Russian trawler in Western Sahara. Morocco sells fishing licenses in Western Saharan waters to other states. (Photo: wsrw.org)
EU robs fish in Western Sahara
In its ruling of September 2021, the European Court of Justice states that the Frente Polisario, as the political organisation of the Sahrawis, can represent its people before European courts and that the EU and Morocco have disregarded the right of the Sahrawi people to decide for themselves who may exploit the natural resources and fish stocks on their territory.
Already in 2016 and 2018, the EU Court of Justice had annulled the trade and fisheries agreements between the EU and Morocco with regard to Western Sahara. This is because Morocco has neither sovereignty nor an administrative mandate over Western Sahara. The EU had disregarded the ruling. After the latest ruling, it should no longer be able to do so that easily.
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. After Spain's withdrawal, Morocco occupied about three-quarters of the territory, with the Frente Polisario holding the rest. Most states do not recognize Morocco's claims. In 1991, the UN created a mission (MINURSO) to conduct a popular consultation in Western Sahara. It was to decide on the political independence of the former colony or its annexation to Morocco. The referendum was scheduled for early 1992, but has since been repeatedly postponed because the Moroccan king wants to delay it until he can settle enough compatriots in the territory who will vote against independence.
According to a ruling by the International Court of Justice, the occupation violates international law. This does not prevent European states from courting and supporting the monarchy in Rabat for fear of refugee flows if the already untenable situation is destabilised. The Sahrawis, on the other hand, lack strong allies in the fight for their rights.
Western Sahara is interesting for Morocco because of its natural resources, among which fish. A recent report by the Moroccan government suggests that the payments for its fishing agreement with the EU are largely used for fishing in Western Sahara.