The forum is to be held in Tunisia in August 2022. Friends of Western Sahara Japan and Africa Japan Forum (AJF) are calling on the Japanese government to include Western Sahara just like the EU-AU summit did in Brussels.
They demand that Western Sahara (SADR) be included in the list of invitees of the Japanese government. As the EU-AU summit in last February included Western Sahara, there is no reason that Japan excludes it.
TICAD must include the Sahrawi Republic and uphold the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) started in 1993 with the initiative of Japan and is co-hosted by the UN, UNDP, World Bank and African Union Commission (AUC). The eighth TICAD (TICAD8) is scheduled for 27-28 August 2022 and will be held in Tunisia if the COVID-19 pandemic will not hinder it.
Although the Japanese government regards the African Union as an important co-host, it refuses to invite the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to TICAD because Japan does not recognise the SADR. But this treatment of the SADR contravenes the position of the AU that all its 55 member states must be able to participate in TICAD. The conflict led to some incidents in the past. When the TICAD Ministerial Meeting was held in Maputo, Mozambique in 2017, a fighting broke out as Japanese and Moroccan diplomats tried to block the Sahrawi delegation from entering the conference room. The shameful scene was filmed and posted on internet. In 2019, when TICAD7 was held in Yokohama, Japan, the Japanese government did not officially invite the SADR. But after the AU threatened to withdraw from the conference unless Japan allowed the SADR to attend the summit, Japan partially conceded the demand. The President and the Foreign Minister of the SADR could then sit in the conference, but their presence was not officially acknowledged. This year, the Japanese government once again failed to invite the SADR to the Ministerial Meeting held online on 26 and 27 March. The SADR delegates were completely excluded from the meeting.
Western Sahara is without doubt a stakeholder in African development. Despite of the Japanese government’s cool treatment of the SADR, Japan does have trade relations with Western Sahara, most of whose land is occupied by Morocco against international law since 1975. Japan imports phosphate rock produced in occupied Western Sahara. Japan also imports marine products, typically octopus, caught in Western Sahara’s waters but disguised as Moroccan products. Japanese tuna longliners are operating off the coast of Western Sahara in exchange of a certain amount of payment to the Moroccan government under the Morocco-Japan fishery agreement (since 1985). Japanese companies participate in renewable energy projects, namely wind farms, in Western Sahara. These economic activities are conducted without the consent of the people of Western Sahara. Moreover, local Sahrawi population in occupied Western Sahara have been marginalised in economic and social development. Moroccan settlers, who come to Western Sahara under a preferential tax system, occupy important positions in both public and private sectors. Young Sahrawis complain that they are discriminated in the job market and in the field of higher education. How can debates over African development be complete and fair if these problems are excluded from discussion? How can Japan claim that it is contributing to African development if Japan itself is involved in unjust economic activities in that part of Africa and continues to deny even their right to speak?
The Japanese government should invite delegates of the SADR to TICAD8 as the EU invited them to the EU-AU Summit that was held in Brussels on 17 and 18 February this year. The EU does not recognise the SADR, but it respects the AU’s decision to include all its 55 member states in the meeting. If the Japanese government sees the AU as its important partner in TICAD, it should respect the principle of the AU.
One of the stated purposes of TICAD is to promote business. But the discussion in TICAD apparently makes no reference to the principles of Business and Human Rights. Since the UN Human Rights Council endorsed it in 2011, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights has become a major reference for us all. Its seventh principle specifically addresses the risk of gross human rights abuses in conflict-affected areas and calls on the state to take measures to prevent and mitigate such risks. In conflict-affected areas such as Western Sahara where human rights abuses are a daily occurrence, it is important to make sure that companies do not become an accomplice in such human rights abuses. In this context, it is important to remember that any exploitation of natural resources without the consent of the people of the territory is an infringement of their right as the EU Court of Justice ruled recently.
For TICAD to become a truly fair and just forum to discuss African development, we call on the Japanese government to respect the position of the AU and reconsider its policy of excluding the SADR from TICAD. We also call on the Japanese government to take the initiative to promote the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the process of TICAD. The Japanese government must be true to its own pledge to fully implement the SDGs and to create societies where ‘no one is left behind’.
Friends of Western Sahara Japan
Contact: [email protected]
Africa Japan Forum
Contact: [email protected]