Debate on Chagos heats up

by Sobhanund Seeparsad


Now they say, loud and clear, enough is enough. They want concrete action.
To this effect, a high-level Conference on Diego Garcia & Chagos held at Grande Riviere, in Port Louis, in the first week of this month, has issued the Declaration of Grande Rivière on Chagos where a consensus has been reached to “ keep the struggles firmly bound together, never bartering one against the other.”

These are:

- the struggle for the complete decolonization of the Republic of Mauritius, the dismantling of the British Indian Ocean Territories colony, and the re-unification of the country,

- the struggle for the closing down of the US military base on Diego Garcia, and its ecological clean-up by the US,

- the struggle for the right of return and full reparations for all Chagossians,

And that to advance these aims, and given that there are some actions that can be set in motion only by the State of Mauritius, we commit ourselves to putting pressure on the Mauritian State towards its acting in practice so as:

- To organise a formal State visit on the Trochetia ship to Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos, which is part of Mauritian territory defined as such by the Constitution, and that the State delegation should include the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition;

- To enter a case in the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague through at once inscribing a Resolution to this precise effect on the agenda for the next UN General Assembly due in 2011, and continuing to ensure that the Resolution is not later withdrawn from the agenda;

- To make a formal demand for UN inspections under the Pelindaba Treaty, as soon as the mechanism for doing so comes into force later this year,

- To use all other UN bodies and procedures possible for actions that indicate a clear statement of Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos, and that expose the danger the military base represents.

And, at the same time, in the context of the present debate on electoral reform and Constitutional amendment, and in response to imperialist and private capitalist interests clearly targeting Mauritian Islands and land, to work towards giving concrete expression to the Chagossians’ participation in the democratic set-up of the country; and to amend the Constitution so as to outlaw the setting up of any military bases on any Mauritian territory in future;

That we will work towards the setting up of a Scientific Centre that gathers testimony about Chagos, collects documentation on Chagos, so that the history and culture of Chagos are kept alive;

And that, in the context of these demands, we call on the President of the Republic, the last living witness to the pre-Independence negotiations held at Lancaster House to come forward to give public testimony;

And that in order to advance the three causes stated just following the first paragraph above, as well as the specific demands then enumerated in this Declaration, we commit ourselves to building up broad support on a national and international level.

The Declaration of Grande Rivière has been presented to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Six persons--Kishore Mundil;Ragini Kistnasamy;Alain Ah-Vee;Rela Andre;Vishnu Jugdhurry; and Lindsey Collen—were delegated to present it to the minister and to make the Declaration public.

Focus on Diego base

Lindsey Collen, one of the leaders of Lalit feels that the Diego Garcia military is a trump card for Mauritius in its struggle for sovereignty over the Chagos. She points out that the British have repeatedly trapped Mauritius on the use of Diego Garcia.

At the outset, she says, they spoke of a simple weather station, and communication. Subsequently, they found pretext to justify a military base.

Collen says that there is a treaty that prohibits the presence of nuclear weapons on the African continent. This explains the decision of Nelson Mandela to dismantle the nuclear arsenal in South Africa. For her, Mauritius needs to focus its attack on the Diego Garcia base and seek allies. "For the first time the story forces us to look for allies," she says.

Right to return

For Olivier Bancoult, the main battle of the Chagos Refugees Group remains the right of return of Chagossians to their native islands. "Our struggle is based primarily on the human rights declaration, which stipulates that every human being has the right to live on the land from where he originated," he says. This explains the struggle of the Chagos Refugees Group against the British Ordinance 1971, which prohibits access to these islands to the Chagossians, while allowing the British and Americans to do what they want .

He says the Chagossians are still living in Mauritius despite the fact they are British passport holders.

Unilateral decision

Former Foreign Minister Anil Gayan asks: What is the Mauritian government doing about the American lease on Diego Garcia if it is not renewed in 2016? He invites the Mauritian government to set up, now, a team to "prepare the ground so that we do not find ourselves in a difficult situation once that deadline arrives."

Anil Gayan says that the Chagos issue affects two important aspects: the sovereignty of Mauritius and Human Rights because, he says, the Chagossians were brutally expelled from their native islands. It is a serious matter that the British have not respected the commitments made with the Mauritian government by declaring, unilaterally, the Chagos a marine protected area.

The former minister says that the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos has been a priority for all governments. He recalls that, in 2000, the MSM/MMM government had launched negotiations with the British and Americans. "The negotiations were going in the right direction. But the situation changed after the September 11 attack, " he says.

Dr Arvin Boolell: We will fight

Like the Prime Minister, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the Minister of Foreign affairs, Dr Arvin Boolell, is disappointed and does not mince his words or beat about the bush in saying that the British government has failed to meet its commitments and that the government of Mauritius has been cheated. The British had agreed to discuss the Marine Protected Area project around the Chagos with the Mauritian government at bilateral meetings, and that , in accordance with what was decided at the Kampala Conference in July 2009. However, the British haven't kept their promise. At the end of November 2009 , they published a Consultation Paper on Marine Protected Area, which clearly outlined their intentions.

To recall, the Chagos Archipelago became a marine protected area on October 31 in spite of the British Government's promise not to go ahead with it.

Boolell told Radio Plus this week that Mauritius has already initiated political and diplomatic action with the European Union, among others, on the issue. The Mauritian government, he added, would also fight on the legal front—hence, the recruitment of renowned lawyers, including Philippe Sands.

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