On 2 February 2010, representatives of the European Union and Morocco met in Rabat to analyze the problems of the EU-Moroccan Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA). The meeting never raised the opinions of the Sahrawi people, despite the fact that most of the fisheries take place offshore their land.
The annual meeting between the EU and Morocco, dubbed joint-committee, aims to follow-up on issues that may arise regarding the application of the fisheries cooperation. The main challenge of the legality of the fisheries cooperation, is that the EU fisheries take place in Western Sahara, a territory which is treated by the UN General Assembly as a colonial issue, and which is under illegal Moroccan occupation.
But sources of the European Commission have assured the Spanish news service Efe that the question of Western Sahara was not on the agenda of the latest joint committee meeting, because – the same sources stated - the meeting in Rabat was meant to review the application of the agreement, not to renegotiate it.
Yet it is precisely the application of the agreement that is at the heart of a recent Legal Opinion written by the European Parliament.
The new Legal Opinion from the Parliament strongly questions the legality of the Fisheries Agreement with Morocco for not being beneficial to the people of Western Sahara, and strongly urges the next committee meeting to discuss how the agreement can be applied to make sure it is in line with international law.
The EP’s Legal Opinion is in line with what has become known as the Corell Opinion, the Legal Opinion on exploration and exploitation in Western Sahara issued by the UN in 2002. The UN’s legal service then concluded that any economic activities that are not in accordance with the wishes and interests of the people of Western Sahara would be in violation of international law.
Given the lack of evidence that the Saharawi people have been consulted or have benefited from the current EU-Moroccan FPA, the EP’s Opinion strongly recommended that these concerns were to be raised in the next EU-Moroccan joint-committee meeting.
The new Legal Opinion by the Parliament’s Legal Services was issued on July 2009, and was supposed to be debated in the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee only one week prior to the Joint Committee meeting in February. However, the public debate in the Fisheries Committee was dropped off the agenda at the very last minute.
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.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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