The UN General Assembly yesterday voted massively – 116 in favour, 6 against – to get the UK to end its illegal occupation of part of Mauritius, Chagos, including Diego Garcia.
This is a significant victory for de-colonization. The issue of decolonization of Chagos has finally hit the headlines world-wide in a big way, thus breaking the Omerta. The reporter from The Guardian, Owen Bowcott, has gradually since 16 November 2016 caused the breach in the black-out that amounted to an international D-Notice that lasted until then (1). The extent of the victory was completely unexpected.
The vote was 116 in favour to a humiliating 6 against. The Resolution, presented by the African union, means putting into practice the opinion of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, which is the UN’s highest Court and which was set up by, inter alia, the UK and USA. The UK and USA’s position was pathetic. The balance of forces has swerved wildly away from the UK-USA and towards forces in favour of decolonization and demilitarization, as well as for the rights of the people forcibly removed from Chagos. People who align themselves too hastily with the UK-USA, like Jean Claude de L’Estrac, who berates everyone via Radio Plus to “Stop dreaming!” (aret reve!), are merely cowards, always ready to bow to power. The UN vote speaks truth, instead, to power. According to The Guardian, the US and UK put up a huge operation to attempt to force, cajole, threaten and bribe other countries to vote against the motion. They only convinced 4 countries to maintain their vote against the motion: Israel, Hungary, Australia and poor Maldives. Other countries stood firm.
LALIT has fought for 40 years for the Mauritian State to take this route – in order to set the scene for the re-unification of Mauritius and for the right of free movement within the entire country for all Mauritians, including Chagossians, and for a date for the closure of the US military base on Diego Garcia.
In response to the Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth having made the self-evident comment that removing all the inhabitants forcibly was “a crime against humanity”, the British Representative went ballistic – she is more outraged about being told the truth than the Mauritian Prime Minister is about the crime itself. In Mauritius, as we say in this situation, “Kan dir ki Grand Bretayn finn fer enn krim kont limanite, li pli amerde, li.” If it’s not a crime against humanity to force people from their homes by cutting health care, then food supplies, then killing their pet dogs, then forcing them into the hold of a ship, and dumping them on the quayside of Port Louis, and covering up so shamefully for decades, then what is? Maybe the British representative should read the UK Courts judgment from the Bancoult original case in the year 2000, before getting on her high horse, and proceeding to make threats.
Another important shift – as well as the massive shift towards the decolonization vote yesterday compared with the original 22 June one in 2017 to request the ICJ opinion (94-15) – was the European countries that shifted. These include Spain, Norway, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland.
Two big powers, China and Russia, too, have shifted towards voting the resolution against continued colonization. This is a massive change in the balance of forces.
At a more political British level, there is another massive change. The Labour Party Opposition, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly committed to respecting the ICJ judgment. This judgment, just to remind readers, is three-fold: That the continued colonization of part of Mauritius is unlawful; that Britain must end its occupation rapidly; that other countries must concert to make this come true. Now the Resolution takes that ICJ advice and calls for a 6-month time-frame. Jeremy Corbyn is the first Labour leader to take this bold stand. It was particularly painful for Labour because the original crimes (breaking up a colony illegally, deporting two thousand people illegally, and secretly plotting a military base outside all democratic purview) were done under the Harold Wilson Labour Party. But, since Tony Blair and the Iraq war debacle, Labour had, in any case, lost any high moral ground. Corbyn’s stand represents a shift in the balance of forces within the British State.
At a Mauritian level, other than Jean-Claude de L’Estrac not many people are pooh-poohing the victory.(2) His successor, Nad Sivaramen present Editor at L’Express, yesterday, said, “A victory [at the UN] is of no use to anyone” other than to prop up hopes.
So, the struggle that LALIT has been spearheading for some 40 years is moving ahead now, with a new balance of forces – internationally, in Britain and in Mauritius. We, in LALIT, have had demonstrations, arrests of members and trials for illegal demonstrations, long and fruitful alliances with Chagossian groups, international and national petitions and common declarations, international open letters, national poster campaigns, two international conferences, talks by members in conferences on all continents, and constant leafletting over the years, as well as forums, articles and a whole 200-page book – all to maintain the pressure. In fact, LALIT has included the Chagos issue as part of our political work on the land question, in particular on the need for democratic control over land. Without democratic control over the land of Chagos, the military base will remain a constant threat to working people of the world, but in particular of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
This 4-year struggle has had, and still has, three constantly intertwined aims: de-colonization, de-miltarization and the rights of Chagossians. The anti-colonial part of the struggle is at the forefront right now, having been silenced for nearly 50 years.
Taken together, the binding judgment an the UNCLOS Tribunal (Law of the Sea) and the ICJ opinion (coupled with yesterday’s UN Resolution), constitute a sound basis from which to proceed to the next stage of the struggle. It is time now, for the Mauritian State to affreight a ship, “A boat to Chagos”, with on-board for a fishing expedition, representatives of the Mauritian Government and delegations of opposition parties, Chagossian representatives, a delegation from the African union, and the Mauritian and international Press. It is also time to create a Constituency for Chagos, while Government is preparing more general electoral reform. Now, international mobilization is much easier – because not only do more people know about the issue but the balance of forces is mightily changed.
(2) Here is an extract from an article in L’Express, 5 July 2016, exactly one year before the Mauritian Government would finally take LALIT’s advice and go to the UN General Assembly to request a Resolution for an ICJ Advisory Opinion, giving an idea of Jean Claude de l’Estrac’s position:
“Jean Claude de l’Estrac donne ici la réplique à Lindsey Collen qui a affirmé dans notre édition du 6 juillet que Maurice «éna enn case solid» pour porter cette affaire devant la Cour internationale de justice. Celle-ci s’est basée sur le jugement favorable à Maurice du tribunal de la mer sur le parc marin et ensuite le «dissenting judgment».
“«Faux», rétorque Jean Claude de l’Estrac. «Maurice n’a pas de strong case comme l’a dit Lindsey Collen. Il n’y a pas de case. Maurice a vendu Diego Garcia. Cela a été reconnu à plusieurs reprises par les autorités de l’époque», soutient-il.”
No commentary needed.
He now says he always said Mauritius would win an ICJ case (Interview in Weekly, 9 March 2019). This is commonly called a koze dekuyone