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Former President of Republic, C.Uteem, speaks on Diego Garcia

18.11.2010

We have pleasure in reproducing in English translation the opening speech made by the Former President of the Republic, Mr. Cassam Uteem, at the LALIT international conference on Diego Garcia and Chagos on 30 October. LALIT strongly recommends visitors to read this excellent speech.


Thank you very much. After the welcome speech by Lindsey Collen, all I'm going to say, you will already have heard! But because you have honoured me with an invitation to open the International Conference, and because you have honoured me by asking me to say a few words, too, I will nevertheless go ahead, and I'll be taking up many of the issues already raised by Lindsey.

Before I start, allow me, while welcoming you all, to give a particularly warm welcome to those of you who have come from abroad to be here. Your presence will bring enormous support to the Chagossians struggle.

I'd like to congratulate LALIT for organizing this conference, a Conference which brings strength to the Chagossians' struggle. LALIT has shown constancy over time in its support for the Chagossians struggle. And this Conference, as Lindsey mentioned, comes at a crucial moment in history.

The moment is crucial, for example, because there is a new Government in Great Britain. And whatever they may now be saying, we must remind them of the promises they made during their electoral campaign when they were in Opposition, promises to the effect that they would bring justice for the Chagossians.

And there is the Chagos Refugees Group's case before the European Human Rights Court at the moment.

And there is also the Mauritian Government's determination, determination expressed by the Government through the Foreign Affairs Minister's bold speech recently made before the UN General Assembly.

And today there is the announcement that the Government yesterday decided to decree the 3rd November as "Day for the Commemoration of the Deportation of the Chagossians" and on this day there will be national prayers.

All of this, plus an active mobilization in England.

This all makes the moment that the Conference is taking place into a crucial moment, crucial to the Chagossians' struggle.

So, because it is a crucial moment, I shall express an opinion on something: It is my opinion that we should put aside our differences as regards the responsibility of various leaders of Mauritius at the time of the excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. We should put these differences on the back burner, I suggest. At least for now. And let us present a common front, a unanimous front, a political front, a popular front, in our struggle to get back our land, in our struggle for the Chagossians to get their right to return and the reparations that they more than deserve.

And LALIT is right in choosing as the Conference theme at one and the same time the question of the illegal occupation of the Chagos, the existence of the military base on Diego Garcia, the right of return for Chagossians, a fundamental right, and the right to compensation for Chagossians. These four aspects are not divisible. They are four fundamental aspects that we should not deal with separately. And if we do treat them separately, it is, in my opinion, a serious mistake. It would be a serious political mistake to separate the issue of the base from that of sovereignty, or to separate the issue of sovereignty from that of the lot of the Chagossians, or to separate the lot of the Chagossians from their right to compensation and to return. If we separate these issues, saying "Let's deal with this one, not that one for the moment, let's look at them separately," this would be a serious political error. We will not attain our objectives this way.

In this "saga", and I refer to it as the Chagossian saga, there are the guilty parties, the culprits, and there are their accomplices, and then there are the victims. Culprits, accomplices and victims. There are two culprits, two guilty parties. These are the Administration of the USA and the Government of Great Britain. The usurpers are the US Administration and the British Government. Those are the two guilty parties. And then there are the accomplices. We can also refer to them "consenting victims". The class of politicians of the 1960's, but as I said a minute ago, let's put them on the back burner. Perhaps I'll just say a couple of words about them later. But, for the moment, let's put them to one side. And there are two victims in this affair: The Chagossian people and the Mauritian people. The Chagossian people in particular, and the Mauritian people in general.

Let us look at the victims.

The Chagossian community, the Chagossian people were uprooted. Do you know what "uprooted" means? Uprooted and expelled. Expelled from their Islands, exiled. They have been insulted, humiliated and made to suffer injustice upon injustice. They have had to live in lands they did not know - some in Seychelles, others in Mauritius - in downright abject conditions. They became victims. Victims of drug abuse. Some fell victim to alcoholism. And when they did get compensation - derisory though it was - they were often heavily in debt, and had to use the money just to get out of debt. And many of those who got land on which to build houses ended up selling the land for peanuts, just so that they could get money so as to pay off debts accumulated since their displacement. They have been victims of abuse. They have been victims of human rights abuses. And until today, right up to now, they have been denied the right to return, the fundamental right of return to your own land. This right has been refused to the Chagossians. We are demanding, and I ask the Conference in it resolutions, should there be resolutions voted, to include the right of return for Chagossians to all their native isles, including Diego Garcia.

We do not "agree to disagree". The line about we "agree to disagree" whereby we take 3, 4, 6, or even 20 Islands, and leave Diego Garcia for the time being, well, this is just not the way to conduct a struggle. This is no way to fight for justice. It is not this way that one struggles to retrieve one's patrimony. How can we, to get our own land, agree to cede some in return, even if temporarily. This is not how to proceed. The struggle must demand the closure of the military base. That must be our central demand. That is our demand. And we demand proper compensation. We must demand these things of the US, of America, and if necessary, through the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The second victim is the Mauritian people. Dismembered territory. Territory dismembered. It had no right to take place. At the time of Independence, the colonial power says, "OK, you you're your Independence on three-quarters of your land, I'm keeping the last one quarter!" No such arrangement exists! "So, I'll grant you nine-tenths of your country for Independence, but I'm keeping the other tenth!" This just is not on. "Take half your country, I'm keeping half!" This, too, is illegal. It is against all the international Conventions. It is against UN resolutions. It is against the UN Treaty itself. Our territory was dismembered in this way, and only a part of it granted Independence, and a part kept by the British. All the marine resources and wealth around the Archipelago were just confiscated from us by the British. No one in Mauritius has the right to go and fish there anymore. The boss has to decide who gets to go there, and he has given permission to whomsoever he wanted to give it to. So, until today, it is still impossible for Mauritians to visit part of our own land. We just haven't got the right. We cannot go into part of our own country because it is occupied by foreign forces. Our country is not just occupied by a foreign country, but by foreign armed forces. At the same time, we Mauritians are left with guilt feelings relative to the Chagossians. People often tell us we got our Independence at the expense of the Chagossians, that we sold out the Chagossians in exchange for our Independence. This causes us, as Mauritians, to feel guilty, making the Chagossians into those who were sacrificed. And they clearly were sacrificed. But the real culprits are Britain and the US.

So that means that our Independence is still incomplete. We cannot say that today, in 2010, our country is completely independent. Our Independence is incomplete because a fair portion of our territory, our land and our sea, a proportion of it, is still under British colonial rule. We therefore demand loud and clear the return of the Chagos Archipelago, our patrimony, as Mauritian land and sea. We claim sovereignty over this territory.

A moment ago I referred to the consenting victims. I will say one or two words about them now. The political class that was negotiating Independence comprises those who I'm referring to. Some say there was a knife at their throats. Perhaps. Others say, "What with the knife at our throats, we had no choice, as we were not yet independent". So, they argue, those leaders could not resist, they had no alternative, they had to accept what the colonizer obliged them to accept. Some say, "But you know there was one Party in too much of a hurry to get Independence because there was another Party getting stronger and stronger." They say that this one Party was in too much of a hurry to accept Independence because the PMSD was getting too strong, and there would not have been independence at all, because they were against it. Others say, "The leaders at that time were insensitive relative to the Chagossians." And these political parties are still around. The Labour party is still here. The PMSD is still here. But the individual people are no longer here. There is only one left. About a month ago, a former MP called Rahul Abdool passed away, and he was the second last witness who had participated in the Constitutional Conference of 1965. Today there is only one witness left. He was present in 1964 at Lancaster House. That eye witness, who heard all the proceedings, is the President. Sir Aneerood Jugnauth. He was there. And he is the only one alive today. And he is our witness. He is our principal witness in this case. And it is for this reason that I would like to ask the Conference to appeal to Sir Aneerood Jugnauth that he come forward and testify. Tell us all that he heard and saw, tell us everything he knows. Come and speak out. Come and give us a hand, give the Chagossians a hand to get the right to return, so that Mauritius can speak out forcibly, because he is our witness. Before it is too late, we, therefore, call on Sir Aneerood Jugnauth to speak out. And we call on him to claim our sovereignty because, as I say, he was witness to the theft that the British perpetrated, the theft of land, an important part of our land. So, bearing in mind that because we are all Mauritians we claim our sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, and bearing in mind that because we are all Chagossians, we demand the right to return for all Chagossians to their Island.

At the same time, we demand that the Mauritian Government of today must spell out the role that it imagines for Chagossians in the future once the Government wins sovereignty. What role will they play in the running of Chagos? The Government must open discussions with their representatives. Be careful that it doesn't get too late. I say this because as you know, the British State, I said this before, resorts to all manner of subterfuge. We must beware that our Chagossian brothers and sisters don't fall into yet another trap laid for them. Which is why I say it is important for the Mauritian Government to open dialogue with the Chagossians, and to make clear the role of Chagossians in the running of the Archipelago once it has returned to Mauritian sovereignty in the future.

Now let us turn to the guilty parties. To the culprits. We have looked at the victims, then at the consenting victims, so now let's look at the culprits. The culprits are the British government and the American Administration. But don't make the mistake of thinking that the British are the most guilty party. They are the second most guilty, in my opinion. They most certainly did go against UN Conventions, and they did cut out a bit of our territory and keep it at the time of giving Mauritius its Independence. This was an illegal act. Illegal. And at the same time, they did expel the Chagossians, an immoral act. They expelled them from Diego Garcia, Peros Banos, Salomon, and sent them in exile to Mauritius and the Seychelles. They told lies to the international community. They told a web of lies. And for 30 years, 35 years, they maintained that these Islands had no people on them. They said that these islands were deserted. And these Islands that they hung on to, they kept them and then handed them over to the US so that it could then set up a military base on them. And they maintained all along that these islands had no population living there. They lied. And it was only much later that public opinion, in particular I'm referring to US and UK public opinion, found out the truth. They said that people who had been living for generations on Chagos were not Chagossians. If those people were not Chagossians, then we who have been living 4 or 5 generations in Mauritius were also not Mauritius! Chagossians had great grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers who had been born there, and who have their bones buried there till now. In the Chagos. But the British lies went around the world, masquerading as fact. And they rented the Islands for the setting up of a base. People who say they did not know there would be a base, that they did not know that they were setting up a communications station, all I can say is you can't teach your mother to suck eggs. We are not idiots. Don't come trying things on us. Don't come and tell us that at the time of detaching the Islands and stealing them, you did not know there was a base due to be built there? There had already been negotiations. There had already been top secret negotiations. They had already been planning their base in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and on our territory. They choose our territory. They chuck us out. They build their military base, and they then tell us to shut up and not say anything.

All of this to say that I mentioned that the British were specialists in subterfuge and we have to watch out for them. They really are specialists. I mean the British State. When the Court pronounced its judgment in favour of the Chagossians, what did the British State do? It comes up with something no-one ever heard of, an Order in Council, in order to counteract the decision of their our Courts, to reverse the decision of their Court, of their High Court, of their High Court of Appeal in London. They acted with subterfuge yet again, with their Order in Council, by counteracting the decision that the Court handed down in favour of the Chagossians, giving them the right to return. I call that resorting to subterfuge.

Another subterfuge. At a certain moment, they hand out British passports! "Take one!" Beware, I've just warned and I warn the Mauritian Government once again. Start talking to the Chagossians and their leadership. Do not underestimate the British State. It can go to any lengths, and at some point in time, it is going to be too late. Buying people off with British passports. And it's normal, in a way, if you say to any young person today, "Look here, I'll give you a British passport, you can go there now", even if you do not get the same conditions as the English, what young person would refuse? Fine young Mauritians, fine young Chagossians will take up an offer like this.

And now the most recent subterfuge is decreeing the sea around Chagos a Marine Protected Area. A Marine Protected Area. All those important people who love protecting sea creatures and the environment, even Greenpeace fell for it, and said of the Marine Protected Area, "Yes, it is a good thing!" Even though there were no consultations whatsoever with the Mauritians, nor with the Chagossians. That is yet another subterfuge. Because once you decree a Marine Protected Area over Chagos, it means no-one can fish there, no-one can pollute the sea at all there, therefore no-one can live there. You won't have the right t fish. You won't have the right to live there, because you won't have the right to pollute the sea there. So, you do not have the right to exist. That's really subterfuge.

And finally, I come to the last part. Bearing in mind that we are demanding, staking our claim, condemning Britain for having concocted this false entity, something that does not really exist, the BIOT. The British Indian Ocean Territory did not exist when people my age where at school. Do you think we had ever heard of BIOT? BIOT did not exist. We never learnt about it in geography because it did not exist. It was concocted. And that is the last of the colonies to have been set up. I think in the whole world it was the last one set up. And it was set up by Britain, so we demand that the BIOT be dismantled, be cancelled, written off. Written off the map. It does not exist. The islands must be returned to Mauritius. But bearing this in mind, we now come at last to the main culprit. The number one guilty party. The American administration.

That is who started it all. American military strategists cast their eyes around and then set their hearts on Diego Garcia, which they thought would make the best place for their military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They visited other places, too. You remember? There was the island called Aldabra. They were interested, but they didn't use it. Why not? Because there were giant turtles that lived there. Ah, tread carefully, Aldabra is the habitat for giant turtles, what will the environmentalists say? What if they kick up stick. What if Greenpeace makes a racket, they think, and make themselves a nuisance. Let's rather take Diego Garcia, and we can just get rid of the 3 or 4 people living there, send them somewhere else. In the American eyes, giant turtles have more value than human beings. That is the kind of people we are dealing with. We not talking about the American people, more so not today's people, but the Administration at the time. We are talking about the American Administration, which is a heartless thing. Men, women and children have no value to them. Giant turtles do have. Fish do have value.

So, that is how they set about getting the British to expel the Chagossians. They absolutely insisted that the islands had to be rid of all inhabitants. And today the refuse outright that the people who were living there ever return. In the face of this, some amongst us plead, saying "Keep Diego, just let us return to the other outer islands!" I don't agree with this. But there are some people who argue this way. "Let us go back at least to Peros Banos, allow us to return to Salomon. Keep Diego!" No. No way.

The most recent argument they have come up with against allowing Chagossians back - it was a few years back - is "What are you doing pouring money into those Islands? Why invest in them? Don't you know they are soon going to be under water?" But what about Diego Garcia, will it not be under the same water? If the other islands are going to be below sea level, then won't Diego Garcia also be below the same sea level, for goodness sake? But the American Administration is pouring billions and billions of dollars of investments into Diego Garcia, and is it not going to be under water, too? What kind of argument is that? People think they can come and tell Chagossians, "Sorry, you can't go home because your islands will soon be under water." But Diego Garcia won't be? In the meantime they are pouring money into Diego Garcia. B-52 bombers, as Lindsey has already explained, are housed there.

We are not at war with Iraq. Since when are we at war with Iraq? Since when are we at war with Afghanistan? Are we at war with Afghanistan? Are we at war with Iraq? We are not at war with these countries. Moreover, we oppose what the US is doing there. And what are they doing? They are making use of our territory to launch their B-52 bombers, and then these bombers go and bombard people, kill people. And who do they kill? Who do they go and kill? Do they go and kill soldiers? Maybe soldiers get killed incidentally. They go there and kill the innocent. They kill civilians. They kill by the thousand, by the tens of thousand of innocent people. The press does not talk about this enough. Hundreds of thousands of women, innocent people, have met their deaths. And from where did their deaths come? From our land. The bombers took off from our land to go and bomb them.

And in the future, should they decide to replicate and to bomb us back, who will protect us? The Americans?

This is not done.

A base like this has no right to exist.

And now, the most recent thing we hear, is that the Diego Garcia base has been used for torturing people. Rendition. "It has been proved." The British Government, if I am not mistaken the Prime Minister himself, Prime Minister Brown, before the House of Commons, either him or David Milliband, the outgoing Government, announced that it had been proven that there was rendition. There has been torture. And they go on shooting their mouths off all over the place about how they are against torture, how torture is something that happens in Africa and in Asia, not them. But the US Administration must be condemned for this. They, as I said, are the real culprits in all this. And we must know, if rendition has been proven, how much was there? And if it existed, does it still happen? Is Diego Garcia being used like Guantanamo prison? We must pose these questions. We must call for inspections.

And here, this also Lindsey mentioned, there is a Treaty, the Pelindaba Treaty. It means that from now on you no longer have the right to stock, to keep, to use, any nuclear material in any African country, including Diego Garcia, including the whole of Chagos, which is in Africa, because it is part of Mauritius. We have to know the truth. We must call for inspections, we must go to the OAU, now the African Union, we must go to the UN, and we must go to the US Courts to establish whether this base is been used as a prison and to torture people.

And in short, we must call for the dismantling of the base. That is the essential thing. I believe that this is the first thing. Call for the base to be closed down.

If you happen to want a military base today, well you can leave your country by air and get to anywhere in the world in a few minutes, so take your base and put it in your own region. Your base is designed to protect the West, well, take it and put it in the West, then. Nobody in Mauritius will object - although we will still have objections of principle - but remove the thing from here, and go. Why come into our neighbourhood? Into our Region? Why do you have to take our land? Why do you have to take our Islands, to do this? Go set up your base at home! Set it up in your area.

And, I must finally, make an appeal, not just to various lobbies in the US, but also to President Barrack Obama, for whom we all have respect. He must "if he can, can!" Then we will know whether he is really in favour of justice and if he wants to end injustice.

I'm sorry for taking so much time, and for speaking a little longer than I was supposed to. But I believe that the theme of this Conference is so vital and it comes at a crucial moment, that it is important to take the time.

So, it is with great pleasure that I declare the Conference open. I wish your deliberations well, knowing how important they are to the Chagossians' struggle.

Thank you.