At long last the Mauritian Government, 42 years after Independence, has begun to act on the Diego Garcia and Chagos issue. This is a very significant change. However, the course of action on which they have decided is, taken on its own, fraught with dangers. The Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, when he announced the Government’s planned legal action against the British Government on Tuesday, 21 December, assured the public in a speech broadcast in its totality on the MBC TV news, that this is merely a part of an overall strategy. However, he gave no inkling of the rest of this strategy, assuming there is one.
The Government has in effect issued a statement of claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning the Marine Protected Area that the British Government has set up around Chagos. Britain occupies Chagos illegally, and sublets it to its US ally, which in turn houses a military base there, from which, inter alia, it sends B-52s to bomb civilians on purpose, and on which it has tortured prisoners held illegally. The WikiLeaks documents show that this supposed “environmental” protection the British have cooked up was designed, not to protect corals and fish as they pretended, but instead to stop the Chagossians getting to return home, and to stop the Mauritian Government from enforcing its sovereignty. This knowledge, and proof of it, gives the Mauritian Government political clout that it would not have had before in relation to the British. The British State has been exposed as having basely “used” a fairly strong environmentalist lobby in the UK as a cynical shield for its imperialist strategy. (See Ram Seegobin’s Open Letter to Greenpeace on this site.) However, once this cynicism is exposed, especially as there are even racist references in the cables, like saying “No Man Fridays” will be able to return to Chagos, the British Government loses the shield it had tried to set up. Curiously the expression “Man Fridays” had been criticised in judgments in the Chagos Refugees Group case by the British judges who thought that it was no excuse that it was 50 years ago when this kind of expression was used.
The Mauritian Government has thus decided to call the bluff on British sovereignty (the islands were illegally severed from Mauritius) and also to call for the right of return for Chagossians, but it has chosen to do this, first and foremost through the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and by challenging the British declaration of a Marine Protected Area around Chagos as from 1 November, 2010 as illegal. The Mauritian Government wants, reasonably, to have the far-fetched British claim of sovereignty exposed as the fraud it in fact is by means of challenging the MPA.
For the better implementation of this tactic, the Government has sent Ms. Sarojni Seeneevassen, the marine biologist fluent in the German language and who has been the advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Arvin Boolell, on the Chagos issue, to be in charge of setting up a new Mauritian Embassy in Berlin. The UNCLOS headquarters are in Hamburg. The Mauritian Government has named a well-known German lawyer as its representative on the arbitration panel.
In effect the Mauritian Government wishes the arbitrators under the act to declare the Marine Protected Area that the British have concocted, to be incompatible with the UNCLOS, and the UK to be not a “coastal state”, and that only Mauritius could declare a Marine Protected Area there.
This action of the Government is the type of action that in LALIT we have called for under the heading of “small actions” that can bolster up the larger actions that we call for, like getting a UN General Assembly Resolution on the sovereignty issue and against the military base that the US has there, and by this resolution putting a case for an advisory opinion at the ICJ at The Hague. The second “larger action” that we call for is for inspections under the new UN Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa of Diego Garcia military base. It should be the Mauritian Government’s aim to make it increasingly clear to all future allies that can be drawn in to supporting the cause, that it is because of the exigencies of the military base that the USA intended to set up on Diego Garcia that the Islands were stolen by the British, and it is because of the exigencies of the military base that the Chagossians, most of whom are Mauritians, were hounded off the Islands by the US and UK, jointly. This tactic does not do this.
We predict that the British Government will fight the UNCLOS claim, probably by first claiming Mauritius has no locus standi, then delaying things as long as possible, and then, should they eventually think they will lose, by “un-declaring the Marine Protected Area”. In which case, the entire tactic would have had little use. But this is only because it is a tactic that does not stand alone. Together with other tactics, as part of a coherent public strategy, it can certainly contribute handsomely.
Because of this kind of perfidious tactic that we can expect from the British, it is thus essential that the Mauritian Government prepare a more general strategy, to which it can garner support: support on decolonization from Governments in Asia and Africa and all the people in the world who oppose that ridiculous figment of a colony called the “British Indian Ocean Territory”, and support against the military base from peace-loving people all over the world, as well as support for the human rights of the Chagossians who were banished from their land, support for the human rights of civilians bombed from Diego Garcia, and support for the human rights of illegal prisoners rendered there. Support from anti-feudal forces can also be brought in, because the initial breaking up of Mauritius was done, not through the Parliament or even the Cabinet, but through Royal Decree in 1965. Further, it was through Royal Decree that the Chagossians were again banned in 2005, having won a judicial case in the UK courts for the right to return.
The Mauritian Prime Minister claimed in his Press Conference, as he is wont to claim, that it is important to keep his strategy secret. This is not true. Surely it would make him stronger if the Mauritian Government publicly announced that it is preparing a UN Resolution, that it intends putting a case before the ICJ, and that it intends calling for inspections for nuclear material being illegally held in its territory?
LALIT also finds that the Mauritian Government weakens its own moral and political case by not only refusing to mention the military base and all its toxic and other waste in the very Chagos which is supposed to be a Marine Protected Area, but also actually abjectly announcing that the Mauritian Government accepts the need for the military base for “security”. Once you accept the diabolical logic of imperialist militarism, your objection to its implementation becomes rather weak.
So, LALIT is aware that our political work over the decades has finally begun to have an effect on the State, but it is now important to prepare mobilization to get the military base closed down, too. This mobilization needs to be both here in Mauritius, and in the US and UK and in other countries. The No Bases movement, which unites some 300 organizations world-wide, has begun this mobilization already. Even mainstream political thinkers like Professor Chalmers Johnson, who passed away recently, have begun over the past few years to see the need for base closure. Meanwhile, the economic collapse of the USA-led financial institutions, and the severe economic crises ahead, all mean that the financing of the bases becomes an untenable burden. Many empires eventually peter out through this type of “over-reach”. So, it is a perfect time for Governments around the world to step up calls for closing down bases. In Japan, and in particular in Okinawa, this issue has become a major electoral issue, and the USA is no longer acting with impunity.
And the people of the USA and UK will now, in large numbers, begin to understand the crimes committed in the past and present by their Governments behind their backs, through decrees and secrecy. When LALIT held its International Conference last month (see web reports), there were influential organizations from both the US and UK who sent messages of support.