Bourita maintains that Morocco does not seek to unilaterally impose any fait accompli.
Rabat – Morocco has officially adopted two draft laws to establish the country’s legal authority over its maritime domain.
The laws update Morocco’s maritime legislation to UN standards and assert the country’s sovereignty over the maritime zone off the coast of Western Sahara, between the cities of Tarafay and Dakhla and near the Spanish-owned Canary Islands.
The details: Bills 37.17 and 38.17
Morocco’s parliament voted on and approved Bill 37.17 and Bill 38.17 on Wednesday, January 22.
Bill 37.17 ratifies the Dahir, or King’s decree, of law 1.73.211 of 26 Moharram 1393.
Law 1.73.211 of 26 Moharram 1393 refers to the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), established March 2, 1973, that outlines the limits of territorial waters.
The five maritime zones where a coastal state can exercise varying degrees of sovereignty include the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Continental Shelf, and the High Sea.
According to the UNCLOS, a coastal state’s territorial sea is limited to 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone encompasses between 12 and 24 nautical miles, an EEZ amasses between 12 and 200 nautical miles, and a Continental Shelf may not exceed 350 nautical miles.
Morocco signed the UNCLOS on December 10, 1982, and ratified the convention on May 31, 2007.
Bill 38.17 moves to set up an EEZ of 200 nautical miles off the Moroccan coast by amending and supplementing Act 1.81.
The bills had stalled in Moroccan parliament since the government approved them in July 2017.
Bourita assures that Morocco is open to dialogue
In a speech to the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita stressed that the laws are of crucial importance in consolidating Morocco’s sovereignty over its territorial waters.
“The spirit which enabled us to recover the Sahara in 1975 is the same one which urges us today to achieve development in all the regions of the Kingdom,” the King stated on November 6, 2019. “This naturally includes our southern provinces.”
Bourita stipulated that the King’s royal guidelines “challenge us to address the legislative gap which marks the national legal arsenal governing maritime areas, and to adapt it to the full sovereignty of Morocco over its entire territory and territorial waters, as well as its air space, in line with the clear and the bold approach sought by King Mohammed VI as a basis for the Kingdom’s foreign policy.”
The FM affirmed that demarcating the boundaries of national maritime spaces is Morocco’s sovereign right, in accordance with the UNCLOS.
“The updating of national laws is part of a constructive and responsible interaction of our domestic legal system with international law,” the minister maintained.
Bourita explained that the maritime boundaries are a concern for Morocco’s neighbors, particularly Spain.
He added that the matter is a case of national rights and that Morocco does not seek to unilaterally impose a fait accompli.
Morocco will “defend its rights, respect its commitments, remain open to the national positions of friendly countries and their legitimate rights, and will be ready for a constructive dialogue to achieve fair compromises on the basis of mutual interest,” Bourita concluded.
A long-overdue vote from the Moroccan Parliament
Morocco’s mobilization towards consolidating its maritime sovereignty is long overdue.
The kingdom signed the UNCLOS in 1982 but only ratified the convention in 2007.
Additionally, Morocco needed to submit supporting data to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in order to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles within 10 years of ratifying the UNCLOS.
Morocco failed to meet the CLCS deadline on May 30, 2017.
Spain, meanwhile, submitted scientific data supporting its claims to the outer limits of its continental shelf off the Atlantic coast within the specified time frame.
Spain then submitted its project to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 miles to the CLCS in 2009.
In 2014, the European country delivered a partial presentation on its claims over the EEZ and the outer limits of its continental shelf, followed by another oral presentation at the 38th session of the CLCS in 2015.
The Spanish presentations failed to mention the existence of a conflict between Morocco and Spain over the maritime territories in question.
Are negotiations on the horizon?
“Spain’s written and oral presentations were problematic and smacked of bad faith for two reasons,” political analyst Dr. Samir Bennis argues.
In an essay due for publication in the coming week, Bennis explained: “First, contrary to Spanish claims, there was controversy over the outer limits of the continental shelf in the area southwest of the Canary Islands and Morocco’s coast, since Morocco regained its de facto sovereignty over the Western Sahara.”
“The second reason relates to the absence of any mention of Morocco as a third party that claims sovereign rights over the continental shelf in question. Cognizant of the fact that the UN does not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, Spain sought to deny the validity of Morocco’s interest by omission.”
By failing to mention the existence of a dispute between Morocco and Spain, the latter violated the Rules of Procedure of the CLCS.
In March 2015, Morocco rejected the attempt by Spain to unilaterally delimit the outer limit of its continental shelf through a note verbale to the UN Secretariat. Morocco further urged the CLCS to take its position into consideration when reviewing Spain’s partial application.
Morocco’s recent submission of the two maritime delineation laws for approval in parliament “is a calculated move from Rabat to disrupt the smooth running of Spain’s application to the CLCS and a bid to force Spain to re-enter fair negotiations about the maritime limits,” Bennis stipulates.
Wednesday’s vote is a manifestation of Morocco’s long-running bid for maritime sovereignty.
With Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya set to land in Rabat tomorrow, the negotiations Morocco has been calling for may be on the horizon.
Conversely, Morocco’s unilateral decision may have served to poke the Spanish bear rather than extend an olive branch.
It remains to be seen whether Morocco’s move will exacerbate or ameliorate tensions between Rabat and Madrid.