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Diego Garcia: Former S.A. Speaker calls for African Union stand


The Former Speaker of the South African National Assembly, Dr. Frene Ginwala has called on African Union countries to "assist the government of Mauritius and the people of Chagos to reclaim their land ... and assert their right to return."

She made this statement in an article in the Sunday Times, 14 March, 2010. Analyzing the build up of the military on Diego Garcia, she said that it is "a violation of the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone established by the Treaty of Pelindaba, which came into force on July 15 last year." She also says that an "annexure of the treaty lists the 'Chagos Archipelago-Diego Garcia' as part of the nuclear weapon free zone."

She continues, saying "Notwithstanding the unanimous view of Africa defining its own territory, the UK has entered a reservation reasserting its claim to sovereignty over this area. Britain has refused to decolonize the Chagos Archipelago, detaching it from Mauritius and designating it as part of a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory, which it unilaterally established in 1965".

She also adds that "A Chagossian petition on their right to return is before the European Court of Human Rights. Concerned that this might succeed, Britain now proposes to declare the area a marine protected area and ban activities such as fishing or construction, so denying the population any means of sustaining themselves."

In the opinion of LALIT, this article makes Dr. Ginwala one of the rare commentators from abroad who manages to get her head around the three inter-linked British and US crimes, without neglecting any one of them:

- The US setting up in Diego Garcia thus in Africa of a military base with nuclear capacity,
- The British dismantling of an African country, Mauritius, illegally confiscating Diego Garcia and the other Islands of Chagos, and passing them on to the US military,
- The cruel and inhuman displacement of the over 2,000 people living there, many of them for generations, by the combined conspiracy of the British and American State (as detailed in successive judgments of British Courts from 2000).

This ability to keep the whole picture in mind is what makes her article so powerful.

She has immediately had support from the Ceasefire Campaign in South Africa. Here is their statement:

"The Ceasefire Campaign lends its full support to Dr Frene Ginwala's exhortation that 'Africa cannot ignore West's plans for island'. (Sunday Times, 14 March 2010)
"The South African government under President Mandela played a leading role in drafting the Treaty of Pelindaba which has since last year made our continent the fifth nuclear-weapon-free zone.
"African states in general but, particularly South Africa which championed the treaty, should make every effort to ensure that the Treaty of Pelindaba remains inviolate. South Africa must therefore use its not inconsiderable diplomatic leverage to mobilise international support against the relocation of the nuclear-powered and -armed USS Emory S Land to Diego Garcia.
"Sustained campaigns are needed to pressure the US administration into signing the treaty and to force the UK government to honour the verdicts of its own courts which would then allow the cruelly dispossessed Chagossians to return to their homes.
"Sincerely, Gunvant Govindjee, The Ceasefire Campaign."

Many environmentalists, when they look just at the environment question and not at the whole picture, have fallen into the carefully laid British trap and signed up to the petition to make the Chagos into a "Marine Protected Area". Their signatures unwittingly support Britain's illegal colonization of the figment called BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territories), deny Mauritius its sovereignty, ignore a nuclear military base right in the Chagos area, and pretend the Pelindaba Treaty does not exist yet, and also unwittingly support Britain's attempt to ban the Chagossians from ever setting foot back home, even if they win their European Union Human Rights Court case later this year. Then, of course, ironically this petition goes and ensures that the environment would not, in fact, be properly cared for: its guardians would be banned, colonization would continue, and there would remain in its midst a hugely polluting military base.

By losing one's integral view, one can also lose one's integrity.

So we see that, similarly, some peace activists call for the closure of the military base, but specifically refuse to denounce Britain and the US's continued colonization. They, too, do not look at the whole picture, while dealing with one of its parts. This stand not only weakens the case for decolonization, but it also weakens the case for base closure, as it assumes the British and US are there with full sovereignty when they are there as "robber" and "receiver of stolen goods" respectively.

Similarly again, some of those supporting the Chagossians right to return and their right to proper reparations believe they can do better at, for example, raising funds or get further in some Court cases, by saying they "are not against the military base", and/or that they are "neutral" on the issue of sovereignty. This isolating of one issue then serves to deny the Chagossians important allies, like the world anti-war movement, the anti-bases movement, all peace lovers, and also all those against continued colonization or military occupation. As these are all growing forces, it is important that they be included in the struggle for the liberation of Diego Garcia and the Chagos.

Now, increasingly campaigners and observers from abroad, are seeing the whole issue in its entirety. One such example was the TV series "What in the World" made for Irish TV called "The Chagos Islands are closed". It was very clearly focussed on all three issues, while the documentary highlighted the Chagossians suffering. The otherwise excellent John Pilger documentary "Stealing a Nation" has the weakness of not mentioning the continued and illegal colonization of part of Africa, i.e. of part of Mauritius.

The US and British pretexts for the military base have changed every few years since the base was set up, but have always been flimsy. At the beginning it was to be no more than a mere "communications" station. It then became important in the Cold War to contain "communism". Later, at the time of the first oil crisis, it became "essential" to protect the oil routes. At the end of the Cold War, it was not too long before it was needed in the "war on terror", for illegal renditions and so on. And the latest excuse is that it is essential for the control of pirates in small boats off Somalia and the North Eastern coast of Africa. The fact of the matter is that it is an imperialist military base. It was used for B-52's and other aircraft to bombard Iraq, a bombardment now increasingly believed to have been illegal, and certainly unjustifiable. It is now being used for attacks on Afghanistan.

Now with the Pelindaba Treaty in force, it is imperative for everyone in Africa to put new pressure on the US to close the base right down.

It is also high time that Africa be completely decolonized. Part of Mauritius, that is to say the Chagos, is still under the yoke of colonization. The country of Mauritius must be completely decolonized, thus decolonizing Africa as a whole. This way all Mauritian islands can once again be re-united. The Chagossians must have the right to return, and this is a right they must have as Mauritians. All the Chagossians must be paid proper reparations by the two States concerned in their forcible removal.

2010 may turn out to be a key year for these long-term struggles that LALIT has been so deeply involved in for 35 years.