This is what Kisna Kistnasamy spoke about at the LALIT Second Conference on Diego Garcia on 1 October, 2016. These were the English notes used by interpreters translated from her Kreol notes.
I will speak about “the struggle”. So while the theme of the entire Second LALIT Conference on Diego Garcia is “Diego Garcia: 50 years of Occupation and Exile, 50 years of Struggle: Let’s bring Victory!” I will speak in particular about the second part of it.
All the problems began when the USA were looking for an uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean to construct a military base in the Indian Ocean. At that time, the British administration was delegating its role of policing the world to the USA. So together, they plotted to organise this grand theft. In 1965, the English colonial government dismembered Chagos from the Mauritian territory and (December 1966) the UK gave the USA a lease on Diego Garcia’s land and its sea. That meant that Great Britain became a burglar state and the USA, a receiver of stolen goods.
The American military base on Diego Garcia has been the cause of the problem. It’s because of the military base that Britain together with its ally, the USA committed the first crime: the dismantling of Mauritian territory in the process of Mauritius becoming independent. The second crime was to uproot the Chagossians from Chagos. Both crimes were committed so that the USA could install a military base on Diego Garcia. This is something we should always bear in mind.
If we are here today, it is because of 50 years of struggle
If we’re meeting in this 2nd International Conference on Diego Garcia today, it is thanks to the struggle of the last 50 years. There has never been any capitulation to those two bandit states that Jean Claude has talked about. In fact, there has been resistance from the day the British Government, with the complicity of the US government, decided to dismantle Mauritian territory and uproot the Chagosians. There have been all sorts of struggles, all kinds of human endeavours. And often, that struggle has been against our own Government, against the Mauritian State - for its complicity from day one of its independence on the 12th March 1968, when it became free. And it is this struggle that enables Sir Aneerood Jugnauth to put forward a resolution to the UN to put a case before International Court of Justice. It is this struggle that allows Diego Garcia to remain on the agenda of our own conference. It is this struggle that today has brought about so much International support for our actions to shut down the base, to decolonise Mauritius, to obtain a true right of return for Chagosians.
And we are here today, to continue to contribute to change the course of history – to continue the struggle that began the day Mauritius was broken in two, in 1965.
Different periods of the Diego-Chagos struggle take on different forms
On the international front, the first thing we note is from the start in 1965, 89 member countries of the UN general assembly voted on Resolution 2066 to condemn Great Britain. 18 countries abstained. The dismantling of Chagos including Diego Garcia by Britain prior to Mauritian independence and the forced exile of the Chagosian people violates the United Nations Charter. Three times this was declared illegal: once in 1965, a month after the dismantling of the territory of Mauritius. Then in 1966 and once again in 1967, when Mauritius was still a British colony, the UN general assembly voted again to condemn Great Britain. Every time, there were countries that abstained but there have never been countries that have voted in favour of Britain. Even Great Britain’s accomplice the USA abstained!
Spontaneous resistance against deportation
Concurrently, in the Chagos Archipelago, between 1965-1973, there was a period when there was spontaneous resistance against deportation; very often, passive resistance, where people refused to leave Chagos. So, Chagosians were moved from Diego Garcia to other islands in Chagos. ‘Go-slow’ was used as a means of protest as well as other forms of resistance. These took place at the time when you heard, “zil inn ferme,” “the islands have been shut down” and one cannot return. A strong point was the hunger strike on the Nordvaer ship at the port in Port Louis, sit-ins where people refused to disembark from the ship.
In the context of pre-independent Mauritius, there were a combination of events. One was the struggle for independence when the PMSD succeeded in rallying 4 out of 10 people against Independence, using every kind of terror campaign and another reality was the deep suffering of racial riots (that came and changed the geography of Port Louis). Simultaneously, the Chagosians were being deported from the Chagos to Port Louis.
The socio-political phase with Lorganizasyon Fraternel
In the 1970s, it was a phase that one could call “socio-political” where Chagossians regrouped, mobilised, actively campaigned in the Ilwa Committee of the OF, struggling to make their voices heard. It was a hard fight to make the Chagossians’ plight known in Mauritius. But it was to be a key phase to develop the next stage . At the same time the MMM, in its early days, protested against the base. In fact the first political debate on the MBC after the State of Emergency ended was between the MMM and Labour Party and it was on the issue of Chagos and Diego Garcia, in the mid-1970s.
Mass demonstrations with LALIT ( at the time of Lalit de Klas) and Muvman Liberasion Fam
In the year 1977-1981, there were several hunger strikes by women Chagossians. One of them was in the offices of a local (Mouvement Militant Mauricien) MMM branch in Bain des Dames. A hunger strike at Company Gardens in Port Louis followed and subsequent to that and during it, several spontaneous women’s demonstrations took place in Port Louis to support the hunger strikers, demonstrations led by LALIT and Chagossian women. These culminated into a demonstration in front of Government House where Chagossian women showed us how to confront the police. This led to several sit ins in La Chaussee Road in front of the British Embassy. The riot police suffered a defeat. The women in MLF (Muvman Liberasyon Fam) and LALIT members were very active in this phase. 8 women were arrested including two women, members of LALIT and MLF. 3 of those arrested are present here today. 3 of the demands were linked to the closure of Diego Garcia military base, the reunification of Mauritius and the right to return and full reparation for all Chagosians. All at once everyone in Mauritius understood the crimes that Britain and the USA had committed.That’s when the support starts to build and enters into the media.
In the Great general strike of 1979 and again in the 1980 mass movement that followed, Chagossians who were employed in sectors like the port, municipalities, residential cleaning, the sack factory and so on were in sectors right at the forefront of the struggle. They learnt from this type of mobilisation.
1981 -– There was one week of demonstrations, with women at the forefront. They were dramatic. There were arrests. The issue became an international issue in women’s movements around the world namely in India, USA and Latin America, Africa and in Europe. Lalit de Klas (LALIT) began an international political campaign on those 3 demands. It gained support from political organisations worldwide.
This movement led directly to the compensation from the UK Government, to the setting up of the Trust Fund, and to the Select Committee on the Chagos.
It also led to the birth of Chagos Refugees Group that took power in the elections for the Trust Fund
The Identity phase
The depoliticisation after an intense period of movements and struggles was characterised by an absence of coherence in the political leadership of the MMM, and by more social movements like the Mauritian Committee in the Indian Ocean (KMLI), the National Front for the Ilois support (FNSI), IBION.
This also meant interesting work in the social and cultural field – research and documentation about how people were living in the Chagos, and by the GRC in the Trust Fund. The birth of the Chagossian Social Committee who then became stronger and took power in the Trust Fund.
1992 – When Mauritius became a Republic, Chagos was recognized in the Constitution as part of the Republic.
The birth of the Rann Nu Diego Committee (1998)
The CRG together with LALIT set up Rann Nu Diego, and this sparked a new phase of politicization of the struggle. Chagossians and LALIT people put Chagos and Diego Garcia on the political agenda once again. There was nation-level, regional and international mobilization. The CRG again began to become strong.
From 1999 onwards, the CRG brought Britain and the US to court cases in Britain, the US and European union. There were many cases. At first, there was a victory in 2000, and then a series of legal defeats. It is not possible to win against “raison d’etat” through the Courts – for the simple reason that the struggle is a poltiical one, and it is a political struggle that will, in the final analysis, win.
Emergence of a Commong Front to Close the Base on Diego, reunify Mauritius and assure the right to return with full reparations
In 1998, LALIT contacted Greenpeace and a ship was organized to go to Diego. It very nearly happened.
At the world Social Forum in 2004 in Mumbai, CRG and LALIT sent a joint delegation to the No Bases movement. LALIT members addressed the world anti-war movement and put Diego on the agenda. In fact LALIT participated in conceptualizing and galvanizing support to make base closure, including of Diego, a political demand.
LALIT’s Peace Flotilla movement so successful that British panicked and they, themselves organized instead a visit to the graves of past generations of Chagossians.
There was the John Pilger film, the Paedar King, David Constantin and Michel Gaeron ones. There were books on Chagos, novels about the Chagos.
ICJ – From as early as 1985, LALIT began to militate for the Mauritian State to put a case before the ICJ – not for a legal victory so much as for the political meaning of such an act. By 2010, LALIT and the Declaration of GRNW formally called for the British State to be accused before the ICJ.
Formal International support: Over the years, the OUA/UA, Muvman Non Aligned Movement, ACP, and in regional and international forum, support was built up.
Marine Protected Area
While LALIT built its First International Conference in 2010, (its Declaration has been circulated) there was so much support that again Britain panicked and tried to plot a Marine Protected Area around Chagos.
This, in turn, so infuriated the Mauritian Government that it finally acted and put a case under the Tribunal for the Convention of the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS. Britain’s action was found to be illegal
Since 2010, The Diego Committee
Following the First LALIT Conference, and allowing this one to succeed, there were organizations that came together in The Diego Committee. They were : LALIT, MLF, MPRB, ELAN, Grup Abitan Baie du Tombeau
By what political means did we keep Diego on the Agenda
We kept Diego on the agenda by all sorts of means: poster campaigns, national and international open letters, demonstrations in front of the British High Commission, and US Embassy, preparing a ship and then a peace flotilla, petitions, participating in international forums in Australia, South Africa, France, the US, Europe, Japan, Okinawa, India, everywhere possible, putting the crimes of the UK-US in public.
We have been militating to use the Pelindaba Treaty against Nuclear Arms in Africa and calling for UN inspectors.
We have exposed the secret prisons, torture and rendering that the US was doing. The Red Cross was poised to intervene if the Mauritian State called on it. The Mauritian State didn’t.
The US empire, with Britain collusion, was so mired in military action in Iraq and Afghanistan that they have discredited themselves, weakened themselves, and over-reached. These wars are now considered both immoral and illegal. The Chilcot Report, itself, exposes the lack of reason for war in Iraq.
Now 50 years later, there is a Resolution at the UN General Assembly in 2016 – 50 years on. And it was precisely because the issue was always kept on the agenda that this could happen at all. The debate-and-vote has been postponed to June 2017. And what is sickening about this is that the lease between the UK and USA expires in December this year.
But Mauritius has garnered support from the entire world – AU (African union), Non-Agined Movement, the Group of 77 countries, ACP (African Caribbean Pacific) , India – and also all the organizations whose messages are exposed in the Kiosk and in the meeting place below.
So, we note that the demonstration in 1981 provoked a change, moving the course of history ahead. But each bit in the history of the Diego-Chagos struggle has contributed a part in that ongoing history. The struggle is a mighty force that can change history like this. Each one of us here today is continuing to contribute to the 50 years of history and is also a witness to the way that the struggle creates history. Today in this conference, we have an even greater responsibility; in homage to all Chagossian who have left, to those who have died of sadness in exile, to all civilians who have died in Afghanistan, to all the civilians who have died in Iraq, to all the refugees who have left from the destruction of war and to those who have perished at sea. We have to remember that it is B52 bombers taking off from Diego Garcia that have provoked all of this. And it is the USA and Britain who are directly responsible.
The military base in Diego Garcia remains a permanent threat against world peace. None of the peoples of Mauritius, the USA or Britain have democratic control over Diego Garcia, a place from which there can be more illegal wars detonated, more destruction sewn and more crimes committed. With the people of the USA and Britain (and other countries worldwide), we have to continue building and solidifying this movement so that this base on Diego Garcia gets shut down; so that Mauritius can be reunified and; so that Chagosians and Mauritians have the assured right of return and the restoration of freedom of movement amongst all the islands in the Republic of Mauritius.
The Pre-Independence UN Resolutions Declaring Britain’s planned dismemberment of Mauritius illegal.
+ Resolution 1654 (XIV) 27 November 1961
+ Resolution 1810 (XVII) 17 December 1962
+ Resolution 2066 (XX) 16 December 1965
+ Resolution 2232 (XXI) 20 December 1966
+ Resolution 2357 (XXII) 19 December 1967
Kisna Kistnasamy, October 2016