Human rights defender slams EU putting trade over human rights

"Be part of the solution, not part of the problem", Saharawi human rights activist Ali Salem Tamek urged the European Parliament, criticizing the illegal EU plunder of the fisheries resources offshore occupied Western Sahara.
Published: 08.12 - 2011 21:28Printer version    
Speech by Ali Salem Tamek,
Saharawi human rights activist.

In the seminar "The EU and Western Sahara: trading fish, ignoring rights?”, European Parliament, 7 December, 2011

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this democratically elected European institution, representing the peoples of Europe. It is very difficult for the Saharawi people to get our voices heard in the European Union. We find that perplexing; the European Union is known for its active advocacy of human rights worldwide, yet appears to be silent when it comes to Western Sahara.

But at the same time, the EU does show an interest in our occupied homeland’s natural resources. In that, the Union is not alone. Our abundant natural resources such as phosphates, oil and fish have been attracting international commerce for years. In 2002, the UN stated that economic activities in Western Sahara are illegal if they do not accord with the wishes and interests of the Saharawi people. It is deeply troubling that multinational companies choose to ignore international law, but it is even worse that the European Union – with its reputation as a proponent of international law, human rights and democracy – chooses to do the same.

The UN has acknowledged the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination over our territory and its natural resources: that means that we have the right to decide on the future status of the territory and its possessions. Over 100 UN Resolutions confirm this. Even Morocco acknowledged our right to self-determination when it signed the cease-fire treaty in 1991 and agreed to hold a referendum. But ever since, Morocco has done everything possible to block such a referendum and to silence Saharawi calling for their legitimate rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The wishes of the Saharawi are an important precondition for the legality of any economic activity in the territory. The Saharawi’s wishes are in fact the key point to understanding the entire concept of self-determination, which the EU claims to defend. The EU-Morocco fisheries agreement is in violation of international law because it ignores the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination: do the Saharawi people want the agreement or not? The EU has never asked us our opinion.

On the other hand, the agreement has not had any positive effect on the lives of Saharawi living in the occupied territory and in south Morocco. This pushes them to peacefully protest against exclusion, discrimination and poverty. The Moroccan settlers who were brought into the territory to change its demographics, receive jobs and houses from the Moroccan occupying regime. In addition, they have access to extra advantages, designed to make them stay in the territory. The best example is what occurred in the Gdeim Izik camp, one year ago. This camp was located 12 kilometres from El Aaiun, and has given a clear image of the miserable social and economic situation of the Saharawi. This camp was brutally dismantled by different entities of the Moroccan security forces – as the entire world was able to witness.

Saharawi people were killed, many were injured and hundreds were arrested. Some of those have been unjustly sentenced, and others have been referred to a military court where justice does not exist.

I would like to inform you that the group of Saharawi prisoners in Salé prison number 2, known as the Gdeim Izik group, are currently in an open hunger strike which they started 5 weeks ago. They denounce the inhuman condition in which they are held, the confiscation of their right for a fair trial within an acceptable period of time. Moreover, all other groups of Saharawi prisoners are in the same situation, including those who were arrested in Dakhla last October and November. In addition, the Moroccan regime insists at keeping the Saharawi human rights defender Yahya Mohamed El-Hafed and his group in prison. El-Hafed was sentenced to 15 years. I also wish to mention the case of Said Dambar, who was shot dead by a Moroccan policeman in El Aaiun, in December 2010. He has still not been buried, as the Moroccan authorities continue to refuse to investigate the circumstances of his death, as requested by his family.

Our organisation, CODESA, monitors the human rights situation of Saharawi living under Moroccan occupation, including the Saharawi fishermen. They are prevented from fishing by Morocco and the EU does not seem to care about this.

Some foreign vessels fishing in Western Sahara’s waters make a stop in Moroccan ports to pick up Moroccan workers. In Western Sahara, people are employed through the Moroccan administration which always discriminates the Saharawi. Saharawi fishermen are not even allowed to enter the harbours when lucrative species are being fished, as happened in Dakhla and Boujdour this year.
On the other hand, our organisation has observed that there is no respect for the environment in Saharawi waters: small scale fishermen say that there is less and less fish. They report the use of forbidden fishing techniques, such as drift nets, and say that waste is being dumped into the ocean, without taking into account its consequences.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We not benefit from this agreement. On the contrary, because of the EU’s trade agreements with Morocco, we are suppressed even more. The crimes of the Moroccan State against the Saharawi have increased. Morocco feels itself supported by the EU in its illegal and unfounded claim over Western Sahara. All trade agreements with Morocco that do not clearly exclude Western Sahara from its scope, further complicate an already difficult peace process. If an occupying regime receives billions of Euros through the exploitation of the territory it illegally occupies, it has no incentive whatsoever to engage in peace talks.

Adding insult to injury, we understand that the European Commission has asked Morocco whether the Saharawi benefit from the agreement. Does the Commission honestly believe that Morocco, the aggressor to the conflict, will give a fair account on behalf of the people it has so brutally oppressed for decades? Would the Commission ask the Israeli government to speak on behalf of the Palestinians? Would it have asked the Indonesians to speak on behalf of the Timorese? No, it would not. Why these double standards when it comes to Western Sahara?

In a few days, this respected Parliament will get a historical chance to make things right. A crime has been committed against an unarmed and peaceful people, who express their opinion in a civil away, without violence, in line with its values and its culture. Today, this people hope that the European conscience will wake up and support justice and fundamental principles, including dignity and liberties. You can make a change, and push the European Union to review this unfair deal. The current position stains the EU’s image. Think about the suffering of children, elder people, injured, bereaved mothers and orphans, and thousands of Saharawi victims who look to the European Parliament to vote no to any agreement with Morocco including the territory Western Sahara. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Thank you.





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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