The struggle in Diego Garcia continues

From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters

On June 22 there was a resounding win for a UN General Assembly Resolution calling for an Advisory Opinion from the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the British state’s excision of Chagos (including Diego Garcia) from Mauritius in 1965, i.e., before independence, and the brutal, forcible removal of all Mauritian Chagossians from 1965-1973.

The vote was 94 in favor, 15 against. A fine victory! A legal opinion at the ICJ lies ahead. But it will be decided in the final analysis by politics.

The Resolution was not a “Mauritius vs. Britain” resolution, as the UK and US. UN representatives pretended. It was co-sponsored by the African Union—54 States calling for an opinion on the decolonization of Africa.

The Diego García Island in the Indian Ocean

The Diego García Island in the Indian Ocean.

HOW THE U.S. AND UK LOST

The first main argument by the UK and U.S. against the resolution is that the issue is between Mauritius and Britain, and should not be considered by the ICJ. They are pretending the co-sponsorship does not exist when it does. Is this a perpetuation of the statement that Diego Garcia was inhabited by a few “Man Fridays”? That is a denial of the very existence of African states. This is the first point the UK and U.S. lost.

The second argument used by Britain was more outrageous. The UK argued that in 1965, an elected Mauritian Council of Ministers negotiated the excision of Chagos from Mauritius in exchange for money from Britain. But it was not the Council of Ministers at the talks but representatives of the political parties, like Labour, etc., as well as a supposed representative of the private sector. The UK Head of State of Mauritius at the time of the supposed deal was Queen Elizabeth II of England, represented by the Governor General, Sir John Rennie.

The UK representative, insisting this is a “bilateral issue,” omitted that the UN General Assembly on Dec. 16, 1965, voted a warning Resolution (2066 [XX] Question of Mauritius) in which it explicitly “invites the administering Power (Great Britain) to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.” How can the issue then be “bilateral”? Britain was specifically warned not to go ahead with the excision of Chagos. Read the resolution in full at http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/2066(XX)

Britain’s third argument is nonsense. They maintain: Sovereignty is not up for discussion. Mauritius already sold Chagos to Britain for a few pounds long ago. What, then, do the British intend to discuss in the bilateral negotiations they propose? Then they add: Britain will “cede” Chagos to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defense. Mauritians are not so stupid that they will take this as genuine when it is the UK, and perhaps their chums the US, who will decide when Chagos is no longer necessary for “defense.” 

They lost at the General Assembly of the UN by 94 to 15.

Now a legal battle will ensue. It is up to us to keep up the political pressure. The struggle is against colonialism, militarism, and for the re-unification of Mauritian land and people. It is the massive U.S. military base on Diego Garcia that is the cause of all the ills. Further, there are the Chagossian people, Mauritians living on Chagos outer islands, who were forcibly removed after the excision of Chagos from 1965-1973. They deserve the right to return.

It is also about resources of that vast archipelago; about the environment, where Britain has set up its Marine Protected Area alongside a nuclear military base where nuclear submarines are serviced. And the struggle is about women in the forefront—from petitions to street demonstrations, from congresses to battles with riot police—for 50 years.

Check how your government voted. In the case of a “no” or “abstention,” send your elected representatives a letter protesting the colonial attitude. Request they change your country’s position, and shut down the Diego Garcia base!

—Lindsey Collen, LALIT

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