Magna Carta, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Return of the Chagossians to Chagos their Homeland
Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund: Open Letter
15 June 1215 is a memorable date of glory for Britain’s Magna Carta, with its Human Rights Clauses 39 and 40 which are still valid and read as follows in the modern English version:
(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
15 June 2015 is an inglorious date for the newly elected British government and for its predecessors for having flouted the Magna Carta in the 1960s and 1970s, when they stripped the free native Chagossian people of their rights and possessions, exiled them, and continued to deny their rights and to delay justice being done to them.
The spirit of these Human Rights clauses enshrined in the Magna Carta is present in the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is the foundation of international human rights law. In its Article 9, the UDHR says that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and in Article 13 (2): Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
It is also present in the 1965 United Nations Resolution 2066 (XX) on sovereignty and integrity of the national territory of Mauritius:
“The General Assembly:
- Reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of the territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV);
- Invites the administering Power (NB: UK) to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.
These UN Resolutions too were flouted by Britain when the Chagos was detached from Mauritius in 1965, then a British colony, prior to independence.
On 9 June 2015, on the occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group of the House of Commons published an appeal in The Times addressed to “the new government to honour the feasibility study which found that there were no legal or climatic reasons why resettlement should not be achieved”.
The Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund (CSTF) for its part considers that:
- The resettlement process flows from the recognition of the right of return – a fundamental Human Right, as we have quoted above – of the Chagossian people to their homeland
- The requirements and costs (economic opportunities, infrastructure development, support services) are, on balance, a small price to pay for repairing the immeasurable wrong done and therefore have to be borne.
- The Chagos resettlement project, based on Human rights promotion and sustainable development combined with environment (sea, land, air) protection, subscribes to the principles and ideals that we all want the world to abide by progressively.
In this endeavour, three sovereign countries are directly concerned: Britain, USA and Mauritius. For historical reasons, the responsibility and cost of establishing and maintaining the resettlement lie first and foremost with the British Government. With regard to the USA, the legal and political factors mentioned in the Feasibility Report should be defined in terms of the responsibility and participation of the US Government in the resettlement process. The inclusion of Diego Garcia is a clear indication that there have been prior consultation and agreement between the US and the UK. It may be expected therefore that sharing the costs of resettlement on Diego Garcia would be on the agenda of the renewal of the UK-US treaty.
The Feasibility Report opposes two extreme options: at one end, US contractors “providing extremely robust and high standard engineering services to the US Navy (…) likely to propose high costs”; and at the other end, “small family businesses on, say, Mauritius, (who) will claim to be able to build houses for a fraction of the costs being proposed.” (p. 68). This is not correct: there are long-established building contractors with proven track record in Mauritius and also in the Indian Ocean region. Regional partnerships should therefore be explored in order to help lower the costs.
We therefore propose that the estimated costs mentioned in the Feasibility Report be reviewed and scaled down, and that funding sources be diversified to include US, Europe, the international community as well as the private sector.
In the same vein, the Mauritius Government’s claim of sovereignty, systematically acknowledged in the British Government statements that the Chagos will be returned to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence and security purposes, carries the need and obligation for Mauritius to be involved in the resettlement process. The Feasibility Report identifies a number of areas (environmental impact, economic prospects, access issues, training and administration) in which Mauritian stakeholders, including Chagossians, could intervene.
Resources and expertise are also available within the South-West Indian Ocean insular region in the areas of fisheries, marine protection, oceanographic research, climate change, disaster management systems (cyclones, tsunami).
For all theses reasons, the Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund is convinced that the Chagos resettlement should not be viewed as a one-state affair and therefore makes an earnest appeal to the British, USA and Mauritius Governments to adopt a multinational approach so that the Chagos resettled by its native people is also integrated within the South-West Indian Ocean.
President (former President of the Republic of Mauritius)
Reverend Mario Li Hing
Professor Vinesh Y. Hookoomsing
(former Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius)
15 June 2015
* Published in print edition on 19 June 2015
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