Chagos Issue: Government maintains firm stand

‘The UK cannot profess to be a champion of the rule of law and human rights whilst maintaining an illegal colonial administration in part of the territory of Mauritius’

By TP Saran

On November 21, 2019, after the swearing-in ceremony of the new Members of the First Session of the Seventh National Assembly and the Prime Minister, the latter made two statements, one about the Chagos issue and the other about the new pension provisions pledged in the electoral campaign and due to be implemented as from December 1st.

The next day the GIS released a communiqué to this effect, namely that Government strongly deplores that United Kingdom (UK) has chosen to reject the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 73/295 when it has clearly violated international law. In so doing, the UK has resorted to groundless arguments, calling into question the authority of the highest court of the world and the UN system as a whole. This situation clearly leaves the UK as an illegal colonial occupier.

What is significant is the strategic timing chosen by the PM to make this statement – because he is not only the PM, but also Minister of Defence, Home Affairs and External Communications, Minister for Rodrigues, Outer Islands and Territorial Integrity. Coming at the very beginning of his renewed mandate, and made in the National Assembly, it would be an event that would be covered internationally – and indeed it was, being taken up by the UK media among others, and therefore have a much bigger impact.

The Prime Minister was referring to the Advisory Opinion issued by the ICJ on 25 February 2019 regarding the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, at the request from the UNGA. The Opinion supported by 13 of 14 Judges of the Court made clear that the Chagos Archipelago is, and has always been, a part of Mauritius. The fourteenth Judges did not express a contrary conclusion.

In a firm and clearly articulated manner, the PM quoted the appropriate parts of the ICJ ruling to refute one by one the arguments of the UK government. For example, on the question of the alleged bilateral nature of the dispute, the PM pointed out that, ‘The United Kingdom has also argued that, by agreeing to answer the questions put to it by the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice has allowed Mauritius to circumvent the basic principle that the Court should not consider a bilateral dispute without the consent of both States concerned. This position, which was extensively argued by the United Kingdom during the advisory proceedings, was also rejected by the Court. The Court motivated its decision at paragraph 86 of its Advisory Opinion, which reads, and I quote –

“The Court notes that the questions put to it by the General Assembly relate to the decolonization of Mauritius. The General Assembly has not sought the Court’s opinion to resolve a territorial dispute between two States. Rather, the purpose of the request is for the General Assembly to receive the Court’s assistance so that it may be guided in the discharge of its functions relating to the decolonization of Mauritius.”

The Court went on to state at paragraph 90 of its Opinion that it, and I quote –

“does not consider that to give the opinion requested would have the effect of circumventing the principle of consent by a State to the judicial settlement of its dispute with another State.”’

Any impartial observer would agree that this cannot be clearer.

Another important point raised by the PM is the UK’s disregard of International Law, and the PM was unsparing on this too. As he stated, the ‘UK Government’s defiant criticism of the International Court of Justice and its blatant disregard for the Advisory Opinion of the Court and the UN General Assembly Resolution 73/295, undermine its long-standing commitment to a rules-based international system.

The United Kingdom cannot profess to be a champion of the rule of law and human rights whilst maintaining an illegal colonial administration in part of the territory of Mauritius and preventing the return to the Chagos Archipelago of the former inhabitants it forcibly removed five decades ago, thereby being in clear violation of international law. It is not for any country to determine for itself which rules of international law it will abide by and which it will not.’

Therefore ‘Government calls upon the United Kingdom to comply with its obligations under international law, as clearly set out in the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly in its Resolution 73/295, and end its unlawful administration of the Chagos Archipelago. Let me remind the House that this resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 116 votes against only 6 votes’.

On the issue of security of the world order, here also the PM made an unequivocal statement: ‘The United Kingdom has further invoked security and defence considerations to justify its occupation of the Chagos Archipelago. Once again, this is a baseless argument. Mauritius has stated on various occasions that it fully recognises the importance of the military base in Diego Garcia and will take no action that will impede its continued operation. Moreover, Mauritius has made clear to the United States that it stands ready to enter into a long-term arrangement in respect of Diego Garcia.’

Concluding, the PM reiterated that ‘Government will continue to be relentless in its efforts to complete the decolonization process of Mauritius. It also remains strongly committed to implementing a programme for urgent resettlement in the Chagos Archipelago. The systematic refusal by the United Kingdom to allow the former residents of the Chagos Archipelago to return is a particularly grave matter. It violates their most fundamental human rights.

Government will also pursue its efforts to challenge the United Kingdom’s membership as a coastal State purporting to represent the Chagos Archipelago in all United Nations bodies as well as in international, regional and intergovernmental organisations pursuant to paragraphs 6 and 7 of the UN General Assembly Resolution 73/295.’

And finally, ‘Government deeply appreciates the support which Mauritius has received from the African Union and other countries and counts on their continued support for the rapid completion of the decolonization process of Mauritius.’

* Published in print edition on 29 November 2019

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