In the 27 June 2016 Appeal in the most recent Olivier Bancoult case in the British Courts, one of the judges, Lady Hale, in a dissenting judgment, bravely exposes the “justifications for empire” relied upon by the British Government and by British Courts over Chagos. Succinctly she says, quoting others, that the very justification is, in fact, in the case of Chagos, “how best to appropriate colonial possessions for the benefit of the imperial power” (p. 73). This is what Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth recently called the “might is right justification”.
What this means is that, in the final analysis, the British State will argue any old thing – as a State – and will decide any old thing – as Courts – so long as it is for the benefit of appropriating possessions for the imperial power. In this case, appropriating Chagos for Britain.
What this, in turn, means is that the only way to win against this kind of imperial might is obviously by political struggle. A court case can be used as part of a political strategy, and this way contribute to victory in a political struggle. But, through court cases alone, Olivier Bancoult will never bring victory, but only humiliating defeat. Lady Hale is quite right to point to the deep “justification for empire” behind all other rationale within the entire British State apparatus.
And that is why LALIT is criticizing the legalistic Olivier Bancoult strategy. He has allowed Chagossians to be taken for a royal ride by the British State for 18 years. And he still is.
The only way to win against an imperialist state like Britain is by gathering together as much political clout as possible and, this way, forcing Britain to back off. The only kind of power that an empire will bow down to is political power: and this is where the power of the people comes in. All and any gains in political rights, throughout history, are won through political mobilization of people, organized people. And the way to win this confrontation with the UK and USA is by aiming to gather on our side, on the side of the high moral ground, as much people-power as possible. This is LALIT’s strategy, and it works.
Because LALIT gathered together a wide coalition of forces in 2003-4 around the international “Peace Flotilla initiative” to go to Chagos, the British State’s lawyers went on-and-on for an hour in 2008, while arguing against Bancoult in Court, railing against LALIT and against the Peace Flotilla landing on Chagos. This is why the British Foreign Office blamed LALIT for Britain’s draconian brand-new “Orders-in-Council”, a decree banishing Chagossians once again. And this is why the Courts, though finding LALIT was not the cause, found LALIT’s political action indeed prompted the executive to go ahead with a new banishing Order. We did force them to take action, by our planned actions. This is why the judgments, in October, 2008 and in 2016, mention LALIT by name. LALIT’s political action prompted the British State to act, and to act in ways that weaken its position. Being reduced to recourse to an Order-in-Council in the 21st Century to banish people is indeed ludicrous. But, weakened or not, in the short run, Britain’s banishing order, its continued possession of Chagos, and its continued illegal sub-letting, have all held.
The British empire holds on, but in a politically weakened position.
Britain has been further weakened by the UNCLOS case, and by its 2015 judgements. This politically important case brought by the Ramgoolam Government would never have been possible either, had LALIT not kept the Chagos issue open on the political agenda. Now, after the 2015 victory of the State of Mauritius, and the key Minority Judgment saying sovereignty is Mauritian, Britain’s position is further weakened. Britain can now legally do nothing concerning Chagos, not even renew the 50-year lease, without consulting Mauritius.
What exactly were the political forces we in LALIT managed to bring together for our past actions? And how do we propose that today these forces are brought together once again, in order to force defeat upon the UK-USA? Even as we gather together these forces, during the very process, we already weaken the British colonialists. Here are the political forces we aim, again, to bring together:
1. The totality of the people of Mauritius (leaving aside, say, Jean-Claude de l’Estrac) including all Chagossians, because our shared country was fragmented by an imperialist plot.
2. All working people and all thinking people in Britain, because the British State is the appropriator of the stolen goods, the Chagos Islands, a crime committed behind the backs of the British people.
3. All working people and thinking people in the USA, because the USA was the premeditated receiver of part of the stolen goods, Diego Garcia, so that it could go ahead and set up a secretly plotted military base there. This, too, behind the backs of the American people.
4. All the people in the world who are against continued colonization, especially those organized in associations, political parties, unions, or other independent organizations.
5. All the States in the world that are, as States, against continued colonization.
6. All the people in the world who are against militarism, and foreign military “forward bases” in other countries – again especially those organized for action.
7. All the people in the world who are against mass forced removals of people, like that suffered by the Chagossians between 1963 and 1973; and who are in favour of the right to return (not the further suffering of being “resettled” by a colonial power in its interests).
8. All the people in the world who are against nuclear materials being stocked on other peoples’ land, and who hate seeing an atoll of the beauty of Diego Garcia being subjected to the environmental ruin that a military base, nuclear at that, perpetrates.
9. All States who signed up to Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa.
10. All the people in the world who are against the use of other peoples’ land for torturing and rendering prisoners, as the USA used Diego Garcia.
11. All the people in the world, including in the USA and UK, who believe that the Iraq war and the war on Afghanistan were illegal wars, a position strengthened by the recent Chilcot Report, and who therefore oppose the use of Diego Garcia for the US to bombard people, killing indiscriminately and without even the pretence of a just cause, or any cause at all, for war – all causes having been shown to have been inventions.
12. All women in the world who stand in solidarity with the women of Chagos and the LALIT women who, from the 1970s and especially in 1981, stood up and fought for the freeing of Diego Garcia, at the cost of being beaten up by Riot police and then being hauled before the Courts, and who have continued the struggle until today.
How do we do this? To bring all these forces together? To build such a massive coalition of progressive forces?
We do it by a clear program.
We stand for the following 3-point program:
1. The closing down of the Diego Garcia military base. It is the root cause of all the suffering and harm done. This involves an environmental clean-up as well.
2. The complete decolonization by Britain of the whole of Mauritius, including Chagos, which includes Diego Garcia, and thus the re-unification of the territory of Mauritius. This involves the right of return for all Chagossians, heads held high, whenever they want to return, should they want to return. This involves free movement for all Mauritians. This also involves compensation for unpaid rent, which Britain can, in turn, recover from its illegal sub-tenant, the USA.
3. The right to return, free from continued colonization, and as Mauritians, for all Chagossians. This involves proper reparations from the UK and USA for the unspeakable harm suffered by all those so cruelly deported.
This is the way to victory. Part II will outline the path in strategic and tactical terms. A good program is only as good as the strategy, and principled tactics, that guide it.
Judgements in Court Cases can never over-ride the policy decisions of an Empire. (Bancoult’s attempts to enter the US Courts have been stymied at the very outset by this imperative.) And it is surely reasonable that a democratically elected Parliament ought not to be over-ridden by appointed judges, Lords and Ladies to boot. However, it is a sign of the justification of empire being “how best to appropriate colonial possessions for the benefit of the imperial power” that the Court’s decision of 2000 was trumped, not by Pariament, but by Queen’s Orders-in-Council, totally undemocratic decrees.