- The former UN Legal Counsel, Ambassador Hans Corell, calls the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) illegal, because it includes the waters off Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
EU vessels have since 2006 trawled the waters offshore occupied Western Sahara under a Moroccan-EU fisheries agreement, in disregard of the wishes of the people of Western Sahara. These waters are known to contain some of the richest fish resources in the world.
The EU has previously claimed that the controversial agreement is legal, referring to an opinion that the erstwhile UN Legal Counsel and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, wrote in 2002. But the former UN legal expert himself, having left office, clearly criticises what he sees as an EU mis-interpretation of his text.
Mr Corell, who is considered the world's foremost authority on the matter after writing the opinion to the Security Council, said it is "obvious that an agreement .. 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".
Mr Corell added: "As a European I feel embarrassed." He is himself a Swedish citizen, and Sweden led the internal EU fight to stop the inclusion of Western Sahara in the EU-Morocco fisheries deal.
The clear statement from Mr Corell was given at a law conference hosted jointly by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs and the University of Pretoria, which in particular looked into the situation of Western Sahara.
South African Deputy Foreign Minister Sue van der Merwe at the same occasion said her country supported the demand of "non-exploitation of natural resources of the illegally occupied territory," of which the EU-Morocco fisheries deal has been named a prime example, along with phosphates and oil.
The pro-Saharawi network Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) has headed the fight to stop foreign exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources. In 2006, WSRW tried to have Western Sahara specifically excluded from the agreement. Today, it received Mr Corell's statements with approval.
"It proves that our interpretation of the international law in this matter has been correct all along. The fundamental breach of law and ethics which the EU is engaged in, must now be rectified immediately", said Cate Lewis, International Coordinator of WSRW. "This can only be done by amending the agreement to exclude Western Saharan waters from the Agreement, and by immediately revoking any European fishing licences authorizing trawlers to enter Western Saharan waters."
Following Mr Corell's statement, WSRW urges all European fishing companies to immediately cease fishing activities in Western Saharan waters "to minimise legal exposure through possible litigation in EU courts."
"Given that this illegal practice has been ongoing for years, WSRW demands that all prior financial transfers made by the EU to Morocco to secure access to Western Saharan fisheries resources be returned immediately. In order to ensure consistency with international law, this money must be allocated directly for the benefit of the Sahrawi population, including those living in forced exile," Ms Lewis said.
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