Saturday, November 19, 2005

The EU-Morocco fisheries agreement must be stopped or amended

End this neglected injusticeMore international pressure must be put on Morocco over its occupationof the Western Sahara, says Carne Ross
Guardian Unlimited

Friday November 18, 2005I was glad to see Ian Black's piece marking the 30th anniversary ofMorocco's illegal occupation of the Western Sahara on Guardian Unlimited last week.But I want to take him to task for his suggestion that the WesternSahara Campaign, of which I am a member, is guilty of "wishfulthinking" in hoping that there might be progress in this long-stagnant dispute.Throughout decades of Indonesian occupation, representatives of EastTimor were told to "be realistic" and forget their struggle forself-determination. Perhaps some even accused them of "wishful thinking", but they did not give up - and today East Timor is anindependent state.If there were justice in the world, campaigns such as ours would notneed to exist. Our purpose is to draw attention to an injustice that has long been neglected by members of the UN security council,including our own government.The security council has passed dozens of resolutions calling for areferendum on self-determination for the Western Sahara. None has been implemented, and Minurso, the UN body intended to supervise thereferendum, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to achievenothing.Today, no state is lifting a diplomatic finger to resolve thesituation. The British government offers the bromide that the issue is in the UN's hands - which, in reality, means letting Morocco off thehook.France and Spain, Morocco's principal European allies, occasionallypretend to engage in diplomacy while meanwhile preventing the EU from using any of its considerable influence to move the Moroccan position.Indeed, the EU is about to agree a new fisheries agreement withMorocco that will allow EU boats illegally to exploit the WesternSahara's waters. The US seems unwilling to do anything to upset a key Arab ally in the "war on terror" - Morocco successfully presentsitself as a "reforming" Arab government, despite its continuing recordof human rights abuse and lack of democracy.Recently, I visited refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, where around 150,000 Sahrawis languish, waiting for the world to deliver thejustice it has promised.The camps are impressive and well-organised, but there is aninevitable despair among the people, some of whom have spent 30 years in the desert waiting to return to their own country. Some of theoriginal refugees, driven from the Western Sahara by the Moroccaninvasion, now have grandchildren - two generations have grown upwithout seeing their homeland. Among the Polisario leadership in the camps, there is no mood to giveup the long struggle. Some talked of a return to war, which remainssuspended since the ceasefire of 1991. They know such a course wouldoffer them little against a Morocco amply equipped with US, French,Spanish and some British weapons, and which would no doubt rush toaccuse the Polisario of "terrorism".But the Sahrawis are desperate, well aware that the promises of the world's powers and institutions to deliver self-determination haveproved to be hollow.Meanwhile, inside the occupied territory, this summer has seen aboiling over of frustration among the indigenous Sahrawi inhabitants. Demonstrations across the territory have been met by Moroccanrepression, with arbitrary arrests, detention without trial and, inrecent days, the death of a Sahrawi demonstrator, Lembarki Hamdi, atthe hands of the Moroccan police. Despite Morocco's attempts to squash the story, reports of multiplyingarrests and growing demonstrations have been getting out, bringingwith them the threat of serious instability in the region.At the last security council meeting, John Bolton suggested this dispute had gone on for long enough. Whether his sentiment inclinesthe US - or the security council as a whole - to at last put pressureon Morocco to do the right thing remains to be seen.The new UN envoy, Peter van Walsum, can only make progress if the member states support him, above all by moving Morocco from itsintransigent opposition to any referendum including independence as anoption.What can be done? The British government, despite its responsibilities as a permanent member of the security council (and for a few weeksmore, the holder of the EU presidency) seems to think it has no locusor ability to intervene. This is false, not least because the UK andthe EU have some sway over Morocco, which looks to Europe for political support and trade.Britain must press Morocco to allow a fair process ofself-determination, as the security council and the internationalcourt of justice have decreed. The EU-Morocco fisheries agreement must be stopped or amended to ensure that EU boats do not exploit thewaters of Western Sahara.Morocco, meanwhile, welcomes western tourists while hoping that nonenotice its oppression of another people and its occupation of their land. Until the Sahrawi are freed from occupation, no tourist shouldvisit - don't go to Morocco, until Morocco goes from the WesternSahara.ยท Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and member of the UK Western Sahara Campaign

Useful linksWestern Sahara Campaign War on Want

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