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Former President of the Republic Mr Cassam Uteem’s Speech at Diego Garcia Conference


The Opening Speech at the 2016 LALIT International Conference on Diego Garcia was delivered by Mr. Cassam Uteem, former President of the Republic, who has tenaciously and with integrity, stood firm on the question of the right of return, base closure and the re-unification of the whole of Mauritius. The speech was given on 1 October, at Grand River North West. Here are the notes to which he spoke, translated into English: 

 I would like to start by expressing appreciation to LALIT for organizing an important conference like this on the theme “Diego Garcia: 50 Years of Occupation & Banishment, 50 Years of Struggle: Let’s Win!” after the First International Conference that LALIT organized in 2010 right here in Grand River North West on the theme “Action to Close the Military Base on Diego Garcia, to End to the Military Occupation of Chagos by the UK and USA, and the Right to Return with reparations for Chagossians”.

 And also, a hearty word of welcome to all the delegates to this important conference, in particular to our friends and guests coming from abroad. Their presence is an additional boost, a precious encouragement, to the 50-year struggle of tiny Mauritius against mighty Britain and even mightier America for their illegal occupation of Mauritian territory, for the banishment of the natives of the Chagos islands and for the construction of a now nuclear base on Chagossian-Mauritian soil.

 So, I thank LALIT for inviting me once again to an international conference on the Chagos. It is an honour to be making the opening speech. Thank you to Ram and Lindsey, thank you Alain, Rajni, Kisna, Rada, and thank you to all the LALIT militants.

 Bravo, for keeping alive and tending the flame of struggle to get back sovereignty for Mauritius over Chagos and to attempt to repair the injustice, the veritable crime, committed against the Chagossian people when they were exiled to the Seychelles and Mauritius, and also to get the murderous, nuclear, military base on Diego Garcia dismantled.

 2016 is the year when the lease of the Island of Diego Garcia, the lease between the UK and the USA, comes up for renewal. Whether it is a lease or rental, call it what you will, it was all done in the utmost secrecy, so we don’t even know what it looks like. 50 years on and still no-one is in a position to say what kind of contract there is between a first country, Britain, and a second country, the USA, for a large bit of territory that belongs to a third country, Mauritius.

 Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, now Prime Minister, is the only politician amongst all those who participated in the pre-Independence Constitutional negociations at Lancaster House in London. In a violent outburst in the National Assembly on 17 May this year in reply to a Private Notice Question from the Leader of the Opposition, he said that Chagos is part of Mauritian territory and the British should clearly indicate when exactly they intend to return sovereignty to Mauritius over Chagos. He called for a date to be given – otherwise he said he would go through the UN and get the International Court of Justice at The Hague to statute on what the British and Americans did when they cut out the Chagos Archipelago out of Mauritian Territory at the moment of Independence.

 It was with no less violence that the British and Americans reacted, and they did it in unison ; they threatened Mauritius with sanctions if the Prime Minister went ahead to the ICJ. “Referral of this matter to the International Court of Justice would cause lasting damage to Mauritius’ bilateral relations with both the UK and the USA.” In other words, if we decode the not-so-diplomatic message of these two big powers: No UK or US investments, no preferential trade agreements between Mauritius and either of these two countries, no more tourists from Britian and no more scholarships from Britain for Mauritian students. Once again, blackmail. Is this attitude compatible with what these two big powers say in public – for example, as regards the Rule of Law and respect for international law? As Milan Meetarbhan said in L’Express of Wednesday 20 July 2016, quoting from a New York Times editorial of 12 July, 2016, “The Obama administration has said that diputes should be resolved according to international law, a position it now reaffirms.”

 How do you reconcile this stand with the kind of pressure that they are bringing to bear against a small State like Mauritius, when all Mauritius is doing is seeking judicial clarification on important points of international law? The ICJ is the main judicial body in the United Nations system, and yet two important Permanent Members of the Security Council, the UK and USA, accord themselves the authority to threaten a small Island State of Mauritius with serious consequences if the majority of the UN General Assembly’s members decide to seek no more than an “advisory opinion” from this same International Court of Justice. So, until today, it seems one can flout the law if one is strong: Might is still right!

 The Prime Minister of Mauritius, on this point, has the unanimous support of the population. He was very recently at the UN General Assembly where he had managed to get the Item about Chagos inscribed on to the Agenda for the General Assembly. But the UN General Assembly won’t debate nor vote on the motion until June next year. And inbetween, the UN calls on Mauritius to have discussions with the British. We acted very much too late on this, otherwise we should already have had the chance to debate the Resolution, get a majority of States in our favour, and go to the ICJ.

 Anyway, then what has happened? There was a meeting a week ago between Sir Aneerood Jugnauth and Mr. Boris Johnson at the request of the latter. What an anti-climax! A Prime Minister should be meeting another Prime Minister, and not the Foreign Affairs Minister. Unless perhaps Boris Johnson was bringing along a letter of invitation from Theresa May. But no such thing. [Mr. Cassam Uteem here quoted from Boris Johnson’s correspondence, in which he threatened Mauritius if it took the matter to the ICJ at the Hague.]

 When, in fact, the Prime Minister had already said that he had written to the British Prime Minister the 14 April and again on 14 May 2015, saying that Mauritius was ready for negotiations.

“J’ai déclaré au Premier ministre anglais que la Grande-Bretagne ne pouvait prendre des mesures concernant les defence uses de l’archipel des Chagos sans le consentement de Maurice. Il [Cameron] m’a répondu, le 9 juin 2015, proposant que des discussions aient lieu sur les questions de conservation marine et que la Grande-Bretagne n’acceptait pas que Maurice soit consultée ou prenne part aux négociations entre ce pays et les Etats-Unis sur les defence uses des Chagos.”

 Have they forgototten, or are they pretending to have forgotten, the judgment handed down by the United Nations Arbitrational Tribunal in March 2015? Mauritius challenged the creation by Britain of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Archipelago. The Tribunal said Mauritius was right, and that there is nothing that Britain can do with the Chagos without the participation of and consent from Mauritius.

 In my talk at the 2010 LALIT International Conference, referring to the Chagos saga, I remember saying that there were two guilty parties in this matter: the US Administration and the British Government, plus a victim that was also a consenting accomplice i.e. the political class in Mauritius in the 1960’s and that there were two victims, the Chagossian people, in particular, and also the Mauritian people, in general.

 Let us look at the bictims in this: Mauritius lost a part of its territory, an immense part. It was not a “detail” as Seewoosagur Ramgoolam once said.

 And, the Chagossian people lost everything: their houses, land, work, animal stock, pet dogs, their homeland, their paradise islands, a lifestyle bathed in nature, the place where their ancestors were buried in peace, they lost it all. They were uprooted and expelled from their land by the British, who stole it, and they became exiles, some of them doubly exiled: first to Mauritius, and then to Britain. Charlesia Alexis passed away over there in Britain. Mrs Lisette Talate died here! Two immense figures who struggled for the right to return to their place of birth right to the end. Two organizations based in Mauritius, one led by Olivier Bancoult and the other by Fernand Mandarin, each one in his own way continuing the struggle so that Chagossians can exercise their right to return to their islands.

 Fernand, in his book, “Retour aux Chagos” brings proof for the first time, that the plan to empty the Islands of all their people dated from as early as 1963, because according to Fernand Mandarin, his wife came to Mauritius to give birth in that year, and the Authorities refused to let her go back to her family in Diego Garcia after she had given birth.

 And when we look at Olivier Bancoult, we see that the British Justice system has played yoyo or pingpong with him. From over 3 years ago I advised him to abandon the legal struggle through the British Courts and to concentrate his energy on the political struggle: which is the only way to get justice.

 Here are the charges in the Political Struggle against those guilty, charges put by the victims, for premeditated acts that we can put as a list of 10 formal Charges:

 1. Conspiracy to steal the Chagossians’ land, which is also Mauritius’ land – both the land and the sea. To do so by setting up a fiction of a colony called BIOT that had never existed before the plot to invent it.

2. Banishment (Expulsion, Exile) of the Chagossians from their home islands to Seychelles and Mauritius. This is a Crime against Humanity, again with premediation.

3. Terrorism – to kill the Chagossians’ dogs in the ovens, acts of cruelty in themselves – and acts designed to give Chagossians an idea of what treatment was being reserved for them, should they refuse to leave their islands i.e. those we are accusing politically were responsible for terrorizing the whole population, this too with pre-meditation.

4. Dismemberment of Mauritian territory at the time of Independence, which is against UN Resolutions.

5. Blackmail of political leaders of Mauritius in 1965: In exchange for Independence, you give Chagos, they said. Choose, with the blade of a knife at your neck!

6. Wilfully lying: (a) Diego will become a mere Communications Station, and then later (b) a mere base for the defense of the West’s interests (the Free World’s interests), while in fact it was a military base which today has become a nuclear base. Now, they have another story: (c) they are combatting terrorism.

7. Pedding a lie to the whole world to the effect that the Chagos Archipelago consisted of deserted islands.

8. Denying the existence of a quasi-indigenous population of Chagossians on the Archipelago of Chagos.

9. Denying the right of return, a fundamental right, to Chagossians, the real inhabitants of the Islands.

10. Abandoning the Chagossians on unknown soil, without so much as a roof over their heads, and without the least food for sustenance. This is what in French is called “non assistance aux personnes en danger de mort”.

 And what is the prime mover of all this suffering for the Chagossians? What is the real reason behind the Mauritian loss of sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago – its lands and its sea? The origin of all the suffering is clear: it is the decision by the USA to build a military base in the Indian Ocean, and the fact that their eyes fell upon Diego Garcia as the exact spot they wanted for the base. This is why the Chagossians got kicked out of their Islands. This is why Mauritius lost sovereignty over part of its territory.

 And today we are being told by the Government that this base on Diego Garcia will remain, and that the Americans are guaranteed that Mauritius, once it gets sovereignty over Chagos again, will not kick the USA out, nor call for the dismantling of the nuclear base on Diego Garcia – all Mauritius needs is that they pay us rent! This is what the Prime Minister is saying! I ask you! Mauritius needs that kind of money? Blood money? Money with innocent peoples’ blood on it? Just so that we can succeed in a second economic miracle?

 I do not agree with this kind of reasoning. This base is one of the most important in the world, and also one of the most murderous. B52 bombers and missiles have set off from there in order to kill innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 No. We must not go down this road. We must realize that the base is the cause of all the suffering, and the base is the cause of ongoing suffering, and potential suffering on and on into the future. We want it dismantled. We want our dismembered country re-united. We want all Chagossians to be free to return there at their will, with the suffering they have been through fully recognized. We will not stop struggling until we win, as the title of the Conference says it!

 I am sorry I have spoken rather lengthily. But, LALIT invites me only once every five years or so, so what can I do? [Laughter and applause.]

 I wish you good deliberations in this important International Conference. [Applause.]