Dear All who have added their voice to the Chagos/Diego Garcia struggle,
Colonialism dies hard. But dying, it is. It still is. Here’s a new chapter in an old story.
Last week, on 22 June, there was a resounding win for a UN General Assembly Resolution calling for an Advisory Opinion from the UN’s International Court of Justice at The Hague. Sounds harmless enough. And on what questions? On the British state’s excision of Chagos (including Diego Garcia) from Mauritius in 1965 i.e. before Independence, and the brutal, forcible removal of all Mauritian Chagossians from 1965-73. Sounds long, long ago.
The vote was 94 in favour, 15 against. A fine victory! Now a legal opinion at the ICJ lies ahead. But things like this will be decided in the final analysis by politics. And a happy ending in the long run is based, of course, on as many of us, the people, as possible understanding the flow of history well enough to see our bit in it. Hence this letter.
The feeling of victory at the UN vote was made more exhilirant by the pure abjectness of the arguments put forward by the UK and the USA against the Resolution. The absence of any semblance of logic or even pretence of rationality tolls the bell for colonial reign. But, at the same time, it is not pure exhiliration that one felt, but also a profound disgust at such low moral ground being taken in the name of the fine citizens of Britain and America.
The UK and USA representatives at the UN could not even keep their arguments in line with reality. Is it possible that the two most powerful of empires in the world could be so stupid? The Resolution was not a “Mauritius v/s Britain” resolution, as they pretended. It was co-sponsored by the African union, that is to say by 54 States calling, as an entity, not for an opinion, for the benefit of the General Assembly, on a dispute between two countries, but for an opinion on the decolonization of Africa
So when the first main argument used by the UK and USA against the resolution is that the matter at hand is “bilateral” i.e. between Mauritius and Britain, and should therefore not be considered by the ICJ, they are pretending the co-sponsorship does not exist. When it does. Is this a perpetuation of the doctrine of terra nulla in the face of indigenous peoples? A perpetuation of the statement that Diego Garcia was inhabited by a few “Man Fridays”? Now, the denial of the very existence of African states? But it sure can’t persist when 54 countries actually exist, have real live representatives at the UN, representatives who actually get to vote. So, this is the first point on which the UK and US lost. This reality caused the poor representative of Australia, when confronted with it, to have to give arguments in favour of the Resolution in order to explain voting against.
As the Kenyan representative put it, when the UN General Assembly has a Resolution before it to request a mere advisory opinion from its own Court on the legality of a question of decolonization, what can be so “unpalatable” about that?
The UK and USA’s subsidiary argument to this first one, was to the effect that using the ICJ as a way of solving bilateral differences will cause a torrent of similar cases that will swamp the UN altogether. Well, that is concomitantly absurd. It probably, however, explains the huge abstention: 65 countries, many of them with border issues of their own, abstained, no doubt not having absorbed the real resolution and having been pressured, bribed or even hoodwinked by the powerful US-UK lobby.
The second main argument used by Britain is even more outrageous. In 1965, the UK representative argues, an elected Mauritian Council of Ministers negotiated the excision of Chagos from Mauritius in exchange for money from Britain. But, it so happens that it was not the Council of Ministers at the talks but representatives of the political parties, Labour, the CAM, the IFB and the PMSD, as well as, of all people, a supposed representative of the private sector. This truth might, had it been known, have made one or two of the 13 states that voted in favour think twice about making idiots of themselves. The UK and US continued the same duplicity and mendacity that they had relied upon in 1965, and that have been amply exposed when the hidden documents were revealed in 1995 once the 30-year limit of the UK Official Secrets’ Act was up. Of course, anyone taken in by UK lies might like to know was that the Head of State of Mauritius at the time of the supposed deal was no other than the Queen Elizabeth II of England, represented by the Governor General, one Sir John Rennie. So she, as Head of State of Mauritius, could have come to any agreement she wanted to with the other party, the UK, represented by her own sweet self, the same Queen Elizabeth II of England.
The UK representative, when insisting this is a “bilateral issue” omitted mentioning that this same body, the UN General Assembly, back on 16 December 1965 voted a warning Resolution [2066 (XX) headed Question of Mauritius] in which the General Assembly explicitly “invites the administering Power [Great Britan] to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity”. How can the issue then be “bilateral”? Britain was specifically warned not to go ahead with the excision of Chagos. Note that none of the 117 member states at the time voted against, curiously not even Britain! Please read the resolution in full at http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/2066(XX)
The third main argument of Britain is not an argument at all, but a lump of verbal nonsense. Here, if you can believe it, is the gist of what the British State maintains: Sovereignty is not up for discussion. Mauritius already sold Chagos to Britain for a few pounds long ago. So, what do the British intend to discuss in the bilateral negotiations they propose? To make their position more ludicrous still, they also add something never heard of in the history of geo-politics: Britain will “cede” Chagos to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defense. Why would they do such a thing? Of course, it is only hot air. The implication is Mauritians are so stupid, as are all the UN member states, that they will take this as genuine. In any case, it is the UK, and perhaps their chums the US, who will get to decide when Chagos is no longer necessary for “defense”. So far, the pretext for Chagos being necessary for defense has changed chameleon-style every few years: Soviet threat, protecting oil routes, terrorism, Somalian fishermen pirates, anything goes.
By contrast with this rubbishy argumentation, the brilliant speech of the representative of El Savador, who we think is named Ruben Zamora Rivas, grasped the central philosophical and historical questions at stake. He spoke, quite rightly, in anger. He made it clear that it is utterly absurd to reduce the issue to one between two states when it concerns sovereignty at decolonization. He was witty in his exposure of the UK and US for sending their lobbyists around to see him. For example, he said, Britain had told him how they had generously offered to Mauritius that it share management of the Marine Protected Area the UK had proclaimed around Chagos, while everyone knows, he said, that the binding judgment of the UNCLOS Tribunal has already declared this Marine Protected Area illegal.
He showed, in his speech, that the Permanent State of the UK and USA are not acting in good faith at all, but continue to rely, as they did in 1960’s, and for which their own Courts have denounced them, on a colonial mind-set that pretends that might is right.
And they lost at the General Assembly of the United Nations. 94 to 15. They took low moral ground, and lost anyway.
So, a diplomatic victory has been won. A legal battle will ensue. And in the meantime, it is up to us to keep up the political pressure. Most of you have followed the story so far, many giving ongoing moral support to LALIT, as we have kept the flame alive here, in this struggle against colonialism and for the re-unification of Mauritian land and people. The struggle is against militarism, too. As you know, it is the now massive US military base on Diego Garcia, part of the British rump-colony British Indian Ocean Territory that is the cause of all the ills. And there are the Chagossian people, Mauritians living on Chagos outer islands, who were forcibly removed, after the excision of Chagos, from 1965 – 1973. They deserve the right to return. The issue is also about resources of that vast archipelago. About the environment, where Britain has set up its Marine Protected Area alongside a nuclear military base, where nuclear submarines are serviced, now that Italian struggles got the servicing ship removed. And the struggle has been about women in the forefront – from petitions to street demonstrations, from congresses to battles with Riot Police – for 50 years.
We appeal to you to please check out how your Government voted (see list below) and what, if anything, it said (see below for audio link with index and minute-guide that we have prepared to make finding it dead easy for you). In the case of a “no” vote or “abstention”, please send your elected representatives a short letter protesting the colonial attitude taken on your behalf. You can quote freely from this letter, in so doing. Request them to get your country’s position changed. Or contact your UN representative direct. If your country voted “yes”, please call on them to inform the ICJ and give evidence in favour at the ICJ. People from the UK and USA can criticize the colonial argumentation of their representatives as well as their outright opposition to so reasonable a Resolution.
If you are in a Trade union, get it to take a vote on the issue when international issues are discussed, and take the matter to your international federation for a stand.
So LALIT’s long struggle in close association with Chagossians from the 1970s until today, continues. And here are some ideas about the furthering of our political actions, which must now turn to the source of all the crimes: the military base itself. We must get the Diego Garcia base shut down! Some things we can do include:
- Circulate this letter to all your friends, if you agree with the gist of it.
- Build political pressure to implement the gains already made in the judgment of the UNCLOS Tribunal (Law of the Sea). This can include here in Mauritius us pressuring the Mauritian State to set up an Island Council for Chagossians, and a Constituency for Chagos, giving flesh to sovereignty. It also means that the Mauritian State must immediately build up a fishing fleet big enough to ply the Chagos waters. This, instead of encouraging real estate scams and the free zone for transforming catches from French, Spanish, Korean ships and re-exporting them.
- Get an official visit by ship to Chagos, with on board the Prime Minister, President, leaders of Parliamentary Opposition parties, Chagossians, and the local and international Press. You can help prepare and build support for the visit, for when the ship is confronted by the US and UK armed forces.
- Build political pressure for the UN to act under the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa, via its relatively new AFCONE committee. For example, by calling in IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to visit Diego Garcia to check for nuclear materials. And also to get inspectors to check for cluster bombs on Chagos, as Mauritius is a signatory to the anti-cluster bomb treaty as well.
- Continue to inform the broad masses of organized people world-wide of this shocking relic of colonialism, one similar to Palestine, that must also be kept on our agendas.
- Work at getting the Diego Garcia base closed down, in the context of getting all foreign military bases declared against international law.
- Work towards the return, heads held high, of Chagossians to their birthplaces – in peace and in the context of a re-united Mauritius.
The struggle goes on. Towards victory!
for LALIT, 29 June, 2017
See how your country voted at the UN General Assembly, 22 June 2017
Yes: 94, No: 15, Abstentions: 65,
Total voting membership: 193
Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia (Plurinational State Of), Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote D'ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic Of Korea, Democratic Republic Of The Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea‐Bissau, Guyana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Republic Of Moldova, Rwanda, Sao Tome And Principe, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad And Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, Maldives, Montenegro, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, United States
Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia And Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States Of), Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts And Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent And The Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor‐Leste, Turkey, Tuvalu
Antigua And Barbuda, Cambodia, Dominica, Georgia, Haiti, Honduras, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Libya, Monaco, Morocco, Senegal, Somalia, Surinam, Tajikistan, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
See if Representative of your country spoke (with index)
(Note the session begins with an obituary, which is not on the subject)
Representative of Congo Raymond Serge Balé on behalf of the group of African States: 26:20
Representative of the Republic of Mauritius, Minister Aneerood Jugnauth: 35:40
Representative of Venezuela Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreno on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement: 57:00
Representative of Angola Ismael Abraao Gaspar Martins on behalf of SADC:1:02:25
Representative of UK Matthew Rycroft: 1:11:00
Representative of US Michele Sison: 1:25:25
Representative of India Syed Akbaruddin: 1:30:10
Representative of Egypt Amr Abdellatif Abdoulatta: 1:34:05
Representative of Kenya Macharia Kamau: 1:35:50
Representative of Tanzania Modest Jonathon Mero: 1:38:45
Representative of UK M.Rycroft: 1:43:10
Representative of US M.Sison: 1:44:29
Representative of Chile Cristian Barros Melet: 1:45:15
Representative of Croatia Vladimir Drobnjak: 1:47:25
Representative of France: 1:48:39
Representative of Trinidad and Tobago: 1:50:45
Explanation of Vote:
Representative of Australia: 1:56:20
Representative of Uruguay: 1:58:35
Representative of Germany: 1:59:25
Representative of China: 2:00:15
Representative of Mexico: 2:01:20
Representative of New Zealand: 2:03:08
Representative of Sweden: 2:03:50
Representative of El Salvador: 2:04:50
Representative of Canada: 2:12:00
Representative of Portugal: 2:13:32
Representative of Israel: 2:14:52
Representative of Brazil: 2:15:55
Representative of Myanmar: 2:17:12
Representative of Indonesia: 2:17:55