In the midst of all the “politikay” making white noise for New Year; in the midst of a hideous new form of colonization via gated communities “settling”; in times when official statistics mask unemployment and homelessness instead of alerting us to the suffering they are causing; there is another issue that is important when we look over centuries of Mauritian history – and that is what this letter is about.
In 2016 Anerood Jugnauth has acted. His Government, with Olivier Bancoult of the Chagos Refugees Group in his delegation, tabled a UN General Assembly Resolution to be debated and voted in June 2017 – for the UN’s International Court of Justice to decide who owns Diego Garcia and all of Chagos. This action presents a key moment.
We must not fail to remark it, nor to mark it.
Nor should we let the Mauritian State later back-pedal on it. We need to harness it in the interests of progress. This UN “resolution” calls for each of us to make another kind of “resolution”, a New Year’s resolution. But let’s take stock first.
In LALIT, we are particularly vindicated by the Mauritian State tabling this UN Resolution. We’ve militated for this since 1985. It’s been a long struggle. And the possibility of victory is, for the first time and as a direct result of this move, in sight now. But only if we continue to act.
Earlier, the previous Navin Ramgoolam Government – and this was also under on-going pressure from LALIT and others – went before the five judges at the UN Tribunal under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. They all five declared Britain did not have sovereignty to declare a Marine Protected Area over Chagos. This is a major, major advance. While three judges said they were not habilitated to decide if Mauritius has sovereignty, two said it does have. So, the action of the last Government worked.
The British State, however, ignores the judgment. It partly pretends it does not exist. When this gets ludicrous, it pretends, as the Minister did in the British Parliamentary Committee, that the findings were “almost ex aequo” – as bad losers put it when they suffer an out-and-out defeat.
It was perhaps this arrogance from the British State that forced Jugnauth to take the next step.
The UN resolution to take the Diego Garcia issue to the ICJ, in turn, has three important historic effects:
(i) it makes possible the re-unification of our country that was outrageously cut in two by Britain in 1965;
(ii) simultaneously, it allows Chagossians to go home, whenever they choose, and to move freely within the Republic, heads held high. Chagossians will no longer be reduced to calling for colonial-style “resettlement” that the British pretended in bad faith was on offer.
(iii) it announces the possibility for the end of the US military base on Diego Garcia; even an environmental clean up instead of the British Marine Park cover-up of nuclear pollution.
But, this alone is not enough – the UN Resolution and the ICJ – even if the judgment is in Mauritius’ favour, as it most certainly will be. We need to act on many fronts. LALIT has proposed a more general Mauritian Government “road map”. Hon. Jugnauth must call for UN inspections for nuclear materials on Diego Garcia under the Pelindaba Treaty, now come into force. He must demand inspections for cluster bombs. He must call for Red Cross to check for any continued torture of prisoners. He must send fishing expeditions to Chagos waters. He must set up a Constituency of Chagos and an Islands Council.
But in 2017, as the UN Resolution comes up, as it goes towards a vote, as the issue comes before the ICJ, we are calling on you, as a thinking Mauritian, to help us build the will for the Government to do something more dramatic: to take the initiative of a ship to go to the Chagos. Perhaps you could consider applying to go along, or offer to support the visit.
A ship to Chagos is not a new idea for LALIT. What is relatively new is calling on the Government to organize a State visit. At LALIT’s 2010 International Conference on Chagos all present resolved as follows: “We commit ourselves to putting pressure on the Mauritian State towards its acting in practice so as - To organize a formal State visit on the Trochetia ship to Chagos including Diego Garcia ... part of Mauritian territory as defined by the Constitution, and that the State delegation should include the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition ...”.
This became a repeated battle cry, starting with a public forum at the Port Louis Municipal Council in 2010, where LALIT, Labour Party and MMM had speakers. And then in June 2015, after the UNCLOS judgment, we wrote to Aneerood Jugnauth, saying “We are now urging you, as a conclusion to this letter, to organize a State visit to the Chagos”. This year at our 2nd International Conference on Diego in October, we again called for a State visit. Meanwhile, on 5th July and 11th August, 2016 former Opposition Leader Paul Bérenger was won over to the idea, as was Hon. Danielle Selvon.
In the past, we in LALIT, have had two visits that nearly happened. Should the State not commit to a visit, we are obviously proceeding with plans ourselves. For this, too, we will need your support. Here is a brief history of our previous attempts.
In October, 1998 LALIT delegated me (one of the undersigned) to meet with Greenpeace at their headquarters in Amsterdam. There, we arranged for a boat, the Arctic Sunrise, to take LALIT and Chagossians in the Rann nu Diego! team to the Chagos. The expedition only got annulled because the Arctic Sunrise got iced in during an Antarctic mission. Then the Chagossian leadership got bogged down in litigation in British courts.
After 2000 when the Chagossians had initially won the right to return through the British Courts, LALIT and the Chagos Refugees Group seized the chance to get a boat – through the NO BASES network and with former Greenpeace sailors. While approaching Greenpeace and the Japanese Peace Boat at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004, we ended up with some 10 ships offering to form a flotilla to take the Chagossians home. This provoked two reactions from the British State. First, Britain passed new decrees, notorious Queen’s Orders-in-Council, to banish the Chagossians again; second, Britain affreighted a ship, itself, to take Chagossians on a symbolic visit. Their 400 years as a colonial schemer gave them the necessary experience to attack with this double-edged knife in order to cut out the LALIT-CRG plan!
So today, in the week before the New Year, we call on you to help put pressure on the Government of Mauritius to take the initiative to affreight the Trochetia, or some other ship, and to prepare an official delegation, with Government and Opposition representatives (Xavier Duval can be tested) and the President, together with Chagossian representatives, journalists from Mauritius and from abroad – in particular from the UK and USA. We also call on you to offer to go on the visit. Government can open applications, and we can all work together to get hundreds of applicants interested.
The preparations for such a visit, we propose, can be timed for as soon as possible, and before more of the dedicated Chagossians pass away, as Fernand Mandarin and Rita Bancoult have recently – or at the latest in time to celebrate victory at the ICJ. The visit is already assured legality through UNCLOS.
We call on Anerood Jugnauth to announce such a plan on 1st January. A New Year’s surprise!
Remember, though Mauritius may seem a “small country”, it is in the top 20 in terms of size of land-and-sea. We must learn courage to match our stature.
People often ask how it is that LALIT remains resistant to corruption and to concession-making. It is mainly due to a kind of integrity over time, and a dedication to justified struggles, based on a clear, philosophical program. This all gives us tensile strength. So, why not join with us to help make history? And on that note, Happy New Year!