Last year, European Parliament’s Legal Services stated that EU fisheries in Western Sahara would be illegal if the indigenous Saharawi were not consulted. This week, Morocco refused the Parliament to travel to occupied Western Sahara to find out if they are.
In December 2009, the European Parliament’s fisheries committee had unilaterally issued a request to visit Morocco, with the objective to examine how the EU-Moroccan fisheries partnership agreement (FPA) is implemented.
After months went by without any official reply, Morocco has now officially rejected the Fisheries Committee’s proposal of visiting the territory, claiming the timing for such a visit “is not opportune”. This happens several months after Morocco first had left the impression to the European committee’s presidency that a visit by the Europeans was ok.
The Parliament’s own Legal Services had already stated that since the indigenous people in Western Sahara, the Sahrawi, are not consulted over the agreement, the EU-Moroccan cooperation must be in violation of international law. Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975, and EU is spending millions of Euros annually to pay the Moroccan government to allow mostly Spanish fishermen fish in the occupied waters. The fisheries are seen as a direct political and financial support to the illegal Moroccan occupation, while the Sahrawi object to the European vessels trawling their waters.
"It's a pity the Moroccan authorities do not grant the European Parliament the possibility to establish the facts on the ground”, said Isabella Lövin, one of the 13 members of parliament who had signed up to be part of the delegation.
“It seemed an excellent opportunity to demonstrate whether the Saharawi population of Western Sahara benefits from the EU-Moroccan Fisheries Agreement, as the European Commission claims. It is really a pity, and also a bit strange", Lövin stated.
The negative response does not come as a surprise. The controversial EU-Moroccan fisheries agreement has been under fire during the last few months, especially following the legal opinion delivered by the EP’s Legal Services in 2009. The opinion questioned the legality of the agreement since there is no proof that the Saharawi people’s wishes and benefits had been taken into account.
Attempting to defend the much criticized agreement it had negotiated in 2006, the European Commission has repeatedly responded that “there is no proof that the Saharawi people do not benefit”. Yet, the Commission has still not presented any evidence backing that claim, and has up to now avoided mentioning the matter of the Saharawi peoples’ wishes altogether.
The European Commission only defense is a UN legal opinion from 2002. The author of that opinion, however, has stated he is “embarrassed to be European”, due to the Commission’s misuse of his text.
"It has been suggested to me that the legal opinion that I delivered in 2002 had been invoked by the European Commission in support of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement. I do not know if this is true. But if it is, I find it incomprehensible that the Commission could find any such support in the legal opinion, unless of course the Commission had ascertained that the people of Western Sahara had been consulted, had accepted the agreement and the manner in which the profits from the activity was to benefit them. However, an examination of the Agreement actually leads to a different conclusion", former under-secretary-general for Legal Affairs, Mr. Hans Corell, stated on the Commission’s misinterpretation of the document he wrote for the UN Security Councel.
During yesterday’s session of the Fisheries Committee, MEPs also asked about the state-of-play on that other request they’d made to Morocco earlier this year: to deliver a report on the impact of the FPA on the Saharawi population. The deadline for that report was set during the first quarter of 2010. The Committee still hasn’t received any official reply.
It is expected that Morocco’s report, when finalized, will claim that the agreement is beneficial to the “local population”, which is the way Morocco defines the people who have been moved into the territory in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention. Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara was rejected by the International Court of Justice in 1975. Other states, such as the US and the EFTA countries, have stated that their economic partnerships with Morocco do not cover Western Sahara.
The EU considers to pay Morocco to fish in occupied Western Sahara. An EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement from 2013 would be both politically controversial and in violation of international law.
The international Fish Elsewhere! campaign demands the EU to avoid such unethical operations, and go fishing somewhere else. No fishing in Western Sahara should take place until the conflict is solved.