Possible legal action against UK government over Western Sahara
WSRW's partner organisation in the UK, Western Sahara Campaign, is threatening legal action against the UK government over unlawful imports of Western Saharan products through trade agreements with Morocco. Read their press release here.
A law firm representing a UK based campaign group fighting for the rights of the Western Saharan people is threatening legal action against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
The Western Sahara Campaign United Kingdom (WSC UK) works to protect the rights and interests of the people of Western Sahara, in particular to promote respect for their human rights and the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people. WSC UK claims that products originating in Western Sahara are being imported into the United Kingdom and treated as Moroccan for the purposes of the EU – Morocco Association Agreement. WSC UK also claims British fisheries may be granted licences to fish in the territories of Western Sahara under the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Morocco. Leigh Day has advised WSC UK that both such activities are unlawful.
Western Sahara in north-west Africa is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Saharawi people. In October 1975 the International Court of Justice rejected territorial claims over Western Sahara by Morocco and recognised the Saharawis' right to self-determination. Despite this declaration, Morocco continues to occupy Western Sahara and it stands accused of ongoing human rights abuses against the Saharawi inhabitants.
In letters sent to both DEFRA and HMRC, lawyers for the campaign group say that Moroccan sovereignty does not extend to the territory of Western Sahara or to the adjacent territorial sea. Therefore goods and products produced in West Sahara should not to be treated as originating in Morocco for the purposes of preferential tariffs or any other benefits conferred by the Association Agreement. British companies should also not exploit the natural resources of an occupied territory under an agreement to which the occupied peoples were not party. To do so would undermine the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people and recognise as lawful a situation which is unlawful under international law.
Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the Western Sahara Campaign, said: “It appears that Morocco is currently benefitting from exporting goods from land and sea it occupies in Western Sahara, against international law. The people of Western Sahara are being denied the right to self-determination over their land and natural resources. The UK government, and in particular, DEFRA and HMRC must take immediate steps to ensure it is not complicit in these actions.”
John Gurr of WSCUK said: “Paying Morocco or Moroccan companies for resources from Western Sahara supports the Moroccan occupation and undermines the UN peace process”.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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