Statement on human rights concerns about rollover of UK-Morocco trade deal

Thursday, 23 January, 2020

The undersigned civil society organisations are concerned that the UK is seeking to rollover the EU-Morocco Association Agreement into UK legislation without due attention to the ongoing Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

A 1975 International Court of Justice ruling recognised Western Sahara’s right to self determination and in 1991 the UN promised a referendum of the Saharawi people to decide whether they would choose to be an independent country or become part of Morocco. This promise has not been kept and the Saharawi people continue to live either as refugees in the Algerian desert or in conditions of oppression and violence under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. Between 1,000 and 1,500 Saharawi people have disappeared over the past 45 years.

Despite this situation, the EU pressed ahead with an Association Agreement with Morocco. The European Court of Justice (ECJ), in its judgment (Case C-104/16 P) of December 21, 2016, determined that the 2012 “Agreement between the EU and Morocco concerning reciprocal liberalisation measures on agricultural products and fishery products” provided no legal basis for including Western Sahara within its territorial scope. This was confirmed by the UK High Court in April 2019.

In order to be able to comply with the ruling and continue to apply the Agreement to Western Sahara, the European Commission and the European External Action Service conducted a process of consultation and the European Parliament held a fact-finding mission targeting representatives of the Saharawi community. However concerns have been raised about whether this process was sufficiently rigorous and comprehensive. The decision to proceed with the Agreement is currently being challenged at the ECJ by the POLISARIO Front.

The UK is now seeking to ‘roll over’ the EU-Morocco Association Agreement into UK legislation. The Agreement will therefore be subject to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (2016), which requires the Government to lay the Agreement before Parliament for 21 sitting days. The Morocco Agreement will be laid until the 11th February. There is no guarantee of a parliamentary debate or vote in the House, nor that the Agreement will receive any scrutiny at all.

The undersigned organisations believe that the UK’s processes for scrutiny of all trade agreements are in urgent need of reform. This is particularly the case for the Morocco Agreement where there is potential for it to undermine International Humanitarian Law and the right to self determination of the Saharawi people. We urge parliamentarians to use every opportunity to give this Agreement proper scrutiny, including through debates in both Houses, and to only accept it if they are able to obtain robust guarantees that trade in the Western Saharan region is taking part only with the full consent of the Saharawi people such that they decide for themselves who profits from the natural resources of their territory.

We believe that the UK Government must also set out clear objectives for its future trade policy and in particular that this policy will be driven by its commitments in the area of international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as by those on climate change and environmental protection.

Ruth Bergan, Senior Adviser, Trade Justice Movement
John Gurr, Coordinator, Western Sahara Campaign
Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB Trade Union
Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Asad Rehman, Executive Director, War On Want
Nick Dearden, Director, Global Justice Now

Further information


Photo: Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Dr Andrew Murrison and Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita sign a continuity agreement in October. Credit: UK government

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