In his UN General Assembly speech on Friday 23 September, Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth chose to put emphasis on two of the three elements of the Chagos issue: Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos and the right of return of Chagossians. For the first time, the Mauritian state is at least acting as if the two elements are inseparable, and saying that this is so, and not just concentrating on sovereignty. This is some progress. The fact that Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult was invited to be in the delegation, and that he, in turn, accepted, are both further signs of progress.
And what is curious is that Aneerood Jugnauth’s new line of argument on the question of the military base on Diego Garcia – driven by recent events – has now come to include discourse against the military base. Even if he has always said, and has again very recently repeated, that he is in favour of the base, and that he has always assured the USA that Mauritius, if it establishes sovereignty, will grant the US a long lease, his “discourse” has begun to pull him on to better arguments. In quoting from the judgment of the Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which found Britain had acted unlawfully in setting up a Marine Protected Area in Chagos, he said that Britain “has so far not honoured its undertaking [to return sovereignty over Chagos to Mauritius] as the criteria on which it relies to contend that the Chagos Archipelago is still required for defence purposes keep changing”. And when Jugnauth says “The Cold War” is long over, it means he is saying the base is no longer necessary. When he says that the War on Terror and the War on Piracy are mere pretexts for the base, he is again saying that there is no longer any need for a military base so therefore Britain is obliged to return Chagos to Mauritius as it always undertook to do. But that line of argument is LALIT’s, not usually Jugnauth’s. This trend if it continues will be even more progress.
What has happened is that once the USA, for the first time, went and took a public stand against Mauritian sovereignty in its joint communiqué with the UK after Jugnauth announced he was going to the ICJ, Jugnauth was forced to abandon his previous line (that he was not putting into question the military base) otherwise he would be left without a leg to stand on. In any case, it is essential that he emphasise the importance of closing the base down to ensure lasting support from all those African and other countries that are supporting Mauritius – partly on de-colonization but also on de-militarization and peace.
But, Jugnauth has not yet got a coherent position on the military base issue. He just vacillates. This means that, even though he is calling on the UN to do its duty towards all decolonization efforts in the case of Chagos, this is not a strong enough argument taken on its own to use against the UK and US, so he is forced to go into the reason that Britain gives for not granting sovereignty and complete decolonization: the UK and US “need the military base for defence”. The USA’s recent threats against Mauritius on the sovereignty issue are thus forcing Jugnauth to face up to the argumentation of the British and UK.
So, anyway, until now, the item for the decolonization of Chagos remains on the UN General Assembly agenda. But, curiously, the debate-and-the-vote on the resolution have been postponed to June 2017. This is at the request of Britain to the UN president for the 71st Session, the Fijian, Peter Thomson, who proposed negotiations.
The first “negotiations” were a sham meeting that Foreign Affairs Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson sought with Jugnauth. This was a non-event. Jugnauth denounced him on MBC TV for kicking off with jokes. In fact, it is not very funny. In reality for 50 years the UK has colonized Chagos illegally, has sub-letted part of Chagos for the US to construct a forward military base, and kept all Chagossians banished. Instead of the UK using Diego Garcia for “defence purposes”, it has used it for the purposes of attack, for wars of aggression on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst others. This base has been used for torturing prisoners, through “rendering”, too. On and around Diego Garcia there are nuclear submarines and materials in flagrant violation of the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa. There are stocks of “cluster and anti personel munitions” there, in contravention of the UN Convention that Mauritius has recently voted and ratified.
The meeting with Boris Johnson is the usual “delaying tactic” of the British, no more. Nothing concrete has come out of it. Just the vague and ridiculous comment that, “We will make it work!” We don’t know who this ‘we’ is, nor what this ‘it’ is. We don’t even know what “work” might mean in this context. It seems the UK is talking about nothing but the colonial project to ‘resettle’ Chagossians, as if on a “native reserve” controlled by the colonists.
It is for this reason that LALIT has chosen to put emphasis on Diego Garcia in our coming Conference on 1 and 2 October. We see Diego Garcia, and the base there, as both the source of all the problems and its closure as the beginning of the solution to all the problems.
The support that Mauritius has rallied around it from Governments in the African union, the Non-Aligned movement, the ACP, and Group of 77 is impressive. But it is not sufficient to win the struggle. It is essential to build support and to help mobilization amongst the peoples of the world, and in particular amongst the people of the UK and USA. That is LALIT’s aim on the Chagos dossier, and has been for the past 40 years. And in fact, during the build-up towards our coming Action Conference, we have garnered support from huge organizations and from many individuals, particularly in the UK and USA, but also in other countries like India. People have written letters to their Heads of State to call for support for the decolonization and demilitarization of Mauritius and Chagos. They have also sent letters of support for LALIT’s Conference, and are including LALIT’s demands in their own actions.
In LALIT we firmly believe that the only way towards victory is through keeping together the three inseparable elements: base closure, re-unification of Mauritius, and the right to return decolonized to Chagos. If any element is neglected, it weakens all three elements in the struggle. And Jugnauth’s “discourse” has begun to reflect this realization on his part. But he has just not been able to make his stand about the military base coherent.
But, as we put it in LALIT, quoting the late Aurelie Talate, the key is Diego Garcia. Without the base, there is no justification for continued colonization of Chagos. Without the base, the road to the re-unification of Mauritian is wide open, and the right to return and for free movement over all the territory of Mauritius can become a fact.