Chagos: United we stand

We speak with one voice to repair the wrongs of the past. Let those who oppose our legitimate and just cause be warned that there will be no respite until this battle is won

The public hearings of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago in 1965 are being held this week from 3-6 September 2018 in The Hague. The oral submissions made by Mauritius and its legal team and by the legal representatives of the United Kingdom on 3 September together with their written submissions have drawn the battle lines. This is a momentous and historic milestone in our long fought battle for the decolonization of a part of our territory, the Chagos Archipelago detached in 1965.

The people and the whole country are tuned to the hearings in The Hague in the hope that a favourable advisory opinion from the deliberations of the International Court of Justice would finally, 53 years later, return the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius and enable the resettlement of the brutally displaced Chagossians back to their homes and homeland in the Archipelago. The poignant testimony of Mrs Marie Liseby Elysée, born in Peros Bahnos, at the ICJ attests to the sufferings and trials of the Chagossians who in many respects represent a melting pot of Mauritius.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has through a resolution approved by a majority of UN members asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to render an advisory opinion on two key questions namely:

  • Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law, including obligations reflected in General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965, 2232 (XXI) of 20 December1966 and 2357 (XXII) of 19 December 1967?”; and
  • “What are the consequences under international law, including obligations reflected in the above-mentioned resolutions, arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago, including with respect to the inability of Mauritius to implement a programme for the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of its nationals, in particular those of Chagossian origin?

Test of legitimacy

The case, in essence, tests the legitimacy of the excision of part of a country’s territory and other similar deals struck prior to independence in an unequal equation by the all mighty colonial power with small colonies for the benefit of their geopolitical and other interests. The yearning for independence was deftly brokered by the colonial power to safeguard their geopolitical interests and left a trail of casualties. It is for example now established that the partition of India was backed for geopolitical reasons by notably Winston Churchill, who believed Pakistan would prove a faithful ally of the West in helping protect its oil and other interests in the region and act as a bulwark between the Soviet Union and a socialist India.

The wide and robust support received by Mauritius from countries across the world as well as the African Union representing 55 African countries who took time and expert advice to uphold the case of Mauritius with potent arguments are evidence that the issues submitted to the ICJ for an advisory opinion raise fundamental questions of principle on which a wide range of countries would wish guidance from the ICJ.

The United Kingdom seems clearly apprehensive of an adverse advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the questions submitted to the Court by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Their obvious aim is to throw a spanner in the wheels of the ICJ. The UK has thus argued that the ICJ ‘should exercise its discretion so as to decline to respond to the General Assembly request of an advisory opinion.’ The UK has therefore not given its consent to the process of examination of the issues by the ICJ and also argued that an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice would have the effect of ‘circumventing the principle that a State is not obliged to allow its disputes to be submitted to judicial settlement without its consent.’ No wonder, Mauritius and these key questions related to its complete decolonization have been trapped for decades in the dead end of frustrating and futile bilateral palaver.

In its submissions, the United Kingdom, as expected, has vigorously disputed the various arguments advanced by Mauritius through a blitzkrieg of specious legalese and effete argumentation. The UK has for example tried to lamely argue that the Chagos Archipelago situated some 2,150 km from Mauritius was distant and had no geographical connection with Mauritius. The Archipelago was not only inhabited by Mauritians of Chagossian descent who lived and worked there to assure the economic exploitation of coconut plantations for generations, but was administered as a dependency from Mauritius.

In the mid 18th century, France claimed and surveyed the Archipelago and granted concessions for the establishment of coconut plantations, leading to permanent settlement of the Archipelago. France administered the Chagos Archipelago as a dependency of Ile de France. Following the capture of the Ile de France by the British in 1810, France ceded Ile de France, renamed Mauritius and all its dependencies (including the Chagos Archipelago) to the United Kingdom. The Chagos Archipelago was administered as a dependency of Mauritius. It is an integral part of the Mauritian territory which also includes the islands of Rodrigues, Agalega, St. Brandon, etc., dispersed over an extensive area in the Indian Ocean.

Might is not right

The news of the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago in November 1965 triggered Resolution 2066 (XX) adopted by the General Assembly as early as December 1965. In essence the resolution which specifically considered the question of Mauritius and other islands composing the Territory of Mauritius reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of the Territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and requested ‘the administering Power (United Kingdom) to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.’

It must be recalled that well before 1965 resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 ‘solemnly proclaims the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations’ and inter alia ‘declares that any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’

The case of Mauritius was also raised, along with that of other non-self-governing territories, in General Assembly resolutions adopted on 20 December 1966 and 19 December 1967. In fact, General Assembly Resolutions 2232 (XXI) et 2357 (XXII), adopted in 1966 et 1967 where the case of Mauritius and 24 and 26 other countries respectively were raised reiterate their central concerns and declare that ‘any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of colonial territories and the establishment of military bases and installations is incompatible with the purposes and Charter of the United Nations and the General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV).’

Self determination and territorial integrity of Mauritius and a host of other colonies in the context of decolonization in accordance with international law were prime concerns of the UN General Assembly and in particular soon after the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. Mauritius has over the past decades systematically raised the issue of the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago more than 34 times at the United Nations. The question of Chagos and the brutal treatment meted out on the Chagossians have also been regularly raised in various institutions of the UN such as the special Committee set up by the General Assembly to monitor the application of Resolution 1514 (XV) (also called the Committee of 24) or the Human Rights Committee.

It is therefore only fitting that the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to entrust these long outstanding issues relating to the process of decolonization of Mauritius following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and its consequences under international law arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion.

Restoring our territorial integrity

It must be said that the ins and outs of the Chagos case have been an eye opener and exposed some galling and seedy aspects of the Chagos narrative. Many sobering lessons must be drawn from the circumstances of the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. The most important lesson is that MPs and Ministers are certainly not elected to decide on issues they are not mandated for nor have the expertise for. The will of the people must remain paramount and they must necessarily be consulted by referendum on all issues of national importance such as territorial integrity or the present topical issue of electoral reform. A handful cannot decide for the multitude on such complex issues. The chequered history of the country is littered with the costly mess resulting from ill advised and inept decisions.

The nation stands united in our long drawn battle for the decolonization of the Chagos Archipelago and to finally restore the territorial integrity of Mauritius. We speak with one voice to repair the wrongs of the past. Let those who oppose our legitimate and just cause be warned that there will be no respite until this battle is won for the benefit of all Mauritians and the resettlement of Mauritians of Chagossian origin. United we stand in this national crusade for justice and to regain our territorial integrity.

 


* Published in print edition on 7 September 2018

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