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Unexpected Victory for Western Sahara Campaigners at the European Parliament

What is the significance of MEPs decision to end the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement?
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Fish nor foul? European vessels will no longer fish in Western Saharan waters.

Last Wednesday afternoon Sara Eckymans, international coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch, sat intently in the public gallery at back of the voluminous semi-circular auditorium of the European Parliament. Beside her a group of bored school children fidgeted. In front of her, a full house of MEPs attending a plenary session were asked to vote on an proposal to extend the EU fisheries agreement with Morocco, allowing European vessels to continue fishing the waters off occupied Western Sahara. The MEPs pressed their buttons and within seconds the vote appeared on screens around the hall. Eckymans, who has campaigned on the issue for over six years, jotted down the figures. Votes for: 296. Votes against: 326. Abstentions: 58. The auditorium erupted with applause. Ecykman’s pen and papers fell to the floor. Tears coursed down her cheeks. “I’m sorry” she explained to the bemused teacher sat beside her, “something historic has just happened".

Economic stimulus, real change?

The decision was indeed historic. The Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Morocco was signed in 2005 and controversially granted licences to 119 EU vessels – predominantly Spanish – to fish in Morocco's Atlantic waters.

However, the agreement failed to distinguish between the waters of Morocco and those of Western Sahara, meaning that EU vessels were fishing the waters off Western Sahara’s 1,100-kilometre coastline. The agreement officially expired at the end of February and a one-year extension to the agreement was approved by a small majority in the Council of Ministers in March. However, pressure for the Parliament to reject the extension had been building.

In November, both the parliament’s Budget Committee and the Development Committee recommended that the fisheries agreement be stopped and the 2010 publication of a confidential legal opinion showed that the European Parliament’s Legal Service viewed the fishing by European vessels in Western Sahara’s waters to be in violation of international law.

This view supported that of the UN Legal Adviser, Hans Corell, whose 2002 legal opinion for the UN Security Council on Western Sahara’s natural resources made clear that exploitation of the territory’s resources could only be considered legal if the Saharawi population were consulted and benefited. This consultation had not taken place and according to human rights activist Aminatou Haidar speaking earlier this year, “[t]he Saharawi do not benefit at all from this agreement. Instead it only intensifies their oppression”.

Legal landmark

In response to last week’s MEP’s decision, Morocco ordered foreign fishing boats operating in its waters to leave immediately. Despite the fact that the annual loss of the 36 million Euros $47 million) paid by the EU for fishing rights will have little impact on Morocco, and that the EU decision was perhaps motivated more by the agreement’s poor profitability rather than considerations of international legality, the decision is nevertheless politically important. After nearly 36 years of Moroccan occupation and over 20 years of waiting for a promised referendum on self-determination, the people of Western Sahara have had precious few victories on the international political stage. According to Elarbi Messaoud, Secretary of the collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), “the main significance of this decision by the European Parliament lies in the acknowledgement of the unresolved legal status of the territory”.

Western Sahara is classified by the UN as a non-self-governing territory, a term used to describe a nation whose people are yet to attain a full level of self-government. Under General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), the natural resources of Western Sahara should belong to the Saharawi people. In 2002, the UN Legal Counsel Hans Correll declared that exploration and exploitation activities are being carried out “in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing-Territories”. General Assembly Resolution 63/102 of 2008, called on Member States to take:

“Legislative, administrative or other measures in respect of their nationals and the bodies corporate under their jurisdiction that own and operate enterprises in the Non-Self-Governing Territories that are detrimental to the interests of the inhabitants of those Territories, in order to put an end to those enterprises”.

This has not been done and despite many attempts to break the long-running diplomatic stalemate, progress towards a resolution of the conflict has been tortuously slow.

For Sara Eyckmans the result came as a shock. “Not a single hair on my head was expecting this result” she admits. “I cannot find the words to describe the emotions of Saharawi I spoke with on the phone following the vote: they were crying out of sheer joy and amazement”.

From the coastal towns in Western Sahara, to the dusty desert refugee camps in Algeria, Saharawi were holding impromptu celebrations. But for Elarbi Messaoud celebrations were short lived: “The Japanese, Russians are still fishing our waters,” he says. “Celebrations will never be complete while our right to self-determination remains confiscated, human rights violations increase every day and dozens of Saharawi human rights defenders languish in prison.”

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Comments

The Western Sahara is part of Morocco and Morocco will never give up an inch of its land. To prove yourselves wrong go check the history, the real history not the one that was forged to make Morocco look like the monster in this case. The Polisario has been involved in a lot of drug and human trafficking , terrorism, smuggling of the weapons, helping Mommar ghaddafi when he was killing his own people. So Mrs Sara eyckmans is definitely closing an eye on all of these violations and I m sure that she is getting a good price for doing that. Morocco is better off not to Let the Spanish Floats in our waters ( from tangiers to Laayoune). also it is supposed to develop its own private fishing sectors, to take the most advantages of it. 30 million is nothing cause Since the agreement has stopped Spain has lost already more than that. To sum it up there is an international violation in Morocco , look at the map and locate Spain and look at the north of Morocco you will still see spain inside of Morocco. Ceuta and Mellilla. It is high time to get them back in order for us to be a complete Land. Peace

Spain is violating law but occupying Ceuta and Melila.
Morroco is violating law but not allowing Sahraoui to choose for independance or to be with Morroco.
You cant say:"Apply low for us but not on us" . IF you beleive The Sahara is Morrocan so let the peopel vote, simple as that, but morrocan governement knows that if poeple vote, they will choose independance.

"In itself, allegiance to the sovereign is of a political and constitutional character, as.in certain countries that were subject to a military feudal system. Furthermore, at  the time of colonization by Spain, that is to say towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Sultan combined in his person the legislative and executive powers, to which was added the spiritual power. He exercised those powers by means of dahirs, which were issued - a significant fact - under his sole signature. Does this not mean that the Sultan at that time personified the State, all of whose powers he exercised? Therefore allegiance to the Sultan, or sovereign, was equivalent to allegiance to the State. This entails acknowledging that the legal ties between Morocco and Western Sahara recognized by the Court took the form of political ties, indeed ties of sovereignty.""Among the grounds put forward by Spain to convince the Court that it should refuse  to  answer the General  Assembly's request for an advisory opinion, it mentions the fact that the Assembly has already decided that a referendum should be carried out, and that it cannot go back on that decision which  is binding on it; the Advisory Opinion would, it is alleged, in  those circumstances only be of academic interest. That argument was rightly rejected by the Court. But why is Spain so keen on the referendum? One can find the explanation in the memorandum from the Spanish Minister for  Foreign Affairs to Morocco's Ambassador  in  Madrid dated 5 April 1957, which  lays down the procedures to be adopted for Spain's evacuation of the territory, which the memorandum States in the following terms: "4.  The recognition in favour of Spain, in consideration of what it has achieved, and in a form to be agreed, of special privileges, as well as the grant of a right preferential to that of other countries with regard to the economic development  and joint exploitation of the said  territory." (Hearing of 1 July 1975.)"http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/61/6205.pdfMoroccans also demand the return of our Eastern Sahara from the illegal occupation of the Algerian junta.http://www.jstor.org/pss/216479

rather a voctory for the moroccan people,who can buy their fish at low prices,spain is the looser.and polisario is no winner nomore,not after the 11th reelection of the only still living dictator in africa,abdelaziz merrakchi today! stop defending dictatorships 

There is no such thing as European Union is recognizing the issue of Western Sahara or the fisheries agreement between the two parties is in violation of Intl. law.As simple and as direct as it can get.  The E.U. is playing games. This is a mind game played by the E.U to pressure Morocco to lower its asking price for that agreement. There is also a rumor that the E.U Parliament president is discussing a decision to stop renewing the agricultural exports from Morocco to the EU. This is clearly a dirty strategy to weaken Morocco that is knowing an incredible economical evolution while the rest of the worls is falling behind. So this is not about the Polisario or whatever they call themselves. The whole world knows the western Sahara is Moroccan and will always remain so. Not a soul in our motherland will let go of this reality. As for the back stabing used by the E.U. HECK with them.. More fish for us and more oranges for us. We'll see how much they can last without our precious resources!