Western Sahara Resource Watch asked today the government of Russia to halt fisheries offshore occupied Western Sahara, and make sure that their up-coming fisheries agreement with Morocco specifically excludes the occupied territory. WSRW has repeatedly found Russian fishing vessels in the disputed waters.
A letter similar to the one below, was also sent to the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sergey Lavrov.
President Dmitry Medvedev Ilinka Str, No 23 103132, Moscow The Russian Federation
Melbourne, 27 May 2009
Dear President Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wishes to express serious concern about the current Russian-Moroccan fisheries cooperation, and the next Fisheries Partnership Agreement which, as we understand, is currently being renegotiated.
Our organisation, represented in more than 30 countries, working in solidarity with the Sahrawi people, has in recent years been following with great concern the repeated presence of Russian trawlers in occupied waters offshore Western Sahara, as well as numerous transports of fisheries products from Western Sahara to Russian ports.
The Government of the Russian Federation should know well that Western Sahara is treated by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, simultaneously as being illegally occupied by Morocco. While there can be no objection to Morocco granting Russia access to fishing in Moroccan waters, activities of Russian vessels in the unlawfully held territorial waters of Western Sahara are in violation of international law and undermine UN-led attempts to bring selfdetermination to the people of the territory and lasting peace to the region.
Ever since Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975, the UN has repeatedly called for the decolonization of the territory, which it both labels as occupied and annexed. Moreover, the International Court of Justice has rejected the Moroccan claims of sovereignty over the territory. No country in the world recognizes Moroccan claims to Western Sahara, and Morocco is in no position to exploit the Territory’s resources without the permission of the Sahrawi people or their internationally recognized representatives.
The Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination includes, inter alia, the right of permanent sovereignty over its natural resources. Permanent sovereignty over natural resources is a customary principle of international law.
Morocco has never laid claim to the waters adjacent to Western Sahara. Therefore, it is not in a position to offer fisheries licenses to Russia in respect of these waters. Moreover, any such fisheries are in direct violation of the ‘Law No. 03/2009 of 21 January 2009 Establishing the Maritime Zones of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)’ (‘Law No. 03/2009’), which has the effect of establishing and defining with legal clarity the maritime zones of the SADR in accordance with international law, including a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
As former UN Legal Counsel Corell stated,
Under all circumstances I would have thought that it was obvious that an agreement of this kind that does not make a distinction between the waters adjacent to Western Sahara and the waters adjacent to the territory of Morocco would violate international law.
In addition to a legal obligation, we believe that the Government of the Russian Federation also has the moral imperative to contribute towards a durable and just solution for this lingering injustice, rather than complicating the matter by itself profiting from the illegal and illegitimate Moroccan presence in Western Sahara.
From the homepages of Murmansk Trawl Fleet, we read with interest the protocol from the 3rd meeting of the Russian-Moroccan Joint Fisheries Commission in 2008, stating that a new agreement is about to be renegotiated and signed later this year.
On this basis, Western Sahara Resource Watch calls upon the Government of Russia to:
1) immediately halt fisheries offshore Western Sahara under the current Russian-Moroccan Fisheries Partnership Agreement; and 2) clearly specify in the forthcoming agreement that the southern limit for fishing activities in Moroccan waters is the internationally recognized border between Morocco and Western Sahara, 27º 40’ north.
Cate Lewis International Coordinator Western Sahara Resource Watch www.wsrw.org
 Ambassador Hans Corell, The legality of exploring and exploiting natural resources in Western Sahara, address to the Conference on Multilateralism and International Law with Western Sahara as a Case Study, hosted by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs and the University of Pretoria, held in Pretoria, South Africa, 4 to 5 December 2008, available at: http://www.havc.se/res/SelectedMaterial/20081205pretoriawesternsahara1.pdf
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