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21st Sep 2019

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Danish MPs warn firms not to trade with Western Sahara

  • Many Sahrawi Arabs live in refugee camps in Algeria. They are increasingly frustrated with the deadlock, some threaten to resort to violence (Photo: DG ECHO)

Amid an ongoing dispute on the EU-Morocco trade agreement, the Danish parliament on Thursday (2 June) voted unanimously to warn Danish companies and municipalities from trading with Western Sahara.

A cross-party motion was backed by 112 members of the Folketinget present, from a total of 179 seats. None voted against or abstained.

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Christian Juhl, a green-left MP that initiated the motion, told EUobserver his peers were all worried that Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara was getting worse.

”Morocco is increasingly negative about the peace process. It recently expelled 74 members of the UN peace keeping mission, Minurso, and closed down a UN office,” Juhl said.

The MP also highlighted human rights concerns.

”Morocco is systematically breaking the human rights of Sahrawi people. Rabat has taken captive many independence activists, some have been in prison for 20 years without ever being put before court,” Juhl said.

”In February, three Danish journalists who came to see the situation in Western Sahara for themselves were expelled by Moroccan authorities,” he added.

Denmark’s foreign minister Kristian Jensen participated in a parliamentary debate that preceded the vote. He said the government will promote knowledge on the situation in Western Sahara with interest groups such as the confederation of Danish industries.

"We want Danish companies to know and live by the decisions that the parliament implements,” Jensen told MPs.

Juhl said that Danish companies and municipalities should not take the risk of breaking international law.

"Human rights must be respected in the occupied area. It is illegal to buy goods from or invest in occupied territories”, he said.

Africa's 'last colony'

Western Sahara is often referred to as Africa's last colony. Morocco has occupied the area since 1975.

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, after 16 years of armed conflict.

As part of the peace process, Sahrawis were due to vote about independence in 1992. But Morocco stopped the UN-negotiated referendum from taking place.

King Mohammed VI said two years ago that “[Western] Sahara will remain a part of Morocco until the end of time.”

Many Sahrawi Arabs live in refugee camps in Algeria. They are increasingly frustrated with the deadlock, some threaten to resort to violence.

In December 2015, the European Court of Justice cancelled an EU-Morocco trade agreement. Morocco used the accord to sell goods from occupied territories, which is illegal under international law.

But EU member states, in the foreign affairs council, decided unanimously to appeal the verdict.

Many EU countries have strengthened their relations with Rabat lately.

Sweden u-turned on a decision to recognise Western Sahara earlier this year, and signed a extradition agreement allowing it to return Moroccan children that are living on Swedish streets.

France is Morocco’s main ally and sees it as a partner in the fight against terrorism.

Juhl hopes that Denmark will take up the vacant leadership role in defending Western Sahara’s interests in the EU.

”I will raise the issue in the Nordic council and the Nordic council of ministers,” Juhl said, referring to the cooperation bodies that unite MPs and ministers from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, in addition to his native Denmark.

A delegation from the European Parliament’s Morocco friendship group is visiting Western Sahara on Saturday and Sunday (4 and 5 June) on Rabat's invitation.

The four MEPs Gilles Pargneaux, Dominique Riquet, Hugues Bayet and Younous Omarjee are French and Belgian and sit in the socialist, liberal and far-left group in the parliament.

The delegation's programme didn’t include any meetings with representatives of Western Sahara.

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