco’s self-proclaimed sovereignty over the part of Western Sahara that it holds under military occupation, is under increasing international legal pressure.

Just 3 weeks ago, the South African Supreme Court accepted as legal the detention in Port Elizabeth of a cargo ship transporting 54,000 tonnes of phosphate rock extracted in occupied Western Sahara. The Court will also put the case on trial to determine whether the Moroccan state-owned phosphate company OCP could lawfully export the commodity. 

In December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union concluded that the EU’s trade deal with Morocco could not be applied to Western Sahara, as Morocco has no sovereignty over the territory, nor any international mandate to administer it. A judgment on the EU's fisheries activities in the waters of Western Sahara through a deal with Morocco is still pending.

“This unilateral move from the Moroccan government will not change the international legal framework that applies to Western Sahara”, says Sara Eyckmans from Western Sahara Resource Watch. “Morocco has no legal title regarding the territory. And as an illegal occupier, it cannot claim or create ocean territorial areas.”

Back in 2009, the Saharawi Republic had already declared its Exclusive Economic Zone over the territorial waters of Western Sahara. The Saharawi Government formally deposited the coordinates and charts of its exact EEZ claims with the UN Secretary General, as the depositary of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, in March 2016.

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