The European Parliament Report on Human Rights in Western Sahara: Virtues and Deficits

por Carlos Ruiz Miguel, 11 de septiembre de 2009

The European Parliament Report on human rights in Western Sahara, in spite of its room for improvement, is quite balanced and comes at a very opportune moment. In this brief analysis, based on which the human rights of the Sahrawi people are, we will expose the risks run by the European Parliament when making this report, to later go into a detailed analysis regarding the virtues and deficits of the document.
It is no wonder that the Moroccan power (Majzen) is pulling all the strings in an attempt to distort it. This report, at this very moment, only counters the Majzen’s strategy.
Which are the human rights of the Sahrawi people?
The European Parliament delegation was trying to investigate if human rights were respected in Western Sahara.
The fundamental treaties to know about the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people are:
The Geneva Conventions, particularly the IV Convention that protects civilians in wartime.
Article I of the ICCPR and of the ICESCR Â- both treaties ratified by Morocco Â- declares that,
1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.
The Risks Threatening the Report
I commented about the European Parliament report after the visit of one European delegation sent to Western Sahara in order to evaluate the human rights situation there.
At that moment, I explained the fundamental concerns that the Report should tackle:  
1. To avoid reducing the decolonization conflict to a “humanitarian” issue, leaving aside the fact that respecting the right to self-determination of colonial peoples is the precondition for the respect of all other human rights that these individuals have.  
2. To denounce the illegal exploitation of natural resources and to quantify the consequences of the Fisheries Agreement between the EU and Morocco as well as to classify it as a debt that the European Union has with the Sahrawi people (with the refugees in particular).
3. Not to make declarations in favor of the “Autonomy” plan presented by Morocco. These statements roil the negotiation process and show “bad faith” because they seek to erode one of the parties’ negotiating options.
As we can see, out of these three dangers, two have been staved off Â- though not in the most orthodox way possible.
Virtues and Deficits of the European Parliament Report
The initial text of the Report was an important exclusive obtained by the Spanish newspaper El País, but after intense pressure from Morocco, the paper offered a new version with slight changes on March 17.
Amazingly, the European Parliament Report, as it is now known, does not take into consideration these treaties (Pages 8 and 9 of the Report). In spite of this fundamental deficit, the Report staves off the first and third concerns that I indicated, but not the second one.
On the one hand, and in line with the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of September 8, 2006, it declares that, (page 3)
Since 1963, Western Sahara belongs to the list of UN non-self-governing territories pending the decolonization process. According to international law, the statute of non-self-governing territory expires only by exercising the right to self-determination. The human rights situation of the Sahrawi people is intrinsically linked to the Â- current Â- impossibility of solving the self-determination issue of the people of Western Sahara.
It is not surprising that the Majzen’s closest circles would denounce the Report as too politicized and “totally diverted from its humanitarian role” (Aujourd'hui Le Maroc, March 17, 2009). On the other hand, the third concern has been staved off because the Report has not been used to praise the “wonders” of the Moroccan “Autonomy” plan for Western Sahara and because there are still two proposals on the negotiation table Â- each party has one and the Sahrawi proposal is even previous to the one that Morocco presented (page 3):
Since the creation of the ad hoc delegation in 2005, there is a certain sense of momentum regarding the issue of Western Sahara. On April 11, 2007, Morocco presented a proposition to the United Nations Security Council that favors autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. On April 10, 2007, the Polisario Front had presented its proposal making it very clear that an autonomous status could only be accepted via referendum and by offering to negotiate political, economic, and security assurances for the resident Moroccan population in Western Sahara Â- in the case that the referendum on self-determination would end up in independence.
However, the Report does not say a word about the right of the Sahrawi people to enjoy the natural resources of its territory, as recognized in Article 1,2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  This is all the more scandalous since the European Union (through the Fisheries Agreement) or its member-states (through imports of resources such as phosphates, fish and canned products, sand, tomatoes) are active accomplices in the violation of that human right.
 On the other hand, it is striking that the Report would accept the toponym for the capital of Western Sahara imposed by the occupier, preferring to use the ugly term “Laâyoune” instead of the more beautiful “El Aaiun” or “El Aayoune” (to use the French phonetic transcription). 
The Report’s Propositions and the Reaction of the Majzen and Its Agents
The Report advances several proposals. Some of them have already been formulated by other instances while there are other more novel ones. Among the Report’s recommendations, in my opinion, there are two that are especially important. On the one hand, the Report of the European Parliament adopts a recommendation formulated by the distinguished organization Human Rights Watch in its December 2008 Report on Western Sahara: It suggests that the Security Council modify MINURSO’s mandate to grant the organization powers to control that human rights are respected in the territory. However, while the first version of the Report stated that, to that end, the United Nations “should be able to count on the agreement of the parties involved,” the second version, written after intense pressure from Morocco, states that “it will require the agreement of the parties involved” Â- an important concession to Morocco.
On the other hand, the Report asks the European Commission via its delegation in Morocco, to periodically send finding missions to the territory of Western Sahara as well as official observers to the trials against Sahrawi activists in order to inform back to the European Parliament.
These two proposals entail important consequences. The first one constitutes an extra element of pressure, particularly important, so that the next Security Council resolution (due at the end of April) modifies MINURSO’s mandate in a way that includes the powers to keep watch on the territory for the respect of human rights. This was a proposal forwarded by not just an NGO (Human Rights Watch) but by the European Parliament itself; any possible attempt by France to veto the proposal (that, in the past, has already vetoed any reference to human rights in the Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara) would be, if not impossible, at least outrageously scandalous.
The second proposal takes place in a particularly important moment for the relations between the European Union and Morocco. In October 2008, the EU adopted the political decision to grant Morocco “advanced status” for their bilateral relations. The argument in favor of this development was that Morocco had made certain undetermined “progress” and “strides” in the field of human rights. The frequent visits to the occupied Western Sahara by the European Commission to investigate the human rights situation there will undoubtedly render proof of the poor respect for human rights that Morocco displays. The consequence of all that would be that the “advanced status” granted to Morocco would be stopped. The Moroccan press has clearly warned about the risk that this European Parliament Report would lead to reconsider the granted “advanced status” regarding its relations with the European Union.
Carlos Ruíz Miguel  is a GEES analyst specialized on the Maghreb and constitutional law.