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US State Department Morgan Ortagus follows UK Minister Alan Duncan on Terra Nullius doctrine


LALIT deplores the USA’s new State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, taking the same position as colonizer Britain i.e. making Africa into a kind of “terra nullius” (nobody’s land). Her statement, issued 6 May, is on the issue of Britain’s decolonization of Mauritius that includes Chagos Archipelago that, in turn, includes Diego Garcia, where the big US military base squats.

 The statement that the issue is “purely bilateral” comes in response to the stinging findings of the UN’s International Court of Justice over the need for Britain to move fast and complete its decolonization of Africa, in particular of Mauritius. After Britain’s Foreign Minister Alan Duncan, now the USA’s State Department Spokeswoman, both declare that the dispute that Britain lost so dismally is a “purely bilateral” one i.e. between Mauritius and Britain alone. For this to be true, they have to believe that the African union does not exist at all, nor its peoples i.e. that Africa is still, for the USA, government by the doctrine of terra nullius. The UN General Assembly must be erroneous, as well, in requesting the ICJ’s Opinion at all, if it is indeed “purely bilateral”. In addition, all fourteen ICJ judges, including the USA’s own judge, must have been in the wrong to decide that the ICJ should hear the multi-lateral case.

 The old colonial doctrine of “terra nullius” is the only philosophy – a  profoundly autocratic one – that they can possibly be relying on to maintain that the issue concerns only Britain and Mauritius, when the entire African union proposed the Motion. Colonizers’ mentality dies hard.

 Britain was hauled before the ICJ as a result of a United Nations General Assembly resolution proposed by the entire African union requesting an Advisory Opinion. It was then voted for by an overwhelming 94-15 States in the United Nations. This overwhelming vote was despite the UK and USA bringing out the big guns, and running campaigns world-wide, in order to try to prevent the issue going before the ICJ for an Advisory Opinion by making countries at least abstain. Now Britain is blubbing that, “The ICJ findings are only an advisory opinion”, after having been humiliated in speech after speech by dozens of countries’ representatives for opposing a Resolution calling for something as minimalist as a mere “advisory opinion”.  The subject of the advisory opinion called for was the incomplete decolonization of Mauritius at the time of its Independence in the 1960s, thus the incomplete decolonization of Africa. The findings by 13 judges to 1, were threefold:

 1. Britain failed to decolonize Mauritius properly, and this is unlawful.

2. Britain must decolonize Mauritius completely at once.

3. Other UN States must help oblige Britain to do so.

 So, Britain and the USA, humiliated to the core, maintain – from before the UN Resolution was passed, to now, even after the ICJ judgment – the daft fiction that the issue is “bilateral”. For goodness sake, the entire African union sponsored the Resolution, the entire General Assembly called for the Opinion by voting the Resolution, the entire Court accepted jurisdiction (14-0) and it even called Britain out (13-1) for having acted and for still acting illegally. Here is the absurd Communiqué from the USA site:  

 “Press Statement

“Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson

“Washington, DC

“May 6, 2019

 “The United States supports the U.K.’s continued sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and the April 30 statement by the U.K. Government. The joint U.S.-U.K. military base on Diego Garcia plays a critical role in the maintenance of regional and global peace and security.

“The United States views the BIOT issue as a purely bilateral dispute between the U.K. and Mauritius, which can and should be addressed through efforts by both parties to negotiate a solution.

“The United States remains concerned about the precedent the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case could set for all UN member states. UN General Assembly advisory opinion requests should not be used to litigate bilateral disputes, particularly when a State directly involved has not consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ.”

 LALIT deplores this colonial mentality. We deplore the cruel deportation by the governments of UK-USA s of all the Chagossian Mauritians who were living there. We deplore the illegal dismemberment of Mauritius by Britain in its excision of Chagos from Mauritius. We deplore the reason for all this dictatorial behavior by these two States i.e. to maintain military occupation of Diego Garcia through a secretive military base outside all democratic purview. Calling this shameful base essential for “the maintenance of regional and global peace and security”, as Morgan Ortagus does, gives an idea of the US’s moral turpitude. It is a base from which an illegal war was perpetrated in Iraq, a wedding party in Afghanistan was bombed, and at which renderings and torture have not only taken place, but been admitted to have taken place.

For the record, The Guardian (8 Dec, 2015) reports on the kind of “peace and security” there is on US-occupied Diego Garcia, “The victims of the rendition programme [on Diego Garcia] were not just men; they included women and children. The al-Saadi family was ‘rendered’ en masse to Libya in 2004: Sami, a prominent anti-Gaddafi dissident, his wife Karima and their four children, the eldest 12 and the youngest just six. Fatima Boudchar, the wife of another Gaddafi opponent, was five months’ pregnant when she was kidnapped with her husband and flown to Gaddafi’s prisons in the same year.”

Now, this new USA communiqué signed Morgan Ortagus, following as it does Alan Duncan’s declaration in the British Parliament, makes Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s cowardly position about maintaining the military base on Diego Garcia after re-unification of the country, all the more irrational and all the more damaging to the decolonization and demilitarization process as it enters an important phase.


8 May 2019.