The EU is supporting a brutal military occupation in Western Sahara

We cannot tolerate this cruelty and injustice

Share
Related Topics

For 38 years the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco has been largely ignored by the rest of the world. The reasons for this aren't profound. It's sparsely populated, difficult to get to, and not particularly strategically important. It is also one of the greatest moral failures in the international community's modern history.

In 1975, in violation of a World Court judgement, Morocco invaded the former Spanish colony and effectively annexed it. The people who lived in the territory, the Sahrawi, fled in their thousands as their villages were burned and livestock slaughtered.

Tens of thousands were driven into refugee camps across the border with Algeria where they remain to this day, surviving as best they can on pitiful levels of humanitarian aid. Those who stayed in their homes face severe repression in a police state which maintains an armed force over 100,000 strong for a population of just 500,000.

The story of Western Sahara is one riddled with injustice and cruelty, but its latest chapter is particularly shameful. On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day, the European Parliament voted to approve an agreement that not only provides moral cover for the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, it provides material support for it.

The EU agreement grants access to Moroccan waters for European fishing companies, the majority of them Spanish, in return for payments of around $55m. It also provides access, in direct contravention of a UN legal counsel statement from 2002, to Western Sahara's waters.

The Sahrawi have not been consulted about this and do not consent to it. Both representatives in the refugee camps and activists in the occupied territory have publicly denounced the EU agreement, which they claim is an attack on their right to self-determination, and acts to support the occupation.

It isn't possible to counter this argument, because it happens to be correct, so Morocco has resorted instead to more force. In Western Sahara's capital Laayoune, protests against the agreement – again, held on International Human Rights Day – were met with a brutal police and army response which has been caught on video.

This is typical. Any Sahrawi who dare to speak out at all in the territory, let alone about lucrative international contracts, are subjected to a vicious campaign of repression by Moroccan security forces.

When I was last in the occupied territory (undercover, as access is very restricted) a young woman, no older then 30, showed me a set of prosthetic teeth she now wears as a result of what happened  on last year's International Human Rights Day. Her name was Salimah, and she says she had been beaten so badly by Moroccan security forces that all six of her lower front teeth were smashed in.

It was in Western Sahara in October 2010 that the Arab Spring revolts began, and where they were most effectively crushed by state power. European leaders have repeatedly claimed to support  democratic Arab Spring movements and the spirit of freedom and justice they were built on.

Should the EU proceed in supporting the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara in this manner, it will be difficult to conclude that European rhetoric about democracy, freedom, and human rights amounts to anything other than neat hypocrisy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Margaret Thatcher resigned on 22nd November 1990  

Nicola Sturgeon's rare achievement

Jane Merrick
An Iraqi security officer guards a church in Bartala, after Mosul fell  

Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

Patrick Cockburn
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin