"Morocco does not have the right to exploit the area’s resources as if they were its own", states Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, underlining that fisheries in Western Sahara "must be exercised in accordance with the wishes and interests of the population involved".
The Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs this week answered a question from Liberal parliamentarian Trine Skei Grande regarding Norway's relation to the EU fisheries agreement. While Norway is not part of the EU, the Norwegian government is financing fisheries research along the African coast, from Namibia in the south to Morocco in the north. The mapping made in Western Sahara, carried out by the research vessel Fridtjof Nansen (above) are misused by the Moroccan government to enter illegal agreements with third countries, such as the EU.
Question and answers below unofficially translated by Western Sahara Resource Watch.
Question from Representative Trine Skei Grande (Liberal Party) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: It is well known that Norway is supporting maritime research offshore occupied Western Sahara, ref. article in FiskeribladetFiskaren 5 May 2010. I am very critical of this, and refer to the fact that this research is practically only to the benefit of Moroccan fisheries authorities, not the Sahrawi people. This happens despite the fact that the government in exile of Western Sahara is also given access to the data. Of evident reasons, the Sahrawi authorities are not able to make use of these data. In my opinion, it is important that the fish stock offshore Western Sahara are monitored, so that they are not over-exploited. But the Norwegian research on these fisheries resources have today political consequences. On the basis of the research that the Norwegian government supports, Morocco enters into large fisheries partnerships with the EU and Russia in violation of international law, also including fisheries offshore Western Sahara. These agreements are by many perceived as the strongest signs of international support to the occupation. Moroccan authorities have also expressed that the most important aspect of these agreements are of political, not of economic character. The Norwegian supported fisheries research thus lays the ground for political “victories” for Morocco in the question of Western Sahara. It rests, thus, a substantial responsibility upon the Norwegian authorities in this matter, and it is important that the government clarifies what it will do to prevent that Morocco enters into fisheries agreement that includes the occupied areas, based on Norwegian produced data. After what I know, the EU’s fisheries agreement with Morocco, including Western Sahara, which is in violation of international law, is about to be renewed. Many say that the agreement is in violation of international law, e.g. since the Sahrawi people has not been consulted. What will the Minister of Foreign Affairs do to influence Morocco, the European Union and/or the EU member nations to stop the fishing, which is in defiance of international law, offshore occupied Western Sahara?
Answer from Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre: Norway’s consistent view is that Morocco does not exercise internationally recognised sovereignty with regard to Western Sahara. As a point of departure, therefore, Morocco does not have the right to exploit the area’s resources as if they were its own. Nor should Norway’s public behaviour be interpreted in support of any given result of the UN’s ongoing negotiation process or have recognition effects.
International law, including the Hague Convention of 1907, sets clear restrictions to the resource exploitation of occupied, non-self governing or other non-independent areas. Among other things, such activity must be exercised in accordance with the wishes and interests of the population involved, and in a manner that will benefit them. With regard to marine resources, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and Resolution III of the Third Maritime Law Conference are also in force. Activity attached to rights and interests in areas that have not yet attained full independence or other self-governed status recognised by the UN is to be carried out in the best interests of the territory’s population. On dispute about a territory’s sovereignty, consultations must be held between the parties about the exploitation of marine resources. The exercise of rights must not prejudice either of the parties’ positions or be carried out in such a manner as to risk preventing the conflict from being solved.
Western Sahara clearly falls within the resolution, and any agreement about the exploitation of resources must lie within the above-mentioned framework of international law. Norway therefore does not give public support to resource exploitation of Western Sahara that is not in the interest of the local population, and for the same reason the government also advises against private business activity in the area.
In the reasons for her question as to what Norway is doing to influence Morocco, the EU and/or the EU’s member nations to stop other countries’ fishing activity offshore Western Sahara, Representative Skei Grande refers to, among other things, Norwegian support for the fishing research in the region. The fishing resources offshore Northwest Africa consist of stock that migrate among the economic zones of the various countries and areas. To be able to calculate the total stock and recommend a ceiling for how much may be fished within a responsible framework, it is necessary to monitor the whole area of dissemination. It is also important to prevent overfishing. The results of research are available for all the coast nations in the area. In 1997 the sardine stock offshore Western Sahara was close to collapse. On the basis of the research carried out by the Norwegian research ship Dr Fridtjof Nansen, strict regulations were then instituted, and the stock was restored. The program thus contributes to maintain, not weaken, the stock and the ecologic balance in the ocean offshore Western Sahara for the future. This will be able to benefit the local population when the area’s status is clarified.
With regard to information on Norway’s attitude to business activity in and offshore Western Sahara, Morocco has been familiar with Norwegian assessments since a report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002 concluded that participation and direct investments in companies that are established in Western Sahara or carry out activity on the offshore continental shelf can not be recommended unless these are part of a general, multilateral development strategy. The government’s decision in 2007 to actively advise also private Norwegian companies against business activity in Western Sahara is constantly being passed on in connection with contact between Norwegian and Moroccan authorities with regard to business activity. Norwegian delimitation of the application area for EFTA’s free trade agreement with Morocco is also imparted.
Norway’s attitude to Western Sahara has also been brought up in the debate earlier this year on the extension of the EU’s fisheries agreement with Morocco. Earlier this year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified Norway’s dissuasion policy for Irish authorities, who contacted Norway during the debate in the EU. During a conference on the agreement in the European Parliament in the autumn of 2010, moreover, the EFTA countries and the USA were called attention to as countries leading the way as an example with regard to entering into trade agreements with Morocco.
There is also contact with the EU with regard to Norwegian foreign aid in the area of fishing generally. In June 2010 The Institute of Marine Research, The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the EU Delegation to Norway had a meeting on Norwegian foreign aid within fishing research and administration with Eva Joly, Chair of the Committee on Development of the European Parliament. That same month NORAD participated at a hearing in the European Parliament on third-country agreements.
On 21 February 2011 the European Commission was, with the narrowest majority possible, authorised by the EU member nations to negotiate a 1-year extension of the agreement with Morocco. The Commission’s suggestion of a 1-year extension was passed against the votes of Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Germany and Finland abstained. One condition for the extension is that the Commission is to elucidate the question as to whether the population of Western Sahara benefits from the agreement. Another condition is that the fishing possibilities are to be adjusted in line with the best available scientific counseling. Any possible negotiation result must be approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament in accordance with the Treaty of the European Union’s manner of operation, Article 218 on entering into international agreements.
Information on the Norwegian government’s dissuasion of Norwegian business activity in Western Sahara is at all times available at the web page regjeringen.no. As mentioned above, the Norwegian attitude has been clearly presented in meetings with Morocco and with the EU member nations.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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