As the British authorities prepare a new assault on the Chagossian Community, this time through a supposed “Questionnaire”, Ragini Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen, both of them members of LALIT and MLF, organizations long involved in the struggle over Diego Garcia, delivered a copy of the letter reproduced below, to the seat of the Chagos Refugees Group, calling on them to reject the Questionnaire. Yesterday, a four-person delegation, Alain Ah-Vee and Anne-Marie Joly accompanying them, delivered the letter in person, as well as sending a soft copy to the Association prior to their assembly to be held today 23 August, 2015. This copy was accompanied by a Kreol Language version, in respect of the shared mother tongue.
Dear Olivier Bancoult and all CRG Committee Members,
We, as LALIT and MLF members, have been involved with the Diego/Chagos struggle for nearly 40 years. On a personal level, we both knew you, Olivier, as a Form I pupil in the Lekol Koperativ that we were all three members of. Together with Chagossians, we have, it would be fair to say, been constantly committed to righting the historic wrongs that sprang from the US-UK plot to dismember the country, Mauritius and to forcibly remove all the inhabitants of Chagos so as to set up a military base on the land thus stolen, and illegally rented out. And the wrongs have continued for 40 years. The sea has been ruined by the presence of a massive military base, with nuclear materials stored and nuclear submarines serviced. Illegal prisoners have been tortured and rendered on Diego Garcia. Lies have been told again and again by the UK and US on every aspect of the issue. And the Chagossians have continued to be exiled, Mauritius continued to be a country illegally fractured and still in-part colonized. Ordinary people in Afghanistan have been killed by bombers that took off from Diego Garcia. Families in Baghdad have been wiped out by bombs from B-52’s that set off from Diego Garcia. Chagos has remained a land out of any social control. While it should have been socially controlled by people like you and us with Mauritian nationality, it has been controlled by states, the US and UK, without their peoples knowing what was going on, at all.
Over the years since the first hunger-strikes and protests, we (that is to say people like us in LALIT and you as Chagossians, in the struggle) have gradually built up many allies. Firstly, in Mauritius, we have won over almost everyone to supporting the struggle. In the very early years, Chagossians were supported mainly by the very poor people living in a Port Louis already racked by both poverty and the “bagar rasyal”. The Organisation Fraternel, the women’s movement and sometimes the MMM, were also supportive. Secondly, there was always, from the beginning diplomatic support for the Mauritian state about the illegal dismemberment of the country by a colonizing power, the UK. This support was expressed in the UN and in the African union (earlier the OAU), and the Non-Aligned Movement. Thirdly, support was always strong from the world-wide anti-war movement, in all its forms. Fourthly, thinking people world-wide, from first the women’s movement all over the world, and then gradually intellectuals, journalists and artists, came to know about and support the triple cause: against militarism on Diego, for the unification of Mauritius, and for the unconditional right to return of Chagossians and proper reparations.
Now, in 2015, the UK and US are finally, partly through your Court Cases, exposed. Now, in 2015, the environmentalist organizations that the UK had press-ganged into their plot stand shamed publicly by the Wikileaks cables. Now, in 2015, the UK is finally, through the UNCLOS judgement, exposed.
Being imperialist powers, the UK and USA are wily. They are now turning to their Plan B.
This is a time of all dangers. Tomorrow you will be meeting your members. We write this letter to appeal to you and your Committee to keep in mind the following principles, while deciding how to cope with the onslaught of the British “Questionnaire”, which is like a grenade that has been thrown your way, a grenade disguised as a life-line to your return.
- It is immoral and illegal to cut up a country, in this case Mauritius, as a condition for Independence. Chagossians are Mauritians by birth and as a people. We are one people. We were carved up cruelly by the colonial power. (That you also have a form of British nationality because the island-thieves stole the islands before displacing you, the people living there, in no way removes your inalienable Mauritianess.) Many of your allies support you on the basis of the struggle for decolonization. For example, the SADC decision last week to support Mauritius, also means your right to return – but with your heads held high. It is certainly a total defeat to so much as consider working for the very BIOT, the illegal, unrecognized supposed colony that is the very weapon used by the British for your forcible removal. Your allies support you because you are opposing this illegal condition to Independence.
- It is immoral and illegal to allow the continuation of the US military base, the very source of all your trials and tribulations, of all the suffering of the Chagossians – many of those who were in the struggle with us are no longer with us. Even to suggest that your members consider work on the lethal military base would be anathema. The land must be controlled democratically by all Mauritians and Chagossians, the base closed down, and the US be made to pay for a proper clean-up under UN supervision, and for a conversion of the base to non-military ends. This would certainly be a source of dignified work. Remember, many of your allies are peace-loving people – from governments all over Africa, to parties all over the world, and to associations and movements world-wide. Your allies support you because you are against the base.
- You must continue to claim both the right to unconditional return, and the right to proper reparations, (as well, of course, as a proper democratic Islands Council from the Mauritian State too), so that your return is a dignified one, that does justice to the struggle of all those Chagossians who are no longer with us, as well as to the children and generations who will follow you. You need to refuse to walk into the trap being set by the British and their US allies. Remember that your allies support you because of the terrible treatment you have suffered from them, and in your opposing this treatment. Submitting to the oppressors, or in any way, pumping the military occupation up, will not strengthen support from any of your allies.
We feel justified to make this call for a principled stand from your Committee precisely because we have, for so many years, worked so closely together. We were in demonstrations in Bain des Dames and Cassis. We were in the three-day, massive, women’s street demonstrations. We were even two of the eight women arrested and tried for illegal demonstration under the Public Order Act in 1981. Together we very nearly went to Diego Garcia in 1990s with Greenpeace, but the ship allocated for the trip got iced in, in a previous mission. We were together in Rann Nu Diego, which rebuilt the Chagos Refugees Committee. We sent a joint GRC-LALIT delegation to the No Bases meeting in Mumbai in 2004, and our joint attempts to get a flotilla to go to Chagos, is what finally provoked the British to organize the first visit of Chagossians to the stolen and occupied islands.
We call on you, after 40 years of struggle together with Chagossians, to reject the questionnaire. It is an illegal referendum in disguise.
Ragini Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen, 22 August, 2015.