LALIT members are truly shocked at Friday’s UK-USA joint communiqué so openly blackmailing the Mauritian Government over the issue of their occupation of Chagos including Diego Garcia.
It is a sign that the UK-USA position has become so weak as to be untenable.
Here is their absurd analysis in the communiqué: “Whilst neither the UK nor USA recognises the Republic of Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty of that Territory, the UK has made binding undertakings to cede it to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes.” The UK is now, according to itself and its ally, some kind of a bleeding heart charity, handing out “territory” when it doesn’t need it anymore. They also say that “The UK and USA are absolutely clear about (sic) UK sovereignty of these islands, which have been British since 1814.” What they are absolutely not honest about is that Mauritius, which gained Independence in 1968, included Chagos which includes Diego Garcia, and it was Mauritius as a whole that was British from 1814. This is why a Mauritian Magistrate conducted cases there, Mauritian health service nurses worked there, and people living there were Mauritians, before and after their forcible removal by the UK-US, to Mauritius main island.
Anyway, this is what has happened:
The Mauritian Prime Minister stood up in Parliament on 17 May 2016 and issued David Cameron an ultimatum that the UK address the Diego Garcia and Chagos sovereignty issue before 30 June, failing which Mauritius will put a case before the UN’s International Court of Justice at The Hague. Mauritius would seek a mere “Advisory Opinion” at the ICJ. The British Government did nothing until 24 June, the very day David Cameron would announce his resignation as Prime Minister following the Brexit defeat. Then the UK issued a communiqué jointly with the USA. We must comment on this, too. The USA has never, ever – not with a 10 foot barge-pole – touched on the issue of sovereignty before, but has steered clear of it altogether. It has instead sat, issuing cut-and-paste statements for nearly 50 years that this issue concerns only the UK and Mauritius. The USA knew that the further away it stayed from the sovereignty issue, the safer the UK and USA both were. No longer. Now, the two old empires have been forced to come together to threaten Mauritius jointly in public. The danger of an ICJ hearing following a UN General Assembly resolution is more dangerous for them now, than for the USA to stay away from the issue. It had always thought staying away somehow hides the whole conspiracy, but now the conspiracy threatens to come out into the open in the glaring spotlight of the UN – in front of the eyes of the American and British people – so they decide rather to risk exposing the conspiracy by signing a communiqué jointly, but hoping to daunt Mauritius and thus keep the a political lid on their crimes.
Imagine for a second the very fact that the UK and USA were the big powers behind setting up the United Nations, and that the UN’s very Charter stipulates that no colonizing power divide up a territory during the process of handing over Independence. This fact means that they know very well that the UK’s stealing of Chagos including Diego Garcia 20 years after setting up the UN, so that it could lease it out to the USA, which thus became the receiver of the stolen goods, was illegal. It also means they knew very well they were going to have to conspire to torture the Mauritians living there until they left, and then to forcibly remove those that resisted.
So they jointly issue the following threat: “Referral of this matter to the International Court of Justice would cause lasting damage to Mauritius’ bilateral relations with both the UK and the USA.” Decoded, this means that they will act so as to put pressure on the Mauritian bourgeoisie, so that it puts pressure on the Mauritian Government. Further decoded, this means Mauritian businesses will no longer benefit from US’s customs derogations under the AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunities Act) and may face a harsh customs regime for exports to the UK.
Why are they so scared of going to the very Court that they agree to abide by? Why?
We know that the Mauritian State won its case at the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Tribunal in 2015, which declared illegal Britain’s ploy of having declared a “Marine Protected Area” around Chagos, as if it were part of the UK. What kind of a ploy is it anyway to claim a marine park while you’re involved in the USA’s nuclear submarine servicing base around the corner in Chagos on Diego Garcia?
And we also know that the Minority Judgment differed from the Majority one on another point: the majority said that the UNCLOS Tribunal was not abilitated to decide on whether Mauritius or Britain held sovereignty, while the minority said they were able to. Not only that, they said Mauritius clearly has sovereignty, no question about it.
So, with reason, the UK and USA are scared of another UN Case.
They are in disarray. For example, two USA spokeswomen on Radio Plus on 13 January, 2016, were on different lines, so confused is their diplomacy. One, Ms. Linda Thomas-Wingfield, US Under-Secretary of State for Africa said, “The [Diego Garcia] lease ends in 2036”. She was of course referring to the illegal lease between the USA and UK, due to expire after 50 years at the end of 2016 if not renewed for another 20. So, her argument is that there is a lease but it hasn’t reached expiry date. The then US Ambassador, Shari Villarosa, added that, “It’s not a lease. It’s an arrangement. Until 2036. Other people can say what they like. It’s an arrangement.” Beat that for clarity.
The point is that the crimes of 50 years ago do not go away. You cannot break up a country, illegally, steal part, lease it to a receiver of stolen goods, forcibly remove an entire population, and get away with it.
Every argument the US and UK come up with is grotesque. Their first line of argument is that, although the Queen was head of state of Britain and Mauritius, she agreed with herself to do the deal. Here in Mauritius, the anti-Independence party peddled this line, in the form of the slogan: “Bolom Ramgoolam fini vann Diego!” Old Man Ramgoolam sold Diego Garcia. But, it was not his. He represented, at the negotiations, a political party that was in a colony. No more, no less. Had this argument held, Britain could have kept the gold or diamond mining area, or rich arable plains, of every colony, and given the rest “Independence”. It is a garbage argument. The Queen can’t sell something to herself, powerful as she may still be to invent new Orders in Council behind the backs of the British Parliament.
Then they take up another old tune in their joint communiqué: “The use of the islands for joint UK-US defence purposes was established in 1966”. What they do not say was that there was talk of no more than a “Communications Station”. As Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth, who was present as a representative of the Independent Forward Block political party at the Constitutional Negotiations, put it a few years ago, “Pa ti dir zot fu enn baz laba!” (Who told them they could slap a military base there!)
When Paul Bérenger was Prime Minister in 2003, he said he would go to the ICJ, but of course Tony Blair then Prime Minister of Britain reminded him that the UK does not take binding judgments for Commonwealth members. Paul Bérenger in a rare fit of courage (which he had plenty of until 1981 and none thereof thereafter) threatened that Mauritius would in that case leave the Commonwealth. Tony Blair the next day sent his UN Representative in New York to change the conditions under which the UK does not accept ICJ binding judgments to include not just Commonwealth Members, but also “former Commonwealth Members”. Beat that one! It means LALIT members should not have been shocked by the UK-USA joint communiqué.
The joint communiqué is no more than the continuation of a long list of crimes. After theft and receiving stolen goods, after lying, after gassing peoples’ dogs, after cutting off medical supplies to people, and after forcibly removing Chagossian Mauritians from their native islands to the main island of Mauritius in the holds of ships, and after dumping them on the quayside, after tricking ecological organizations like Greenpeace to renege on their basic aim of environmental protection and to fall prey to UK-US duplicity and scheming, they now blackmail the Government of the Republic of Mauritius not to go to the UN General Assembly and then to a UN Court.
What we should do?
There are many things: The Government must stand firm, get a UN General Assembly resolution to go before the ICJ.
At the same time, we need to build strong and conscious support from all countries that are ex-colonies and/or peace-loving States, so that they actively support Mauritius both on the sovereignty issue and on base closure.
We must take a politically principled stand to keep all the issues together in a holistic way, remembering that it is the military base that is the prime mover of all the other crimes, and that it must thus be closed down while resolving the issues of right to return of Chagossians and sovereignty, which are also intimately related.
We need to get beyond seeing the US and UK as monolithic structures, and realize that the American and British people have had to be kept in the dark in order for these crimes to be perpetrated. So, we must get the people there on our side. There has been 50 years of destruction on Chagos, and 50 years’ of resistance against this destruction, both of these largely without the knowledge of the people of the US and UK.
The time has come for the UK-US to close the base, for the Chagossians to return to Chagos with their heads held high, as Mauritians not colonized people, and for all the people of the country to be re-united as well as the country to be re-united.