Diego Garcia: The Base, Sovereignty & Right of Return
Prime Minister Ramgoolam said in Parliament Tuesday that he had met with British Prime Minister Cameron in London last Friday and had stressed “the need for formal talks betweeen Mauritius, the UK and the US to be initiated with a view to reaching an agreement on the effective exercise of sovereignty by Mauritius while safeguading the continued use of Diego Garcia for defence purposes.” “So, while Navin Ramgoolam insisted on Mauritius restablishing its sovereignty over the Chagos, he also gave assurance that the presence of US military base on Diego Garcia will not be put into question, sovereignty “without causing prejudice to the continued use of Diego Garcia as a military base …”
In LALIT, we oppose this submission, even defeatism, on the part of Ramgoolam on the military base, not only on principle, but also because it will, in fact, lead to defeat on all three issues. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that the UK, in collusion with the US, acted illegally in dismembering and stealing part of the land forming an integral part of Mauritian territory, and then in converting a supposed “communication station” into an aggressive military apparatus. Mauritius must regain complete sovereignty over the whole of Chagos archipelago without military occupation anywhere. Any arrangement like the Tromelin style ‘co-gestion with France’ for Chagos with the UK-US would mean continued colonisation and military occupation of Mauritian land. This, in turn, compromises the right of return of the Chagossians to their Islands in the Republic of Mauritius. Any future discussion with the US-UK should include a time-table for the closing down and dismantling of the military base, as well as for an ecological clean-up.
The US military base on Diego Garcia has been used, and is still used as a trampoline for bombing civilians from countries with which we are not at war. It has been used for illegal renditions for torture. The UK, once aware of this, is legally compromised over ceding a new lease, it is true. The base is still used for stocking nuclear material. This is in contradiction with the new binding Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa (Pelindaba). The base is the very reason, the prime mover, behind all the suffering of the Chagossians. Its very existence is the reason for Mauritius being torn apart, prior to Independence, in defiance of the UN General Assembly resolution warning the UK not to do so. It is the military base that was the cause of the UK land-grab, thinly disguised as a “sale”, and it is the military base that caused the USA to act as receiver of the stolen goods. This was a plot by the powerful against a colony. It’s not an empty allegation to say so. The plot has been exposed in the UK’s highest courts. The base, being the cause of all the suffering, must go. Base closure is the key to the return, heads held high, of the Chagossians to all the Islands. Base closure is the key to the re-unification of the Republic of Mauritius, newly aware of its “ocean state” nature. Mauritius must demand a time-frame for closure, sovereignty being linked to “when [Chagos] is no longer needed for defense purposes”.
Base closure is the key to the right of return and sovereignty not only because it is the cause of the problems, but also because it is the way to develop strong strategic alliances that are necessary for success. Mauritius is opposing powerful forces, so we need to change the balance of forces by engaging allies. The Prime Minister seems aware of the need for allies. In Parliament, he listed recent declarations, decisions and resolutions adopted by regional and international organisations in support of Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos. For example, he mentioned the African Union Summits in July 2010 and January 2011, the Non-Aligned Movement summit in July 2009, and the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Conferences in May 2011 and May 2012, respectively. He even highlighted the fact that for the first time in April 2012 at the 13th UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII) in Doha, the Group of 77 & China adopted a Ministerial Declaration reaffirming “the need to find a peaceful solution to the dispute over the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia”. When the issues of base closure, sovereignty and the right to return are all united we can build an even stronger alliance of progressive forces, all working in the same direction. Who are these potential allies?
1. All those against nuclear arms become allies in this triple-struggle.
2. All those in Africa who have defied US attempts to put military bases on their soil become allies in this triple-struggle.
3. All those African and Asian countries who were at the Bandung Conference and dedicated themselves over 50 years ago to complete decolonization become allies in this triple-struggle.
4. All those members of the African Union who support Mauritian claim on the Chagos.
5. All Chagossians, wherever they live, and in all organizations, will become allies in the struggle.
6. The human rights movement world-wide will be an ally in support of all three causes, united, that is to say supporting uprooted Chagossians, opposing predatory military bases, and working towards decolonization.
7. The peace movement world-wide becomes an ally, as does the anti-war movement and the NO BASES part of this movement, in particular.
8. The US and UK people who are struggling against the militarism of their governments become our allies.
9. The environment movement will be able to move away from its connivance with the UK in its plot over the Marine Protected Area, and join a principled alliance for peace and environment protection.
10. The women’s movement world-wide will support the movement, both because it is part of the peace movement and also because of the Chagossian struggle having been women-led for decades.
All this to say that LALIT agrees with Mauritius starting talks at Ministerial level between UK and Mauritius as decided, and even with Mauritius being present at UK-US negotiations, but only on two conditions. Firstly, as the Opposition Leader warned, it is essential to avoid any possibility of recognizing the existence of the illegal “BIOT’. Secondly, it is essential to call for a time-table for base closure at these meetings.
We again call on the Prime Minister to at once put an end to his Government’s secretive attitude towards its strategy on this issue. When confronting the powerful, it is essential to make public one’s strategy, so that one can build public support in Mauritius and abroad.
We once again call for the Government to go through the UN General Assembly so as to get a resolution to call on the ICJ at the Hague to give an advisory opinion on sovereignty. This opinion has massive international political weight. David Cameron admitted in his meeting with Ramgoolam that the UK is already in a web of legal procedures. Now is the time to add another legal case, this time, the key one.
14 June 2012