EU defends Western Sahara fisheries agreement

Eneko Landaburu, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Morocco, defended the controversial EU-Moroccan fisheries agreement at a press conference in Casablanca last Thursday, claiming the agreement posed “no problem” to the EU’s adherence to international law.

Unfortunately, this statement is only one of many European Union statements that constitute a de facto recognition of Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara, however much the EU claims otherwise. In a press statement the following day, the internationally recognised representatives of the Sahrawis, the Polisario Front, urged the European Union to “stop contributing to the systematic plunder of Western Sahara”, and help put pressure on Morocco to stop its illegal occupation of Western Sahara.

According to the Polisario, “the plundering of natural resources of our country by the Moroccan occupier is a fragrant violation of all international conventions and UN treaties.

A long list of international charters, resolutions and statements support the Polisario’s claims:

  • Self-determination of nations such as Western Sahara (including their natural ressources) was recognised as a principle in article 1, paragraph 2, of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, that reads “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources .. based upon the principle of … international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”
  • UN Resolution 1514 of 14 December 1960 calls for “immediate steps [to] be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire.” Resolution 1514 was declared applicable to the case of Western Sahara by UN General Assembly Resolution 2229,  20 December 1966.
  • UN Assembly Resolution 34/37, 1979, paragraph 5 “deeply deplores the aggravation of the situation resulting from the continued occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco”, while paragraph 6 specifically calls upon Morocco to “… terminate the occupation of the territory of Western Sahara

As Abba Malainin, Polisarios representative in Denmark, stated to the author of this blog on 31 May, “the people of Western Sahara have not been consulted while concluding the agreement, nor do they profit from it. This makes it a crystal clear contradiction of the rules of international law related to Non- autonomous territories in the World, and Western Sahara is considered by the UN as one of these. The European Parliament’s Legal Service has also recently declared that fishing by European vessels in Western Sahara’s waters is in violation of international law.

Unfortunately, it seems that all the resolutions and statements in the world will not force Morocco to hold the referendum on self-determination and independence in Western Sahara that it is legally obliged to do. As long as the international community keeps buying Moroccan goods illegally produced in Western Sahara, and as long as the EU keeps pretending that its fisheries agreement is in accordance with international law, this will certainly hold true. Abba Malainin concurs, insisting that “this agreement prolongs the illegal occupation and promotes the Moroccan regime’s human rights violations against the innocent Saharawi people in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. It also undermines the UN’s efforts in Western Sahara.

In fact, as long as Morocco reaps a significant financial reward from Western Sahara by plundering its natural resources, and as long as the pressure put on it is only diplomatic in nature, Morocco will be able to suspend the referendum more or less indefinately. Morocco has after all had to leave the African Union on account of its occupation of Western Sahara and the African Unions support for Polisario without this fundamentally changing its attitude towards Western Sahara. What is therefore needed is international pressure on Morocco and that those who are currently buying products from the occupied Western Saharan territories, or otherwise dealing in Western Saharan products without the specific permission of the Sahrawis, desist from doing so.

According to Abba Malainin, one of the ways of  putting pressure on Morocco, as well as removing the economic incentive for its occupation of Western Sahara, is by making sure Western Sahara is specifically excluded from the renewal of the fisheries agreement in 2011: “We in the POLISARIO Front demand that in the renewal of the EU-Morocco Agreement that will end February 2011, the European Union should explicitly exclude the Waters of Western Sahara from the Agreement and follow the USA and EFTA in their free trade agreements,  both of which excluded Western Sahara.


Scandinavian firms exploit Western Saharan resources, Stiffkitten’s Blog, 11 May 2010

Toothless UN resolution extends peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, Stiffkitten’s Blog, 4 May 2010

The right to self-determination and natural resources: The case of Western Sahara, Lead Journal 2007, Hans Morten Haugen

Western Sahara: The cost of the conflict, International Crisis Group, 2007


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