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High Court legal action over rights of Western Sahara people

Legal action has begun in the High Court in London on behalf of a UK based campaign group, fighting for the rights of the Western Sahara people.

Western Sahara

4 March 2015

A court application was filed on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 at the London High Court against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on behalf of The Western Sahara Campaign United Kingdom (WSCUK) who claim that products imported under a trade agreement with Morroco actually originate from West Sahara.

The WSCUK works to protect the rights and interests of the people of Western Sahara, in particular to promote respect for their human rights and the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.

Law firm Leigh Day, acting for WSCUK, argue that products originating in Western Sahara are being imported into the United Kingdom and treated as Moroccan for the purposes of the ‘EU – Morocco Association Agreement’.
Leigh Day claims this is unlawful.

Western Sahara, in north-west Africa, is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Saharawi people.

In October 1975 the International Court of Justice rejected territorial claims over Western Sahara by Morocco and recognised the Saharawis' right to self-determination. Despite this declaration Morrorco stands accused of constant human rights abuses against the people of Western Sahara and exercising effective control over Western Saharan territory as an occupying power under international law.

The grounds for the legal action, filed with the Court today, make clear that Moroccan territorial jurisdiction does not extend to the territory of Western Sahara or to the territorial sea adjacent to Western Sahara. Therefore goods and products produced in West Sahara should not to be treated as originating in Morocco for the purposes of preferential tariffs or any other benefits conferred upon Moroccan products by the Association Agreement.

Leigh Day has also written to DEFRA regarding the operation of the Fishing Partnership Agreement 2006 (FPA) between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco and the implementation of this fisheries scheme by the United Kingdom.

Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the Western Sahara Campaign, said:

“It appears that Morocco is currently benefitting from importing goods from land and sea it occupies in Western Sahara against international law. The people of Western Sahara are not only being denied a right to self-determination but are also having their resources plundered by an illegal occupation by Morocco.

"The UK government, and in particular, DEFRA and HMRC must take immediate steps to ensure it is not complicit in these actions.”

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