Chagos, a long wait for Mauritius until the UK leaves

The UN has decided that the sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago lies with Mauritius. The United Kingdom and the United States consider the UN’s views on this issue inappropriate. Mauritius says the UK will further isolate itself on the international stage by sticking to the islands.

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The The UN celebrates 75th Anniversary on June 26th. For the small island state of Mauritius, this “thing” (“le machin”), as General De Gaulle called it in 1960, embodies hope after decades of struggle to restore its sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago.

The islands were excised from Mauritius in 1965, before gaining independence from Britain in 1968. Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, was then leased out of the United Kingdom to the United States for use as a military base.

Despite its mission to give voice to the voiceless, the UN served “Mauritius quite well”.

“The UN has allowed Mauritius to be part of this large national committee where we have been able to network and exchange views. Its very principle of self-determination has allowed us to submit our claims, he said Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul, Mauritius permanent representative to the UN.

On February 25, 2019, United Nations The International Court closed that “the decolonization of Mauritius was not legally completed” in 1968.

On May 22, 2019, The UN General Assembly voted an overwhelming 116 to 6, in favor of a resolution requiring the United Kingdom to withdraw “its colonial administration” from the Chagos archipelago within six months.

The UN also stressed that it is urgent to continue with Chagossian resettlement and urged Britain to “cooperate” in the process.

The United States, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives supported Britain in the vote and 56 countries abstained, including France and Germany. China and Russia, the other two permanent members of the Security Council, voted for Mauritius as well as India.

The United Kingdom and the United States strongly rejected the decisions of both the Court and the Assembly, as they are “not the appropriate forums” to resolve what, in their opinion, is merely a “bilateral issue between two states”.

Illegal British occupation

Britain failed to leave Chagos archipelago by November 2019, according to UN instructions.

“An answer,” wrote Philippe Sands, legal adviser to Mauritius at the ICJ, ”who placed it [Britain] in the rogue state company in apartheid-era South Africa, which in 1971 defied a similar opinion by the International Court of Justice on the status of names. ”

Mauritius called Britain “an illegal colonial occupier”.

At the same time, the island is gathering global support for its cause. The African Union and the non-aligned movement back Mauritius on the Chagos issue. As did Pope Francis when he visited the island in September last year.

Thirty British MPs between the parties – including Labor, SNP, LibDem – signed a letter on June 19, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “act immediately in the ICJ’s decision”.

“We are concerned that the government’s refusal to return sovereignty to the Chagos Islands risks undermining our country’s credibility on these issues on the world stage,” wrote the MPs.

In February 2020, the UN published an updated world map in which Chagos archipelago is clearly displayed as part of Mauritius and no longer as “British Indian Ocean Territory”, which is how the British government continues to refer to the archipelago.

Henri Marimootoo, a veteran journalist at Le Week-End, a Mauritian week, told RFI that the change is “a big step forward”.

“In the context of the dispute between Mauritius and its former colonial master, it is very important that the UN insisted that Chagos archipelago be a Mauritanian territory,” he said.

Extruded to ceding Chagos

Marimootoo wrote a series of articles, Diego Files, after pre-examining for independence when Britain declassified its records in 1997.

He says Britain “blackmailed” the Mauritanian delegation, led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who later became the island’s first prime minister.

On September 23, 1965, Sir Seewoosagur met with Prime Minister Harold Wilson who told him that [Ramgoolam] and his colleagues could return to Mauritius either independently or without it … The best solution of all can be independence and separation by agreement … ”

According to Marimootoo, the British records show that Wilson was asked by the Colonial Office to “take a tough line with this guy.”

“This” guy “refers to Sir Seewoosagur. Not only is it contemptuous, as a master of slave attitudes, but it clearly shows how Britain threatened the Mauritania for independence. Wilson later wrote in his memoirs that it was “a fair deal,” Marimootoo explains.

The United Kingdom insists that the “agreement” of 1965 is legally binding and was confirmed in 2015 by the UN Convention on Law of the Sea arbitral tribunal.

“Any suggestion that Mauritius’ independence was conditional on emancipation is simply not based on fact,” claims the United Kingdom at the UN.

However, the ICJ clearly stated that “it is not possible to talk about an international agreement when [Mauritius] was under the latter authority [United Kingdom]”.

“You see, the UK was both the buyer and the seller. In addition, it is a complete violation of 1960 UN Resolution 1514 that prohibits a colonial power from winding up a territory before its independence, Marimootoo explains.

Diego Garcia, a crucial military base

IN 1966, UK and US entered into a “uniquely close partnership” to use Chagos as a joint military base. The agreement now runs until 2036. To make this possible, all chagossi (about 1,500) were removed by force between 1968 and 1973 and transported to Mauritius and Seychelles.

Demonstrations from the Chagossians in 2005 when British Minister Bill Rammell came to investigate Chagossian living conditions in Mauritius.
Demonstrations from the Chagossians in 2005 when British Minister Bill Rammell came to investigate Chagossian living conditions in Mauritius. © Chagos Refugees Group

When Mauritius announced a visit to the archipelago in early 2020, the United States reacted strongly. The United States, through its embassy in Mauritius, called it a “provocation that seriously damages US-Mauritius relations”.

For the United States, the status of the islands “as a British territory determines the value” of the US / British military base at Diego Garcia.

But Ambassador Koonjul told RFI that “Mauritius can certainly do what Britain does and even more”.

“Come 2036, the UK will not be able to renew the US lease on Diego Garcia. But we, Mauritius, are ready to give a 99-year lease to the US,” he added.

Money for rights

In 2016, the United Kingdom earmarked a £ 40 million support package (over € 44 million) for Chagossians in the UK, Seychelles and Mauritius. The funds cover support for improved access to health, education, employment and cultural protection.

“The £ 40 million is intended to divide the chagossies as the UK is under heavy strain. It is facing increasing pressure from the Chagossians and the international community, says Marimootoo.

He added that the funds are also intended to put Mauritius in an embarrassing position.

“How can Mauritius possibly tell the Chagossians not to receive any money? It is the same division and rule that has served Britain well before. ”

Marimootoo believes that most Chagossians would like to live in the UK.

“They know the value of money and a British passport. If they had to choose between living in the archipelago, in the UK or Mauritius, most of them would choose the UK, he says.

Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, is leased by the United Kingdom to the United States for use as a joint military base.
Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, is leased by the United Kingdom to the United States for use as a joint military base. © Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation

But for Olivier Bancoult, leader for Chagos Refugees Group, the basic rights of the chagossians cannot be traded for money.

The British support package also includes visits to the various islands in the archipelago. About eight have so far taken place since 2017, the most recent in February 2020.

“This is a trap,” Bancoult told RFI. “We cannot receive visits if our rights are not respected.”

He added that in addition to brief visits to the islands, the Chagossians did not receive any of the other benefits promised in the aid package.

“I was born in Peros Banhos and I am to be treated as a visitor in my home country, while there are foreigners who pay six months permission to enjoy barbecues in our country. Affiliates cannot be visitors! ”

For Koonjul, Britain’s position is unsustainable.

“We have no army to go to Chagos and just claim it back.

“Sooner or later, they [UK] will need to talk to Mauritius if they want to be respected as a nation committed to the rule of law.

“Don’t you think it is ironic that Britain, a founding father of the UN, would go against the values ​​and ideas it brought to this institution?”

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