Following the victory at the International Court of Justice at The Hague and the stunning UN General Assembly victory, LALIT held an event called an “Afternoon on Where we are in the Diego-Garcia and Chagos Struggle”, in collaboration with the women’s organization, Muvman Liberasyon Fam, Saturday 22 June in the Workers’ Education “Book Lover” bookshop. People sat crowded amongst the bookstands and filled the room up to the door lintels, listening to live music, poetry readings, speeches and messages from organizations, against a backdrop of blown up photos by Vel Kadressen, of Chagossians arriving in the Nordvaer in 1973 after their forcible eviction, and of Chagossian and LALIT women battling the police in 1981 during a street demonstration in front of the British High Commission offices in La Chaussee. “This event is to mark the fact that while people said we and other protesters were trouble-makers,” Alain Ah-Vee, who presided over the event said, “we are now proven to have been in the right all along.” He listed organizations and individuals who had contributed to the struggle over time.
“We were not wasting our time, as those under the influence of UK-US propaganda used to accuse us of doing,” Lindsey Collen said. “The UN General Assembly wasn’t wasting its time either. Nor the ICJ. Nor the African union. Not at all. We were all opposing the existence of a colonial ‘hole, full of dark matter’. The representatives of all those countries all over the world who spoke with such precision and bravery were not wasting their time either, whether at the General Assembly or at the ICJ”.
The timing of the event marks a pivotal moment in this over 50-year struggle to end military occupation of part of Mauritius, the Chagos Archipelago. We now enter a new phase in the Diego Garcia and Chagos struggle after a drastic change in the balance of forces against the UK-USA alliance.
The date was chosen for two reasons. First, it is exactly 2 years to the day since the UN General Assembly voted the African union Resolution that the issue of the incomplete decolonization of Chagos, including Diego Garcia, be referred to the UN’s highest court, the ICJ, for an Advisory Opinion. This road-map has been fought for by LALIT since the 1990s, and two years ago, the Mauritian State finally went ahead, firmly united with the African union. In February, the ICJ gave its judgment: Britain has acted illegally and must withdraw from the Chagos, including Diego Garcia, that it must do so speedily and that all other States in the UN must help with the implementation of this withdrawal. Second, it is exactly one month since the United Nations General Assembly voted 116-6 to implement the ICJ judgment, and called on Britain to withdraw in 6 months.
So, the event was a retrospective in the form of art: it began with playing a recording of the late Aurelie Talate singing her haunting acappella song about being separated by a boss from her lover. This set the tone for a deeply emotional experience. When Menwar began his song on how bombs are there eventually to be dropped, he was gradually accompanied by Rajni Lallah who gradually came in on the synthesizer, and together the music built up to an improvised classic. Kavinien Kurupadayyan read Bam Cuttayen’s classic “Diego” as a dramatized poem. Ashoka Venkatasamy had composed a song addressed to the British to hand over Chagos. Rajni Lallah and Joelle Hoseiny gave a touching performance of Lamer Mo Pei Dilo. For some of the women present, there was also the remembering of how when they performed this song at a women’s gathering about 10 years ago organized jointly by the Centre Nelson Mandela- MLF-Chagos Refugees Group, everyone in the audience and the performers broke down in tears, and the song had to stop for a while, before being taken up again. Darma Mootien & Co. read a new poem by Lindsey Collen, while Sarah Naraina read a translation into Kreol of a page from the novel Mutiny.
Other who addressed the event included Muvman Liberasyon Fam representative, the GTU and ACIM representative and Vinesh Hookoomsing. The CTSP also had a representative present, and the Chagos Refugees Group, that had a meeting with LALIT during the week, apologized at not being present because of holding an event at the same time. Alain Ah-Vee, while presiding, also referred to LPT whose Book Lover we were gathered inside, saying how during the process of publication of translations into Kreol of classic texts, he had become acquainted with the work of Edgar Alan Poe, and how he realized that the two aspects of crime stories – the crime itself and the cover-up – are essential to understanding the Chagos and Diego Garcia narrative.
Lindsey Collen, in a similar vein, said how the USA and UK, by maintaining the fiction during their cover-up, that the issue is “bilateral” and not about decolonization, prolongs the awful impunity of the “terra nullius” doctrine. She said this Latin phrase justifies occupation by a colonizer through the fig-leaf of taking over “lands without people”. The African union, some 50 countries, all with many people, place a Resolution before the UN against Britain for its incomplete decolonization of Africa, and Britain and the UK pretend that the issue is “bilateral”? They can only do this if the whole African union remains “terra nullius” even today. She said that while Olivier Bancoult and his group had not fallen into the trap of the British who were attempting to bribe them with a visit and money, there were Mauritians willing to fall into similar traps set by the US Embassy. One does not collaborate in events organized by the Embassy of a power that is a military occupier. Jean Claude de L’Estrac, the Minister who organized the signing up to the unacceptable “full and final settlement” documents that Chagossians signed in 1982, and others, she said naming them, have fallen into this trap.
The event ended with the adoption, by acclamation of the following Declaration:
Zordi nu finn zwenn pu mark enn seri viktwar internasyonal dan Nasyon Zini – ki li su Tribinal UNCLOS swa Lakur Internasyonal ICJ swa dan Lasanble Zeneral – e nu pe komemor sa long lalit tu Morisyin, inklir Chagosyin, ki finn reysi gard size lokipasyon militer Chagos lor azanda e ki finn rann sa bann chalennj internasyonal posib, mem apre 50 an, e nu pe anmemtan ule, par nu aksyon, atir latansyon lor solidarite tu dimunn lot pei ki finn osi aport kudme dan sa long lalit la, e zordi dan sa Deklarasyon la nu re-angaz nu pu kontiyn lalit pu konplet dekolonizasyon, pu drwa retur, e pu met fin lokipasyon militer. An-partikilye dan sa moman la, nu fer apel a Guvernman pu organiz enn vizit ofisyel par navir – avek Premye Minis, reprezantan Chagosyin, Lopozisyon politik Moris, reprezantan Linyon Afikin, lapres nasyonal ek internasyonal – e dan kad Reform Elektoral pu, ant-ot deklar enn sirkonskripsyon pu Chagos.
[Today, we met to mark a series of international victories at the United Nations – whether at the UNCLOS Tribunal, the International Court of Justice or at General Assembly votes – and to commemorate the long struggle of all those Mauritians, including Chagossians, that have kept the issue of the military occupation of Chagos on the agenda, thus making these international challenges possible now, even 50 years afterwards, and at the same time, we wish, by out action, to note the solidarity of generations of people from abroad who have contributed, and today by this Declaration we again commit ourselves to continue the struggle for complete decolonization, for the right of return, and to end military occupation. In particular, at this moment, we appeal to the Government to organize an official State visit by ship to Chagos – with on board, the Prime Minister, Chagossian representatives, Opposition party representatives, and representatives of the African union, as well as the national and international press – and, in the context, of coming Electoral Reform, inter alia, to declare a constituency for Chagos.]