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25th Jul 2021

Rights watchdog warns MEPs on Morocco trade deal

  • MEPs are set to back an EU fishing deal with Morocco (Photo: Ross Thomson)

Human Rights Watch is demanding MEPs take another look at an EU deal with Morocco that exploits the resources of the disputed Western Sahara region, ahead of a plenary vote on Tuesday (12 February).

The Western Sahara is roughly the size of the United Kingdom and was annexed by Morocco in a brutal conflict. The United Nations does not recognise Morocco's claim over the territory.

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In a letter on Monday addressed to MEPs, the head of the NGO's Brussels office Lotte Leicht, asks the deputies to send the proposed deal on fisheries to the European Court of Justice to determine if international law is being violated.

"Morocco is in occupation of the territory and therefore the relevant international humanitarian law applies," notes Leicht.

The Luxembourg-based court only last year rejected a similar deal, telling the EU it cannot cut deals with Rabat in order to fish off the disputed coastline.

But the European Commission has since renegotiated a new pact with Morocco, which is set to get rubber-stamped by MEPs on Tuesday.

Less free than Saudi Arabia

Morocco's grip over the Western Sahara has also turned it into one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to political rights and civil liberties.

Freedom House, a US-based independent watchdog organisation, recently ranked the Western Sahara fourth out of 100 in a global report on freedom.

The higher the score, the more free the country.

North Korea scored three. It means Libya (ninth), Saudi Arabia (seventh) and Venezuela (19) are all considered more free than the Western Sahara, according to the report.

The Tuesday vote appears to follow a pattern - there will be no plenary debate on the fishery agreement. This is because efforts to have it debated were denied.

Earlier this year in January, MEPs backed another EU deal with Morocco on agriculture.

Efforts to debate the agricultural pact were also blocked, despite intense lobbying by Morocco - and conflict of interests, exposed by this website, that led to an internal European parliament probe against four MEPs.

French liberal Patricia Lalonde stepped down as lead MEP on the agricultural deal as a result of EUobserver's investigation.

She was replaced by Dutch liberal Marietje Schaake, who then refused to vote in favour of the report drafted by Lalonde.

Schaake questioned whether the deal adhered to international law and the rulings by the European Court of Justice. But the parliament passed it anyway.

The agricultural deal has paved the way for the fisheries agreement, which has always been Rabat's biggest prize.

Morocco has played on the issues of migration and security to bend the will and gain the support of the European lawmakers.

Supporters of the trade deals, including the European Commission, say it will help improve the lives of people living in the Western Sahara.

They say it brings both jobs and development to the region.

Investigation

Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.

Commission backtracks after Western Sahara 'mistake'

Just hours of publication, the EU Commission removed from the European Parliament's website a response by one of its own commissioners on the Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.

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What you don't hear about Spain's migration policy

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