LALIT’s Reserves on the Petition being organized by “SPEAK” and a USA Litigants Group on the subject of Diego Garcia and Chagos
There is a long history of people falling into traps on the Diego Garcia issue. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam fell into a British trap in the 1960s. LALIT has always denounced his believing in the hollow promises that it was only a “communications station” on Diego Garcia, which would leave Mauritian sovereignty intact. Then in the 1980s almost all the Chagossians, led by the MMM and Labour, fell into another British trap and signed an outrageous document the British Government drafted to the effect that they were forefeiting all rights to future actions in exchange for compensation that was their right. LALIT opposed this abject clause, and said so. Then the Navin Ramgoolam Government fell into the trap that the British laid for them in 2010; the UK promised to consult Mauritius before setting up any Marine Protected Area. LALIT denounced Navin Ramgoolam for once again falling into a British trap.
Now, we are being asked to sign a petition that effectively demands that the part of the territory of Mauritius, as defined in the Mauritian Constitution, still illegally occupied by the UK as the “British Indian Ocean Territories”, should be assumed to have fallen under USA administration. The petition, and we quote, has this demand: “The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands.” But the Islands are not the USA’s property. The USA is a mere receiver of the “goods” stolen by the British. Sovereignty of the archipelago belongs to Mauritius. So, what is the meaning of calling for the USA to resettle Chagossians on the outer islands of Chagos, when it is at present military occupier of Diego Garcia alone, not the Outer Islands, and this occupation is on the basis of a lease of Diego Garcia from the British Government? The assumption in the demand is thus, of concern.
Of equal concern, the petition goes on to say in the same phrase, that the USA should provide “employment” for Chagossians. Well, the only employment the USA has to offer is to work for the military-industrial complex on the illegal military base on the illegally occupied Diego Garcia. Or, is the petition implying that US administration’s . military . control should extend to all the “outer Chagos Islands”, that is to say beyond the territory now under USA military occupation? This is what the entire demand on the Petition states: “The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment and compensation.”
Below, we have the full text of the petition. But where does the petition come from? It is jointly prepared by “SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative” together with “UNROW Impact Litigation Clinic at American University's Washington College of Law” on the “We the People” website in Washington, part of the whitehouse.gov website. This website has in large characters on its home page for all to see after a simple search: “Giving all Americans a way to engage their government on the issues that matter to them.” It is for Americans. The Litigation Clinic, which was set up by Michael Tigar, the Chagossians’ US lawyer, prepares cases for litigation in the US Courts, according to their web site, so we assume that the petition is in preparation for a new US damages case. Litigation in the USA, as we all know, gives the legal teams 30% or more of the total award, so the petition organizers are not financially independent. SPEAK, the other ONG has a Mauritian branch run by Robin Mardaymootoo, the Chagossians’ Mauritian lawyer. The last case, which did not succeed in getting into the US Courts, was for $1 million per Chagossian, so the 30% for lawyers, if we assume 2,000 Chagossians are involved, is quite a sum. The potential conflict of interests of lawyers, both as professionals and as those launching a petition, should, in LALIT’s view, be disclosed in their calls for signatures, or alternatively clarified if their professional work is being done on a pro bono basis.
So, it is rather odd for Mauritians to be pretending to be “Americans” in signing into the “We the people” site, and then the petition being organized by two groups of lawyers already involved in litigation for Chagossians. The SPEAK pamphlet (a glossy flyer), curiously, fails to include the actual demand that is being made. The entire pamphlet has no reference to the demand in the petition, itself, for the USA to act as if it owns the outer islands, or to supply work to Chagossians on them. It does however have photos of three influential Chagossian women all showing the camera their British passports. What the meaning of this choice of photograph is, is not at all clear. “All we need is five minutes of your day and your on-line signature,” the pamphlet says. They do not need your agreement with the content. Their pamphlet does not even tell us what the demand is. They do not need your “lakorite”, to use the perfect Kreol word. They need just numbers. The immense value of the tradition of petitioning power stems from the very fact that there is a conscious coming together in a common accord of all the signatories.
All we in LALIT ask is that you read the petition, think about who has drafted it and why. Think about how you, as a Mauritian or other non-US citizen, are signing it as if you are an American one. And before signing, please analyse the meaning of the particular demand of the petition. Also, think about all the things not mentioned in it. Base closure? The immense humanitarian disaster caused by the bombardments that take off from the base? Mauritian sovereignty? Even proper reparations for all Chagossians are not mentioned in the petition, but mere “compensation”? When you are reading the petition, please consider whether, by its drafting, the petition does not “legitimize” US military occupation over a huge part of Mauritian territory? Does it not pretend the USA has sovereignty, not merely a lease from an illegal occupier, a lease whose renewal is due soon? Why should the US be giving jobs on Chagos, and what kind of jobs could the US State possibly offer, other than loading of military weapons, the serving and servicing of its military machinery? Does this petition deny that Chagossians are also Mauritians? Does it deny that any neighbour in Bain des Dames, Baie du Tombeau, any organizations, any ordinary Mauritians ever supported Chagossians? Does it ignore the hard struggles of the Chagossians? The hunger strikes and street battles with the Riot Police? Does it imply a demand that the US extend its military occupation from Diego Garcia to the whole of Chagos?
All this to explain in detail, why we, in LALIT, who have always been and will always be in the struggle for the rights of Chagossians, are concerned about this particular petition.
As well as the Full Text of the petition, we are also sending, for comparative purposes, the full text of the LALIT 2005 petition.
Petition by “SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative” together with “UNROW Impact Litigation Clinic at American University's Washington College of Law” on the “We the People” website.
on the subject of Diego Garcia and Chagos
‘We petition the Obama administration to:
‘The U.S. Government Must Redress Wrongs Against the Chagossians
‘For generations, the Chagossians lived on the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. But in the 1960s, the U.S. and U.K. governments expelled the Chagossians from their homes to allow the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia. Facing social, cultural, and economic despair, the Chagossians now live as a marginalized community in Mauritius and Seychelles and have not been allowed to return home. The recent passing of the oldest member of the exiled population underscores the urgent need to improve the human rights of the Chagossians. We cannot let others die without the opportunity to return home and obtain redress. The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment, and compensation.
Created: Mar 05, 2012”
LALITs 2005 petition which was massively subscribed to, both in Mauritius and world-wide - to give an idea of the kind of drafting that is necessary on this issue:
SUBJECT : PETITION TO CLOSE MILITARY BASE ON DIEGO GARCIA
The Hon. J. Dennis Hastert: Speaker of the House of Representatives, US Congress
The Hon. Ted Stevens: Chair (President Pro Tempore) of the US Senate.
The Rt Hon Peter Hain MP: Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, UK
The Hon. Premnath Ramnah: Speaker of the National Assembly, Republic of Mauritius
We, the undersigned, call on the House of Representatives of the USA, the Senate of the USA, the Parliament of Great Britain and the National Assembly of Mauritius, to work to ensure:
1. The immediate decolonization of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Archipelago through the disbanding of the illegitimate "British Indian Ocean Territories"; the cancellation of the Orders in Council that prohibit the return of Chagossians to their native islands; the re-unification according to international law and the UN Charter, of the Republic of Mauritius that was dismembered as an illegal condition to Independence in 1968.
2. An immediate halt to ever using Diego Garcia for B-52’s or other military apparatus to attack other countries (whether Afghanistan, Iraq or any other land) and the complete closing down of the United States military base on Diego Garcia; the organization of an ecological clean-up; a public undertaking that no other base be set up elsewhere to replace this one; the conversion of part of the base into a non-military Tsunami Warning Station for the Indian Ocean, and part into a UNESCO World Heritage Site around a vast ecological project to regenerate the coral and the lagoons. [This last demand has recently been distorted by a proposal from the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos that the UK, an occupying power, put forward this demand to UNESCO; the Chagos Refugee Group and others rightly denounced this, and the proposal has been frozen.]
3. That an immediate visit by the Red Cross and respected journalists be organized, so that independent investigations can be conducted into the persistent allegations that there have been and/or are Guantanamo-style prisoners being held or "rendered" on or near Diego Garcia. [UK has subsequently admitted this was true.]
4. The immediate right of return, as well as full reparations and compensation for damages, from the US and UK governments to all Chagossians forcibly removed between 1965 and 1973.
. Conclusion to LALIT’s statement about the petition being circulated
The best way to support the struggle for Chagos is to understand it. The essential elements are simple:
- The need for total decolonization, and for the re-unification of the Republic of Mauritius, according to both international law and the Mauritian Constitution, with Chagossians having a Regional Assembly.
- The need for closure of the US military base, because it is the military base that is the reason for all the suffering. The time is ripe for this, as the US goes into deep economic crisis and has to cut back its military expenditure. A clean-up is also necessary.
- The need for full reparations for the unimaginable suffering of all the Chagossians who were forcibly removed from their homes, the unconditional right of return, and full compensation to all Chagossians for their loss.
It is unwise to barter any one of these demands against the others. All are principled demands, linked together inextricably by the murky history of Anglo-American militarism.
Let us all work together to win this important struggle before any other Chagossian passes away.