New Zealand, a country which already is a main ally to Morocco in buying the phosphates from the occupied Western Sahara, now also proves to be involved in the distribution of the territory’s fish resources.
A representative of the New Zealand company Sealord has confirmed to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) that they import fish from Moroccan companies in the occupied country. A WSRW researcher in Spain this week talked to a representative of Sealord Spain, a subsidiary of the Kiwi company.
Sealord is carrying out these fish trade in a partnership called Europacífico Alimentos del Mar (http://www.europacifico.net/english/pescado-congelado.htm). This partnership consists of Sealord, as well as Chilean company Friosur from Chile, and Nippon Suisan from Japan. Together, they distribute frozen fish products from Western Sahara to the Spanish and Portuguese markets, according to their homepages.
Europacífico has an exclusive agreement for distribution of the fish from the Western Sahara-based Moroccan fishing group Omnium Marocain de Peche (OMP). The agreement entails the distribution of 30.000 tonnes of fish from the occupied country, mostly different species of octopus. (http://www.europacifico.net/Nota%20de%20prensa%20EUROPACIFICO%20-%20OMP.pdf)
Helping settlers “Purchasing products from Moroccan companies in occupied Western Sahara is highly controversial”, said Javier García Lachica, international coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch.
“Most of all, because these purchases contribute to maintaining of illegal Moroccan fishing settlements in Western Sahara, who have been established in the country by the Moroccan government, in violation of international law”, García Lachica said.
Moroccan fishing authorities have during the last years managed the octopus stocks in Western Sahara very poorly, to the extent that many of them have nearly collapsed. The intense pressure is due to a combination of agreements with foreign fishing companies on one side, and tens of thousands of Moroccan small-scale fishermen settlers on the other. In this way, the Moroccan government can at the same time both earn money on the occupation and settle their population in Western Sahara.
“The Europacífico trade has clear political implications. On their homepages, they even go to the extent to label Western Sahara as Moroccan. That is completely contrary to the position of the New Zealand, Chilean and Japanese governments, and any other government in the world, who do absolutely not recognise Western Sahara as part of Morocco”, García Lachica said.
The OMP group consists of the Moroccan fishing companies Omnium Marocain de Peche Flote, Omnium Marocain de Peche Industries, Phiasud and Saetma. The Sahrawi population, indigenous to the occupied Western Sahara, do not profit from the industry. Western Sahara Resource Watch is in daily contact with leading Sahrawi voices in the occupied territory, who can confirm that this is the case.
Any opposition to the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara is systematically put down. A report by the American NGO Freedom House yesterday, rates the situation for political rights and civil liberties in the occupied Western Sahara on the same level of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Belarus. (http://vest-sahara.no/a104x925)
New Zealand supporting occupation At the same time as New Zealand claims they support the UN efforts to solve the conflict, the country is one of the main supporters of Morocco’s occupation. New Zealand is already one of the main importers of phosphate rock from the area. The money goes right into the pockets of the Moroccan government. Now, they are also looking into new business in the occupied land.
A high ranking New Zealand delegation visited Morocco in January this year. It consisted of the NZ Minister of Trade, Mr. Phil Goff, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Winston Peters.
According to Moroccan media reports at the time, fish cooperation between Morocco and New Zealand was one of the issues that were debated during the visit. Western Sahara Resource Watch does not know whether it is a coincidence that the delegation took place the very same month as the Sealord/Europacífico agreement with the Moroccan OMP was landed. The distribution agreement between Europacífico and OMP was signed in Madrid on January 17th 2008, among others, by the CEO of Europacífico, Mr. David Ellis from New Zealand.
Few days after the NZ government delegation had visited Morocco, WSRW sent the below letter to the New Zealand Minister of Trade and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We have still not got any reply.
“When Morocco knows they can profit from the illegal occupation of Western Sahara, they will never leave the country. The involvement from New Zealand and Europacifico therefore goes completely against the UN's efforts to find a solution to the Western Sahara conflict”, said García Lachica.
“The New Zealand government has on several occasions claimed to be supporting the UN peace process in Western Sahara. At the same time they encourage their own investments in the country, together with the occupying power. Morocco has so far violated more than 100 UN resolutions by not decolonising the territory, and commit grave violations of human rights against the local Sahrawi population. New Zealand cannot logically do both these things at the same time. They have to choose. Either they must say that they officially support the occupation, or they try to disengage from commercial activities with the Moroccan government in the occupied land.”
“The New Zealand government cannot have avoided noticing that the fact that Sealord is engaged not in Morocco, but in the neighbouring country. We demand that New Zealand follow the examples of governments such as the one of Sweden and Norway, and actively try to prevent their national companies from getting involved instead of promoting it”, García Lachica said. “That would be to support the UN”, said Lachica.
Looking for opportunities According to the homepages of the New Zealand government, (http://www.mfat.govt.nz/Countries/Africa/Morocco.php) “two New Zealand fisheries companies, Sealord and Prepared Foods Limited, are currently exploring joint venture project opportunities in Morocco.”. (This reference was removed from the ministry's pages in 2008, but can still be downloaded here.)
It is unclear whether the 2 companies are still exploring such joint-venture possibilities. The New Zealand embassy in Madrid could not answer to details regarding the involvement of Prepared Foods Limited. For Sealord, WSRW was referred to their office in Spain.
WSRW is a network organisation that researches foreign investments in occupied Western Sahara, in solidarity with the people from Western Sahara. WSRW has member organisations in over 30 countries.
A similar letter was also sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Winston Peters.
The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association Noel Peterson 28b Tarata St Matua Tauranga
Hon Phil Goff Minister of Trade Minister for Trade Negotiations Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control
CC: Rt Hon Winston Peters Minister of Foreign Affairs
Tauranga, January 27th 2008
Regarding New Zealand business interests in occupied Western Sahara
The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association notices that you have just concluded a 5 day delegation of public and private representatives from New Zealand to Morocco.
We have followed the New Zealand and Moroccan media reports on the issue, and would like to express our support to the increased trade and cooperation between the two countries. We are, however, very worried about the way New Zealand could be dealing with the occupation of Western Sahara in the relations to Morocco , and have hereby 5 questions that we hope you are able to answer.
The questions are based on the fact that any business activity in Morocco would have to take into consideration that Morocco is an occupying power, illegally controlling the neighbouring country Western Sahara . The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association would like to stress that that the natural resources in Western Sahara do not belong to Morocco, and clearly underline that any New Zealand business activity with Moroccan authorities or companies in Western Sahara are highly unethical and politically controversial.
They are furthermore in violation of international law. As the former UN Secretary-General for Legal Affairs stated in 2002, while summing up international law in the field, “the General Assembly has consistently condemned the exploitation and plundering of natural resources and any economic activities which are detrimental to the interests of the peoples of those Territories and deprive them of their legitimate rights over their natural resources”. See his opinion here: www.arso.org/Olaeng.pdf
To the Moroccan newspaper Le Matin on January 24th, you are quoted of having expressed an interest in establishing a partnership for fishing with Morocco . It is mentioned particularly that New Zealand could be interested in a cooperation for exploration of the deep waters offshore Morocco . This poses a dilemma, since approximately two thirds of Moroccan fishing takes place in occupied waters. Entering into deals with Moroccan fisheries authorities in Western Sahara is considered for instance by Sweden as in violation of international law, since Morocco has no authority to sign fishing deals for Western Saharan waters.
-Can you confirm that New Zealand is interested in a fisheries partnership with Morocco ?
-Has it clearly been stated –or will it be clearly stated- to the Moroccan authorities that any fishery cooperation would only have to take place within the borders of Morocco that are internationally recognised?
New Zealand is today one of the very few countries in the world that import phosphates from the occupied Western Sahara . The Moroccan state phosphate company, OCP, has extracted phosphate rock from the area since shortly after Morocco invaded the country in 1975.
All evidence that we have suggest that the phosphate trade is neither to the benefit nor interest of the people of Western Sahara . After the Moroccan take-over of the management of the Bu Craa phosphate plant from Spanish colonial authorities, significant adverse changes resulted, with serious loss of employment opportunities for native Sahrawis. The French non-governmental organisation France Libertés, headed by Danielle Mitterrand , carried out a mission to Western Sahara in 2002 and has described these changes thoroughly in one of its reports. The France Libertés mission met with 200 former Sahrawi workers from the mines. All of them claimed having suffered various violations of their socio-economic rights. Regarding those who still work in the company, the report states that “not only have the Saharawi workers benefited very little if not at all, of any promotion, but they have mainly been subject to downgrading measures in the scale of the jobs they held, without any prior information, nor any reason.” The result today, over 30 years later, is that the Sahrawis are systematically marginalised from this industry, an industry that used to employ approximately 2000 Sahrawis prior to the occupation. Please find the France Libertés report at the following website: www.arso.org/FL101102e.pdf. The general civil society in Western Sahara and the Front Polisario strongly opposes the international participation in the industry. Polisario is internationally recognised as the representative of the Sahrawi people.
In a New Zealand parliamentary debate regarding the New Zealand phosphate imports from Western Sahara on July 26th 2006, you mentioned that you were indeed aware of the UN opinion from 2002, stating that the interests of the inhabitants of non-self governing territories must be paramount in such an issue when considering the legality of such imports.
But simultaneously you made a confusing paradox. On one hand you claimed that “I do not think anybody can say with any certainty what the local people in Western Sahara feel about the mining of phosphate resources. I certainly have no evidence about that”. On the other hand, you stated that the imports to New Zealand were in compliance with international law.
If the Moroccan mining in the Sahrawi’s land is in the violation of the interests and wishes of its people – something that all evidence suggests are the case – then we believe it must be in violation of international law.
-Has the Minister during the visit to Morocco received any evidence proving your suggestion that the New Zealand phosphate imports is indeed in line with international law?
-Did the Minister for instance meet with any representatives of the Sahrawi people while in Morocco ?
Some states, such as Norway , discourage its companies from entering into Western Sahara because of the political and ethical dilemmas, since they say it might undermine the UN peace process for the territory. See for instance here: http://www.vest-sahara.no/index.php?cat=71&art=613
-Does the Minister agree that it would be a true support to the UN peace process if all New Zealand business activities in the territory are frozen until the dispute over the land has been settled?
Looking forward to your reply,
All the best,
Noel Peterson The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association.
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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