The Appeal of the UK Government against the Chagossians right to return to Chagos is being heard in London this week. The Chagos is where the US has its huge military base, and it is part of Mauritius, illegally occupied by Britain, which in turn rents them to the US Armed Forces. All the people who lived there were forcibly removed in the 1960`s and early 1970`s.
The UK Government barrister, J. Crow, QC pleaded a mixture of revealing arguments to prevent the thousands of people forcibly removed from returning to their homes. He said that "the US military had said that any return would compromise the security and pose an unacceptable risk at what is the largest installation of its kind outside of the USA." Just as in the issue of "rendering" over which the British State has humiliated itself by admitting to having repeatedly given Parliament false information when they denied rendering taking place on Chagos, the British State continues to hide behind its military ally, the US. "The US authorities," the British State maintained in Court this week, "stress the importance of the islands being uninhabited." He said, that the Chagossians have had links with political parties whose aims remain to close down the US base. This is an obvious and direct reference to our party, LALIT. This comment is important for LALIT, because we are indeed against the Base and we are members, proud to be founding members, of the NO BASES network, and we are the party being referred to. In fact, at one point we together with the Chagos Refugees Group, which has put in this land-mark case, set up a Common Front called "Rann Nu Diego!" which means both "Return us to Diego Garcia, and return Diego Garcia to us!" One of the central demands of this front, which had a dozen member organizations including large trade union organizations, was for base closure.
Olivier Bancoult, who is the leader of the group (which is one of three Chagossian groups), and who LALIT has worked with in the past when he was against the military base, immediately put out a statement that was headlines in the Mauritian Press yesterday in which he not only says he is NOT against the military base, but in which he denies his own past, and says he never has been. A front page headline of the biggest daily, Le Mauricien, yesterday quotes him as saying: "At no time has the Chagossian community joined up with any campaign to call for base closure on Diego Garcia." And later in the same article, he repeats, "I maintain that at no time have we objected to the presence of the American military base on Diego Garcia".
LALIT has distanced itself from this organization since just after out joint LALIT-CRG delegation to the NO US BASES meeting in 2004 at the Mumbai World Social Forum. We took this distance and began to criticise the group publicly because of the leadership`s increasingly ambiguous and then outright pro-base line, as well as because of its collusion with British occupation. The position of the Chagos Refugee Group is in contrast to position taken by another group of Chagossians, one based in London, who are thoroughly against the base, and who oppose the CRG`s collapse on this issue. Similarly, it must be stressed, the CRG accepts the illegal British occupation, while the other Mauritian group, the Chagos Social Committee takes a stand in favour of the re-unification of Mauritius.
To return to the case in the Court of ultimate appeal in London, on the more technical side, the UK government has been reduced to citing archaic monarchical provisions like the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865 to argue that Royal Prerogatives (like banishing people) cannot be put in question.
The British State has also used assumptions about capitalist land ownership to claim that, because the Chagossians were not owners of title-deeds to land on Chagos, "they have no rights on the islands at all", and that they were thus asking for the "right of mass trespass". Other equally abject arguments are invoked, like "There is no infrastructure on the islands and there is nothing to support a civilised way of life". Or that a majority of the Chagossians have taken up the British citizenship offered to them after their first round of Court Cases was won in 2000.
In short, the ring of the arguments shows that the British State has not changed much since the shocking memos of the 1960`s, in which they made reference to "Man Fridays", and "pretending" their wasn`t a population there, so as to get around the UN obligations to report on colonies. Even their concession in Court this week that the forcible removals "contained some undeniably unattractive features" still smacks of a colonial mentality.
How can they refer to "unattractive features" when something so violent happened, involving the British State gassing peoples` pet dogs in front of them, as if a warning as to what would happen to any of them if they were recalcitrant, and then the people themselves being tricked shamelessly and then finally starved off their home islands, put into ship`s holds and taken to the wharf-side of Port Louis harbour, where they were dumped? This act of aggression and the illegal occupation of Islands that are part of Mauritius (an act against not only UN resolutions but against the UN Charter itself).
Ordinary logic in any case shows that it is ridiculous to rely on a supposed "agreement" when this was made between the British State and a colony which is part of the British State while it was still a colony. It is Mr. British State making an "agreement" with Mr. British State. One cannot make a contract with oneself. This is why no-one in the world recognizes the stupid figment of a state called "British Indian Ocean Territories", now known only for the illegal renditions that happened there.
Anyway, these two acts (mass removals and illegal breaking up of a colony as a condition for independence) were the twin acts that made way for this horrific military base later used, inter alia, for B-52`s to take off and bomb people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It will be important that the Chagossians win their right to return. But given recent statements made by the CRG, they intend to get private investors to develop the islands as tourist venues, while staying part of the British Overseas Territories. In addition, they seem satisfied with access to the other islands, and to have given up on a return to Diego Garcia itself, where most of the Chagossians come from.
What this means is that , the centre of gravity for the struggle for base closure and the end to military occupation of part of Mauritius, will continue, but that the CRG is not part of that struggle.
Successive Mauritian Governments have so far always given in to pressure from the imperialists and refused to put a case at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. This is what in Mauritius we will continue to pressure the Government into doing, at the same time as fighting for the military base to be closed down, for Chagossians to get the right of return to all the Islands and proper reparations for their suffering.